Wednesday 1st July
Here we are introduced to Jairus, a synagogue ruler, who had a serious problem. His daughter was dying and he was in deep distress. He came to Jesus, threw himself down before him and begged for help. He urged Jesus to come to his daughter, to heal her: ‘Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.’ It is clear from these words that he had faith in Jesus. Perhaps he had seen Jesus heal other people. Perhaps Jesus had taught in Jairus’ synagogue. Whatever the reason, Jairus believed that Jesus could heal his daughter. Here was a man of faith. As we shall see, in response to that faith, a miracle is coming! How strong is our faith?
Thursday 2nd July
Now we meet someone else who had faith. This woman had been bleeding for twelve years, had tried many doctors, had spent all her money and sadly she was worse not better. When she saw Jesus, however, she believed that she could be healed. She said, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.’ What remarkable faith. She did not even want Jesus to touch her or pray for her. If she could only touch his clothes. Sure enough, as soon as she did this, she was completely healed. How marvellous that she should experience this complete healing after so long. Anyone who has known a very long, debilitating illness will resonate with her joy. Do we have this kind of faith? Do we believe that Christ is able to do remarkable things when we trust him and put our faith in him?
Friday 3rd July
Imagine that you are in a crowd of people and everyone is pressing forward around you. You might be at the sales, or at a sporting event, or an open air concert. You are close up against people and they are bumping into you. Jesus was in a crowd like that. No wonder the disciples were surprised when Jesus said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ Yet Jesus knew that someone had touched him in such a way that power had gone out from him. This was no bump in a crowd, this was a deliberate act. The woman came forward and confessed and Jesus said, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you.’ Notice, this woman actively sought out the one whom she knew could heal her. Knowing that Jesus is the answer to our needs is one thing, seeking him out is the next step. Have we taken that step?
Saturday 4th July
Now Jairus has a crisis of doubt. People come with the news that his daughter is already dead. Notice the words of Jesus: ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’ It would have been natural for the man’s faith to collapse in the face of this bad news but Jesus immediately steps in to reassure him and bolster his faith. Very often, when we go through a crisis of doubt, Jesus does the same thing. He comes alongside, reassures us and helps to strengthen our faith again. This is a very important reminder that the love and compassion of the Lord meets us at our greatest point of need and sees us through the darkness until the light of day returns. Many who have gone through trauma or bereavement would testify that the Lord drew near and supported them and helped them to get through. As one prayer puts it: ‘he is nearest to us when we need him most.’
Sunday 5th July
When they reached Jairus’ house, everyone was crying and wailing. Jesus told them that the little girl was only sleeping and they laughed at him. No faith in that crowd, they had seen her body. We mustn’t be too critical of the crowd of mourners. We too would probably have doubted that Jesus could do anything with a dead girl. It was such an astonishing thing. Jesus clears the room, with the exception of the three disciples who had come with him and the child’s parents. He then raises the little girl from the dead. The message of the passage is that Jairus had faith in Jesus and his little girl was healed. The message is simple: faith makes a difference, faith changes everything. Jesus is no longer physically on this earth but he can use men and women of faith to do great things for the kingdom.
Monday 6th July
In the last few days, we have seen a good deal of what can be achieved by faith. Today we see the opposite. Jesus goes back home and he is faced with a complete lack of faith. They knew him and they knew his family, so how could he dare to pretend to be anything special! It’s the old Scottish put-down, ‘I kent his faither…’ As the passage says, ‘He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.’ If the stories of Jairus and the woman who touched Jesus are stories of faith leading to healing, this is a story of how restrictive a lack of faith can be. The message is that our faith can make us useful in the hands of God but our lack of faith can obstruct God’s work.
Tuesday 7th July
Jesus now extends his ministry by sending out the twelve disciples on a mission. Their mission is to preach, to heal and to cast out demons. For this, they are given authority from Jesus. As Paul says in Romans 10, ‘How can they preach unless they are sent?’ They were called by Jesus, sent out by Jesus and acted on the authority of Jesus. The message they proclaimed was one they had been taught by Jesus. It was a very simple message: ‘They went out and preached that people should repent.’ That was what Jesus had told them to do. This is the pattern of faithful Gospel ministry. Preachers have no right to offer their own message, or to adapt the message of Jesus or to water it down. They are ambassadors whose sole responsibility is to pass on the message they have received from the Master.
Wednesday 8th July
We read these verses again today to focus in on the message the disciples proclaimed: ‘They went out and preached that people should repent.’ The message of repentance was the message of John the Baptist (Mark 1:4-5). It was also the first message from the lips of Jesus (Mark 1:15). To repent means to turn round and go in a different direction. It means to turn to God, from a life of sin and disobedience. As fallen sinners, this does not come easily but when God meets us by his Holy Spirit, he enables us to repent. We may not believe that we are sinners, reserving that word for particularly evil people but this would be a mistake. The Scripture teaches us that all have sinned and all need to repent.
Thursday 9th July
At the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, we considered the ministry of John the Baptist. We looked at his preaching, at his message, at the meaning of his baptism, and at his attitude to the religious establishment. We also saw his relationship to Jesus. He was the one who went before to prepare the way. Today we come to the last part of John’s story, to his death. In verse 14 of our passage, we learn that King Herod had heard about all that Jesus was doing and he was of the opinion that this Jesus was really John the Baptist come back from the dead. I think we can see in this the mark of a bad conscience because it was Herod who had put John to death, as we shall see tomorrow. The conscience is one way in which God convicts us of sin. Having been made in the image of God, even fallen human beings have what Calvin called a ‘sense of deity’. A conscience trained by God’s Word is a powerful ally of the Christian, guiding us in the right paths. Of course, the conscience can also be de-sensitised by disobedience and ingrained patterns of sin.
Friday 10th July
John the Baptist was fierce in his condemnation of Herod’s marriage to Herodias, which he declared to be unlawful and immoral. As a result of John’s protest, he was thrown into prison but to have John in prison was not enough for Herodias. She hated him with a terrible hatred and was determined to have him destroyed. Her opportunity was not long in coming. On his birthday, Herod gave a banquet for all the high and mighty in the land, and Salome, the daughter of Herodias, danced. Herod was highly pleased, and promised to give Salome anything she wished. Herod’s pleasure quickly turned to shock and horror when Salome requested the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Herod found himself trapped. He had made a promise in front of a considerable company of people and he was afraid to back down (verse 26). There was no moral courage or backbone in the man at all. We can sum up his character just by reciting the course of events: He entered into an immoral marriage because he lusted after his brother’s wife. He threw John into prison because he was weak in the face of Herodias. He gave in to Salome’s request because he was weak in the face of friends. And at the end of it all he was distressed and guilt-ridden because the Law of God and his conscience testified against him.
Saturday 11th July
The disciples reported back after their mission and Jesus then took them away on ‘retreat’ for a time of rest and recovery. This time of rest was soon interrupted because crowds followed them. We’re told that, ‘When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.’ At this stage in the story what they needed most of all was teaching and direction. They needed to know about the kingdom of God and the good news of salvation. It might be that many in the crowd wanted to see miracles but that was not what they needed. Jesus knew them and provided what was best for them. We must never play down the significance of teaching people about God and his kingdom.
Sunday 12th July
As time wore on, the disciples became anxious and wanted Jesus to send the people away to buy food. They must have been shocked by Jesus’ answer, ‘You give them something to eat.’ Jesus asked them what they had in the way of food and discovered that they had five loaves and two fish. He told them to sit people down in groups and he proceeded to feed 5,000 of them. Absolutely astonishing! The disciples were no doubt supposed to learn a valuable lesson here: put your faith in Jesus and leave the miracles to him. Unfortunately, as we shall see tomorrow, they didn’t get it! Faith in Jesus was all that was required. They simply had to trust him and do what he asked of them. In our secular, western societies we are often too slow to believe and too ‘sophisticated’ to settle for the way of simple faith. We talk about trusting in Jesus but often we don’t expect him to do anything! When we trust in Jesus, things happen.
Monday 13th July
Jesus sent his disciples on ahead in a boat, he stayed behind to pray. Later he could see that the wind was getting up and they were struggling to row the boat. He walked out to them on the water. They were absolutely terrified. He joined them in the boat and the water became calm. Then we’re told, ‘They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.’ This probably means two things. First, they still did not know who Jesus really was; and second, they had not learned the lesson of faith properly. No matter how much evidence is presented and no matter how many miracles are witnessed, only when eyes are opened and hearts are melted by grace, can we see and understand. Coming to faith in Christ may involve an intellectual search and a study of the Scriptures but the principal need is for new birth and new life, which comes by the Holy Spirit.
Tuesday 14th July
The Pharisees and teachers of the Law complained to Jesus that his disciples were not behaving according to the ‘Tradition of the elders.’ Jesus replied by calling the Pharisees ‘hypocrites’ and says in verse 8: ‘You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.’ To all outward appearances the Pharisees were very religious. They were meticulous when it came to the detailed observance of the Law but their hearts were not right with God. As we can see in verses 9-13, Jesus demonstrated that their ‘traditions’ had undermined the Word of God. That is to say, the rules and regulations by which the Pharisees lived were not to be found in Scripture, they were made up by men. It is the easiest thing in the world for human traditions to take the place of the Bible. In many churches, tradition is a more powerful thing than Scripture itself. We must be absolutely clear on this matter. The Bible is our rule of faith and life, not tradition.
Wednesday 15th July
Having dealt with the issue of tradition, Jesus then went on to deal with a related matter, the question of ceremonial cleansing. The Pharisees were saying that if people did not follow all their elaborate rules and regulations then they were ‘unclean’. Jesus cut through all of this and showed that the important thing was not ceremonial cleansing but spiritual cleansing. Now Jesus was not saying that the regulations for ceremonial observance in the Old Testament were wrong or unimportant. Rather, he was saying that a person could be ceremonially clean in the eyes of the Pharisees but spiritually unclean in the eyes of God. In other words, Jesus was making the point which we find him making again and again in the Scriptures, namely, that outward observances must be the result of an inward change. That is to say, when a person is spiritually renewed then participation in the outward observances of the people of God will follow naturally; but the observances themselves, without the inward spiritual change, achieve little.
Thursday 16th July
Jesus was, for the first time in his ministry, outside Jewish territory. We aren’t told how this woman knew of Jesus, but she came to the place where Jesus was staying and would not go away. Jesus refused to help her and said, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.’ There was an important message here. Israel has always had a special place in the purposes of God because it was with Abraham that God made his covenant. This did not mean that salvation was only for the Jewish race, but certainly anyone who wanted to partake of the blessings of God had to become a Jew and hence, in a very real sense, the Gentiles were excluded from the salvation which had been promised to the covenant people. The great day for the Gentiles came after the resurrection when Jesus appeared to the disciples and gave them what has come to be known as the ‘great commission’. Here at last we find the words which had been hinted at in the Old Testament and foretold by Jesus himself: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations’. Nevertheless, this woman showed real faith and so her daughter was healed.
Friday 17th July
Here we have the healing of a man who was ‘deaf and could hardly talk’. Those who brought the man to Jesus ‘begged him’ to put his hands on the man to heal him. Perhaps they had seen Jesus heal in this way before. What Jesus did was dramatically different: ‘After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spat and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”).’ The man was healed. Apart from the constant message of the Gospels concerning the power of the Son of God to heal, perhaps the message here concerns individuality. Jesus did not deal with this man they way he had dealt with others. His method of healing here was distinct and individual. No doubt he could have done it in other ways but this was his chosen method. We might say that God knows each of us completely and deals with us in an individual and personal way. He meets our needs in a manner specifically appropriate to us. It underlines his personal, providential care over each of us.
Saturday 18th July
We have already considered, a week ago, the feeding of the 5,000 and so we do not need to go over the same lessons we learned then. It will be sufficient to notice three things that this teaches us about Jesus. First, Jesus is able not only to perform but also to repeat his miracles and other mighty acts. Second, Jesus sympathy here extends beyond the covenant people, since this took place in Gentile territory. Third, Jesus’ repeated action to feed the hungry sits well with the teaching in Scripture concerning concern for the poor. Do we have a similar concern for the hungry?
Sunday 19th July
Now we come to a most remarkable passage in this chapter. After all that Jesus has done and all the miracles that the crowd has witnessed, these Pharisees (and the Sadducees also in Matthew’s version of the story) come asking for a sign to prove that Jesus has come from God! How perverse can you get? Even if Jesus had given them some sign from heaven, they would have said it was from the devil – as they did on other occasions. Many today say that if only they had a sign or saw a miracle, then they would believe but it is not true. The human mind, which in its fallen condition is naturally inclined to disbelieve, will always find an alternative explanation.
Monday 20th July
The disciples discovered that they had only brought one loaf. Jesus uses this to warn them: ‘Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.’ By ‘yeast’ he meant their teaching. It was a good illustration because yeast has an unseen, pervasive influence. The disciples, however, misunderstood this and thought Jesus was simply talking about their lack of bread. Jesus is frustrated by their failure to understand what he was saying and criticises their lack of spiritual perception. They were so concerned with their immediate needs that they hadn’t learned the lessons from the feeding of the 5,000 and the 4,000. Past blessings are meant to nourish faith and encourage believers.
Tuesday 21st July
Here we have another healing miracle and another example of the unique and individual methods Jesus used to heal. On this occasion, Jesus took the man out of the village and then healed him (see verses 23-25). Jesus did not heal as he did in other cases. Here there was a ‘second touch’, rather than immediate healing. The lesson once again is that the Lord chooses his own methods. The friends of the blind man ‘begged Jesus to touch him’. Often, we want God to answer our prayers by doing things in the way we want, rather than trusting in God’s sovereign action. Instead, we must trust God, even if we are unhappy with the means he uses. This was a lesson which Naaman had to learn (2 Kings 5:10-14). It is a matter of faith not only to trust God but also to trust his methods and means.
Wednesday 22nd July
These verses describe a discussion between Jesus and his disciples, when they were in the general vicinity of Caesarea Philippi. While they were walking along Jesus asked them a question. “Who do people say I am?” The answers given reflect the confusion which existed in the minds of many people as to the true identity of this man from Nazareth. Jesus was not only interested in public opinion, however, he wanted to know what the disciples themselves thought. At this point in the story we have one of the most important statements in the New Testament, when Peter said, ‘You are the Christ’. In Matthew’s version of the incident we learn that Peter added the words, ‘…the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16). Here, then, is the answer to the question of the identity of Jesus: he was the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, the long-expected messiah, the one whom God sent to destroy the forces of darkness and to announce the Kingdom of God.
Thursday 23rd July
In Matthew’s version of this story, when Peter declared Jesus to be the Christ, Jesus says that this had been revealed to Peter by God (Matthew 16:17). Underlying Jesus’ comment is a biblical truth of fundamental importance. It is quite simply that we cannot see Jesus as he really is, we cannot recognise him as the Son of God, unless God enables us so to do. The Church is a fellowship of men and women whose eyes have been opened to see Jesus as he really is, whose ears have been opened to hear and understand the Gospel and whose lives have been transformed by the power of Almighty God. When Peter declared that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, he was not giving an opinion; he was expressing a truth which, as Jesus said, had been revealed to him by God. Have our eyes been opened?
Friday 24th July
After Peter’s great declaration of Jesus as the Christ, the scene changes quickly and Jesus begins to teach his disciples about his forthcoming death and resurrection. We’re told that he spoke plainly about this and didn’t mince his words. The disciples were taken aback. Some of them still believed that he was the kind of messiah who would lead a Jewish revolt and throw the Romans out of Palestine. Others felt that his death would be a catastrophic defeat marking the end of their hopes and dreams (see Luke 24:20-21). It was left to Peter to make a verbal protest. Here we have a second exchange between Jesus and Peter. Mark tells us that ‘Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him’. Now to us today these words come over as frankly astonishing. How could Peter act in such a way? To rebuke the Master?! There was, you see, a major problem in Peter’s thinking. He believed that Jesus was the Christ, but he saw no need for the Cross. It is imperative that we recognise Peter’s mistake. To be the Christ it was necessary for Jesus to die. Indeed, in John 12:27, Jesus said that his death was the very reason for his coming. Someone had to pay the penalty for sin, someone had to bear the guilt of mankind, and only Jesus (as God) was able to do this. A Jesus without the Cross might be a good example or a competent teacher of morality, but he could not be a Saviour.
Saturday 25th July
This chapter ends with Jesus issuing a radical call to faith and discipleship: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ (verse 34). The way of the Cross is the way of self-denial. It involves the recognition that we must come to Christ on his terms, not ours. There is no viable alternative. Jesus went on to make that clear, noting the danger of gaining the whole world yet forfeiting the soul. This is the paradox of Christianity. The way to gain life is to lose it in the service of Christ. The way to real fulfilment is the way of self-denial. This way of the Cross is a costly exercise. It is all or nothing. Sadly, there are many who would claim to be Christians who have never gone the way of the Cross, whose religion is an outward, formal thing, and who have never known the radical transformation of heart, mind and life which comes to those who go the way of the Cross without reservation. Have we taken up the Cross?
Sunday 26th July
We cannot leave these verses without taking note of the warning which Jesus gives: ‘If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels’ (verse 38). Have we ever been ashamed to admit that we are Christians? Have we ever been afraid to stand up for Jesus and for the Gospel? Have we ever failed to witness to the Saviour, being afraid of what people might think? Peter himself denied three times that he even knew Jesus On that last day, we know that Peter will be able to stand before his Lord unashamed because, having recognised the error of his former ways, he went the way of the Cross. How will each of us fare on that day?
Monday 27th July
This passage of Scripture describes what has come to be known as the Transfiguration. In verse 2 we learn that, having gone up the mountain, Jesus was ‘transfigured’ before them. This word ‘transfigured’ is similar to our word ‘metamorphosis’, the word we use for a great change, for example, a caterpillar changing into a butterfly. Christ’s body didn’t change but his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as light. Can we imagine what it must have been like? The word which springs to mind is ‘glory’. Here was a revelation of the royal presence, a demonstration that God was among his people. Or, to put it another way, the Kingdom of God was revealed. Jesus had come declaring that the Kingdom of God was at hand and calling people to repent and believe the Gospel. Now it could be seen that he was speaking the truth. Do we think of Jesus as just a man or have we grasped something of the glory and majesty of the Son of God.
Tuesday 28th July
Perhaps the most exciting part of the story of the Transfiguration is the appearance of Moses and Elijah. The question that naturally arises is, why these two, out of all the Old Testament characters? The answer to this lies not so much in the persons of Moses and Elijah as in what they represented. Moses stands for the Law and Elijah stands for the prophets. What we have here, then, is the Law and the Prophets (which is often a summary way of talking about the Old Testament) testifying to Jesus. If you remember nothing else about the Transfiguration remember this: the Law and the Prophets had told of a messiah who was to come. They had described him and prepared the way for him. But now, in the persons of Moses and Elijah they were saying that these prophesies had been fulfilled, and that they personally had been superseded by one who was far greater.
Wednesday 29th July
Before we leave the Transfiguration, I want to summarise its importance in four short points: First, the Transfiguration prepared Jesus to face with courage all that was about to take place in Jerusalem. Second, the Transfiguration confirmed the faith of these disciples in the truth that Jesus was the Messiah. Third, the Transfiguration was a focal point in the revelation of the King of Glory. It looks back to the Old Testament and shows how Christ fulfilled it, and it looks forward to the great events of the cross, resurrection, ascension and second coming. In this sense it is a meeting point between the Old and the New Testament. It is also a meeting-point between two worlds, the physical and the spiritual. Fourth, the Transfiguration was a revelation of the glory of God. The glory which Jesus revealed was not earthly glory but heavenly glory. Although the Messiah was to be rejected by his own people he wasn’t rejected by God. As we read this story, we must think about the glory of God revealed there, and the promise of Christ’s return which we still await, with the hope of eternal life and eternal glory.
Thursday 30th July
Mark describes the healing of a boy with an evil spirit. This story of the disciples’ failure to heal the boy stands in contrast with the glory of the Transfiguration just past. This contrast is expressed in Raphael’s great painting of the Transfiguration. When Jesus arrives, he questions the father of the boy about his faith and receives the famous answer: ‘I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief’. This is the cry of many today. Most of us would have to confess that our faith is sometimes weak. Spurgeon told the story of a fire on the third floor of a house and a child trapped. A huge strong man stands on the ground, ready to catch the child and urges the child to jump. As Spurgeon says, it is part of faith to know that the man is there, still another part of faith to believe him to be strong; but the essence of faith lies in trusting him fully and dropping into his arms. Are we trusting fully in Christ?
Friday 31st July
Jesus and his disciples move on through Galilee. We’re told that, ‘Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples.’ Jesus is very straightforward in telling the disciples that he was going to be killed and then be raised from the dead. Unfortunately, despite this clear teaching of Jesus, the disciples completely failed to understand what he was saying. Only later, did it all make sense to them. The teaching paid off in the end. This should reassure us. When we teach our children or young people about Christ, it may be many years later before God the Holy Spirit brings it all to mind and understanding dawns. Many would testify to having learned the Shorter Catechism as children but only truly understood it in adulthood. Then the teaching paid off! Jesus persisted with his teaching despite their failure to understand, we should do the same.