Tuesday, February 28, 2023

A Rose By Any Other Name - Henry Knapp

 Names in our culture mean very little. Often there is some family interest in a name—I am named after my father, who was named after his father, named after his father, etc.; but, aside from that familial connection, there is nothing distinctive about my being named “Henry.” While family and friends might tease me about my “Henry-isms,” really, there is nothing “Henry” about it; all my quirks are distinctly my own! Our names are not self-descriptive so much as they are useful labels to identify us as individuals against another person.

 Not all cultures are like that. In the early modern period, a name would be associated with one’s vocation (“smith” or “cooper”), birth (“Jameson”), or location (“Washington,” “Pitt,” or “Atwood”). Stereotypically, the Native American culture would give a name to a youth which captured in some way a particular characteristic of that individual (think of the cinematic portrayal, “Dances with Wolves”).

 In many ways, the biblical culture reflects this interest. “Jesus” is so named for “God-is-Salvation.” “David” means “beloved”; “Zechariah” is “the God who remembers” (very fitting for the prophet). This cultural tradition leads to a fruitful discussion of the names of God Himself—for the names given to Him often reflect something crucial of His character. “God” is “Adonai” or “Sovereign Ruler”; “Immanuel” means “God-with-us”; “Messiah,” “Shield,” “Savior,” “Advocate,” “Master,” “Creator.” All names given to God which highlight His essence and character.

 The same identifying trait is used with Satan. The name, “Satan,” means “Accuser” reflecting Satan’s favorite means of attacking believers—accusing us of our sin, driving us to despair, rather than to Christ. But in the Scripture, other names are also used to identify this ungodly Enemy. “Devil” comes from “to slander,” another description of Satan’s work. “The Father of Lies,” “the Great Dragon,” “the Deceiver,” and many others. Each name identifies some evil trait, action, or work of Satan.  

 In the text for this Sunday, Mark 3:22, Jesus is accused of being possessed by “the prince of demons,” or “Beelzebul,” a variant spelling of “Beelzebub,” “Baal” meaning lord, and “zebub” from “flies” or “gnats”; so, Satan is the “lord of the flies.” Baal, during the time of the Kings, was the god worshipped by Israel’s enemies; he was an idol in whose name the pagans pursued moral depravity and religious decadence. A harsher, more degrading accusation is hard to imagine. Jesus, because of His healings and His ministry to the most vulnerable, is charged with being in league with the very Enemy of God. We all know that “sticks and stones may break our bones, but names can never hurt us,” but such an accusation is hard to ignore.

 Jesus’ response is not to ignore it, but to point out the ludicrous nature of the accusation. Almost in mocking tones, He makes it clear that His work is of the Kingdom of Light, not that of Darkness. Jesus works to further God’s Kingdom and to diminish Satan’s hold. Rather than being a pawn of the Devil, Jesus has come to free those who are held captive by the Evil One.

 This Sunday, we are invited to worship the One who overthrows Satan, frees the captives, and introduces us to a new family—the family of God. Come join us as we worship this King!

 Read Mark 3:21-35.

 1. How does the immediate context of Jesus’ family (see verse 21 and 31) influence the way we understand the work of Jesus referenced here?

 2. Why would the idea that Jesus was possessed by a demon appeal to the scribes? Why would this even be an issue?

 3. What is the logic of Jesus’ statements in verse 24-25? Can you think of exceptions to this? If so, what does that say about Jesus’ words?

 4. In the parable of Jesus, who is the strongman? Who is the thief? What is the house? What is being taken away/stolen?

 5. In verse 35, what does it mean to do the will of God? How do we become Jesus’ family? What does that say about His mother and brothers mentioned in verse 21?

Monday, February 20, 2023

Sleepin' on Sundays - Henry Knapp

My Sundays are, as you can imagine, very busy days. I wake up fairly early, pretty ramped up for the day. I get to the office bright and early, going over the sermon again and again, then participate and enjoy worship (twice!), preaching, sometimes teaching Sunday school. The morning wraps up; and I’m tired, really tired. Sometimes we have Bible study in the evenings or have folks over after dinner, which leaves the afternoon…for sleep! I often don’t intend it, but taking a breather on a Sunday afternoon can quickly lead to snoozing. I can’t think of the last time I took a nap in the middle of the week, but Sunday afternoons? Out like a light.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who has a Sunday routine, something that we normally do on this day off. Of course, worship is central to our day, but what else? What else should a Sunday look like?

The Westminster Confession is a summary of our biblical faith and says this about the Christian Sunday: “[Sunday] is kept holy unto the Lord when men, after preparing their hearts and ordering their everyday affairs, not only observe a holy day of rest… but also are engaged in the exercise of public and private worship, as well as acts of necessity and mercy.” WCF 21.8.  In other words, Sundays are good for worship, ministry to others, and “necessary acts” (which may or may not include sleeping!).

The question of how to best honor our Lord on the Sabbath day is not an idle one—in the Old Testament, keeping the Sabbath was a clear mark of one’s connection to the people of God. Numerous times in God’s Law a concern to keep the Sabbath holy is expressed, not the least of which is in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11. See also, Genesis 2:3; Leviticus 23:3; Exodus 31; Isaiah 58; Deuteronomy 5). One of the primary accusations leveled at the Israelite nation is their failure to honor the Sabbath day (Isaiah 56; Nehemiah 13; Ezekiel 20).

It is not surprising, then, that faithful Sabbath observance occupied the religious leaders of Jesus’ day; the Pharisees frequently cited the adherence to the Sabbath as central to faithfulness. And, surprisingly, this led Jesus and the religious leaders of His day into direct conflict. Numerous times throughout His ministry, the Gospel writers recount events where Jesus’ treatment of the Sabbath led to conflict with the Pharisees. And, frequently, it seems like Jesus instigated these interactions, almost like He was stirring the pot, trying to teach something that He knew would be controversial. See, for instance, this week’s passage in Mark 3.

If a correct understanding of the Sabbath is so important to Jesus, perhaps we should take it more seriously as well. What does the Sabbath mean? Why is it important to God, and why does Jesus observe the Sabbath as He does? In Mark 3, we get a glimpse into Jesus’ view of the Sabbath—let us gather together and explore this together!

 Read Mark 3:1-12.

 1. What might the cause of a withered hand be? Why would this serve as a good spiritual analogy?

 2. What is the goal of their “watching” Jesus in verse 2? How does that differ from what they conclude in verse 6?

 3. What is the answer to Jesus’ question in verse 4? Why do the Pharisees stay silent?

 4. What emotions are evident in verse 5? What is the cause? How might that parallel your own life? How does Jesus “work through” these emotions?

 5. Speculate on verses 11 and 12. Why might Jesus command the evil spirits not to make him known?

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Missing the Point - Henry Knapp

 I can be a bit of a contrarian—my initial reaction to any statement is not to focus on the truth in it, but to look for ways to undercut it. If you tell me the sky is blue, my first reaction is to point out all the clouds. I’m not proud of it, but there ya go.

 One of the many downsides of this approach to life is that I often get fixated on minor aspects of an idea and miss the main point. I can get so wrapped up in my own contrary thinking that I miss the overarching message. Hearing, for instance, that you are going on vacation, my first reaction is to be concerned about safety in travel, etc., rather than first of all rejoicing in your time away.

 Thinking most charitably of the Pharisees, I suspect they often fell into this same trap—thinking of all the negatives and missing the overwhelming positive. Take, for instance, this week’s text in Mark 2:13-17. Jesus visits with “tax collectors and sinners,” and the Pharisees are appalled. They object and challenge Jesus: “Why are you meeting with them?” they ask. Of course, maybe they are just being jerks—snooty, nose-in-the-air, I’m-better-than-you snobs. Or, maybe, they just are obsessing on the minor point and missing the main one.

 Possible minor points: “Don’t let the bad people drag you down.” “They are not likely to hear you and/or your message well.” “Why don’t you start with the most influential people, then work your way down.” “Perhaps your time would be better spent elsewhere”?

 But, they miss the main point, Jesus’ point, and He brings it home powerfully to the audience: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but the sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

 Marvelous! Whatever dangers might be present in Jesus’ approach, whatever potential flaws the Pharisees and others might find, the main point remains: Jesus has come to save exactly those who need Him—that is, He came to save us all.

 In preparation for worship this Sunday, and so you might hear Him most clearly, read and think about Mark 2:13-17.

 1. What is the connection between the setting of verse 13 and the calling of Levi in verse 14? What is it about where and what Jesus is doing that prompts Levi’s call to discipleship?

 2. The call to discipleship is not a one-time event.   In what ways are you to respond everyday like Levi did in verse 14?

 3. Tax collectors were representative of all the wickedness and oppression of the conquering Romans. Who would Jesus be eating with today if He wanted to make this same impression?

 4. What possible reasons might the Pharisees object to Jesus spending time with “sinners”? Besides just being annoying jerks, what might be their thinking?

 5. What does Jesus hope the Pharisees will realize in light of His response in verse 17? Obviously, there are a few possibilities/levels of understanding here. What might they be, and how might they be reflected in your own response?

Monday, February 6, 2023

The Pharisees and Logical Necessity - Henry Knapp

 Most of the time when we talk about the Pharisees, we are in critical mode, and well we should. The Bible pulls no punches in dealing with this religious body.  The Pharisees live out a religious approach to life that Jesus finds abhorrent in many ways. Where the good news Jesus proclaimed centered on faith, reliance upon Himself as Savior, the Pharisees stressed a moral reform and practice which placed their salvation in their own hands. This kind of legalism (obedience to the Law is the only way to be saved) ignores the real live problem that no one can faithfully follow the Law. And so, the Pharisees represent the ultimate boogeyman of our faith. Whereas Jesus wants us to look to Him, the Pharisees want us to look to our own power. From a theological perspective, then, the Pharisees stand for the antithesis of the Gospel; instead of the free grace of Christ, we have the self-justification of works-righteousness.

 But that is not the only reason, or even the major reason, why the Gospel writers contrast Jesus with the Pharisees. The opposition of the religious establishment to Jesus has less to do with the means of salvation, and so much more to do with the Person of Jesus Himself. Their rejection of Jesus is not based primarily on their rejection of His message, but of His claim about Himself.

 As one reads through the Gospels, the opposition of the Pharisees to Jesus grows and grows until, finally, they plot to kill Him—eventually leading, of course, to the cross. Certainly the religious establishment was offended by what Jesus taught, upset by His popularity, concerned He would undercut their stable relationship with Rome; but what ultimately drove them to call for His execution was a simple logical deduction based on Jesus’ teaching…

 A “logical necessity” is a conclusion one draws from statements when no other alternative is possible. It is “necessary” in that a conclusion must be true given what is stated earlier. If this, then that MUST be. Using this straightforward way of thinking, the Pharisees, after listening to Jesus, made a necessary conclusion about Jesus’ understanding about Himself… and that drove them to seek His death.

 In Mark 2, Jesus tells a paralyzed man that his sins are forgiven. It is a wonderful picture of the power of the Gospel, the Kingdom of God, to bring healing at our deepest need, our sin. As a demonstration of this forgiveness, the paralyzed man is healed, not just of his sin, but also of his physical condition. The story is a beautiful one where “everyone wins,” and normally would be the cause of great rejoicing. However, the Pharisees notice something and draw a logically necessary conclusion—that Jesus is claiming to be God.

 The Pharisees rightly realize that ultimately each and every sin is an offense against God Himself. Certainly our sin impacts ourselves and others, but ultimately, it is God Himself who is the aggrieved party. Only the offended party can forgive: It makes no sense for me to forgive you for hurting someone else. If sin is an attack against God, then only God can forgive. When Jesus, then, tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven, Jesus is claiming that He is in a position to forgive them, that He is the One offended by the sin of the paralyzed man. In other words, the Pharisees draw the necessary conclusion: Jesus thinks He is God!

 That kind of blaspheme can be dealt with in only two ways—either it is a lie and it must be stamped out (hence, their conclusion that Jesus must die); or, it is the truth, and it must be embraced. Of course, the Pharisees cannot accept that this guy might be God Himself, so they elect to seek His destruction. We too are confronted every day with Jesus’ claim—He thinks Himself to be God: shall we reject this? Or, accept Him as the One who can (and does) forgive our sin?

 Come join us in worship on Sunday as we eagerly worship our Savior, our Lord and God, Jesus Christ.

 Read Mark 2:1-12.

 1. This event took place when Jesus was at home in Capernaum. What difference might it make that this happened where Jesus was well known?

 2. The crowd here functions as a hindrance or barrier for the paralytic and his friends. How might that parallel what you experience every day? Worse yet, where might you (and your “crowd”) be part of the hindrance to others?

 3. Why did the friends take such effort with the paralytic? What do you think they were hoping would happen? Were they satisfied early on with Jesus’ forgiveness of his sin?

 4. Always a challenge for me… notice that Jesus responds with forgiveness when He sees “THEIR” faith—not the faith of the paralyzed man, but of his friends. Intriguing, no?

 5. What is “right” about the Pharisees’ theology? What do they get correct about God, sin, forgiveness?

 6. There’s that word, “immediately,” in verse 8. Why is the immediacy of Jesus’ knowledge important to the story here? What would have been different if He only heard about their objections, say, days later?

 7. Jesus asks, “which is easier…”? Well?  Which is easier? To say, you are forgiven? Or, to heal a man?