Grace: free, or unavailable

Simple Simon met a pie man. We know that rhyme. He had no money, so he got no pie. That’s how the world works. If Simple Simon were around today, he could possibly get free food at a soup kitchen, but people find that humiliating. No one wants charity. How different it is with God! He operates not on working and earning, but grace. The feast is free, or else you can’t have it.

Before the days of brand-name bottled water, or even treated water distributed by municipalities, anyone who thirsted could drink water for free. They only had to find it.… Read the rest

Washed? or clean?

We’ve all heard many times that thorough hand washing is the single most effective step in slowing the spread of infectious diseases. If we can’t use soap and water, now we have hand-sanitizers that kill germs and then quickly evaporate.

I was washing my hands at a restaurant once, when one of the employees came out of the toilet and left without washing his hands. I reported him to the manager. His behavior was unsanitary.

A Pharisee once invited Jesus to his home for lunch, and to his shock, Jesus did not wash his hands. But his shock was not like mine.… Read the rest

The blind man of Bethsaida and a warning

Blind man of Bethsaida

Blind man of Bethsaida

In Mark 8:22-26, Jesus performed his only two-part healing. In an earlier post, I pointed out the significance to Mark’s structure of the fact that Jesus had to lay his hands on a blind man twice before his sight was fully restored.

That is not the only odd thing about this miracle. Notice that Jesus and his disciples entered the village of Bethsaida, where some people asked him to lay hands on a blind man. He did not do so immediately. Instead, he took the man by the hand and led him out of the village.… Read the rest

The odd healing of the blind man of Bethsaida


In recent centuries, philosophers have doubted miracle stories. Some of them have asserted that only uneducated people who don’t know much about science could believe them, so the stories must have some time after Jesus’ live passed into the realm of legend.

Others have claimed that the biblical authors deliberately made up stories that couldn’t be true in order to gain a mass following among the unsophisticated and credulous.

One question, then: if someone made up a bunch of tall tales to make Jesus seem like more than just another teacher, why would they make up a story about a miracle that seemed not to work?… Read the rest

Next words of Jesus: Wait for the gift

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised,which you heard me speak about.” — Acts 1:4

God’s ways are not our ways. The last recorded words of Jesus in any of the synoptic gospels are some form of the Great Commission. John’s version comes in the next to last chapter, but Jesus’ final comments there prepare the disciples to get to work.

In other words, all the gospels end with Jesus saying, “Go” to bewildered and reluctant disciples. The book of Acts opens with him saying, “Wait” to a team that felt ready to get started.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced a promise from God that seems so vivid that we’re bound to see it manifest in the next fifteen minutes.… Read the rest

Next words of Jesus: Do you love me?

“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?'” — John 21:15 (NIV)

Shane Stanford, whose The Seven Next Words of Christ (Abingdon Press, 2006) provided the framework for this series of devotions, considered the entire 21st chapter of John as a single word. There is a certain symmetry to seven last words balanced by seven next words. Besides, according to the number symbolism in biblical times, seven is the number of completion. Still, I think Jesus’ interview with Peter is too important to combine it with anything else.… Read the rest

Next words of Jesus: Haven’t you any fish?

“He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered him. He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” — John 21:5-6 (NIV)

Jesus seldom does the same thing twice, yet this was the second time he told his disciples to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. Nearly every sermon I have ever heard on either passage points out that commercial fishing was and is done from the left side of the boat.… Read the rest

Next words of Jesus: What’s bothering you?

“What are you discussing together as you walk along?” Luke 24:17 (NIV)

After Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other women, he turned up on the road to Emmaus, where he met two men not otherwise mentioned in Scripture. They had been following Jesus and had hoped he was the promised Messiah. Even though they had indirectly heard about the women’s report, they walked in discouragement.

So Jesus asked them what they were talking about–not as an idle question, but as a means of getting them to open up so he could minister to them. I find two noteworthy statements close by.… Read the rest

Next words of Jesus: Who is it you looking for?

“Woman, who is it you looking for?” — John 20:15a (NIV)

Everyone knows about the seven last words of Christ on the cross. Many churches probably offered musical settings of them some time during Holy Week. Of course, as I wrote in the immediately previous post, Jesus violated everyone’s expectations by his resurrection from the dead. And then he had more to say. Easter Sunday has passed, but not Easter season. It’s a great time to look at the next words of Christ after the cross.

[I recently came across a book by Shane Stanford, The Seven Next Words of Christ: Finding Hope in the Resurrection Sayings (Abingdon Press, ©2006), and acknowledge my debt to it.]

We probably can’t reconcile the four surviving accounts of what happened on that chaotic Easter morning, but all agree that Mary Magdalene was the first to see the risen Christ.… Read the rest

Jesus, the towel, and us

“The night before Jesus was betrayed, he took the bread. . .” We have probably heard that every time we take communion, but what about, “The night before Jesus was betrayed, Jesus took a towel. . .”? Why is that towel not as much a symbol of Christianity as the cross or the communion elements?

Jesus always surprises because he refuses to act like the rest of us. Before the feast of the Passover, when he knew he would be seized, tried, and executed illegally, he remained calm. He knew that Judas would betray him, but he remained loving. He chose an especially dramatic way to demonstrate  his love.… Read the rest