Avoiding the Surprise of Suffering – Paul, the Road to Jerusalem, and Warnings of Pain in Acts 21

The last chapters of Acts detail Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem and eventual transport to Rome, where he is believed to have been beheaded during the reign of Nero. Acts chapter 21 tells of Paul’s journey from Ephesus to Jerusalem, his final journey before his arrest.

One particularly interesting thing about Paul’s journey to Jerusalem is that the other believers he meets along the way weep for him and/or warn him of serious harm—first the Ephesians, then the Tyrians, then the Caesareans.

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Dogs, Crumbs, and the Faith of the Syrophoenician Woman – A Commentary on Mark 7:24-30 and Rejecting a Tribal Deity

dogs, crumbs, and the faith of a syrophoenician woman

Many agree that the story of the Syrophoenician woman is one of the toughest passages to interpret in the Bible. In the account, Jesus meets a Gentile woman in the region of Tyre who begs Jesus to heal her daughter from possession by a demon. Jesus responds by saying, “First let the children eat all they want…for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (Mark 7:27).

The woman wisely replies “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28). Jesus commends the woman for her response and heals the woman’s daughter.

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Setting Our Mind on the Things of Man or the Things of God – Peter, Jesus, and Suffering in Mark 8:33

Mark 8:33, things of man vs things of God

I’ve noticed that being ill has helped me to read the Bible through a new lens. And consequently, passages that once seemed irrelevant to me, have taken on new meaning.

In Mark 8:31-32, just after Peter states his belief that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus tries to tell his disciples that he will undergo rejection, suffering, and death. Clearly, Peter is envisioning a Christ whose reign is marked by power and success, and so Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to “rebuke” him.

In response, Jesus tells Peter, “you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33).

For the past couple of days, I have been thinking about Mark 8:33. How relevant it is to me!

For like Peter, “things of man” is my framework for viewing the world, for making judgements and decisions. When my life is not a clear and straight upward trajectory, I despair and sense failure.

The framework of men—the worldview of Peter and I—doesn’t involve suffering, being rejected, or dying (these are the very things in Mark 8:31 that Peter reacts against as Jesus announces them). Yet, Jesus insists that his soon coming suffering is a thing of God. For, paradoxically, whoever want to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will save it (Mark 8:35).

I am reminded again that, in God’s worldview, losing is gaining and failing is winning. The central act of Jesus on this earth was to suffer for humankind. His greatest victory was death on the cross.

The question of whether we are setting our mind on things of man or things of God is not just a question for Peter. For all of us, if we’re honest, our instinct is to choose a path that aligns with a human worldview of success—the “things of man.”

It is my prayer that I would be able to evaluate my intentions and actions against a purer rubric than I’ve previously followed. May my view of my life’s decisions and events be shaped by what I know from Jesus’ road to the cross, that a road that seems like a descent, that a road studded with stations of setbacks, ultimately is the paradoxical road to God and a sublime triumph.

Why Jesus Rebukes His Disciples on the Stormy Sea – A Commentary on Mark 4:35-41

Jesus rebukes the disciples

It’s a well-known story. Jesus and his disciples are crossing over to the other side of the lake. Jesus falls asleep in the boat. A furious storm breaks out over the sea. The boat fills with water and Jesus remains asleep. Panicked, the disciples cry out to Jesus. He wakes and calms the storm.

After Jesus quiets the wind and the waves, he turns to his disciples and says “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

So why this rebuke from Jesus? Why does he criticize the disciples? What, precisely, is Jesus bothered with?

I’m finding this passage absolutely fascinating because I think there is something really subtle going on that I have just noticed for the first time.

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:35-40)

At a surface level, in the passage, Jesus is correcting his disciples for not trusting in him, for not having faith. But Mark 4:37 tells us that the boat was nearly swamped. So is Jesus telling them that they need to wait even longer—until the boat is full to the brim with water? Do they need to wait to wake Jesus until they’re all fully underwater and flailing around in the sea? After all, at that point Jesus would have been plunged into the lake also.

The answer to those questions is: I don’t think so. I don’t think this passage is about the storm water rising. It’s not a test of faith for the disciples of whether Jesus can save them.

But rather it’s about the fact that when the disciples come to Jesus they say, “Teacher, don’t you care for us?” (Mark 4:38). That is how they wake him. That is how they call for his help. The question of faith is not whether Jesus CAN save them, it’s whether he CARES enough to consider it.

The disciples come to Jesus with this assumption that because they’re facing a challenge, and a pretty significant one (drowning), that it means Jesus doesn’t care about them.

Let me say that again, the disciples assume that just because they are facing a significant threat to their lives, that means that Jesus doesn’t love them. It’s this idea that Jesus scolds them for. The disciples need to learn to trust that the presence of hardship doesn’t mean that Jesus doesn’t care for them.

Oh how I am reminded with this story to reflect that when I call out to Jesus in hardship, am I approaching him from the assumption that he is abandoning me? Am I falling into the same foolish paradigm that the disciples did on that day on the water? When I call out to Him may I do so just knowing that He cares, that He loves me regardless of whatever happens to our ship.

To Live is Christ and To Die is Gain: Exploring Suffering in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians

to live is Christ and to die is gain

Paul’s statement that ‘To live is Christ and to die is gain’ is one of the boldest sentences in Scripture.

As Christians, it’s a passage that we often quote and that we readily intellectually assent to; however, most of us—if honest—sense that we are not really living it the way that Paul was. Our lives (time, money, passion) are not wholly given over to serving; and we do not face death fearlessly, longing for union with God.

I’ve wanted to really understand these words. And as someone who now has an illness, I feel it’s imperative.

This statement of Paul is found in the book of Philippians, which though a short letter, has some of the most recognized and poetic passages in the Bible. And much to my surprise, when I took a deeper look, I found that this book is all about suffering.

So why does Paul write an entire letter addressing suffering?

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