Saturated in the Scriptures

And He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ‘MY house shall be called A house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a robbers’ den.” (Mark 11.17)

I love the picture you get reading this passage. Jesus has just violently driven out of the temple those who would use it as a place of commerce, rather than a place to meet with and pray to God. And then he begins to teach…Anyone present would be thinking, “what is going on here? This man seems so aggressive/passive!

What strikes me here though, is how saturated in the Scriptures Jesus was. He sits down to teach and then he quotes from memory from the book of Isaiah, and then from the book of Jeremiah.

Think about that for a moment. This was before the day of the iPhone, the audible Bible, the typewriter, the printing press, before really any advancement in how we reproduce and access the written word. Jesus obviously has whole sections of the Tanakh (what we know as the Old Testament) committed to memory and he is able to retrieve what he needs immediately! This was actually not all that unusual at the time, but it strikes us as practically miraculous.

This is a good example of how important the Scriptures were to Jesus.  He knew them, he had them memorized, he could recall them at a moment’s notice and apply them.  We perhaps do not have the memory ability that Jesus did, but certainly we could and should follow his example of being so saturated in the Scriptures that we know them and can apply them. Indeed, I suppose that Jesus’ generation would say that we have it easy, since we can carry Scripture around in digital form wherever we happen to be. We forget what a tremendous blessing this is in comparison to previous generations.










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“Bartimaeus…was Sitting by the Roadside”

“And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside.” (Mark 10:46 ESV)

It is helpful to pay attention to verb tenses as we study the New Testament because they add nuance and depth to our understanding of the text. For instance, in our text here we see that when Jesus passes by, Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.  On the surface it’s just an ordinary observation and he is “lucky” to be there when Jesus, the Great Healer, happens to be in that same area.

The verb tense that Mark uses when he says that Bartimaeus “was sitting” adds a lot of depth, and I would argue even pathos to the narrative.  Mark uses the imperfect tense to describe what Bartimaeus had been doing.  This tense is used to describe continuous action in past time.  Bartimaeus didn’t just decide to pop out that morning to the most popular avenue out of Jericho and beg, he did this every morning, of every week, of every month, of every year because that is the only thing that a poor man who was blind could do to support himself.

Now, here is the mysterious thing.  If we believe that God is omniscient and all-powerful, and all-knowing, then from the beginning of the universe, God knew not only that Bartimaeus was going to be blind, but that Jesus was going to heal him of that blindness.  How many years did Bartimaeus have to wait before the Son of Man happened along to heal him with a few words? Your faith has made you well.

I’m willing to bet that it was a lot of days and months and years, and I’m willing to bet that Bartimaeus probably had no hope that he would be cured of his blindness, and yet, after all of that time, after all of that begging, Jesus did heal him.

Why did he have to wait so long, sitting by the side of the road day after day after day?  I do not know.  God’s ways are most mysterious.  All I know was that when Bartimaeus was healed what he did was follow Jesus.  He left Jericho behind–his home, the people he knew–because he was more interested in following Jesus.  Bartimaeus didn’t complain about the long years of waiting in the amazing joy of being healed.

The story of Bartimaeus gives me renewed hope for unanswered prayers.  It’s all too easy to lose hope as I pray day after day, month after month, and year after year, and yet God doesn’t answer the prayer.  I don’t know why he takes so long to answer some prayers, but I know a few things: 1. He hears me from the very first time I pray; 2. When he does answer my unanswered prayer, I will not complain, but I will be filled with joy, and this will make me want to pursue him even more and more, just like my friend, Bartimaeus.

Soli Deo Gloria for answered prayers…and prayers yet to be answered.

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“The Lord has Need of It”

““If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ you say, ‘The Lord has need of it’; and immediately he will send it back here.”” (Mark 11:3 NAS95)

I’m into Mark 11 on my slow trudge rapid race through the gospel of Mark. As I was reading Mark’s account of the triumphal entry, the instructions that Jesus gave the disciples who went to get the colt for him struck me.  “Listen,” says Jesus, “you need to go into that village over there where you will find a colt.  Take the colt and if anyone stops you just tell them the Lord has need of it.

Such simple words and yet so deep and profound.  Jesus needs something, the owners of the colt willingly give it and all because the Lord has need of it. I found myself wondering, as I thought through this encounter, if I would have been as willing to give up the colt to strangers as these owners were.

I thought of the book By Searching written by Isobel Kuhn as I pondered this question.  The book is an account of her falling away from the faith and then her journey back to the faith.  She eventually decides that she would like to go to China as a missionary with the China Inland Mission.  Her mother, who is a Christian, is stridently opposed to such an idea.  This is her only daughter!  China!?!

Mrs. Kuhn writes:

I was amazed at Father’s temerity in inviting Mr. Fraser without consulting Mother, because she and my brother at that time were both opposed to my going as a missionary to China. And Mother was not likely to be pleased at bringing a C.I.M. missionary into her home when she was trying to influence me to be content with Christian work in America! [Kuhn, Isobel. By Searching: My Journey Through Doubt Into Faith (pp. 65-66). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.]

While Isobel is away at Moody Bible Institute, her mother discovers that she has cancer and elects surgery to remove the tumor.  The surgery goes awry and her mother passes away before Isobel can return to say goodbye.  Looking back on this sad event, Isobel writes:

My mother had opposed my going to the foreign field because of her clinging love for me, her only daughter. In the agony of her pleadings with me she had said some bitter things which at the time I had not taken to heart, as I recognized they were the upflinging of violent emotion and not the result of considered thought. But one word had been: “You are praying to go to China, and God answers prayer, but you will go only over my dead body.” Of course, that memory now came back to me and simply lacerated my heart.

Now, I certainly do not think that God took Isobel’s mother home just because she said those words, I do think, however, that we ought to think very, very carefully before we decide to weigh in on what God is telling someone else to do.  One of the ways that Isobel’s mother failed was that when the Lord said, “I have need of Isobel,” she wasn’t ready to accept that message.

As followers of Christ, we need to hold our children, our material goods, our spouses, and our very own lives loosely, so that when Jesus says, “I have need of it,” we give what he needs up willingly and with glad hearts.  This will take a work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to accomplish, which reminds us once again, that what God asks of us, he himself provides the willingness for us to accomplish.


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“He’s Calling for You”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man and said to him, “Have courage! Get up; he’s calling for you.”” (Mark 10:49 CSB17)

The crowd calls the soon to be ex-blind Bartimaeus to Jesus.

I’m struck by the nature of their words, short and distinct:  Have courage.  Get up.  He’s calling for you.  The word that is translated “have courage” is a sign of encouragement from the crowd, as in: “despite our attempts to silence you, Jesus has heard your cry and he wants to talk to you.  Go for it!”

“Get up” is the only action that Bartimaeus has to take.  Jesus doesn’t come to Bartimaeus, but calls Bartimaeus to come to him.  This is no doubt because Jesus wants to see the nature of the blind man’s faith.  Is he willing to do whatever it takes to be healed, or is he going to sit there, passive?

The words “he’s calling you,” contain all the information that both Bartimaeus and those who read Mark’s gospel need to know.  If Jesus is calling you, then you can be sure that you will be served, that your need will be met because he doesn’t call if he isn’t going to answer.

When the Scripture says that God hears something, then you know that action will soon follow.  When God heard the groaning of the Israelites in slavery, God set in motion his plan to save them from that slavery.  Here when God-in-the-flesh hears blind Bartimaeus calling out, he is going to do something about that blindness, so the minute Bartimaeus hears “he’s calling for you,” his problem is solved.  He is going to be a new person with new eyes, because Jesus heard him and called for him.

Fundamentally, “he’s calling for you,” summarizes the whole good news in a short sentence.  Jesus is calling for you, and if you answer his call, if you go to him, then you will be a new man or a new woman, because he doesn’t call if he’s not going to change you.  This is the nature of the gospel, and this is the nature of our God.



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“Have Mercy on Me”

“And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”” (Mark 10:47 ESV)

Mark recounts how Jesus has an encounter with a blind man, Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus [notice the precise name given, evidence of an eyewitness to the event] just outside the village of Jericho.  Bartimaeus wants something and he wants something very specific.  He cried out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”  When Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants him to do for him, Bartimaeus has a ready answer: Rabbi, let me recover my sight.

Bartimaeus had an admirable, though not surprising, understanding of his need.  He was blind.  Blindness is a great difficulty in any age, but especially in 1st century Palestine.  A blind person couldn’t do any effective work, so if they weren’t well-to-do, they were consigned to beg for a living, asking random passersby, whom the blind person could not even see, for money.  Indeed, the culture thought that a blind person was cursed, most likely because of his sin, or perhaps his parents’ sins (cf. John 9.2)

We do not know how Bartimaeus knew about Jesus—though word of miraculous healing traveled quickly in those days—but Bartimaeus knows enough to repeatedly call out to Jesus for mercy and not be cowed by the disapproval of those around him.  He has an encounter with Jesus, and does indeed receive mercy.  Jesus speaks words [and not one other thing, no incantation, not even a touch] and Bartimaeus receives the mercy of sight.

Sadly, we do not see as Bartimaeus saw.  Bartimaeus, while blind,  perfectly understood his need for the mercy of Jesus.  We who have sight, aren’t needy enough and so are blind to our need for mercy and therefore do not bring our need to Jesus. We are, in our own way, just as needy as Bartimaeus for the mercy of Jesus, but we are often to arrogant and filled with pride to even understand this, more less to beg for the mercy of Jesus.

This is sad, because his mercy is ever present and his words to Bartimaeus are as true for us as it was for him: What do you want me to do for you?  Oh, if we only understood the power waiting quietly in those words.



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Two Clueless Guys

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do us a favor.” “What is your request?” he asked. They replied, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” (Mark 10:35–37, NLT)

We’ve had a lot of flooding in Lansing recently.  Cherie and I were driving down a major road during the flooding and came to an intersection that was flooded.  Some cars were driving through the water which looked to be 12-18 inches deep.  Cherie, who was driving, asked, “should I drive through that water?”

“No way!” I responded.  We turned the wrong way into Chick-fil-a [Yay!  We finally have a Chick-fil- a near us] and escaped the water. Later that evening, my daughter showed us a video of that exact same intersection.  There were three cars stalled out in various places in the water.  Two cars came driving down the street, one with a fairly high chassis and the other fairly low.  Both cars tried to drive through the water.  The one with the high center made it through, the one with the low frame became the fourth stalled out car in the water.  I was flabbergasted.  “What was that guy thinking?!?” [Actually, I called him a moron, but that makes me look bad]

I had much the same reaction this morning as I moved on in the Gospel of Mark.  James and John want to be in prominent positions when Jesus sits on your glorious throne. There is nothing wrong with that request, correct?

But wait!  Look what Jesus has literally just told them:

“Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. They will mock him, spit on him, flog him with a whip, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.” (Mark 10:33–34, NLT)

Jesus is thinking about his upcoming suffering and death, while James and John are designing thrones for themselves in God’s kingdom.

Jesus asks the pair if they are willing to drink the metaphorical cup that he himself is going to drink.  I love The Message paraphrase of their response:

Jesus said, “You have no idea what you’re asking. Are you capable of drinking the cup I drink, of being baptized in the baptism I’m about to be plunged into?” “Sure,” they said. “Why not?”  (Mark 10:38–39a, The Message)

What were they thinking?!?  There is such nonchalance here that the reader can hardly imagine it.

The irony is that, as Jesus himself predicts, the pair (along with the other disciples, save Judas Iscariot) will drink the cup of suffering and death that Jesus will soon drink.  A. T. Robertson comments here: “James was the first of the Twelve to meet the martyr’s death (Acts 12:2) and John the last if reports are true about him. How little they knew what they were saying.”

The Passion Translation points out at this exchange between Jesus and the pair: “This shows us that not only is the sacrifice of the cross difficult to understand, it also brings out the ambition that hides in our hearts.”

We would like to sit back and judge James and John for their delusions of grandeur and imagine that we would have been different in their place.  The only problem with this (and it is a delusion) is that our hearts are exactly the same as these two guys.  We are happy to be included in Jesus’ glory, but not so happy to be included in his suffering and death.

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Many Who Are First Will Be Last

Jesus has a rather enigmatic comment at the end of his discussion with his disciples on who exactly can have eternal life: “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”” (Mark 10:31 ESV)  First at what?  Last at what?  Eternal life?  Jesus doesn’t bother to explain.  We can rely on the biblical scholars to help us understand what Jesus’ comment meant, right?  Here are some possibilities:

  1. (Lenski’s Commentary on the New Testament) What he says is that many who were at first in the kingdom will finally be out of it whereas many who were at first out of it shall at last be in it.
  2. (ESV SB Notes) The context suggests that it is an inconspicuous, obedient disciple, not much recognized in this life (last), who will receive the greatest honor (first).
  3. (MacArthur SB) Believers will share equally in the blessings of heaven.
  4. (NIV ZSB Notes) Eternal life is to be found not on the basis of status, wealth, or obedience to the law but by humble and welcoming cross-bearing discipleship.
  5. (BIBCom) Discipleship entails a deep irony: the “first will be last, and the last first”
  6. (South Asia Bible Commentary) The allocation of rewards in God’s kingdom is not based on human standards such as rank, caste, length of service, personal achievement or sacrifice (Matt 20:1-16), but on commitment to Jesus and following him faithfully.

Six commentaries and we have six different interpretations of what Jesus’ statement meant.  Which one is the correct interpretation?  Search me.  The best one can do as a student of the Bible is realize that there is a broad area of disagreement and not a lot of agreement when it comes to this difficult/opaque statement.

We have to do two things here: first, we have to just pick the best interpretation we find, or at least the one that we think is closest to what Jesus actually meant; second, we must realize that the obscure sayings are not the central point of what Jesus is saying.  It is very important that we focus on the central point, and not get distracted by things that aren’t central.

So what was Jesus’ point to the disciples?  It is this: only those who follow Jesus will inherit eternal life, not the wealthy just because they are rich, and not those who follow the commandments as a way of gaining God’s acceptance.

It’s a kind of humbling truth, isn’t it?

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