Jesus repeatedly tries to expand the viewpoint of his audience—to push them toward a broader mind.
The Sadducees, who reject the concept of resurrection, think they have a foolproof “what-if.” If a woman has been married to seven different men, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? Jesus responds: “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?”(Mark 12:24). When God states “I am the God of Abraham,” he is implying that Abraham is still living. Just because the Sadducees do not understand how resurrection works doesn’t mean it isn’t true. They need a broader view of God’s power.
When Jesus tells the disciples that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” they recoil. “Who then can be saved?” Jesus responds, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”(Matt 19:24-26). The disciples believe that if the rich—whose wealth is seemingly an indicator of God’s favor—can’t be saved, no one can. They need a broader view of God’s grace.
Jesus tells his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith”(Matt 21:21-22). He wants them to pray bigger, more audacious prayers and trust that God is willing to back them up. This teaching is not full of qualifications and reservations. He wants them to have a broader view of God’s intervention in his world.
Jesus warns the Sadducees about putting God in a box. By trying to understand God and systematize their theology, they miss him. God is so much greater than our attempts to understand him.
Jesus warns the disciples about assuming they know whom God will save. By trying to understand how they can gain (and know they have) God’s favor, they exclude and include the wrong people. God is so much more gracious than we are.
Jesus warns the disciples about limiting God’s possible activities. By trying to know what is allowed and forbidden, they are tempted to fall back on “safe” requests. God is so much more active and powerful than we can imagine.
Faith involves being open to the limitless power—and infinitely good will—of an Almighty God.
Most people like to find a certain way of living and stick to it. We make our choices—politics, religion, friends, money, career—and rarely reexamine them. We would prefer to just live happily ever after.
But Jesus wants us to be willing to change.
“‘A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” And he answered, “I will not,” but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, “I go, sir,” but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him’”(Matt 21:28-32).
Jesus praises the tax collectors and prostitutes who changed in response to John’s preaching. He criticizes the chief priests and elders because they refused to hear John. “And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” Jesus targets an unwillingness to change, even when we know we need to.
The stories of significance in the gospels are change stories. Peter, Andrew, James, and John leave behind their fishing business to follow Jesus and become fishers of men. Matthew leaves his tax office at Jesus’ call. Zacchaeus reworks his business model to be more ethical. One woman (Luke 7:36-50) leaves behind a life of sin to show love to Jesus.
Meanwhile, the tragedies in the gospels are those who refuse to change. Most of the Pharisees refuse to even consider that Jesus might be the messiah. The rich young ruler come to the cusp of following Jesus, only to go away sorrowful. Many tell Jesus they would love to follow him—but want to do other things first (Luke 9:57-62).
Would you change--
Jesus opposes the hardened, intractable, set-in-its-ways heart. Are you willing to change?
We have all experienced the sensation of innocence lost. We know what it is to carry guilt—for goodness and purity to feel farther and farther away—like we’ve permanently soiled something.
We usually don’t sit static with that feeling. We try to wish it away. We explain it away and justify ourselves. We seek other remedies, like the distraction of pleasure, substances, or companionship. We try to escape it. We try to outweigh it with good works. We try to do better. Yet this feeling of contamination lingers.
This is why it resonates with me to hear the leper say to Jesus: “If you will, you can make me clean”(Mark 1:40).
God taught the Jews about cleanliness and defilement for this reason: to keep them aware of the spiritual and moral dimensions of all their choices. Yet even when the Jews performed the sacrifices, that feeling lingered. There was still awareness of sin and defilement. These “gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper”(Heb 9:9). More simply, they ask questions like “What do I still lack?”(Matt 19:20).
The leper follows a different path. “You can make me clean.” He seeks cleanliness not from sacrifices, but from Jesus. To be sure, he is primarily speaking about healing from his leprosy. Yet the New Testament repeatedly describes the purity and cleanliness Jesus brings. “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name”(Acts 22:16). Baptism is “an appeal to God for a good conscience”(1 Pet 3:21). We are saved “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit”(Titus 3:5). All of these passages express that we come to Jesus and say, “You can make me clean.”
Seeking Jesus’ cleansing means I abandon my efforts to make myself clean. I acknowledge my need and inability. I trust his power and goodwill. In Jesus, my innocence is restored. My conscience is clear. I follow him from gratitude, not guilt or fear.
Are you clean? Jesus can make you clean.