A Shepherd’s Story 3 – Trouble in Town

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Amos and a friend were relieved of their shepherd duties for a couple of days. Amos’ mother wanted him to go into town to purchase a new pottery bowl for her. The two friends walked along talking about—what else?—their sheep. After all, they spent most of their time corralling, tending, feeding, leading, or protecting these woolly creatures. 

As they drew near the little town of Bethlehem, they speculated on what the tanner or the carpenter or the man with vegetables might have available today. They enjoyed seeing new things and faces other than sheep! Shyly, they glanced around at the wares for sale. Amos had brought a sheep skin coat with him in hopes of trading it for a new stool from the carpenter, but Tarsha, the carpenter’s son was the only one in the shop.

Tarsha and Amos used to play together years ago when they were younger, but now that they were sixteen and seventeen, they’re paths seemed to have parted. In fact, the last time Amos was in town, he had overheard Tarsha talking to a friend. They spoke of the “sheep boys” in derogatory terms.

“I guess the sheep boys will be coming in town today,” Tarsha had said.

“Yes,we’ll know when they get here. We’ll be able to smell them!” the two boys bent over in haughty laughter. 

When Amos and his friend approached the carpenter’s shop, Tarsha glanced up but did not speak. Amos opted to nod and walk on by.

“I thought you wanted to buy a stool,” his friend queried.

“Not today.” Amos rushed along.

To make matters worse, the innkeeper’s son stood in the path as if to deny them passage. Amos moved on around him to the potter’s stand to purchase the bowl for his mother. They found another way to go back around the town and return to the hills where they felt safe and at home.

The next day, Amos slumped down on a stone. His father, Ariah, placed his hand on Amos’ shoulder. “What is it son?”

“I don’t understand how things have gone so wrong with my friends in town.”

His father sat beside him. “These young men have taken on the trade of their fathers just as you have. They think their position in life is far superior to ours. But remember son, your work is just as important as theirs. The pure lambs we breed and care for are used for Temple sacrifices. Nothing can compare with that. Our work is honorable. It is dedicated to the Lord. They don’t always understand that.” 

Ariah continued, “One day, the Lord’s Messiah will come and bring peace to us. Remember the prophecy, 

“For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 

A Shepherd’s Story 2 – First Watch

 

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

NOTE to readers: Some readers did not get the blog yesterday (including me!) so I’m re-sending it.  Apologies if you already received it.

Amos pulled four burrs off the last sheep. “In you go Bramble.” And Bramble trotted into the sheep pen. 

“Would you like to take first watch tonight, Amos?” asked Ariah, Amos’ father.

“Really? Me?”

“I think it’s time. Are you ready for the job?

“Sure!”

Ariah and older son, Ezra, adjusted their sheepskin “beds” near the sheep gate and covered up with blankets. Amos ambled over to a nearby rock to rest and watch for any possible intruders in the night. He propped up his staff beside him with clutched hands and leaned his face on his hands. His heart was warmed by this first time opportunity to prove himself an able shepherd.

Amos listened to the fading “baas” of the sheep and insect noises you only notice when all else is quiet on a Bethlehem hillside.

He thought about the time, six years ago, when he went to the lambing barn to watch his first-ever birth of a lamb. Months of births later, he helped many a ewe struggling to give birth to their lambs and then the day came when he was allowed to join Papa and Ezra for one of their three-day journeys out on the grazing hills.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. Psalm 23:1-3

David’s words came with clarity and meaning as Amos thought about his family’s job as shepherds, taking care of every need for their sheep.  David held a special place in his heart—his favorite shepherd in the Holy Scriptures. He remembered his father’s words—”David walked these very hills when he was a shepherd boy hundreds of years ago.” Somehow it seemed to make this ground sacred.

Suddenly, Amos heard a howling sound in the distance. Wolves,” he whispered to himself. He jumped to his feet, yanking the slingshot out of his bag. Sure enough, a pack of wolves made their way across the top of the hill. Amos thought his heart would beat out of his chest. He quickly grabbed three stones and headed toward the sound of their pounding paws, 

The pack came within sight. Amos pounded his staff on the ground and shouted sharp hacking sounds at them. They slowed and paused. In a flash, he placed a stone in his sling and aimed at three of the wolves who were clumped together, figuring he would strike one of them. Badly stung, one whimpered and limped around. The others paused temporarily. Again, Amos calmly aimed at another still target. Victory! It was enough to persuade the pack to turn and run. 

By this time, Papa was on his feet, running to check on Amos. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, and the wolf pack is gone.”

Amos explained what he had done and received an approving pat on the back. “Good work son.” Papa asked if Amos wanted to sleep now.

“No, I can’t sleep right now. I’ll finish my watch.” 

As Amos settled on his rock again, the psalm came back to his mind.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

“Thank you, oh Lord, my shepherd.” 

~ Joyce ~

Joseph – 10 Jealous Brothers

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

And now we continue to see God at work in Joseph’s life. (See last week’s blog – “Joseph, God-incidents”)

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. Gen. 37:17

The “bros” see the dreamer coming. It stirs up their bitterness once again. In fact, while they’re out here away from everybody, they hatch their evil plot.

“Come now. let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams.” Gen. 37:20

Did you hear the word, “kill?”

At least the oldest brother, Reuben, has some sense of decency and cares for his father, if not his brother Joseph. He tells his brothers;

“Let’s not take his life. Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Gen. 37:22

Reuben reasons that when the brothers are asleep, he will rescue Joseph and take him back to their father.

The brothers apparently  agree to the plan. Thank you, brother Reuben! However, for Joseph, I’m not sure which would be worse, be killed quickly or left to starve to death in a hole in the ground. Either way, the brothers seem ruthless and uncaring.

So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the richly ornamented robe he was wearing—and they took him and threw him into the cistern. Gen. 37:23, 24

I can imagine that they taunt and tease him slowly, enjoying their advantage, while they release a steady flow of their pent-up jealousy and anger. We don’t hear Joseph’s frantic cries and pleas as he, no doubt, struggles to be released. But with several strong hands and restraining arms around him, he hasn’t a chance.

Callously, they sit down to eat a meal, ignoring his pleas for help from the pit of the dry cistern.

Our next God-incident is about to happen. A caravan of Ishmaelite traders comes down the road. Brother Judah has an idea.

“What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” Gen. 37:27

I always wish for voice inflection and facial expression to decipher statements like, “…after all he is our brother.” Was he being facetious or was there any genuine concern? Were the brothers thinking of Joseph or the money? Whatever their motives, they agree to the deal; Joseph is sold for 20 shekels of silver, and off he goes to Egypt.

Once again God intervenes. He prompts Reuben to delay a killing, provides a foreign caravan, and plants the selling idea in Judah’s head. All because God wants Joseph to get to Egypt. Joseph’s story is kind of the “bad news-good news” deal. While Joseph may be thankful to be out of the pit, the prospects of heading toward slavery can’t be a very welcoming thought. At least our hero is alive, but oh, the lessons he must learn ahead.

Have you ever felt like “this is the bottom of the pit”? It can’t get any worse. Then, sure enough, it gets even more frightening. The only way is up. That’s when the Lord really has our attention. Next week, some good news.

~ Joyce ~

 

Who Was Nicodemus?

Last year, while leading a small group session at a conference, I asked the question, “What do you know about Nicodemus?” One person responded that Nicodemus was a Pharisee; another said he went to see Jesus at night. Then a lady spoke up and said, “He was short.” I stopped in my tracks for a moment. Where did she get this? Did I miss something in all those months of research? Then it dawned on me that she was thinking about Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector who was short and climbed a tree in order to better see Jesus coming down the Jericho road. To my chagrin, this conversation has been repeated many times. Some of us know just enough Bible to be dangerous! Granted, there is much to know. When we get things mixed up, we just have to laugh about it and learn in the process. We will spend this month checking out the biblical passages about Nicodemus. No, I will not spoil the book (A Heart for Truth) for you. I’ll just give some extra commentary. John is the only gospel writer who gives us any information about Nicodemus. We find him mentioned first in John 3.

1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said… John 1:1

So, Nicodemus was a Pharisee. That tells us a lot about him. There were about 6000 Pharisees scattered over Israel with a heavy concentration of Pharisees in Jerusalem where Nicodemus lived. They religiously kept the Mosaic laws, but added to the laws to further define them. You may be most familiar with the way they took the law about resting on the Sabbath and developed a wide variety of man-made laws to enforce that one law. Sometimes I think we give the Pharisees a pretty bad rap. They certainly were religious to the core. They did much to maintain and preserve the commandments, but their attitudes did not follow Jesus’ teachings about love. In fact, of all people (sinners included), Jesus was most critical of the religious leaders, Pharisees in particular. They allowed their man-made laws to hold as much, if not more value than the original laws. This laid heavy burdens on the common man to try to observe, much less know, all these rules. As I studied the intricacies of these many rules in the Mishna, I found myself thinking, what does it matter? In addition to being a Pharisee, Nicodemus was also part of the elite Jerusalem ruling council called the Sanhedrin. These 70 leaders, plus the High Priest, made up this powerful group. Israel was under Roman oppression at the time, but Rome did allow the Jews some leeway in governing themselves in the realm of their religious matters. Nicodemus, then, was in the upper of the upper echelon of Jewish society. As Jesus popularity grew, so grew the Pharisees’ disdain for Jesus. “He doesn’t do things the way we do. Listen to the things he says. Who does he think he is, the Messiah?” Indeed! So for Nicodemus, a prestigious Pharisee, to seek out Jesus at all was quite a dangerous feat. No wonder he chose to do it in the cloak of night. The religious leaders were always full of questions for Jesus, not in order to learn from him, but to trick him and show how ignorant he was. Quite possibly Nicodemus came with many questions, perhaps even with a desire to truly understand Jesus and his strange teachings. But Jesus ends up doing most of the talking in this very well-known discourse in John 3. Next week we will examine the actual dialogue between the two of them. For application of today’s description of the Pharisees, I am reminded of those who are very religious in their beliefs today. They may be very moral and hold to high biblical standards, but have a demeaning, critical spirit. It may be that you even agree with them about certain values, but their demeanor is such that you shudder to be seen or associated with them. A loving attitude is simply not there. Jesus might call it a self-righteous attitude. Oh that we would guard ourselves against such. Oh that we would be strong in our convictions, but stronger in the caring way we convey them. Think on such things this week. I’d love to hear your ideas. Click on “Comment” below. You won’t see your comment right away, but after I  okay it (for reasons of possible spam), it will be seen.

~ Joyce ~

 

Testimony of a Bethlehem Shepherd

One night I was out in the field near Bethlehem helping my nephew and uncle with their flock. We had settled the sheep down for the night in the pen. I walked up the hill playing my flute over this peaceful scene, when out of no where a bright light appeared and a man startled us. The light glowed all around him. We could see each other plain as day. My flute went dangling at my side and I fell to the ground, covering my face. We were scared half out of our wits.

The strange man said, “Do not be afraid, because I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” I looked out carefully from behind my hands and thought I must be dreaming or something. I blinked my eyes, trying to get use to that light.

The man in the light was excited, so I tried to listen real careful knowing this must be something very important. The man said, “Today in the town of Bethlehem, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Then I knew it was important! By this time I figured he was an angel of the Lord. Who else could he be?

The angel said, “This will be a sign to you. You will find the baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.”

Before we could take all that in, suddenly there was a great company of the heavenly host appearing with the angel. It nearly took my breath away. The whole sky was lit up with all of them singing and praising. They said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests. Glory to God. Glory to God!” We were absolutely awestruck.

When the angels went back into heaven, we stood there in amazement. We couldn’t speak. We couldn’t move. Finally, my nephew said, “Let’s go Bethlehem to see this thing that has happened that the angel told us about.” We didn’t stop to think about the sheep. Guess we thought the Lord would take care of them since he gave us such important business.

Well, we hurried off down the hill and around the bend. We couldn’t believe any mother would have her baby in a stable, but we looked in every stable in town. They were all full because of the census, you know. When we ran to the last stable, we saw a lantern light. Sure enough, there was the baby all swaddled up tight in strips of cloths lying in a manger of straw. His mother and father were sitting beside him.

In the quiet, we realized how loud our panting sounded. We finally caught our breath and whispered, “Shalom.” The baby’s mother invited us to come closer. Can you believe a nice lady like that would let us dirty old shepherds get close to her new baby?

Her husband welcomed us, too. We spoke real soft to them because we didn’t want to wake the baby. We just looked at the baby a long time. Kind of like looking at a newborn lamb – all full of life. We knew deep in our hearts that this was a special baby. After all, the angel said “He is Christ the Lord.” You don’t get any more speacial than that.

We told the mother and father about the angel and what he said and the host of angels and their song and the light and everything.

But, you know, the parents didn’t seem the least bit surprised. I guess it was because somehow they knew it was all true.

~Merry Christmas from Joyce~

Going to Elizabeth’s House

While out thoughts are knee-deep in Christmas, let’s explore an account that often goes unnoticed amongst the shepherds, manger, angels, and such. It’s Mary’s trip to visit her relative, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth and her priest husband, Zechariah, live in the hill country of Judea. Their story is quite intriguing and can be found in Luke 1. In summary, Elizabeth (like Sarah, Hannah, and others) is devastated because she has been unable to have a child, something akin to a curse in her day. Zechariah serves his yearly one-week turn at the Temple in Jerusalem. While there, he is dumbfounded (read Luke 1 to get the pun) to discover that his wife is going to have a baby in her old age. We later learn that this child is none other than John, as in John the Baptist.

Sure enough, old Elizabeth does become pregnant! And gives credit where credit is due.

25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” Luke 1:25

Six months later, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary, revealing to her that she will bear a son and name him Jesus. He will, in essence, be the Messiah that Israel has longed for. Mary is startled and confused, but Gabriel satisfies her questions.

35 “The Holy Spirit will come upon you… and he will be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:35

The angel goes on to say,

36 “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God. ”  Luke 1:36

Mary makes a trip to the hill country to visit Elizabeth. Zechariah is the first one to the door and as soon as Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, baby John leaps in her womb.

41b …and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy SpiritLuke 1:41b

Elizabeth excitedly tells about her baby leaping for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. She goes on to pronounce blessing over Mary.

42 In a loud voice she exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” Luke 1:42

Two women – one old, one young. Both are told they will bear a son with a specific name  and specific callings. One son will prepare the way for the other. Both women are filled with the Holy Spirit. Both have their callings confirmed by each other. Two miracles takes place because “Nothing is impossible with God.”

Yet another reason for us to give thanks and praise during this season. We, too, can look back and see God at work in our own lives: affirming us, encouraging us, revealing his Holy Spirit, and at times, accomplishing what seems impossible. Think back on your year. How have you seen God at work in your life?

Next week, on Christmas day, we will hear a testimony from one of the Bethlehem shepherds.

~Joyce~

 

 

 

Interruptions

Perhaps you’ve read the humorous tales of the housewife who sits down to write a few bills when the phone rings. She goes to another room to look up an address for the caller. On her way back, she remembers that she forgot to take her medicine that morning. She goes to the kitchen, takes the medicine, and sees the breakfast dishes in the sink.

“Might as well put these in the dish washer while I’m here,” she says to herself, but the dryer buzzer goes off. “Oh, I need to get the clothes out before they wrinkle.” Off to the laundry room. And so it goes. The bills don’t get paid and the dishes are still in the sink, etc. etc.

Ever have days like that? Well, Jesus did too, except he got everything accomplished in spite of the interruptions. Think back on the events we have covered. He teaches in the synagogue amazing the people with his teaching. A man with unclean spirits interrupts the service and Jesus heals the man.

Jesus goes to Simon and Andrew’s house to eat lunch, but they are interrupted when they find Simon’s mother-in-law ill. Jesus heals her. News spreads about the morning healing and at sundown, Jesus rest is interrupted by a constant stream of people at the door to be healed.

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, 33 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. – Mark 1:32-33

Notice that they brought all the sick. Capernaum would not be as large as Jerusalem or as small as Nazareth. It had a synagogue and was on a trade route so it would be of moderate size. We don’t know how many “all” is, but likely it took him well into the night to finish this extensive healing ministry.

While he was drained physically, he was also drained spiritually. The next morning, very early, he felt the need of a private time of prayer.

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. – Mark 1:35

I am always amazed by the fact that, though he was divine, Jesus was also human and had the need to pray, to draw strength from the Father, to seek direction, and to clarify the calling. I am convicted that, if he needed these times of solitude, then certainly I need them as well to overcome the distractions and interruptions in my life. I, too, need to draw strength, to seek direction, and clarify my calling.

Well, here comes the next interruption––even his prayer time is interrupted! Simon and the crew can’t believe he isn’t right there and available the next morning.

36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed; “Everyone is looking for you!” – Mark 1:36-37

Undaunted, patient as can be, Jesus has had enough prayer time to be re-energized and ready to move on with his calling.

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else––to the nearby villages––so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. – Mark 1:38-39

Even in the midst of his interruptions, the calling was clear––stay the course. Preach! Our callings may take a different form, but we can take lessons from our Master. Overcome interruptions, stay the course, and pray for clarity and stick-to-it-tive-ism.

~ Joyce ~

The Word Was Out

The word was out for sure. After Jesus amazed the Capernaum worshippers in the synagogue with His amazing teaching and the healing of the man with evil spirits, the word spread like wildfire.

28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. – Mark 1:28

Not to be abrupt, but it was lunch time; time for the Sabbath meal. Since Simon and Andrew lived in Capernaum, Jesus and the disciples went to Simon’s house. But there was a problem.

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the house of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. – Mark 1:29-31

Hmm. Far be it from me to make light of the fact that they couldn’t wait on themselves. To their credit, we will assume that their care of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was greater than their empty stomachs. Once Jesus healed her, she went immediately to her duties.

As a side note, I find it interesting that this happened frequently after Jesus healed someone. He would tell them to do something, usually something that they were accustomed to doing, something rather ordinary. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere. But I digress…

The rest of the afternoon would have been set aside for rest. Remember, it was the Sabbath.

Meanwhile, those who were at synagogue that morning were walking (as far as one was allowed to walk on Sabbath) to spread the word of what happened that morning. Many began making plans on how they would get their sick loved ones to Jesus as soon as Sabbath was officially over at sundown.

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. – Mark 1:32-34

No more rest for Jesus. He patiently cared for each one who came. And again he drove out demons, but note that He “would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.” Perhaps Jesus wanted to show the people by word and deed the kind of Messiah he was because they had a distorted view of what the Messiah would be. He was not ready yet to totally reveal himself.

We have no idea how many people came to Simon Peter’s door that evening to be healed. Possibly this went on into the late night.

I can only imagine that after all the spiritual energy needed for continual healing, Jesus earthly body was most likely spent. He closed his eyes after an exhausting day.

We’ve had those days––doing good things all day but completely spent by day’s end. How wonderful to lay your body down and welcome sweet rest.

Next week, we’ll think about “interruptions.”

~ Joyce ~

What About Demons?

Last week Jesus was amazing the worshippers with his teaching when a man with evil spirits interrupted the service. Before we leave that dramatic scene in Mark 1:23-27, let’s explore this rather curious subject of demons or evil spirits or unclean spirits.

When I was a child, I had a child-mind picture of this passage and other passages about demon possession. I could see the victim writhing on the ground and when Jesus gave the word, little red creatures with pointed ears and long tails would come running out of the man’s mouth.

I have come to realize that though they are invisible and do not take on earthly form, demons or evil spirits have great strength to bring a man down and inhabit him, to bind him with physical defects, insanity, and self-destruction. Demons have knowledge and speak through the voice of the one they inhabit.

Scripture is replete with examples of evil spirits just as we have examples of God’s Holy Spirit overcoming evil. If we are to believe that God has a host of heavenly angels to bring protection and messages of hope, we must also realize that Satan has his host of fallen angels to perpetuate evil.

This plays out today when a husband beats or abuses his wife out of fits of anger or a teenager succumbs to the habit of drugs in a desperate effort to numb the pain of depression. Or we see it when Satan persuades men that they are following the commands of their “god” to do away with all infidels. Thus we witness mass slayings, beheadings and the like.

Paul reminds us to;

10 Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against…the powers of this dark word and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. – Ephesians 6:10-12

Paul goes on to urge us to “put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand.” The armor includes truth not lies, righteousness not evil, the gospel of peace not hatred, salvation not destruction, and the word of God not the word of the world.

In the midst of the armor parts is one more – “the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”

Faith. Our faith comes out of our belief in God and his Son, Jesus Christ. One time Jesus was asked, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” No doubt the people thought he would say something like, “Do good deeds, be nice to people, pay your bills, etc.” but;

29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this; to believe in the one he has sent.” – John 6:29

It doesn’t start with doing, but believing. Jesus told Nicodemus;

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

We are not to just know about him, as the evil spirits did, but believe in Him, trust Him with our hearts, our minds, and our will. Heavy stuff today, but good stuff, everlasting stuff.

Well, those synagogue-goers had quite a lot to digest that Sabbath morning–– great teaching and a living example of God’s power through his Son.

Next week we will see that Jesus’ day was far from over. He was just beginning.

~ Joyce ~

Where Did That Come From?

Last week, we left Jesus in the synagogue amazing the crowd with his teaching. Right in the middle of this wonderful teaching session, we hear a loud outburst. Every eye darts to the intruder, the one who has interrupted their amazing worship. “Oh, it’s that man, the one who is so evil. What’s he doing in here?” one says to his neighbor.

23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–– the Holy One of God.” – Mark 1:23-24

A collective gasp fills the room. Mothers clutch their young children in an effort to protect them from the sense of evil. Men duck their heads to shun the man. Others glare at the intruder with furrowed brows.

Everyone knows about Encoptos (my name for him.) He is drunk most of the time, lying beside the road. Other times he roams through the marketplace, grabbing an apple or a handful of figs, and then running into a clump of trees to hide. Mothers warn their children, “Never go near Encoptos; he is dangerous.”

“Did you hear what he said?” one worshipper whispers to another. “He said, ‘What do you want with us? Have you come to destroy us?’ Are there many evil spirits in him?”

Another says, “How does he know Jesus? Encoptos calls Jesus the Holy One of God. This is all so strange.”

The noise level increases as the people mutter and their whispers become audible. Encoptos moans and wails. What will Jesus do?

25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. – Mark 1:25-26

For a moment the worshippers stand speechless, stunned. It was so surreal. They watch breathlessly as Encoptos sits up and gazes at the floor. Gradually he surveys his surroundings as though he is unsure of where he is or what has happened. His eyes search for Jesus.

Jesus reaches out to help the man stand to his feet. Encoptos rises and then bows his forehead to their clutched hands. He raises his eyes to Jesus as gratitude fills his face. Slowly, he walks backward with his eyes fixed on Jesus. As he reaches the door of the synagogue, he turns and walks away.

The people turn to each other in spontaneous whispers.

27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching––and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” Mark 1:27

And so, Jesus’ ministry has begun.

28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. – Mark 1:28

How do we process this scene? I’d say, much like the people did. How many times do those of us who are believers stand amazed with the deep truths we glean in the Word? Perhaps He has taught you or someone you know, through a challenging life experience. He is still the great teacher. He is still transforming lives as he takes sinful men and brings them out of the torment of the evil one and draws them into the power of His grace. Amen and amen.

~ Joyce ~