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Understanding Jesus

“Understanding Jesus” by David O. Bales
“Fair Warning For A Noble Calling” by David O. Bales
“Listening to Wisdom” by Peter Andrew Smith

Understanding Jesus
by David O. Bales
Mark 8:27-38

Thaddaeus steadied himself on his wobbly legs to answer the old lady about Peter. The old lady sat on the ground, bent and uncomfortable in the group of listeners. “Peter,” Thaddaeus thought. “Next to Jesus everyone wants to know about Peter. It would’ve given Peter slight solace those decades ago to realize what interest these Galileans take in Jesus’ calling him Satan.” He said to her, “You could’ve knocked Peter over with a swish of your broom.” The old lady nodded as though Thaddaeus had answered well. She was in the middle of the group, and he continued to speak toward her. As miserable as seemed her body, especially her arms and feet, the old lady’s mind flicked off questions to him like sparks from a pitch fire. 

Thaddaeus continued to explain about Peter, “He was stupefied. We agreed afterwards that it was Jesus’ look. We thought we’d seen every mood that traveled across his face. Peter said, ‘I was confused. Right after I spoke up and identified him as Messiah, he goes on to silence us about it and to announce a catastrophic future collapsing on him.’”

“At the moment, that was also your thinking?” The old lady asked. The ten others spread out on the ground beside her leaned toward her when she questioned Thaddaeus. Listening or speaking, the old lady focused her good eye on him, the other obviously was injured and blinded.

People usually wanted to know about Peter. But she wasn’t asking just about Peter. She had asked Thaddaeus what no one had asked him before. She asked Thaddaeus about himself.

“Peter’s problem,” Thaddaeus said with a gulp, “well, ah, mine also, all of ours, was that Jesus spoke a stern message, but he didn’t appear stern. Sad, almost disappointed, like maybe he’d lost hope, like he was inviting someone to cheer him up. I didn’t know what to say.’”

Thaddaeus was worried. The old lady’s questioning felt near an interrogation. Would his being able to remain in this village depend on how he answered? When he arrived at the village, he was barely able to walk. He knew he was dying. The village people, learning that he was one of Jesus’ original disciples, offered him final shelter. He was no longer able to proclaim Jesus to the unbelieving. He must settle here in these last days for explaining Jesus to the faithful.  

The old lady pointed to him with her injured arm. “Peter should have known by then.”

Thaddaeus gazed over her head for a moment, drawing his mind away from the pain in his legs. “Best way I can explain it,” he spoke slowly, “is that Peter was speaking for all of us. Peter was next to Jesus, the place he always took, or which Jesus always gave. Jesus had questioned us on how people evaluated his ministry. We told him the popular opinions, then he said, almost in a nonchalant manner, ‘And you fellows? Who do you say I am?’ We became excited, expectant. As far as we knew, I knew, he was leading to an announcement of his true identity as Messiah. My heart was hitting the bottom of my throat. Then Jesus forbids our talking about it and he dropped on us that ‘the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be killed.’”

The old lady stuck her near skeletal head forward from her slight shoulders, “Weren’t you fellows ready to accept what Jesus said and obey him? He told you not to talk about it. Seems simple. Peter shouldn’t have talked about it.”

Thaddaeus pondered her statement. True. They should have done as Jesus said.

“It felt like …,” he said. “It seemed Jesus was contradicting himself, like he was tangling our nets. He as much as admitted he was the Messiah. Now, different hopes for a messiah floated around, but none included suffering, suffering to death.”

“And you watched Peter pulling Jesus to the side?” she asked. Another question he’d never faced before. 

“Yes.” Thaddaeus paused, “We were clumped up, a few paces from the crowd.”

“Did you have any idea what Peter was going to say to Jesus?”

She seemed impatient with him; but he was finding it harder to think clearly. His legs, failing for months, were unreliable for even an hour’s standing.

“I, ah, we could tell. Yes, we could tell Peter was going to encourage Jesus. Peter had his hopeful stance. He was easy to understand even if you could only see his body and not his face. Get Jesus back on the course we expected.”

“Did Peter do this swiftly?”

Thaddaeus had gazed toward the forest behind the village, trying to wish his pain there. He jerked his head back, “I hadn’t thought about it. But, no, he sauntered to Jesus and put his hand on Jesus’ shoulder. Gently guided him away from the rest of us, like he was going to protect Jesus from himself.”

“Slowly, not quickly?”

“Yes, I’d say, slowly.”

“And you didn’t try to stop him?”

Thaddaeus swallowed in embarrassment, “At the time,” he stuttered as he answered. “At the time—.”

“And if you’d been closer to Jesus, might you have taken Jesus to the side of the crowd and say to him what Peter said?”

Thaddaeus wondered if she asked such penetrating questions because he’d offended her by suggesting she could knock over Peter with her broom. Yet, she didn’t sound angry as much as intense. 

“I suppose—.”

“Which was to disagree with Jesus.”

“Disagree? Not exactly. We didn’t understand.”

“And because you didn’t understand, you disagreed with Jesus.”

Thaddaeus was becoming wobbly. He said, “I’ve never considered the event like that,” and he tried to remain motionless before the Christian group that would now be his family until he died. He eyed those sitting beside the old lady. They were all believers, interested enough in Jesus to ask questions about Jesus and his disciples. She spoke again and questioned in a different direction.

“Do I understand your information about Jesus to mean that he wasn’t the Messiah although he might suffer. He was the Messiah because he must suffer?”

Thaddaeus nodded. An interesting way to state it.

She formed a smile with the right side of her mouth, “When even Jesus’ closest followers don’t understand him or obey him, seems a pretty strong explanation why he had to suffer for them. That appears to be the aim of Jesus’ conversation at Caesarea Philippi.”

With her statement, the discussion appeared to be ended. She nodded and people rose to leave. Thaddaeus gaped in wonder before this lady. No one in 35 years had asked such questions or made such statements to him. Two men hustled to her to carry her. She revealed the wretched condition of her arm as she flipped her wrist to Thaddaeus, “Him first.”

The two men supported Thaddaeus as he hobbled to the family who’d agreed to care for him. They smiled as they aided his weak steps. He aimed his chin toward the old lady sitting alone with a serene look on her face. “She knows a lot about Jesus.”

The man on his right nodded, the other said, “Yes, she’s certain about Jesus.”

The two supported him between them and looked at one another knowingly. The man on his left gave a grimaced smile, “You notice her arms and feet?”

“Yes,” Thaddaeus said. “Terrible.”

“She faced the Roman troops in the Jewish revolt. They’d surrounded the village and she went to face them. Wouldn’t answer if we are Jews, just repeated that we’re followers of Jesus. She kept insisting we’re followers of Jesus. They’d never seen anyone like her. They’d heard of Jesus, however.

“Then a mounted scout rode up and the centurion called the cohort to leave us and hurry to the Jewish village that truly was resisting them. But these troops wouldn’t let it look like they’d been bested by a woman. In their rear guard one yelled, ‘Grab the mouthy woman.’ They beat her, dragged her to a tree, and spiked her arms out onto limbs and her feet to the trunk. They left her there, knowing we’d take her down as soon as they’d gone.”

“She understood enough about Jesus,” the man on his right man said, “that she followed him to a cross.” 

Preaching point: Following Jesus.

* * *

Fair Warning For A Noble Calling
by David O. Bales
James 3:1-12

Professor Miller stood behind the table stacked with papers, brochures, and books. She dipped her head in seriousness, “You’ll be tossed into the caldron,” she said, receiving nervous chuckles from the students. “That’s the point: Saves time. Our time. Your time. You don’t need to waste college years that should lead to your career or to your first career as life works these days. “Within a month or so you might realize that teaching is the last thing you’ll want ever again to attempt, even for our Lord’s sake. But we’re offering you the chance to give teaching a try for our Lord’s sake. This trial can become a step in your Christian obedience, but we want you to experience it as joyful and not as suffering obedience. Although I admit, over the years occasionally I’ve suffered while teaching and so have my students.”

The two dozen college juniors laughed with her. They were equally distributed: twelve females and twelve males, sitting in the front rows of a near empty lecture hall. Professor Miller smiled at their inquisitive if not-yet-eager faces, “You’re young. Why not fling a semester into this experiment of faith? I’ve no hesitations requesting that you try it. You can bail out at any moment. You’ll even be paid a pittance.

“In case you wonder about your invitation today, our faculty of education contacted instructors throughout the university asking names of junior-standing students with particular promise. How about that? Did you know your instructors’ opinion of you? We didn’t tell them what our project is. They might not have wanted to lose their prized juniors for a semester.

“You can, today,” she swept her arms before her, “abandon this experiment, delete it from your consciousness as though it never happened.” She giggled. “Now that you know what it is.” The students laughed with her. “But you’ve been in school for years. You know teaching. You know learning. We’ll give you a chance, almost instantly, to find out if, just perhaps, teaching will fulfill your Christian life.

“My colleagues and I,” she turned to the three professors sitting beside her, “will talk with you not just about your current major, but about where you’ve come from, what you like, what you are like. Then we’ll send you out untrained into the state’s schools, K through 12, and turn you loose—almost—with the agreement and guidance of the local school boards, of course. Talk about a step of faith!

“Now, before we scatter and begin our interviews student by student—and a couple of you escape, never to darken the door of the Department of Education again—we’ve asked our head of department, Professor Brady to give his take on the exercise of teaching. Teachers do this: Gather ideas of teaching and lump them together, sometimes in a huge book called meta-analysis,” she said with a sly smile, “in order that we be paid another year.” She turned to the oldest man who, with effort, rose from his chair, white hair flopping in one eye, and stood beside her. “Professor Brady,” she waved her arm to him as she looked to the students who took her lead and clapped.

“Thank you, Professor Miller,” he said with a slight bow. “Always nice to be introduced as professor, because people so often mistake me for a student.” Professor Miller laughed hardest.

“First,” he said as he scratched his ear, “I would like to point out that not all teachers are super-intelligent, an observation I am sure you have made in your many years in school. I do not mean this in a bad way. Why must someone excel in nuclear physics in order to teach English? Should a mathematics instructor be conversant with ancient Rome? Or even current events? Many teachers do not watch television news or the latest post on the news webs.

“Second, intelligence is not most important. What is necessary is that one human being instruct another human being. I would point out: doing so in a humane way. Not an emphasis we have always found in educational practice. Humane, because being an effective teacher does not depend so much upon brilliance as it does on a transaction between teacher and student. Of course, intelligence helps, training helps. But you will understand what I am aiming toward if you realize how artificial schools are. They have not existed for long or for many people, even 500 years ago, let alone 5,000 years ago. Schools are recent in the scope of human history. My point? Not everyone teaches. Not everyone can. At least not everyone does it regularly and effectively. That is why we as a Christian faculty believe that teachers can be found, discovered right here, even with students like you who might not know your gifts. The gift of teaching sometimes sneaks out slowly, other times pops up unmistakably, no matter the person’s profession.

“Teaching isn’t just drilling information from one human to another. At their best, teachers encourage thinking and understanding. I have prepared from my vast experience,” he gave a sneaky smile, “an example. Teachers are heavy on examples. Ever notice that?”

The students smiled along with Professor Brady’s presentation. He leaned forward and steadied himself with a hand on the table.    

“James, the brother of our Lord, sent a wise and instructive epistle to the early Christians. In it he wrote, ‘Not many of you should become teachers,’ and noted that teachers would be judged with greater strictness. This is a text I have meditated upon often.

“Not many should be teachers? Do we expect most of you who volunteer for this educational boot camp to wash out? If you choose to teach, does this predict you will soon steer to the shoulder of life’s road to climb out of your profession’s vehicle and watch others speed by? For me it means that some who are officially considered teachers are not. Likewise, some who have no titles before their names are. I saw it eons ago when a few of us teachers gathered with the custodians to discuss a problem in our high school. The custodians were important because they were having to clean up messes caused by certain student activities. Nine or ten of us sat in the teachers’ lounge listening to a middle-aged male teacher review the recent troublesome student activities, most of which we already knew. I will purposely not describe those activities, as you might be curious enough to want to try out one.

“We will call this teacher Larry. He recounted the last month’s naughtiness, his anger burning brighter with each recorded incident. He ranted and declared, ‘They must be stopped.’ For the record, I agreed that the disruptive student behavior should stop. They were intentional and destructive acts. However, in just minutes Larry also aimed his anger at the teachers who chose not to take action. He raged about the principal. He went on to add accusations at the feet of the school board members. All this in five minutes. He demanded that the teachers be assembled, and a standing vote taken to see those who agreed on action. He proposed that offending students be fetched before the school assembly, named, shamed, and expelled that moment.

“How can I describe the reaction of the rest of us? Frightened at this blast of anger. Dumbfounded at his ideas. When he stopped, we sat in an embarrassing silence.

“Then Dwayne, the head custodian, spoke in a quiet voice. Again, a summary, but in essence he asked a long question, ‘What could come of such actions for those students, for the parents of those students, for the rest of the student body, the teachers, the staff, and the school district, in both the immediate and distant future?’

“It took a while, but Larry’s ideas slowly withered, and we came up with a suggestion to the principal that worked fairly well. I tell you this to ask you: Who proved to be the teacher that day? Something to consider as you read the Epistle of James and if you find your Christian calling in the teaching profession.”   

Preaching point: Identifying the gift of teaching.

(An especially appropriate warning for teachers: “Your anger does not produce God’s righteousness” James 1:19)

* * *

Listening to Wisdom
by Peter Andrew Smith
Proverbs 1:20-33

Tim stumbled out of his room and rubbed his forehead.

“Rough night, baby brother?” Ella asked.

“I need coffee.” He put a mug under the coffee maker and pressed the button. “Is this thing always so noisy?”

Ella laughed.

“You’re too cheerful.” Tim grabbed the mug and took a drink. “You know how I spent last night because you were there.”

“I was there for the chicken wings and the trivia game.”

“Yeah, you did pretty good at trivia for a first timer.” Tim sat down at the table. “Did you have fun?”

“I did, thanks.” Ella put some toast in front of him. “I left at midnight.”

“Oh. I guess I was a bit later.” Tim looked at his plate. “Is there any jam left?”

Ella pushed a container toward him, and he dumped some onto his toast.

“Having a little toast with your jam?”

“I need the energy.”

“You need sleep and a decent diet.”

Tim rolled his eyes. “You sound like Mom.”

“In this case I think she’s right.” Ella sighed. “You can’t keep this up or this year will be your last in school.”

“I’ve heard this lecture before.” Tim frowned. “When did you leave last night?”

“When I left you were watching an overseas game with John and Steve. How did it go?”

“We watched at least three different games; I think.” He looked at her outfit. “Where are you going dressed like that?”

“I’m going for a run with Cassidy before class.”

“A run? Why?”

“Because it is good for me, a beautiful day, and there is a spot open on the track team.”


“Coach saw me practicing and asked me to try out.” She filled her water bottle. “There are scholarships available if I do.”


“Lucky?” Ella stopped what she was doing. “I worked all last year to improve my sprint times along with hours of studying to keep my grades up.”

“Okay, okay.” Tim held up his hands. “So you’ve been working. You do have to admit that things have been breaking your way since you got here. You got that job in the biology lab and now this.”

“You could have gotten the job at the library if you’d gone to the interview on time.”

“I didn’t think I was that late.”

Ella shook her head. “Little brother you need to be serious about this year. You’re on thin ice academically as it is.”

“I’ll be fine, I just had some bad classes last year is all.” He waved a hand. “This year will be different.”

“Don’t you have a class this morning?”

“I’m exhausted from the late night.” Tim looked at the clock. “I’ll just borrow someone’s notes.”

“You know that going in person is better than someone else’s notes.”

“I know.” Tim took another bite of toast. “I’ll try.”

“At least remember that you promised to read in church this week.” Ella pushed a Bible toward him. “I’ve marked the passage.”

“Okay. Thanks, I’ll look it over.” Tim finished his toast and took another sip of coffee. He flipped open the bible. “See I’m doing it now before class.”

Ella rolled her eyes and headed out.

Tim slumped back in the chair. He yawned. Class was a waste of time for him. He considered heading back to bed but he knew that Ella would ask him if he looked at the passage for Sunday, so he pulled the Bible toward him and started to read. There didn’t seem to be any hard words so he should do fine. Wisdom sure sounded demanding though. He kept reading to the end of the passage.

He knew his life wasn’t a complete disaster but when the verses spoke about waywardness and complacency, he couldn’t help but hear his sister’s voice. He would never admit it, but she was right that he wasn’t starting the year in a good way and as much as he pretended not to care he was actually a bit worried about the term. He knew another year like last year and he was going to get kicked out of school.

His phone buzzed. Jim was asking him if he was going to class this morning. He started to type no and then paused. He looked at the clock and realized if he hurried, he could make it. He looked back at the passage. He sure would like to be able to laugh at hard times. He downed his coffee and reached for his books. Maybe it was time to listen.

As he rushed out the door, he offered a quick prayer of thanks for the daily reminders he was getting to not simply be a good person but to use all the opportunities that God put before him.


StoryShare, September 12, 2021 issue.

Copyright 2021 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to the StoryShare service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons, in worship and classroom settings, in brief devotions, in radio spots, and as newsletter fillers. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to permissions@csspub.com or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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