Today’s Bible reading: Leviticus 19-20:21; Mark 8:11-38; Psalm 42:1-11; Proverbs 10:17
God gives Moses several concise laws regarding personal conduct in Leviticus 19.
God is holy so we are to be holy. Holy means “separate”. There is no one like God. He does not conform to the rules of others. He does what He wants, not what any of us want. This is not a bad thing at all as the plans God has for us are better than any we could envision ourselves. And since God is holy and since we are formed in His image, we are called to be holy, or separate, from the world. We should not conform to the ways of this world. We should set ourselves apart from it.
Leviticus 19:9-10 describes one way God provided for the poor while at the same time teaching those who had plenty not to be greedy. Farmers were not to worry about every grape or piece of grain in their fields. They were to leave some for the poor people who could come and collect the leftovers from the harvest. This process was known as “gleaning” and we’ll see a good example of it later in the book of Ruth.
In verse 14 God wants us to have respect for those who don’t have all the physical abilities that others have. The deaf cannot hear so they have no defense when they are insulted. It is therefore a very shameful act to insult a deaf person. Likewise, putting something in front of a blind person so they trip and fall is another hideous act.
As I read through this list of “don’ts” I started to wonder why God mentions them. When you read them you can see that they are sort of common-sense. Just about everyone would agree that these are things that we shouldn’t do. So why did God have to tell Moses to tell the people not to do them? Why are they in the Bible so that those of us reading it 3,000 years later would know not to do them? Because we are inclined to do these things. In our natural state we spread gossip and favor the wealthy. We nurse hatred in our hearts and steal and deceive. God doesn’t have to tell us not to do something if we already wouldn’t do it. He has to tell us not to do something because we would do it.
In Leviticus 19:5 God tells us that there is only one way to make a peace offering with Him. This offering was optional – it was made of one’s free will as we read about earlier. But nevertheless, there was a certain way it had to be made. Having a relationship with God today is similar. It is not something God will force someone to do. It is always made voluntarily. But there is a precise way that is happens. That way is through Jesus Christ. God doesn’t accept just any ol’ peace offering. And He doesn’t accept our own invented ways of building a relationship with Him. There is only one way even though the world will tell us that there are many.
Many of the activities listed in the latter part of this chapter were forbidden because the pagan societies of the day practiced them and, as God said in the beginning of this chapter, He wants us to be holy, or separate, from the world.
The Pharisees make another appearance today in Mark 8. They seem to have been waiting for Him. This time they wanted Him to perform a miracle. The original Greek language implies that they were “tempting” or “taunting” Him. In Mark 8:12 Jesus sighs. A sigh is an indication of weariness. I think Jesus was tired of these guys stalking Him. But Jesus refuses to give them the sign they were seeking. His miracles were not for show. They were to demonstrate the mercy of God. Jesus did not perform miracles to impress hard-hearted unbelievers. Many unbelievers today say they’ll believe “if” they see a miracle. They’ll have to wait a long time because God doesn’t work that way. He isn’t going to be provoked into doing miracles. The only miracle that any of us need is the miracle that any of us exist.
One thing about the Bible that is so cool and corroborates its authenticity is the reality in which the authors present themselves. No Biblical author (the Bible was written by at least 40 different people) ever paints himself in a good light. They all write about their own sin and struggle with belief. I think this helps to prove that the Bible is from God.
A case-in-point is Mark 8:14-21. Jesus warns the disciples against the “yeast” of the Pharisees. By this He was talking about the sin of pride. Yet the disciples thought He was talking about real bread. Jesus seems, just like He did with the Pharisees, to be a little tired of them not getting it and tells them so. Apparently at this point they should have understood more about what Jesus was teaching than they did.
That is probably true for all of us today. We understand somethings but not as much as we could. We let distractions of this world prevent us from spending time with God and growing in our knowledge and understanding of Him. We all could, and should, understand more about God than we do if only we would pay more attention and devote more time to Him.
In Mark 8:27-30 Jesus questions His disciples about who they think He is. Peter answers for them when he accurately identifies Jesus as the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. Yet the Jews didn’t understand exactly what the Old Testament said about the Messiah because they thought he would be a powerful military and political ruler who would overthrow the outsiders (Rome) who were oppressing them. In verse 31 Jesus begins to clarify their understanding by telling them what will happen to Him in the near future.
Peter, who could not envision a suffering or dead Messiah, rebukes Jesus who responds strongly by calling Peter “Satan”. Peter certainly didn’t realize it – he thought he was saying something that was helpful – but he was really being used by Satan when he reprimanded Jesus. Peter was thinking like a man. He wasn’t thinking like God. He also demonstrated that he didn’t understand the Old Testament in which God clearly states that the coming Messiah would be killed for the sins of the people.
Jesus then tells the entire crowd that anyone wishing to follow Christ (to heaven) must take up their cross. This statement doesn’t have the same impact on us today as it did on those hearing it back then. Carrying a cross was a one-way trip to death. Today people wear crosses around their necks as decorations. But a cross really had one meaning – it was a tortuous method to execute people who didn’t conform.
So many who reject Jesus choose to do so because they think that Jesus represents an old-fashioned, conformist, way of thinking. Not true at all. Jesus was the ultimate rebel as we’ve seen in our readings this year.
What Jesus is saying here is that true followers of His cannot live for themselves. They must give up their own lives for the lives of others. They must stop focusing on self and instead focus how to serve other people. There is nothing to be gained in this world. The wealthiest man in the world will leave this earth with nothing when he dies. So what is the point of collecting wealth? There is none. The only thing worth living for is the salvation of others. Just like Jesus’s life had one purpose – to bring people into a relationship with God – so should the lives of His followers have the exact same purpose.
Psalm 42 tells us that, just like we need water to sustain our life, we need God to live as well. Despite being troubled by many storms of life (verse 7), David continues to praise God. Its interesting that David became discouraged and sad by his troubles. That is normal for any of us. His solution was to praise God. No matter what life throws our way, whether it is of our own making or from someone else, God is with us and is worthy to be praised. The troubles of this sinful world will pass away for those who are saved by the blood of Christ. That is our hope.
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