Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Do We Need to Call It Idolatry?

I know this is going to aggravate a few people, but can I just ask a few questions without being painted with a specific brush or by attracting a firestorm of response?

There has been a lot of talk recently in certain evangelical circles on idolatry. I remember talking with someone who had just read Greg Beale’s book, We Become What We Worship. The young man reading the book basically summed it up by saying that the root of our sin is idolatry. I countered that I thought that the root of our sin is our selfishness. It could then be countered that our selfishness is when we elevate our desires above our desire for God, thus we become idols unto ourselves. Or, the things we desire become the idols.

I read Keller’s very helpful book, Counterfeit Gods. I greatly benefited from it. Keller defines an idol as: anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. It is what you spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources on without a single thought. “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”

I understand that and I even agree with it to an extent. But, I still don’t understand the idolatry language. I’ve been studying Mark 7 and Jesus’ renunciation of what the Pharisees called “The Tradition of the Elders” (Jesus called them the traditions of men). I would imagine that Keller, Beale and others who agree with this kind of thinking would say that the traditions of the elders became the idols of the Pharisees, and those like it. This takes me back to my original question, why call it idolatry. Jesus doesn’t call it idolatry. In fact, as far as I can tell, the terms idol, idols or idolatry are not found in the words of Jesus or the gospels themselves. In fact, when idols or idolatry is used in the New Testament, overwhelmingly it is referring to literal pagan idol worship. There is one place in Col. 3.5 that does use idolatry as way of discussing greed (or it could be sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires as well, which are lumped together in that verse).

My main question is, why do we have to be so quick to label issues like this so quickly and not examine the texts and see how idolatry is defined. I am not saying that books like Beale’s and Keller’s aren’t helpful, I’ve already stated my appreciation for Keller and his book. But can’t I ask this question without being put into a camp or being shouted down. I just want to discuss these issues. It seems if you disagree with certain popular teachers or camps, you get criticized and your orthodoxy is questioned. (I fall into this camp with some of my favorites). Anyway, I don’t have a proper conclusion to this rant, but my study of Mark 7 got me thinking, “Why didn’t Jesus refer to sinfulness as idolatry?”

Monday, February 21, 2011

Commands of Jesus: "Go home...and tell..."

The Commands of Jesus: Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you (Mark 5:19).

The Context: Mark 5:1-20 – Jesus restores a demon possessed man.
[Either read this passage or recap it].
Jesus is in the region of Gerasenes. It is a heavily Gentile (non-Jewish) area. This man is more affected than other people that he has encountered with demon possession. He could not be bound by chains (verses 3-4). Again, as Jesus approaches, he runs to him and confronts him.
Verse 7 – What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God…Don’t torture me.
Jesus asks the demon for its name. Legion, for we are many. Could be Jesus displaying his knowledge of the tactic of gaining the name of an opponent in spiritual warfare.
The demons beg Jesus to send them into the herd of pigs rather than cast them out into space. It is thought that perhaps the demons would prefer to possess any kind of body instead of being without a body.
The pigs run down the side of the hill into the lake and were drowned. The reaction is curious. The man is in his right mind and calm next to Jesus. The people become afraid. They are not astonished or amazed. They are so fearful that they want Jesus to leave.

We’ve seen Jesus heal a man possessed before (Mark 1.21-29). This seems to be more of a challenge according to verses 3-4. Was also called Legion, for they were many. A legion represented 1000 soldiers in a Roman army.
Jesus sends the demons into a herd of pigs. The people are afraid. Why? This was a region of Gentiles. They did not think that pigs were unclean. These pigs were probably their property or someone’s way of life. They were probably more concerned about their livestock than about someone’s well being. They want Jesus out of there. Asking Jesus to leave was probably a mixture of things. One, is the fear of losing more livestock. One could have been they just didn’t know what to do with this man who had so much power and so much authority. They may not have had a very well developed understanding of the God of Israel. They just knew that Jesus was more powerful than the most powerful demons. What could he impose on them to do? Could he dominate them like Legion dominated the man?

The man wants to follow Jesus (and rightfully so). Jesus tells him to go home? Why do you think he doesn’t let him follow him?

Jesus, in other healings, told people to not tell anyone (see Mark 1.44; 5.43). Why did Jesus tell this guy to go to his people and tell them what had happened?
Jesus is heading back to that vicinity (see Mark 7.24-37). Perhaps this man’s testimony is preparing the way for Jesus to visit?
The people who live in the man’s area responded to his testimony. They were amazed at what Jesus had done for him. They were amazed at the man sharing what God had done instead of amazed at amazing signs and wonders.
We see this in John 4 with the story of the Samaritan woman at the well that Jesus encounters. Jesus shows insight into this woman’s life that he could only know through some sort of prophetic revelation. Read John 4.28-30, 39 (Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.)

There is tremendous power in our testimonies. Sometimes the best form of witness for Jesus that we can give is to tell others what the Lord has done for us. Sometimes we simply need to tell of how he has had mercy on us.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Commands of Jesus: "Take up your mat..."

The Commands of Jesus: Mark 2:1-12 - Take up your mat and go home. (Your sins are forgiven)

Context: Jesus’ teaching, healings and exorcisms are drawing crowds. While teaching in Capernaum, a group of friends, who know the power of Jesus, bring their paralyzed friend to be healed by him.

Verse 5 – When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

In verses 6-7 we see some members of the crowd quite aggravated by Jesus’ statement. They recognize that by “forgiving this man’s sins” he is claiming to be able to do something that only God could do. They think he is blaspheming. (And if he cannot forgive sins, then he definitely is blaspheming and was liable to be stoned according to the Law of the OT).

Jesus’ response? Which is easier? (Ask, which would have been easier, to heal a paralyzed man or forgive sins?).
Both are pretty difficult.
Verse 10 – Jesus points to his authority on earth by healing the man (he reveals his power as God’s Son in power).

What do you think the man needed more: to be able to walk or to have his sins forgiven?
Your answer depends on your state of spiritual need. Do you realize that you need your sins forgiven? What does that mean?

The Bible says we are all sinners.
Read Rom. 3.23 –
In this chapter, Paul is talking about our relationship with God.
In verse 22, righteousness refers to an unbroken relationship with God.
In verse 24, justification refers to being declared “not guilty” or “acquitted” of our transgressions against God. We have been redeemed, that is delivered from one status (being guilty of sinning against God; a broken relationship with God) to another (being acquitted of our sins; a healed relationship with God).
Verse 25 – Atonement – “At – one –ment” – that is what this word literally means. It refers to a healed relationship. We are now at one with God because of what Jesus has accomplished.
In the OT, atonement was accomplished by animal sacrifice. God forgave the people their sins with the performance of this sacrifice. The sacrifice symbolized that sin is costly and cost something its life. The worshiper (the one who offers the sacrifice) is represented by the animal (by placing his hand on the head of the animal). This was performed every year as a symbol.
Jesus becomes the once and for all sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. His sacrifice provides our “atonement” with God.

Hebrews 10:8-10 – we’ve been made holy through the sacrifice of Jesus. Holy means set apart, cleansed, righteous before God. Our sins have been forgive because Jesus became the once for all sacrifice that takes away our sin once for all (not to be performed every year like the OT sacrifice).

We don’t need to take up our mat (like the command of Jesus) but we do need our sins forgiven (our relationship restored with God).
Do you understand what it means to have your sins forgiven?
Do you realize what you’ve been forgiven of? If not, what do you need to know about your sinfulness?
Do you feel like you have an unbroken relationship with God?

If Jesus can do this (heal a paralyzed man, or more importantly forgive sins), what does it say about how we relate to him?
If he can do this, do we obey what he ask of us?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Commands of Jesus: "Be quiet! Come out of him!"

The Commands of Jesus: Be Quiet! Come out of him!
Mark 1.21-28 – Jesus is teaching in the synagogue and the people begin to recognize his teaching authority.
He is confronted by a man possessed by an evil spirit.
The man asks, “What do you want with us?”
Jesus speaks a word and the evil spirit comes out of him.
Again the authority of Jesus is recognized, this time in his command over evil spirits.
No matter what the people knew to be true of Jesus, they saw him as a new kind of teacher.
His authority is recognized and the word of the unique nature of his authority spread.
In verses 29-33 we see that Jesus heals many of physical and demonic issues.
In verse 40-42 he heals a man of leprosy (again, through a simple statement, “Be clean!”)
In verses 2.1-4, the crowds gather even more.
In 5.1-20, Jesus heals a man possessed of many demons (legion, for we are many).

What stands out in each of these episodes is Jesus’ authority over the powers of Satan and sickness.
There were Greco-Roman and Jewish healers and exorcists. But Jesus’ exorcisms were distinctive – no lengthy list of gods, recites no formulas or incantations, uses no magical paraphernalia to cast his spells. A simple word of rebuke (Mark 1.25).
Recognition of Jesus by the demons – early on, only the demons grasp Jesus’ full identity. Jesus always rebukes these proclamations.
Spiritual warfare – one of the keys to gaining supernatural power over an opponent is to invoke his name (Jesus’ own strategy, in Mark 5.9). They are not confessing Jesus, it was a defensive tactic.

Ask: Why do you think these demons confronted Jesus in this way? Perhaps they knew that judgment was on the way.

What do these episodes reveal about Jesus?
His mercy? His power? His authority? (Yes to all of these)
His healings were signs that he was accredited by God (see Acts 2.22).
Also, it seems that his power was displayed to attack the devil and it was a sign that the power of God was with him (see Acts 10.38).
What we see in this passage (and others like it) is that Jesus is battling Satan on his turf. The NT reveals that Satan in the prince of this world and his judgment is coming with the victory of Jesus, see John 12.31 and John 16.11.
These victories over Satan and his “spirits” show Jesus to be the Son of God.
We see that because Jesus can drive demons out, the kingdom of God has come near (read Matt. 12.28).

What can we learn about this command of Jesus? This (most likely) is not a command that directly applies to us. If we are believers in Christ, we cannot be demon possessed. But these episodes can reveal something about Jesus and how we relate to him.
Jesus reveals the power of God with great authority. His assault on Satan (on his turf) shows that Jesus is inaugurating his kingdom.

We have no need to fear the demonic, because Jesus has overcome the power of Satan. He is still in the world, and has power, but he cannot possess us, only harass us. And yet we need to remember, great is he (Jesus) that is in me, than he that is in the world (1 John 4.4).