Sunday, March 26, 2017

Kingdom Priorities Mark 1:35-39

Kingdom Priorities
Mark 1:35-39
Introduction: We didn’t have any idea that Pastor Jim Beliasov’s Sunday School class last week would be the last time we would be blessed by our brother’s teaching (actually his last class, which he had already prepared, will be presented in Sunday School today, in his honor!).  Jim loved God and he loved people. One of our young mothers said this week, “I feel like Pastor Jim still had more to teach me!” Jim never retired, he stayed faithful and engaged in the ministry right up to the time God called him home. He knew God saved him for a purpose and he sought to be faithful.  One of his teachers was Dr. Charles Ryrie who published a book called Balancing the Christian Life. I think Jim impacted so many of us because he kept balance in his life, he prioritized loving God and loving people, always encouraging and serving others. He tried to fulfill the calling of being a disciple-making disciple (2 Tim 2:2). We’ve been framing our study of Mark in terms of three questions: Who is Jesus? Why did He come? What does it mean to follow Him? To follow Jesus includes taking Him at His Word and learning from His example. This passage points to the priorities Jesus had, as revealed by his example. We need to have the right priorities to have proper balance in the Christian Life. Some in our church are hunters so will relate to the following story…
A group of friends went deer hunting and paired off in twos for the day. That night one of the hunters returned alone, staggering under the weight of an eight-point buck.
     "Where's Harry?" he was asked.   "Harry fell and broke his ankle looks like. He's a couple of miles back up the trail."
     "You left Harry laying there, and carried the deer back?"
     "Well," said the hunter, "It was a close call, but I figured no one was going to steal Harry."
Sometimes our priorities can be a little off! There are a lot of things that demand our time and attention today. How do we keep first things first, and keep the main thing the main thing? A disciple learns from the Master. Let’s look at this little scene in Mark 1, and see what Jesus is teaching us by His example.
The Maine* Idea: Jesus showed the priority of prayer and of faithfulness to the mission, rather than striving for “popularity.”
I. Devotion to Prayer and Time with the Father: Jesus prioritized prayer, so should we (35)!
35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. 
     First of all, Jesus’ prayer was planned – “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark…” The four verbs in this one sentence underscore the purposeful action of Jesus: He arose early, He departed, He went out, and He prayed. There is no confusing the fact that Jesus was intentional about getting up, very early, and going out to a deserted place, to spend time with the Father. C.S. Lewis spoke of the urgency of prayer at the beginning of the day,
The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.
Have you been there? Through the night, or first thing in the morning, your schedule for the next day is being played over and over again in your mind. At the start of the day you can schedule time with God that will not be interrupted (usually!). The Psalmist said in Psalm 5:1-3…
Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning.  2 Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray.  3 O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.
That kind of seeking God, is intentional, it is planned.  The language Mark uses is a little redundant for the sake of emphasis, “…very early in the morning, while it was still dark…” It would have been the last watch of the night, between 3-6 AM. After a busy day of ministry Jesus didn’t sleep in, he arose early, planning to spend time with the Father. H.A. Ironside said, “Prayer was to Him, as Man in perfection, the very delight of His holy soul as He talked things over with Him who had sent Him.” Prayer to the Father was not a burden or an obligation, it was a blessed privilege!  
       It is said that Andrew Bonar, a great man of prayer, had three rules: (1) Not to speak to any man before speaking to Jesus; (2) Not to do anything with his hands until he had been on his knees; (3) Not to read the papers until he had read his Bible. Ok, for us it might be e-mail or Face Book, but the principle holds! What are our priorities? We have to be intentional, planning time with God. Bonar confessed in another place,
"We have not been men of prayer. The spirit of prayer has slumbered among us. The closet has been too little frequented and delighted in. We have allowed business, study or active labor to interfere with our closet-hours. And the feverish atmosphere in which both the church and the nation are enveloped has found its way into our prayer closets..."
Prayer expresses our dependence on God, and our faith in Him. If it was important to Jesus, how much more does it need to be a priority for us?
     Notice also that His prayer was private – “…He went out to a deserted place…” Mark reports a few instances like this, we see more in the other gospels (especially Luke), when Jesus withdraws, and goes alone into a deserted place, to spend time with the Father. Those “quiet times,” times of solitude, between Jesus and the Father were important to Him, and such times are important and necessary for us. We are so “connected” with our network of friends and contacts, you are never alone it seems, unless you are intentional about it! There are so many distractions, we need quiet times when we can be still, and talk with our Father. I read a story this week, from the days before modern refrigeration, when “ice houses” were used to store ice that was cut out of lakes in the winter and packed in sawdust…
One man lost a valuable watch while working in an icehouse. He searched diligently for it, carefully raking through the sawdust, but didn’t find it. His fellow workers also looked, but their efforts, too, proved futile.
       A small boy who heard about the fruitless search slipped into the icehouse during the noon hour and soon emerged with the watch.
Amazed, the men asked him how he found it.
       "I closed the door," the boy replied, "lay down in the sawdust, and kept very still. Soon I heard the watch ticking."
       Often the question is not whether God is speaking, but whether we are being still enough, and quiet enough, to hear.
We need planned times, apart with God. If you are too busy to be still and spend time with God, you are too busy NOT to be still and spend time with God!  Jesus seemed to annoy the disciples a little by going off by himself before they awoke. He is teaching them, and us, by His example. We need quiet “alone” time with God. I read this week a story of how one group of early converts in Africa learned to spend personal time with the Lord. They…
 …were earnest and regular in private devotions. Each one reportedly had a separate spot in the thicket where he would pour out his heart to God. Over time the paths to these places became well worn. As a result, if one of these believers began to neglect prayer, it was soon apparent to the others. They would kindly remind the negligent one, "Brother, the grass grows on your path."
What about you, brother, sister, does the grass grow on your path? Are you neglecting your quiet times with the Lord?  One of the emphases of the WOL Olympian Ministry is encouraging kids to develop a regular habit of daily, private time with God. What a blessing if they can learn to prioritize time with God now!
     His prayer was prolonged – “…and he prayed…”  The verbal tense is the imperfect, it has the sense of an ongoing action in the past: “…he was praying…” We need to pray without ceasing, throughout our day, asking the Father for direction and help of course. But we also need extended times of intentional seeking and fellowship with Him. Here, we read that Jesus “…was praying…” It doesn’t give the impression of a quick “text message” sent to the Father, but ongoing, prolonged communion. E.M. Bounds wrote and reflected a lot on prayer. He said,
The central significance of prayer is not in the things that happen as results, but in the deepening intimacy and unhurried communion with God at His central throne of control in order to discover a sense of God's… [will] in order to call on God's help to meet that need…”
It is true at a human level right, the more time we spend with someone we love, the better we know them, the deeper our love grows.  That is even more true in the relationship between humans and God. Because as we know Him, as we get a deeper and fuller sense of who he is, of his holy character and divine attributes, of the depth and purity of His love for us, our minds are being “renewed,” transformed, and we begin to think God’s thoughts after Him. We learn God’s will, at least the things that He has revealed, and we pray “…thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” We discern God’s will as we spend time with Him. Jesus did. He showed the priority of prayer and of faithfulness to the mission, rather than striving for “popularity.” One priority was prayer, another was...
II. Dedication to the Mission: The priority of the mission trumps popularity (36-39).
36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him,  37 and they found him and said to him, "Everyone is looking for you."  38 And he said to them, "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out."  39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
       The disciples had a “plan” for Jesus’ ministry (36,37).  The disciples woke in the morning, no doubt ready for another exciting day of healing and casting out demons. Maybe they wondered how big the crowd would be this day, as the word got out about yesterday! And then they noticed Jesus was gone, and they went searching for Him. They had plans, expectations for His day! Do you ever have well intentioned people who “love you and have a wonderful plan for your life?” We need to guard against imposing “busy-ness” so that people can deal with the business of knowing God and serving Him! It is like the disciples were saying, “What are you thinking Jesus? You don’t have time to get off alone and spend hours in prayer! There are people to heal, demons to cast out!” Have you ever felt that you have too much to do to spend time with God? “I’d like to pray more…. I just don’t have the time!”  Are you busier than Jesus? Are there more demands on you than there were on Him? If you are so busy that you don’t have time to pray, you don’t have time NOT to pray! This to me is reminiscent of the story of Philip in Acts 8. Philip was engaged in fruitful ministry in Samaria…
 “But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (Acts 8:12).
Like Jesus, who was “successful,” Philip obeyed the Father, and he was called to leave what was “good” to continue his part in God’s mission (38).
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is a desert place.  27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship  28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah.  29 And the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over and join this chariot." (Acts 8:26-29).
Think about what God did. Philip was involved in the conversion of the Samaritans—many heard and believed the Gospel.  Many were being added to their number. But… God had a plan. And a lone official, a eunuch at that, was returning to Egypt. God sent out a missionary, a witness, to “intercept” him. He was available, and obedient. God had a plan, and the Gospel gained a witness, and ultimately a foothold, in North Africa.
       Things were seemingly going great in Capernaum. The crowds were big at least. But it seems that many were coming exclusively because they had heard of the miracles, and they sought the physical healing that Jesus could give. As we read the gospels, we see that the Jews were enamored by miracles. But they were not an end in themselves. They did give a preliminary “glimpse” into the future and the blessing of the kingdom. They were signs, validating Jesus’ words, and proving His identity. Remember the heart of Jesus ministry earlier in this chapter,
Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God,  15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mk 1:14,15).
       Jesus came preaching the Gospel, proclaiming the “Good News” that the Kingdom of God was near, because He, the King was on the scene! Remember earlier in the chapter, John’s ministry pointed to the greater need of humans: the problem of sin. Sin entered into the world through Adam, and sin brought death, the curse, and separation between humans and God. The gospel was “good news,” because in Christ it would be possible for humans to be reconciled to God. Remember Paul’s words to the Galatians, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son… to redeem those who were under the law…” God’s justice demands that sin be punished. Jesus came to bear our sins in His body on the tree. Now, as His public ministry was beginning, He was calling the people to hear Him, to follow Him, to recognize who He is.
       Jesus continued to reveal the truth through His works and words (39). “And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.”  Though it doesn’t mention healing here, it surely continued as well see in subsequent verses. The emphasis is on the spiritual healing that has happening. He preached in the synagogues, correcting and preparing the people to respond to His person and message, and ultimately to His death and resurrection. Even the disciples didn’t get that yet, they would only understand afterward, when he “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”
What is God saying to me in this passage? Jesus showed the priority of prayer and of faithfulness to the mission, rather than striving for “popularity.”
What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  As we read the gospels, it seems to me that we are invited, along with the disciples, to follow Jesus, and to learn from His words and from His example. There are so many conflicting time demands that we face, it is easy for us to yield to the “tyranny of the urgent” and to neglect the essential, foundational aspects of our relationship with God, and the call to follow Him. We need to keep first things first, and we need to keep the main thing, the main thing. Until his last day Jim was engaged!

       Have you incorporated a daily quiet time into your life? It is a way to express your faith, and your dependence on Him. It is also true that it will deepen your relationship with Him, and more and more, His priorities will become your priorities. Like those people that God has providentially put in your life. Praying for them, and as God gives opportunity, seeking to point them to Jesus. They need to know Him. We’d like to work together to help you reach those people God has put in your life: family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, schoolmates. We have a lot of invitation cards we’d like to hand out or mail out over the next two to three weeks, leading into Palm Sunday and Easter.  Let’s see what God will do.  AMEN.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Finding Our Place in the Mission of God - Mark 1:29-34

Finding Our Place in the Mission of God
Mark 1:29-34
Introduction:  Looking back to the opening of Mark’s Gospel, Mark gave us something of a “thesis statement” that he has been expanding on in the first chapter: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Jews were expecting a descendant of David who would lead them to a life of security and prosperity in the Land, but they had little clue that this Rescuer would be One who would provide a much more profound deliverance: He would save them from their sins by making a way, actually by being the Way, for them to be reconciled to God. They were rightly expecting the coming of Messiah, but they had a limited, and ultimately inadequate, view of His nature.  Jesus’ authority in the spiritual and physical realm revealed His identity: the kingdom was “at hand” because the King was present. Jesus presented himself in the synagogue at Capernaum and astonished those present by teaching, not as the scribes, but with authority. He amazed the onlookers, showing his authority even further by speaking, and casting out a demon. And now, in this passage, He shows His power to heal—His authority extends to the physical as well as the spiritual.
        Mark is not only telling us what happened, then and there, in the life of Jesus. He is writing a “gospel,” and calling on us to believe, and to follow Him.  Remember, God, in His sovereignty, chose to give us four accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus. He could have given us a single, exhaustive biography of the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth, but instead he gave us four gospels, written by different authors to different audiences, answering pastoral or theological questions that were relevant to them and their readers, and in accordance with the inspiration of the Divine Author, each has a message that is relevant to us.  We are approaching Mark’s gospel under the rubric of three primary questions that he is answering: 1) Who is Jesus? 2) Why did He come? And, 3) What does it mean to follow Him?  All three of those questions are not only important, they are essential if we are going to be a disciple of Jesus.
The Maine* Idea: Jesus is the answer to the deepest need of every human and He would use us to bring others to Himself.
I. Welcome Jesus in Your Home: Simon and Andrew did! They brought Jesus to their home [oikos] where Peter’s mother-in-law lay sick (29, 30).
29 And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  30 Now Simon's mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her.
       They welcomed Him in their home.  The sequence is emphatic. They went with Jesus to the synagogue, they heard Him teach with authority and they saw Him cast out a demon.  And then they went to the nearby home of two of them, Simon and Andrew. They welcomed Jesus, and also two of his other followers,  James and John, into their home. It is easy for us to center our life on our career, or our hobbies, or even our family.  Yes, if you are a believer, Jesus is part of your life, of course. But is Jesus the center of your life?  How do you know? Do you spend time with Him daily? One of the means of grace is the Bible, God’s written Word. And another is prayer. Both of these take time. We speak to God in prayer, we listen, and meditate, and seek Him. We spend time in the Bible, reading, studying, reflecting. Does His presence guide you through the day? Do you repeatedly, without ceasing, utter prayers, seeking guidance or wisdom or help with what you are dealing with in your life? Is Jesus welcome in your home, or is that for Sunday, for “church”? These men followed Jesus, and invited Him not only into their home, but into their lives. And one who they loved was in need...
       They immediately “told Him about her...”  These men had decided to follow Jesus. There was something about Him, about His teaching, about the call He extended toward them, about the astounding authority He seemed to have in the spiritual realm. This was not simply a new or engaging rabbi that they were following! Could He be the One?   Were they already thinking that perhaps Jesus could help Simon’s mother-in-law as they walked to the house? She was probably quite sick, unable even to get up from her sick bed and come to the door to great them as they arrived.  Immediately, “they told him about her.” 
       Now as we read the story, with a fuller sense of who Jesus was than the disciples had at that moment, do you think He needed them to tell Him about her? He is the eternal Son of God, surely He knew! But it was a step in their faith, an opportunity for them to grow.  It was a preliminary occasion to look to Jesus for help with something they had no power to address on their own. Peter’s mother-in-law was sick, really sick, and she needed help.  What about those in your home, your extended family, your friends and neighbors. What are their needs?  Have you told Jesus about them? Let’s take to heart our calling as a Royal Priesthood (I Pet 2:9) and intercede on behalf of our family, friends, and neighbors! If they don’t know Christ, that is their greatest need. Let’s tell HIM about them! Are we praying for those in our oikos? Yes, He already knows all about them, but we are called to pray. Do you agree that Jesus is the answer to the deepest need of every human?  He would use us to bring others to Himself. 
II. We are saved to serve: Jesus raised her up, and she began to serve (31).
31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
        Jesus raised her up, he healed her.  One thing that is striking about this miracle is that there is no request on the part of the woman, no action at all on her part as far as we know.  We don’t hear anything about her faith.  We don’t know much about her illness, but she is in bed, with a high fever, apparently unable to rise to greet her house guests. Jesus comes to her, He takes her by the hand, and He lifts her up. Jesus did it all. And the fever “left her,” she was healed. As surely as the demon left the man in the synagogue, the fever leaves this sick woman. She is well. Notice that there was no recovery period, no action or preparation for what comes next, immediately, she began to “serve” them.
       Immediately, without any request, she began to serve. The sequence seems immediate, the fever left, she began to serve. It seems her action is necessary and natural. What else could she do? How could she not serve? The love of Christ constrains us! I told you before of my experience as a young Christian, driving a bulldozer at the dump. I saw the name “Jesus” written in large type on a paper in the garbage, and I stopped the machine and went down in the garbage to get it—I wanted to learn everything I could about Jesus! It was an advertisement for a Christian conference that was happening down in Florida in just a couple of months. I decided to go. And there I heard Keith Philips of World Impact challenge the audience, seemingly speaking directly to me: “In view of what God has done for you in Christ, are you willing to allow Him to use you in whatever way He determines to use you?” I didn’t have a clue as to how God could use me, but I knew I owed Him everything, my life, my eternity. I had to be available to serve is whatever way He desired. So I raised my hand at the invitation, “Here am I!
       The word “serve” in our text in Mark is the verb diakoneo, a word used for serving at the table, but also used more widely for “service” in general. The noun form of the same root is where we get the word “deacon” (see also 1:13). After Jesus’ gracious intervention in her life, after experiencing His healing touch, she served them. Has Jesus touched your life?  You might think, “I wasn’t sick!” Maybe not, but you were more than sick, you were dead in your trespasses and sins. He made you alive! Yet sometimes, even though we have been raised up by the Master, we have a new life, we’ve been “born-again,” even so we hesitate to serve, we hesitate to raise our hand and say, “Here am I, send me!”  He saved you on purpose, for a purpose. He has given you a gift to use for the edification of the body. How are you serving? If not, why not? God has designed us as a body. Each part is important, essential, to the proper working of the body. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something, if we belong to Him. Do you know your gift(s)? Are you engaged in serving? And we are all called to be His witnesses.  After all, Jesus is the answer to the deepest need of every human and He would use us to bring others to Him.
III. Jesus is the answer to the deepest needs for every person (32-34).
32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons.  33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
        They brought the needy to Jesus. “That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons...” For most of the people, the motivation was simple: their friends needed help, and Jesus, this rabbi, or prophet, or whatever He was, seemed like He could help them. So they came, and they brought their loved ones to Jesus. They came at sundown, after the Sabbath had ended, looking for help from this remarkable teacher and miracle worker.  Did they have faith in Jesus? Did they know who He was? Probably not. But they loved those who were in need enough to come seeking help. It was worth a shot, they probably thought, others had failed but maybe He could help. The news about Him spread quickly!
        “The whole city was gathered at the door...” That is surely an example of oriental hyperbole, a deliberate exaggeration to make a point (cf. 1:5). Not that every single person in town had come, but a huge crowd, from all groups and from all over the city was there.  His fame was spreading, word was getting out. And people came, looking for help, looking for hope
       He healed “many” and cast out “many” demons.  On other occasions it says that the multitudes came, and Jesus healed them all. Here is doesn’t say that, simple that He healed “many.” Mark’s point it that there were a lot of them!  By the way, we need to think about what Jesus was doing, and why He was doing it. He taught with authority. That was different. He healed, in some cases He healed people that were essentially without hope: a man born blind, a paralytic who hadn’t walked in nearly 40 years.  There was nothing psychosomatic here, these were genuine, indisputable miracles!  What was going on? Later, when John the Baptist is imprisoned, we read in Luke 7:18-22,
...And John,  19 calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?"  20 And when the men had come to him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, 'Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?'"  21 In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight.  22 And he answered them, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.
What is Jesus saying? He is saying that His works confirm His identity. He is showing His sovereignty, giving a preliminary “glimpse” of the future kingdom.  He has all authority, and the day will come that Paul speaks of in Romans 8:16-24,  
...we are children of God,  17 and if children, then heirs- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.  18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope  21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  24 For in this hope we were saved.
      The day is coming when the curse will be undone, when there will be no more sickness or suffering, when Satan will be bound, and ultimately cast into the lake of fire, and when God himself will wipe away the tears from our eyes. Jesus came to provide the redemption that would make that day possible. But God had a plan, and the works Jesus did were a glimpse into the future, and a revelation that He is Yahweh, the God of the Bible. The people that He healed would one day get sick again, and eventually die. It is appointed unto men once to die...  The good news is that if we trust Christ, death does not have the last word!  For now, we pray as He taught us, “...thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven...” These people brought the sick and the demonized to Jesus.
       Do we hesitate to bring the “hard cases” to Jesus?  The sick? That is easy, we’ll pray for anyone, no matter how sick they are. And we’ll hope for a miracle to the end. But is physical healing the greatest need of those in your oikos (your “sphere of influence”)?  What about the hard of heart? What about our sibling, who for 40 years has rejected the gospel? What about the spouse, who tolerates his wife’s faith, but has resisted making a personal commitment to Christ? What about your lifelong friend, who knew you before you were saved, and apparently is still just counting the days until you go back to your old ways? What about the wayward child, who grew up in the church but has seemingly gone the way of the world and is living like his or her unsaved friends?  One question: Is anything too hard for the Lord? Tell Jesus about them. In other words, pray, pray for a softened heart, and, as we heard last week from Wayne Raychard, pray for an open door, an opportunity to give a reason for the hope that is in you.
       P.S. He would not permit the demons to speak. We saw Him silence the demon in the synagogue and we’ll see Him consistently forbidding them to speak. Why? He did not desire or want their testimony – When the time came, that would be the work of His followers (see Acts 1:8)!
What is God saying to me in this passage? Jesus is the answer to the deepest need of every human and He would use us to bring others to Himself.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? You have heard about the person and the work of the Master. Do you believe in Him? Do you know Him?  Has he graciously, mercifully, brought healing to your soul?  Would you serve Him?  If you know Him, and understand what He has done for you, you will love Him. And If you love Him, it will be a joy to serve Him. For every one of us that means recognizing that the Holy Spirit has given us a gift to use for the building up of the body.  In fact He is the Potter, you are the clay, and He has given you a unique “S.H.A.P.E.”—(Remember Rick Warren’s acrostic: Spirtual gift(s) Heart’s desire, Abilities, Personality, Experiences).  He has made you who you are, and He has a purpose for your life. Some may be called to be teachers, some might have a gift, like Barnabas, of encouragement. Others might be able to “help” or to “serve.” Are you a friendly, “people person”? Couldn’t you be a greeter, making it your business to welcome people, especially visitors, to our church?  God has molded you into the person you are, and He desires that you have a part in His mission in the world. He has also called everyone of us to be His witnesses. One near term opportunity is to invite someone, or several “someones,” from your oikos for our Palm Sunday or Easter services! We’ve printed post-card sized invitations for all of us to use.

      Our lives are a testimony to those people that are around us, first of all our family and closest friends, our neighbors and the people we work with or go to school with.   We are a witness right where we are at, right where God has placed us. The disciples told Jesus about Peter’s mother-in-law. We do that when we pray for those around us. God works through prayers. He may soften the hearts of our loved ones to listen, and He may embolden our hearts to speak. He would use us in His mission, as He continues to build His church.      AMEN.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Master Teacher: His Word is Truth Mark 1:21-28

The Master Teacher: His Word is Truth
Mark 1:21-28
Introduction: In response to the question, “Who is Jesus?” it is fairly common for people to say “He was a great moral teacher, but I don’t believe any of that stuff about him being the Son of God!”  Already in the first chapter of Mark, we see clearly that He must be much more than a great teacher! Mark has pointed to the witness of Scripture, the testimony of John the Baptist, the descent of the Spirit and the testimony of the Father, leaving no doubt that Jesus was no merely human teacher.  John MacArthur writes,
Heralded by John, commissioned by the Father, filled with the Spirit, victorious over sin and Satan, and accompanied by His disciples, the Lord Jesus began His public ministry with every necessary credential demonstrated.”
The evidence already is compelling.  Without question, “God spoke in times past to the fathers through the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken in the Son...” (Heb 1:1).  Mark has been presenting his case, answering the question, “Who is Jesus?” He has been answering it in such a way that it does not allow the reader to conclude that Jesus was a great teacher, but merely a man. Today’s passage highlights that truth. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis responded to the same issue, saying,
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” 
Who is Jesus? The power of His Word testifies to who He is! He spoke with authority, and showed his sovereignty over every aspect of creation and life.
The Maine* Idea: The astonishing authority of the Word of Christ exposes darkness and spreads the true Light.
I.  The Astonishing AUTHORITY of the Word of Christ (21,22).
21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching [an inceptive sense, “he began to teach, seems to be the most natural reading here, SN.]22 And they were astonished at his teaching for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 
       Jesus and His first disciples went into the village of Capernaum, on the north-north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee, about 20 miles east of Nazareth. It was a small, but bustling fishing village, filled with travelers and merchants. As with most predominately Jewish communities, the synagogue there was the center of community life.  And it was there that Jesus went on the Sabbath to begin His public ministry.  It may be that Jesus called these four disciples on a Friday afternoon, and then as they walked to the village, as the sun set, the Sabbath began. And so they went to the synagogue. It was normal for a visiting rabbi to be given an opportunity to teach. And so, as Jesus entered the synagogue, He “began to teach.” The scribes were experts in the Law and the traditions of the fathers. Their teaching was based on the “authority” of others. This teacher was different.
       “…and they were astonished at His teaching…” Even though we might immediately want to jump to the “power encounter” that follows where Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit, this paragraph is bound together with references to His teaching. Here Mark says, they were “astonished” at His teaching. Then, in verse 27, after the demon comes out of the man, we read “And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching with authority!” The authority of His words, which even the demon could not resist, is what astonishes them. 
       The word “astonished” is not too common in the New Testament, appearing only 13 times, five of those in the Gospel of Mark. It seems to have the idea of “shock and awe,” something that was so unexpected and powerful that it was overwhelming. It is used in Mark principally to describe reactions to Jesus’ teaching, but also to His works…
Mark 6:2And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, "Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands?
Mark 7:37And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’"
Mark 10:25-26 “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."  26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, "Then who can be saved?"
Mark 11:18 “And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.”
God’s Word is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart...” (Heb 4:12).  Jesus was not simply discussing the writings of the old rabbis. He was speaking with authority. And it astonished those who heard. Where did such authority come from? The word itself, exousia, speaks of “rule, dominion, authority, power.” Jesus will use that word three years later when He says, “All authority has been given unto me in heaven and on earth…”  His authority is that of the Son, the Word made flesh. It is intrinsic to His being as the great “I Am.” His Word is absolute truth, and has absolute power. The astonishing authority of the Word of Christ exposes darkness and spreads the true Light. So we see the Astonishing Authority of the Word, and secondly...
II. The Convicting POWER of the Word of Christ (23-27).
23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out,  24 "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are- the Holy One of God."  25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!"  26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.  27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." 
       Notice first that His Word Convicts: it exposes sin and the certainty of judgement (23,24).  Remember the reality that we are in a spiritual war.  Paul reminded the Ephesians that “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places…” (Eph 6:12). As the apostle John said, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (I Jn 5:19). The enemy is at work to keep humans from seeing the truth and coming to God for forgiveness and life. Paul stated the challenge of our mission in 2 Corinthians 4:3-5,
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing.  4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…
But don’t be intimidated. Greater is He who is in us, than he who is in the world!  The issue is Light and darkness (read John 3:19-21). Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ (Rom 10:17). Jesus is teaching, bringing the Word of God to the people with authority. Immediately the demon possessed man recognizes Who this is, and he is terrified! Mark uses a compound word, the demon, “cried out,” [anakrazo]. It only appears five times in the New Testament.  Three times it is of a demon possessed man crying out in terror in the presence of Jesus, the Holy One (Mk 1:27; Lk 4:33; 8:28). It is also used in Mark 6:49 when the disciples cry out in terror when they see Jesus walking on the water and think they are seeing a ghost. The last time the word appears is in Luke 23:18 as Pilate is desiring to release Jesus and the chief priests and rulers “cry out” in a frenzy for Jesus’ death. The word seems to be intensive, emotional, cry of terror. The demon was exposed! The Light was overwhelming, unbearable. He knew who this was, he knew the power, the authority of the One that stood before him. And he was terrified.
        Christ’s authority is inseparable from His sovereignty: His Word Commands and overwhelms the darkness (25-27).  Jesus speaks and the demon is powerless to resist. “Be silent, and come out of Him!” He was teaching with authority, and now He speaks, not evoking another or relying on someone else’s authority. He commands, and the demon is powerless to resist. In the book of Acts we have a scene that contrasts the authority of Christ over the powers of darkness and the spiritual impotence of those who don’t know Him. We read it in Acts 19:11-16,
 11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul...  13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, "I adjure you by the Jesus, whom Paul proclaims." [As though there was some magical power in mentioning the name, even without faith!] 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this.  15 But the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?"  16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
Lesson: The Lord has all authority in heaven and on earth.  We have nothing to fear in the spiritual realm, if we know Christ, and trust him. The battle is the Lord’s. THAT is why… Satan trembles when he sees the weakest Christian on his knees! He will attack, he will tempt, but greater is He who is in us, than he who is in the world. Matthew and Luke tells us how Jesus responded to the temptations of the devil: He quoted Scripture! God’s Word is truth. And what about those who don’t yet know Christ? “God has chosen, through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe…” (I Cor 1:21). Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Rom 10:17)I read this week a testimony that illustrates the power of the Word of God. It was told of a Christian woman in Brazil…
      "Pastor is it OK to sell a Bible to a prostitute?" You see Laura was a member of a small church in Brazil. She sold Avon products to supplement the family income. One of her weekly routes took her through the red light district. One day after asking her pastor if it is Ok to sell Bibles to prostitutes she took a few Bibles with her on her Avon trips to the red light district.
     God opened a door to present Bibles and Christian books in a house of prostitutes. Oddly enough, the house was located directly across the road from a large evangelical church. Ten of these women gathered around a table one afternoon as Laura shared with them the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. A few Bibles and some books containing testimonies of transformed lives were sold that afternoon.
      Several months later there were terrible rains and floods in that part of Brazil, causing several deaths. With the floods came mudslides in communities that had been swamped by the rising rivers. Two of the prostitutes who had attended the book demonstration earlier that year talked about the danger and decided to read the Bible they had purchased. It seems their thoughts were the Bible is like a mystery novel, so they started with Revelation in order to find the conclusion of the story. What they read frightened them. They came to REV 21:7, 8: "The cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, and the sexually immoral, the idolaters and all liars, their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."
       The gal who owned the Bible became alarmed and exclaimed, "We’re lost! We’re lost!" Her housemate replied, "No, you’re lost. I’m not lost because I do penance every day." Still alarmed and concerned, they continued to read. A few days later God sent Laura. These two women literally pulled her off the street and shoved the Bible into her hands. "Read this part right there! Tell us what it means!" they ordered. Laura read the verses and responded, "It means that when you practice and live in one of these sins, you will not be permitted to enter heaven."
      Again, the owner of the Bible cried, "We’re lost! We’re lost! I told you we were lost!" Her friend again assured her, "No, you’re lost. I’m not lost because I repent every day."
       "Repentance," Laura explained, "is when you confess your wrong and completely turn around. You did not repent. Repenting is turning from your sin. You only felt guilty for your sins."
        Again, the prostitute shouted even louder, "We are lost! We’re lost!" After sharing the plan of salvation and trying to pray with them Laura returned home planning to visit again. One week passed by and she made her way down the muddy and rutted dirt streets of that little suburb. On arriving at the home of the two prostitutes, she was handed a note by the one who had been so assured of her false repentance. “Laura, Enclosed is the money I owe. Thank you so much for help. After your visit last week, I returned to my hometown and am living with my parents. On Sunday I attended an evangelical church and gave my heart to the Lord Jesus. If ever I visit your city again, it will only be to attend your church. Jesus has made me a different person. Maria Isabel”
God’s Word is powerful, it is truth, and it WILL accomplish God’s purpose. The astonishing authority of the Word of Christ exposes darkness and spreads the true Light. So we see the I. Astonishing Authority of the Word; II. The Convicting Power of the Word, and now finally...
III. The Compelling EFFECT of the Word of Christ: His Word will ultimately accomplish His purpose and build His church (28). We see in this detail mentioned in v.28 the effect that his ministry began to have,
And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee… (Mk 1:28).
The Lord said through the prophet Isaiah the EFFECT that His Word would have,
“…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it...” (Isaiah 55:11).
This passage shows the authority of the Word of Christ. Notice that there is no “if” in that verse, it shall not return empty, it shall accomplish that which I purpose, it shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Here in Mark, Jesus spoke with authority in the synagogue in Capernaum. He astonished and amazed those who heard, and He showed absolute power in the spiritual realm.
       Jesus spoke with absolute authority and His words had an immediate effect. The result: His fame spread throughout the region. As we read the history of the early church in the book of Acts, one thing Dr. Luke points to is the power and effect of the Word...
Acts 6:7 - And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
Acts 8:14 - Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John
Acts 11:1 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.
Acts 12:24 But the word of God increased and multiplied.
Do you see the pattern? The expansion of the church is linked intimately to the going out of the Word. God’s Word is truth, it goes out with power and authority, and it is the means that God has ordained to stir faith in the hearts of the elect.
What is God saying to me in this passage? The astonishing authority of the Word of Christ exposes darkness and spreads the true Light.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  You might well think, Jesus’ ministry in a synagogue in Capernaum in the first century is one thing, but how in the world can God use me? Chuck Colson said, “It is not what we do that matters, but what a sovereign God chooses to do through us. God doesn't want our success; He wants us. He doesn't demand our achievements; He demands our obedience.”   Jesus said, “All authority has been given me in Heaven and on Earth. Therefore go, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you… That is the call He has given us, to the mission He has entrusted to us. Our mission starts at home, with those God has placed on the “front burner” of our lives. Think about those people in your sphere of influence: family, friends, neighbors, co-workers. Some profess to believe, but don’t attend church, others are still in the darkness. You are God’s ambassador, His witness right where you are.  Will you embrace that mission?   
Think about that, AMEN.