God Can Do Anything … But Fail

Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
~ Mark 9:23

Can we limit God?

Nazareth was a rural, isolated community in lower Galilee on the southern border of Zebulun. It set on a high hill over 1,600 feet above sea level on the western side of a valley. It was somewhere around 400 feet above the valley floor, with a commanding view of the surrounding plain. Proximity to trade routes gave the Nazarenes some contact with the outside world, but they were mostly aloof from the main life of Israel and despised by them (John 1:44-46).

Jesus grew up in Nazareth and lived there for around 30 years before he began his public ministry (Luke 2:39). There he learned and plied his trade as a carpenter. Given the small size of the community and the nature of the family business, Jesus and his family were generally known in Nazareth. Their familiarity with Jesus and his family proved to be a stumblingblock to the people of Nazareth.

Jesus left Nazareth, was baptized by John in the Jordan, spent 40 days in the wilderness, and embarked on an itinerant, public ministry of preaching the kingdom of God and performing kingdom sign miracles. It seems he was gone from Nazareth for at least a year, perhaps longer. His fame quickly spread as he began his ministry in Galilee and multitudes of people came to see him from all regions round about.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus returning to Nazareth and going to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. His fame had preceded him, particularly from Capernaum, which served as a home base for his Galilean tour. The Gospel accounts all end with the Nazarenes rejecting Jesus and Luke adds how they took him out of town and wanted to thrown him down the escarpment to the valley floor, hundreds of feet below. Of course, this was not the predetermined counsel of God and he simply passed through their midst.

Reflecting on the unbelief of the Nazarenes, Mark makes a shocking statement. He wrote of Jesus, “And he could there do no mighty work” (Mark 6:5). He “could do no,” as in, he could not? How can that be true, if all things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; 14:36)?

Jesus Could Not

Mark uses the Greek word dunato, which means to be able, or capable. Mark really did write that Jesus was not able to do “mighty work,” or miracles, in Nazareth. If you begin reading Mark’s Gospel from the start and read to Mark 6:5, you will have read demonstration after demonstration of Jesus’ power to do great miracles. He commanded an unclean spirit in Capernaum and that spirit obeyed him. He took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and cured her of a disease. He healed and cast devils out of multitudes of people. He healed a leper, a paralytic, a man’s withered hand, rebuked the wind with his words so the sea became calm, cast a legion of demons out a man, healed a woman with an incurable bleeding disorder, and raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. After this, he came to Nazareth and could not do mighty work there.

All the accounts reflect the unbelief of the people of Nazareth. Matthew attributes the limitation of miracles to their unbelief (Matthew 13:58), and Mark concludes the same in reflection (Mark 6:6). Luke does not mention the limiting of miracles, but does recount how their unbelief was manifested in their wrath against Jesus and their attempt to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:28-29). Luke also records Jesus’ explanation to the unbelieving Nazarenes why he would not do miracles among them, though they wanted him to (Luke 4:23-27).

Did the Nazarenes limit God and render Jesus incapable of doing miracles? Does unbelief limit God and restrain him from acting? It certainly didn’t in Egypt (Exodus 5:2). Who or what is limited by unbelief? And, in what way was Jesus not able?

A Statute of Limitations

Matthew, Mark, and Jesus’ words in Luke point to some limitation due to unbelief. If we look back in Mark, we find an explanation of unbelief being limiting. Faith, or belief, is the key to understanding parables and is put as having ears to hear (Mark 4:9). When Jesus explained the parables for the disciples, he explained how those who have (ears to hear/faith) will receive more, and those who have not (ears to hear/faith) will not receive more. In fact, those who do not have faith will have what they have received taken from them (Mark 4:10-12, 24-25). That’s the limitation of unbelief. It limits what those who are unbelieving receive. If we consider various accounts of miracles, Jesus emphasized faith was the key for them to receive (Mark 2:5; 4:40; 5:34, 36). Unbelief constrains us. It limits us and what we can receive. It does not limit God’s ability nor render Jesus incapable (Luke 17:11-19).

The text in Mark said Jesus was unable. In what way was Jesus unable to perform miracles? Jesus was not limited in power and he demonstrated that on many more occasions than we have record of (John 21:25). In Mark’s Gospel, he had just raised a girl from the dead. He had the power. Jesus was not able to do mighty works in Nazareth, not because he did not have the power to do it, but because he did not have the will to do it.

Jesus expressed his sovereign will, the will of the Father, in healing a leper in Mark 1:40-41. Mark repeatedly demonstrates Jesus acting according to will and not the dictates or limitations of men. He spoke words of command to wind, water, demons, disease, and death, and all obeyed. He healed whom he willed to heal and even in the calling of his apostles, he demonstrated his sovereign choice to call whom he would. He was not at the disposal of the clamoring crowds (Mark 1:35-38), but acted according to predetermined will.

He shows the signs of the kingdom to those who receive the kingdom in faith, not to those who unbelievingly clamor for a sign in Nazareth (Luke 4:23) or in Capernaum (John 6:26-27, 35-36). Those clamoring in Nazareth and Capernaum were not doubting the presence and power of miracles. However, they did not believe in the Messiah and thereby rejected his kingdom. They were part of an evil generation seeking a sign (Luke 11:29). Jesus reinforces this message in the synagogue in Nazareth when he describes God’s sovereign acts of miracles to Gentiles rather than Israel in the cases of Elijah and the widow of Sarepta and Elisha and Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4:25-27).

Oh, the Irony!

It’s somewhat ironic that the only miracle he performed for the angry Nazarenes that day was passing through their midst without them being able to grab him. Something tells me they didn’t appreciate that sign though, the sign of Jesus departing.

Champurrado for Breakfast

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.
~ Proverbs 26:11

A parable of legal marriage.

Esposita sat at her kitchen table with a small bowl of champurrado. She stared through the steam above it at the grain of the table beneath it. It had pits and marks, but they were only surface scars. The table was thick, heavy, and sturdy. Nomo had built this table. She could jump up and down on top of it and it would be unharmed, unmoved. She glanced around the kitchen and thought of how Nomo had built this house piece by piece. Every part of it was built by his hands or put there by them. How many times had he fixed that sink? Even the dingy yellow light bulb, embarrassed by the white sunlight flooding through the window, had been screwed into the socket by Nomo.

Nomo had been her husband for many years. Nomo was a nickname Normando had borne from his earliest days, after his parents finally named him. Nomo had selected a plot that was the highest spot in their mountaintop village. He cleared the land, dug the foundation, laid the pipes, and built his house. He was now ready to marry, and Esposita was the only girl in the world. She would be proud to have such a husband and live in such a house, which was the crown of the village and meticulously maintained.

Esposita remembered many good years. She had never lacked anything. She had material to make clothes. She had wheat to make bread. She had corn, beans, and rice. She had te de poleo and horchata. What more could a poor girl want? Sometimes Nomo would bring home chickens or goats and they would have delicious meat. She had never been hungry.

Nomo was always the same. She could not remember him ever laughing, though she tried to make him. He did not daydream with her or chat about nothing. Nomo spoke evenly of what was done and what was to be done. When villagers would ask Nomo how he was, he always responded, “Con vida.” If Esposita ever spoke of particularly enjoying anything, he would correct her. “We have life. It is enough.”

Esposita traced her finger around the rim of the bowl. The steam was barely there now. She and Nomo had champurrado their first morning as husband and wife. The smile she had been wearing was losing its fight and the corners of her mouth fell. Though she could not complain about what she received from Nomo, she always fell short of his expectations. She blew the steam and put both hands around the bowl. She had never given Nomo children. This was her greatest fault in Nomo’s eyes. It was a weight affixed between her should blades that made her begin to look like a swayback old burro that had borne too many heavy loads of bread to the market.

When Nomo died she had felt as though an internal knot had been untied. Not a knot, but the knot. The knot that held all the strands of her inner being together. Though her skeletal frame was as it was supposed to be, she felt floppy inside like a limp water hose with no water running through it. Her own death must be soon.

***

Espa, as she was now called, had first met Salvador at the market. All his friends called him Sali. She had set out that morning with no purpose. She would go to the market, but she had no money. She would not beg. She had never begged. She would not steal. She had never stolen. She wasn’t even particularly hungry. She could not explain why she went to the market. Espa would’ve said that she did not go to the market, but was rather brought to the market.

She came around a stall and ran into a mango. Well, she saw the mango first and then the hand that held it. She looked up into a youthful face with kind eyes and a wide smile. “Here, for you.” She did not speak. “I’m Sali. I want you to have this.”

Nothing had changed with Espa. “I … I have no money.”

Sali laughed. “I would not take it if you had it. This is for you.”

Espa took the mango. “Gracias.”

Marriage to Sali was like a dream. He was always happy and she enjoyed life more than she had ever imagined. Sali provided wonderful foods for her to make and she ate as she never had. Sali hired everything done. He hired men to build his house. He bought furniture and decorated their home with bright cheerful colors. He hired a woodworker to carve them a beautiful table that seemed always to have bread and wine on it.

Espa wasn’t sure how or when it happened, but one day she thought of Nomo. She had not thought about Nomo in many years. Thinking about Nomo began to work on her. She started making her own clothes again and left the fancy clothes Sali had bought in the closet untouched. She sought out simpler foods and made them smaller portions. She painted over the bright colors and had her old table brought in to replace the one Sali had hired out to have made. Piece by piece she remade her house until it was as close as possible to the one she had lived in for so many years.

One morning she awoke and Sali was not there. He did not come home until the next day. He would continue to leave and to be gone for longer times. After a while, Espa realized she had not seen Sali in a week, or a month. She couldn’t remember for sure how long it had been. She sat at her table with a bowl of champurrado and realized there were no signs that Sali had ever lived in this house. Everything reminded her of Nomo.

***

A rooster crowed. Espa sat up straight in the bed. It was still dark. The rooster crowed again. Her hair was stuck to her face and she was shivering. Is Sali gone forever? Will I never see him again? Why has he not come home? Why has he not contacted me? The longer she chased those thoughts the more she felt like something was pulling her together from inside her. Her breathing was faster and she had the heart of a rabbit. She ran to the streets calling for Sali. They were mostly empty. After a while, she began seeing people and pleading with them to tell her where Sali was. But they cursed her and pushed her away.

The rooster crowed and a bell rang. Not quite a bell, but a clanging that sounded like a bell. Was Sali at the door? “It’s dawn. It’s time.” She opened her eyes to look through bars at a brown face with a walrus mustache. His name was Severo.

“Where is Salvador?” Espa sat up in the cot.

Severo tilted his head. “Who?”

“Salvador. My husband.” Espa stood up.

“Salvador?” Severo spat on the ground. “There is no Salvador. You were married to Nomo. You killed him three months ago and today is your hanging.” Espa collapsed to the floor, choking and sobbing. “Your grave is ready. You will be buried with Nomo.” Severo set a bowl on the floor inside and closed the barred door. “Here’s your champurrado. I will be back in thirty minutes.”

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

The World’s Trouble: Chapter 12

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: - Hebrews 9:27

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
– Hebrews 9:27

Chapter 12

Chapter 4 began with a brief statement of the case of Adolf Eichmann. He was executed by hanging on June 1, 1962 for the murder of millions of Jews more than twenty years prior. Eichmann was Hilter’s lieutenant and recognized architect of “The Final Solution,” which was a plan to rid Europe of all Jews. In chapter 4 we were primarily concerned with the consequences of sin and how a day of reckoning is coming for us, just as it did for Eichmann, and will come in the future before God in final judgment. Let’s think about Eichmann’s case from a different perspective for a few moments.

Eichmann’s life was taken by the state of Israel for crimes perpetrated against Jewish people. He was responsible for the torture and death of millions of Jews and so his life was forfeit. Few would argue that his death was unjust. He deserved death for what he had done, but was his death equitable? He was responsible in the deaths of millions and he could only die once. Of course, capital punishment is the strongest sentence a human court can give, so there was nothing more that could be done to him. However, did his death really pay the debt he amassed in Jewish blood? Though perhaps there was satisfaction that justice had been done, were the surviving families in any way repaid or restored what they had suffered and lost? Did Eichmann’s death replace the life of even one Jew? No, it did not.

God’s law teaches that righteousness requires payments and restitution of damages that are equitable. These payments represent a sort of exchange designed to set things to rights once again. If one man stole from another, he had to replace what he stole, or pay the fair value of it in money, plus extra. Of course, with God’s law, capital punishment was the highest punishment that could be given. Life for life and blood for blood. All human laws should be just in this way in order to be just at all. But, human laws are limited and all such repayments and restitutions are limited.

Let’s illustrate the limitations. Say you have a car and sell it to someone else. This is an exchange and it can be equitable. You sell the car and the buyer purchases the car by giving you a fair market value for the car in cash. An exchange has taken place that was just and equitable, and everyone is satisfied. Let’s now suppose a different exchange. Say you are driving on the road and an oncoming car is driven by a drunk driver who runs into you. Your car is totaled and you are injured, becoming a quadriplegic and spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair. Charges are filed against the drunk driver. He loses his license and goes to jail. You are awarded damages, receiving millions of dollars. An exchange has taken place to the fullest extent of the law, yet even if your award was billions of dollars and his penalty execution, are you really restored? Has he made a payment that truly satisfies the damage that was done? No he hasn’t and he cannot. A debt has incurred that cannot be repaid with any amount of money or blood.

When we sin, we incur debt against God. God’s wrath is holy and righteous, and is revealed against all sin. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). Paul proceeds in the next couple of chapters in Romans to show that all men are sinners and all men are under the just wrath of God. This is the same whether they are Jews trying to keep God’s law or Gentiles living without God’s law (Romans 2:1-3:20). Sin brings the wrath of God that culminates in eternal damnation (Romans 6:23; John 3:36). Our offense against God is so great that nothing short of the full measure of his wrath can satisfy it.

Paul has explained this in the first three chapters of Romans and also explained that keeping the Old Testament law, even if that were possible, is not sufficient to satisfy God’s wrath. How can God’s wrath be satisfied? There is only one answer to that question. Near the end of chapter 3, Paul explains how God’s wrath is satisfied.

Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
– Romans 3:24-26

Notice the word propitiation. The word is not commonly used today. It comes from a Latin word meaning “made favorable.” The word coveys the idea of appeasing wrath and restoring favor. Let’s follow Paul’s argument. Justified means to be declared righteous, or declared not guilty. Paul writes a man is “justified by faith” (Romans 3:28), and justification is “freely by his [God’s] grace” (Romans 3:24, clarification added). Paul means that a man cannot earn justification. He has earned the wrath of God, but he has no means to satisfy that wrath and be reconciled to God’s favor.

Paul further explains that justification is “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). The word for redemption means a ransom payment. One illustration of this word would be the paying of the ransom to free a slave. If a man was enslaved without any means of obtaining freedom and another would come along and pay for his freedom, that price paid was the ransom price, or the redemption. Paul specifies the ransom price paid for justification is “his blood” (Romans 3:25), meaning the blood shed by Jesus Christ as a sacrifice for sins. His blood is sufficient to purchase the “remission of sins” (Romans 3:25). In legal terms, remission means the cancelling of a debt or charge against someone. The blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient to pay our sin debt in full, and therefore appease the wrath of God against us and reconcile us to God’s favor. In other words, his death is a propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2).

I have used some examples of sinners, such as Adolf Eichmann and Osama Bin Laden, because their crimes are on such a large scale it’s easy for us to think of them as guilty and deserving punishment. Even if you’re convinced they deserved to pay for their crimes, do you think their deaths were a sufficient payment? We are limited. After we have executed a high criminal, there’s nothing else we can do. One man’s life hardly seems an adequate payment for the deaths of thousands and even millions. Yet, the Bible teaches we are no less guilty than Eichmann and our blood is no more sufficient than his to pay for our sins against God. This is why we need an atonement that propitiates God’s wrath against us. Eichmann’s death is not the end. He will face God in judgment one day and will pay the price for his sin for all eternity along with everyone whose sins are not covered by Jesus’ blood (Revelation 20:11-15).

This is a portion of a book that I have been writing. I have decided to post it here in serial form. It is intended to be evangelistic. If the book has merit, I may seek to publish it in some form. Please feel free to share it and I welcome any feedback.

If you wish to read all the chapters in order you may do so here.

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