Sunday, August 27, 2017

Go and Tell! Mark 5:1-20

Go and Tell!
Mark 5:1-20
Introduction: Last week we were in a store in Augusta and were surprised to see that Halloween decorations were already in the aisles! More than two months in advance! We don’t enjoy that aspect of the coming season because the decorations and movies either make light of the spiritual warfare that believers encounter in this fallen world, or they present an unbiblical picture of evil. There is nothing funny about demons and the havoc they would wreak in the lives of humans. The good news for believers is that Jesus came to deliver us, and “greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world!” Jesus had just demonstrated His power over nature on the stormy sea.  He has been teaching with authority and healing the sick. He would now powerfully show, once again, His authority in the spiritual realm.
The Maine* Idea: Share the Good News: Jesus came to free us from the enemy who would bring us into bondage and seek to destroy us. In Jesus we are free!
I. Humans are in bondage: We see the desperate need of fallen humans in the demonized man (1-5).
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.  2 And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit.  3 He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain,  4 for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him.  5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones.
       Just a word about the context. Notice in v.1, “They came to the other side of the sea…” They had just passed through a storm as Jesus directed them to get in the boat and cross over. Jesus does this miracle, setting free this man possessed by demons, and then in 1:21 we are told that they cross back over the lake. As far as we know, Jesus did no other miracles or no other teaching on this side of the lake at this time. He came over because He had a divine appointment, a meeting that He determined needed to happen to set this man free, and then to send him out as a witness to his own people. This one miserable soul, but God had a plan for his life, and he met with Jesus and his life was transformed! We see other cases where it seems God goes out of his way to reach one particular person. Remember when Philip was busy in ministry in Samaria in Acts 8, and then God sends him away from all that excitement to go out to the desert. That didn’t seem like a good plan! But Philip met the Ethiopian Eunuch, who was returning home, and reading aloud from Isaiah 53. He tells him about Jesus, and he is saved (and baptized!) and sent on his way back home. God had a plan. We need to be sensitive and available as we go about our lives. Who are the people you will meet this afternoon? Or tomorrow? We need to be alert for the opportunities God gives.
         Since the book the Exorcist was published in 1971, movies and books (and now video games) have sensationalized the occult and the demonic.  Demons have been around for a lot longer than that!  There is no doubt that “demon possession” still happens, and in some cultures, as in Haiti and in parts of Brazil, there are people who invite “spirits” to come into their bodies!  In our modern scientific society, most of it is explained away as mental illness and the like. It gets worse. Aside from those extreme cases, we know that “…the whole world lies in the power of the evil one…” (I John 5:19). Paul describes the spiritual repression of unregenerate humanity in Ephesians 2:1-3…
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
That sounds like a bleak position to be in: dead in sin, following Satan, living to please our fallen sinful nature, and destined for judgment! And it would be bleak, but for the gracious intervention of our great God and Savior! In the next two verses of that same letter Paul puts it this way,
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved… (Eph 2:4,5).
God has rescued us from bondage, and set us free in Jesus! That is truly amazing grace. This man was an extreme case to be sure, demonized, alienated, and out of control. But at a lesser level, we were all in the same boat, and just as surely headed to hell.  This demoniac was not only spiritually dead and blind to the things of God… he was infested with demons! He had supernatural strength and could not be restrained… even with chains!  He was violent and self-destructive… cutting himself with stones. Not only was this man a terror to people who saw or heard him, he was isolated out among the tombs or in the mountains, crying out day and night.  He was in bondage, enslaved, helpless to free himself from his tormentors.
       Whatever the demons’ plans for this man, it is clear that they wanted to keep him isolated, and seemingly, they were bent on destroying him. That pattern has persisted from the time of the fall, has it not? Satan led Adam and Eve into sin, and so brought isolation into their lives. Isolation from each other, and also isolation from God. God had warned that sin would bring death, Satan said no, you will be like God! He was bent on destroying the unique pinnacle of God’s creation, the creatures who alone bore the image of the Creator. That hasn’t changed. We live in a fallen world, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. If we belong to Jesus, Satan is our enemy, and he goes about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. He’s an ancient foe, he has been watching humans from the beginning. He knows our weaknesses! We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of wickedness! But if God is for us, who can stand against us? We have Good News to share! Jesus came to free us from the enemy who would bring us into bondage and seek to destroy us. In Jesus, we are free indeed!
II. Jesus came to rescue us and to set us free: He alone is able to meet our deepest need: The man encounters Jesus and is set free (6-13)!
6 And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him.  7 And crying out with a loud voice, he said, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me."  8 For he was saying to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!"  9 And Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Legion, for we are many."  10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country.  11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside,  12 and they begged him, saying, "Send us to the pigs; let us enter them."  13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.
       Jesus came to rescue us from sin and from Satan (6-10).  It seems that the demons immediately recognized who Jesus is.  He ran to him and “fell down” before Him. The word here is proskuneo which is usually translated “worship.” It is “…falling down, acknowledging the superiority of the one to whom you are bowing.” It could be that the man had enough self-consciousness that he came to Jesus, resisting the enemy, looking for help. More likely it’s what we’ve seen in other encounters between Jesus and demons: they recognize Him, and cannot help but acknowledge Him. It makes me think of the scripture that says the day will come when “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil 2:10,11; cf. Rom 14:11). He is Lord! And He came to set us free from sin and from Satan.  Here, Jesus engages the demon and we find out this is not one, but “many” unclean spirits that were oppressing this man. There are a few other cases were multiple demons were cast from a person, but this is the most extreme example in Scripture!
        The fate of the Pigs demonstrates the destructive purposes of the demons (11-13).  For whatever reason, the legion asks Jesus to send them into the pigs, and He allows it. Could it be that they were hoping for the reaction they got from the locals: “Please leave our country!”? We’ll see in a minute that that is the result! But the destruction of the pigs, and the fate of the demons is not the point Mark is making. He wants us to see how Jesus rescued a man, and set him free from bondage.  As far as we are told, the entire trip across the lake had two main goals: 1) to lead the disciples into the storm, and to lead them deeper in their faith; and 2) to set this man free and then send him out. Mark wants us to understand who Jesus is, and to see that this is why He came. He crossed the lake with the disciples to grow their faith and to deliver this man. As always, He accomplished what He came to do. And know this: He left heaven and came into this sin cursed world, to suffer and die for us, to deliver you and me, and to set free all who will turn to Him in faith. And, as always, He accomplished what He came to do. That is Good News and we are called to share it! Yes, there is an enemy who would bring us into bondage and seek to destroy us, but Jesus came to rescue us, and in Him we can truly be set free!
III. We are called to be His witnesses: Our Testimony is to be shared, beginning with our own people (14-20).
14 The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened.  15 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs.  17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him.  19 And he did not permit him but said to him, "Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you."  20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.
       Others will take notice: Here, with fear and unbelief (14-17). It must have been a shocking and terrifying experience for the pig-herders. They had just seen the disturbing scene of the naked and wild demoniac who could not be restrained and was constantly crying out from among the tombs, fall down before Jesus. Some heard the conversation between Jesus and Legion (16). They saw the sudden charge of the herd of pigs down the embankment and into the water! They “fled” the area and went to report what had happened. So, the people came to see. How would they react? Would they see the man, clothed, in his right mind, and give glory to God? No, they were afraid, and began pleading with Jesus to depart from the region! They were afraid (v.15)! 
       There is an interesting play on words in this story. The demons “begged” Jesus not to send them out of the country (10); and the inhabitants of the country “begged” Jesus to leave (17)!  The demons “begged” to be sent into the pigs (12) and the healed man “begged” to be with Jesus (18)! Jesus had another plan for this new disciple.  The contrast between light and darkness!
        Jesus directed the liberated man to “Go and Tell!” (18-20).  Instead of “following” Jesus, the man is told to go home, to go to his oikos, to his own people, and to tell them how much the Lord had done for him, and to speak about the mercy that God had shown him.  And so, he went, and he began testifying about what the Lord had done. And the people “marveled”! It had to be astounding to see this man, who had been in such bondage, speaking, in his right mind, and giving the Lord glory for His mercy and grace in delivering him. Notice something here. It was not necessary to first take a class on evangelism or witnessing. Notice this: He did not need a Bible College or seminary degree. He didn’t need to follow the Lord for three years before he was qualified to serve. He needed to simply say, “I once was lost, but now I am found, I was blind, but now I see!” D. James Kennedy used to say that Satan’s greatest victory was convincing believers that ministry, including witnessing and evangelism, is the work of “professionals,” pastors, evangelists, and missionaries. We are all gifted to serve. And we are all called to be His witnesses. Friends, remember that Mark wants us to know who Jesus is and why he came. He also wants us to consider what it means to follow Him.
       We have one aspect of God’s will for every Christ follower in this story. When the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. You are free to serve, to be the Spirit empowered witness He wants you to be. I think the Lord would say to each of us, “Go home, go to your own people, your family, friends, co-workers, your neighbors, and tell them the truth: your life is different because God has rescued you!” He has set you free. Let them know that He would do the same for them if they will admit their need and turn to Him in faith.
What is God saying to me in this passage?  Share the Good News: Jesus came to free us from the enemy who would bring us into bondage and seek to destroy us. If the Son therefore shall make you free you will be free indeed!
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Do you understand that in your life “B.C.” (before Christ!) you were dead in your trespasses, following the course of the world, living to please your flesh, and under the deception of the devil?  So was I. Most of us were not wild, naked demoniacs living among the tombs, we might have looked like pretty good, respectable people! But we were still in bondage to his subtle lies, and blind to the truth that Jesus came to reveal. That is, until Jesus touched you, and opened your eyes and your heart to the truth.
       It could be that you are here this morning (or reading this) and have not yet received the gift of forgiveness by grace through faith in Jesus. Has something been tugging at your heart as you consider this story? Do you long to be free, and to know Him? It may be that God, by His kindness, is leading you to turn from your sin and turn to Jesus. Acknowledge your need, because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Believe the truth about Jesus: He is God the Son, and He died on the cross for your sins and rose the third day. He purchased a place for you in heaven which He is offering as a free gift. Put your trust in Him, Confess Him as your personal Lord and Savior. The Bible promises that “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved!

       For those who have done that we need to know He set us free for a purpose. We are called to be His witnesses where He has placed us. The man Jesus set free wanted to follow Him. Jesus said no, I’ve got a mission for you. Go home. Go to your own people and tell them what the Lord has done for you!  And, brothers and sisters, we are sent in the same way. To go to our “oikos, to testify to the people we know, the people we live life with, the small group that is our first mission field. We are called to point them to Jesus… and as He opens hearts and sets some free, to make disciples!           AMEN.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Is the Master in Your Boat? Fear not! Mark 4:35-41

Is the Master in your boat? Fear not!
Mark 4:35-41
Introduction: The hurricane that moved north through the Atlantic this week made me think of a storm that took a very different course 25 years ago…
…August 24th, 1992. That was when Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida. …when that great storm began to bear down on the cities and towns in its path; and the winds were whipping through the streets, and the trees were snapping, and the lights went out, and people huddled together in any place that appeared safe. After the storm had moved up the coast they interviewed a man who slept through the whole thing. The well-rested man said that when he woke up the worst of it was over. His wife greeted her husband a little sarcastically and it reminded me of Alice Cramdon talking to Ralph on the Honeymooners, “Well, Bob you just slept through the greatest natural disaster to ever hit North America.” And do you know what his reply was? He said, “Well, ‘Shirley girl’, a good conscience makes for a good night’s sleep.” 
We see the psalmist talking about a good night’s sleep, but in Psalm 3 and 4 it seems that the basis is trust in God not necessarily a good conscience (Ps 3:5; 4:8). “I lay down and sleep, I awake, because the Lord sustains me!” Sometimes, when we look at the world, we can lose sleep.  Mark was writing to Christians in Rome who were suffering, under persecution. As He wrote his gospel he included this story about Jesus getting in a boat with His disciples, and teaching them a lesson about faith in the midst of the storm.  John Newton wrote, “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved…” When we look at the world around us, when we see the violence and the hatred that men bring against men, we can ask with the psalmist, “How long o Lord?” Or even ask as the disciples did in the storm, “Lord, are you sleeping? Don’t you care if we perish?”  Of course we know better. We would never say such a thing, right? 
       At least four of the disciples were fishermen, they knew the lake, they had seen storms. But remember, it was night, no GPS, no communications in the event of an emergency, limited light from the moon and stars… And then what must have seemed like the perfect storm hit… Some of you have been out in rough water… Not me… I got to feeling sea sick just riding a ferry from Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island in windy conditions! Remember who is in the boat.
The Maine Idea: In every storm of life we should remember who Jesus is, and trust Him, our King and Lord of all. 
I. Understand the cost of discipleship (35,36): What does it mean to follow Him? It was Jesus who took told the disciples to sail across the lake. They had been obedient to Jesus, they did exactly what he had asked, and they sailed directly into a storm!  Storms don’t necessarily mean we are outside of the will of God!
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side."  36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him…
       The scene is clear enough. After a long day of preaching, as evening was falling, Jesus tells the disciples to take them across the lake. It may be that Jesus was in the boat from which He had been teaching, as he gave the instruction. That may be the intent of the phrase “…just as He was…” There were other boats as well that went to accompany them on the short sail across the lake, just a detail that reminds us this was an eyewitness account. The disciples were obedient. They were in the boat on the lake because Jesus had directed them there. Please don’t miss this. Obedience to God does not guarantee that everything is going to go smoothly in life. In fact, it may be that we will do exactly what God wants us to do, and still we’ll sail right into some terrifying storms!  Later in this gospel in fact, in what many consider the key passage in this gospel, Jesus will say,
"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.  36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? (Mark 8:34-36).
Jesus called them to follow Him, and they came. Now He directs them to take the boat across the lake, and they set out to do so. There is no hint of hesitation, no expression of concern, just obedience. And they encounter a storm. There is no promise of smooth sailing if we follow Him! As I read this story of the disciples in the boat on the stormy sea, I remembered what Peter wrote in his first epistle:
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed… (I Peter 4:12,13).
Why should we be surprised by suffering? Why should the storms we encounter in life catch us off guard? Remember what Jesus endured, willingly, for us! Obedience to God doesn’t guarantee a storm free life. If that is what someone promised you when they shared Christ, they lied! But we can know this: He understands, and He is right there with us. Storms don’t mean that we are outside the will of God. The lesson here: when storms come, and they will, we should remember who Jesus is, and trust Him, our King and Lord of all. 
II. Jesus lead them into the storm to test their faith and grow it. They asked Jesus, “Don’t you care?” Jesus asks them, “Why were you afraid? Have you no faith?” Storms don’t mean that we are necessarily going to sink! We may have no control over what we are passing through but the Lord does!
37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 
       Storms can reveal our need (37). The disciples were probably pretty comfortable on the Sea of Galilee. As we noted, at least four of them, and maybe as many as seven, were experienced fishermen. The topography of the region around the lake no doubt guaranteed that they had been caught in the water during rough weather before. The Sea of Galilee is actually a fresh water lake. It has the lowest elevation for any fresh water lake in the world, nearly 700 feet below sea level! Mountains surrounding the region, including the Golan Heights and Mount Herman, make it very susceptible to sudden, violent down drafts. This one hit quickly, and it was a bad one. The waves were breaking into the boat, it was in danger of being swamped. Where was Jesus?
38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 
        Storms can drive us to Jesus, expressing our doubts and fears (38). If God does not protect us from storms, he will certainly use them to accomplish His good purpose in us. Paul said in Romans 8:28 that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose…” What good can come from trials? Look at Jesus, as He teaches His disciples…
39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  40 He said to them, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?"
     Storms can grow our faith (39,40). Why are you fearful and faithless?  As we pass through trials, God can use those things to grow our faith. James said,
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing… (James 1:2-4).
Count trials as joy? James said times of testing grow our faith and mature us. Elizabeth Eliot knew something about storms, about trials in life. She said in the midst of a time of crisis, “It is in accepting what God has given that God gives himself.” Or as Chuck Swindoll said, “Nothing touches us that has not first passed through the hands of our loving heavenly Father. Nothing. Peter may have thought back to that stormy evening in the boat when he wrote in I Peter 1:6,7,
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, as was necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ
To God be the glory! By the way, the question “…don’t you care that we are perishing?” will be answered unambiguously as the story unfolds. One writer expressed the depth of emotion that drives the question…
Their cry is the ultimate cry of fear, of doubt and abandonment, repeated often in the stories of God’s people, as for example in the psalms. Where is God in the midst of my distress? Has God abandoned his people? It is a cry repeated in so many ways in the midst of the terrors and distresses of our world today. If God is so great and powerful a creator, if God really cares about this world, then why do events in the world and in my life go so badly?
Mark’s readers may have asked that question in the midst of the persecution they were experiencing. Does Jesus care? In fact, the answer to that question is tied to another question that Mark has been answering, “Why did He come?” He came because He does care, He came because He loves us. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus would later say, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me, and they shall never perish…” The same word is used in both those contexts. The disciples asked, “Lord don’t you care that we are perishing?” He came so that they would not perish. He came to lay down His life for us, to be our substitute, to shed His blood so that we could be reconciled to God. Don’t ever doubt that Jesus cares. Storms will come, they may surprise us when they do, but they don’t surprise the Lord. In every storm of life, we should remember who Jesus is and trust Him, our King and Lord of all. 
III. Jesus is God, He is bigger than any storm we might face (41).  Storms can deepen our knowledge and trust in God. Jesus had asked “Why are you so cowardly? Why do you have such little faith?” Here, the disciples fear of the storm is replaced by awe – reverence – who is this man?
41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?"
       Jesus in His humanity was tired, sleeping through the storm as it raged on the lake. He took on himself a human nature so that He could by His obedience be our substitute. But He never stopped being God. As surely as all things were made by Him and for Him, as He created the universe by the Word of His power, He spoke, and there was a great calm. The disciples believed (or at least hoped!) that He was the messiah, but they still did not understand fully what that meant! They knew the words of the psalmist in passages like Psalm 89:8-9…
8 O LORD God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O LORD, with your faithfulness all around you?  9 You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.
 They knew Psalm 107:23-30, which is almost a poetic description of this event, showing that God alone controls the sea…
23 Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters;  24 they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep.  25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea.  26 They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight;  27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits' end.  28 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.  29 He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed30 Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.
Only God controls nature… only He could calm the stormy sea!  The “Great storm” (37) was replaced by a “great calm” (39) and as a result “They feared a great fear…” That is an emphatic way to say that they were terrified! Even more in the realization who this one is, than they were of the storm. They took him in the boat “just as he was…” Their understanding however was limited, incomplete. The storm revealed the Savior, God the Son, was in their boat! How do fallen humans react when they realize they are in the presence of holiness? Remember Manoah and his wife, after they saw the angel of the Lord disappear in the flame of the offering…
Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD.  22 And Manoah said to his wife, "We shall surely die, for we have seen God…" (Judges 13:21-22).
Isaiah, after his vision of God on His throne said,
"Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" (Isa 6:5).
John describes his reaction when he got a glimpse of the glorified Christ in Revelation 1:17, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead”  Even Peter, after a miraculous catch of fish, would say, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man…” (Lk 5:8).  Now think of this: Jesus came so that we could be in the presence of God. Not because of what we’ve done, but because of Him!  The veil of the Temple is torn in two, and are invited into the Holy of Holies! In fact, He has promised to be with us… always. We are never alone in the boat!
What is God saying to me in this passage? In every storm of life we should remember who Jesus is, and trust Him, our King and Lord of all. 

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Could it be that you are in the midst of a storm right now? It might be invisible to others, or not. It could be internal, intensely personal, or something others are experiencing with you. As you look through our prayer list, as you pray for our missionaries, you see examples of people passing through storms as we live life in this fallen world.  As we live our lives, as we carry out the mission that He has us in the world to do, we can trust Him, we know He cares. And even the trials will be used for our good, and for His glory! The disciples took Him in the boat, “just as He was,” but they only understood in part who He was. His power over the stormy sea shook them deeply. We have more of the story: we know that He is fully man and fully God. We know that He loves us, He showed that beyond any question by willingly going to the Cross. We know that He defeated death… the resurrection proved it.  And so we can trust Him, and obey Him.  Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33).    

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Gardening, Growth, and the Kingdom of God - Mark 4:26-34

Gardening, Growth, and the Kingdom of God
Mark 4:26-34
Introduction: One of the pressing questions tied to the Messianic hope of the Jews was the restoration of the Davidic Kingdom (cf. Acts 1:3,6). Even after the resurrection the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” You might think, well that was an odd question! Shouldn’t they have asked about missions or about the Master’s plan for discipleship or something? But remember, for 40 days after the resurrection, Jesus was appearing to them and teaching them, about what? About the Kingdom!  God had promised David a son who would have an eternal kingdom, and who would also be called the Son of God. In John 1, Andrew found his brother Peter and said, “We have found the Messiah!” (1:41). Later in that chapter, Nathanael expresses his idea of what that means when he says to Jesus: “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (1:49). Messiah—Son of God—King.  Those titles were inseparable.
        Mark, in his gospel, would lead his readers to a proper understanding of the person and work of Jesus. In part, he was correcting an inadequate messianic hope among the people. Most of what we’ve seen so far in Mark can be fit under three questions: 1) Who is Jesus, 2) Why did He come? And 3) What does it mean to follow Him?  His kingship, rightly understood, will impact the answer to those questions. Much of Jesus’ “kingdom” teaching was given in parables (4:26,30,33,34). These stories were a gracious invitation to all who would hear: He who has ears to hear, let him hear! They provoked thought and invited the hearers to consider and to seek the message Jesus taught. And now that invitation goes to us as well…
The Maine* Idea: Trust the King! His Word will accomplish His work in His time.
I. Be Patient! Growth is normally slower than we think.  The first of this pair of “kingdom parables” is the only parable that is unique to Mark, none of the other gospels repeats it.
26 And he said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground.  27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.
       Here Jesus uses some of the imagery of the famous parable of the Sower that we looked at in the beginning of this chapter, but as we’ll see, the point is a little different. In the “Sower and the Soils” there the emphasis was on the different “soils” representing the different conditions of the hearts of people. Only in the fertile “prepared” soil, did the seed take root, and grow and produce fruit. It seems as though this parable reflects a bit more on that kind of sowing, i.e. what happens when the “seed” falls on the prepared, fertile soil.  His point is that the Word will accomplish God’s purpose in God’s time in those hearts. His Word will not return void, but will accomplish the purpose for which it is sent. Read the first two verses: "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground…”
       The purposes of God often develop slowly. He has a plan, and He is not in a hurry. The great New England preacher Phillips Brooks was noted for his poise and quiet manner. At times, however, even he suffered moments of frustration and irritability. One day a friend saw him feverishly pacing the floor like a caged lion. "What's the trouble, Mr. brooks?" he asked.  "The trouble is that I'm in a hurry, but God isn't!" Haven't we felt the same way many times? Have you ever prayed, “God, please, give me patience, NOW!”? Notice that the man in Jesus’ parable sows the seed, and then goes about the business of life, without stressing about the results, “He sleeps and rises night and day…” Can’t hurry the process God has ordained!  One writer commented in the devotional magazine Table Talk
…this is not a call to passivity. As Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 3:6, some believers focus on planting seed (evangelism) and others focus on watering (teaching and discipling); however, even in these activities, God is the one who gives the growth.
        Stay faithful (trust and obey!), and be patient, trust God, He is the Lord of the harvest! Some of the greatest missionaries faithfully spread the seed of God's Word and yet had to wait long periods before seeing the fruit of their efforts. William Carey, for example, labored 7 years before the first Hindu convert was brought to Christ in Burma. Adoniram Judson toiled 7 years before He saw someone saved... In New Zealand, it took 9 years; and in Tahiti, it was 16 years before the first harvest of souls began.  What if they had given up? Well, God would have found a way in His time to get the word to them, but they would have missed the blessing of seeing the seed “sprouting” and new life beginning.
       It is not wrong to be watching and evaluating our service for the Lord. We need accountability and encouragement to stay faithful. What would be wrong, is to be anxious about the results coming more slowly than we would hope.  Chuck Swindoll said, “True patience is waiting without worrying.” Think about it, could it be that God is using “delay” to teach us something about trust?  Commenting on our need for patience, M.H. Lount has said,
"God's best gifts come slowly. We could not use them if they did not. Many a man, called of God to...a work in which he is pouring out his life, is convinced that the Lord means to bring his efforts to a successful conclusion. Nevertheless, even such a confident worker grows discouraged at times and worries because results do not come as rapidly as he would desire. But growth and strength in waiting are results often greater than the end so impatiently longed for. Paul had time to realize this as he lay in prison. Moses must have asked, 'Why?' many times during the delays in Midian and in the wilderness. Jesus Himself experienced the discipline of delay in His silent years before His great public ministry began."
Even Jesus waited for the time set by the Father to reveal himself publicly and to begin the journey that would including mentoring His disciples, revealing himself to the multitudes, exposing the unbelief of the Jewish leadership, and ultimately, reach a climax at Calvary.  God wants us to see results as we work for Him, but His first concern is our growth. That may be why He withholds success until we have learned patience!  What is God trying to teach you? What is He trying to teach us as a church family?  Be patient! Trust the King! God’s Word will accomplish His work in His time.
II. Trust God! Growth is an organic process, designed by God, it is not mechanical!
28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."
        I see a lot of articles, some of them containing a “to do” list: Five steps to making your church grow. Really?  The text here emphasizes that the farmer does not in any way cause the growth of the seed. The phrase, “…by itself…” translates a single Greek word:  automatos = “of itself, without visible cause.” That may sound familiar, it is the Greek term from which we get the English word “automatic.” There is no effort, and therefore no credit, that can go to the farmer.  If you came in the back door here, behind the platform, you may have noticed that some wildflowers are growing in a little framed flower bed. Two or three years ago, I sowed some assorted “wild flower” seeds in the bed. They grew that year, but since then, I did nothing. There was no effort on my part, no tilling, no fertilizing, no watering… but behold, some wild flowers have sprung up! Who did that? The old flowers must have gone to seed, the seeds fell, and BAM… flowers!  There was no plan, no human effort, just the design that God had placed in the DNA of the wildflowers… the circumstances allowed it, and there was life!  God said, “My Word will not return to me void, but will accomplish that for which it is sent…” Do we really believe that? Then why are we so easily discouraged?  We need to trust God!   I read a story one preacher told of a time that he and his young son were out in the country, climbing around in some cliffs…
…I heard a voice from above me yell, "Hey Dad! Catch me!" I turned around to see Zac joyfully jumping off a rock straight at me. He had jumped and then yelled "Hey Dad!" I became an instant circus act, catching him. We both fell to the ground. For a moment after I caught him I could hardly talk. 
When I found my voice again I gasped in exasperation: "Zac! Can you give me one good reason why you did that???"
He responded with remarkable calmness: "Sure...because you're my Dad." His whole assurance was based in the fact that his father was trustworthy. He could live life to the hilt because I could be trusted. Isn't this even more true for a Christian? [Tim Hansel, Holy Sweat, 46-47].
Do we trust our Father, even when we don’t see the “results” we were hoping for? Be patient, you can trust Him! Have faith, because God’s Word will accomplish His work in His time.
III. Have Faith! Don’t despise “small beginnings.”
30 And he said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?  31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth
       Think about the context in which Jesus is speaking. He had a relatively small group of genuine disciples, committed followers.  Even those that are closest to him would be put to the test when he is arrested! Even after the cross and resurrection, in the light of the opposition that they would face, how hard it must have been to have faith!  The Jewish leaders had rejected Him. The Roman oppressors had been complicit in His death. Against such opposition, against Rome and Jerusalem, what could a handful of followers possibly hope for?  It is such a small beginning. Like a tiny mustard seed. And think about this: as Mark is writing his Gospel, maybe 20-30 years after the death of Jesus, the church was being ruthlessly persecuted. It was such a small, unlikely beginning!  Bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth? It was enough of a challenge just to stay alive! How many times they must have prayed, “How long O Lord?”  Can we have faith even when nothing seems to be happening, even when it seems the obstacles are unsurmountable, the needs too great? Mary Ann has a little plaque in the kitchen: Don’t tell God you have big problems, tell your problems you have a big God!
Faith in God makes great optimists. Over in Burma, Judson was lying in a foul jail with 32 lbs. of chains on his ankles, his feet bound to a bamboo pole. A fellow prisoner said, "Dr. Judson, what about the prospect of the conversion of the heathen?", with a sneer on his face. His instant reply was, "The prospects are just as bright as the promises of God." 
That is faith! Believing God’s promises, even when we don’t see the answer! “…Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…”!
       George Mueller is renowned as a great example of faith and faithfulness. He made that point that our trials don’t catch God by surprise, and that in fact He would use those times of testing to grow our faith…
God delights to increase the faith of His children...I say, and say it deliberately--trials, difficulties and sometimes defeat, are the very food of faith...We should take them out of His hands as evidences of His love and care for us in developing more and more that faith which He is seeking to strengthen in us…
Do have a confident hope about the future? Trust the King! God’s Word will accomplish His work in His time.
IV. Have Hope! The End of the Story is going to be bigger and better than you think! The previous parable looked ahead to the harvest. This too looks ahead…
32 …yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."
        This story looks ahead, anticipating a conclusion that goes beyond what can be seen. It calls us to a confident expectation in the future. Just a tiny mustard seed, but God can grow it into something amazing!   “Hope” in the future motivates us to perseverance and faithfulness in the present.
The school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their school work during stays in the city's hospitals. One day a teacher who was assigned to the program received a routine call asking her to visit a particular child. She took the child's name and room number and talked briefly with the child's regular class teacher. "We're studying nouns and adverbs in his class now," the regular teacher said, "and I'd be grateful if you could help him understand them so he doesn't fall too far behind." 
The hospital program teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. No one had mentioned to her that the boy had been badly burned and was in great pain. Upset at the sight of the boy, she stammered as she told him, "I've been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs." When she left she felt she hadn't accomplished much. 
But the next day, a nurse asked her, "What did you do to that boy?" The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize. "No, no," said the nurse. "You don't know what I mean. We've been worried about that little boy, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He's fighting back, responding to treatment. It's as though he's decided to live." 
Two weeks later the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until the teacher arrived. Everything changed when he came to a simple realization. He expressed it this way: "They wouldn't send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?" 
Homework gave him hope! No one is giving you “home work” today, but do you believe that God has a plan, and that you are included in it? O.K., here’s some homework: read His book, trust Him! Do you think He has a part for YOU to fulfill in His program? We have passed through some trials. Our patience has been stretched, and hopefully grown, along with faith-trust-and hope.  This I know: Jesus is building His church… and we have been entrusted with a mission… until Jesus comes or until He takes us home, we are here for a purpose. Stay faithful, and…
What is God saying to me in this passage? Trust the King! God’s Word will accomplish His work in His time.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? The parable of the soils told us that we should keep on sowing, we don’t know the condition of the hearts of people, only God does. Some will receive the Word, believe, and bring forth fruit. These parables are related, we should be encouraged as we sow, trusting that God is the Lord of the harvest, having faith that He will bring the increase, that His Word will accomplish the purpose for which it is sent. I like something Greg Laurie said, about the church’s mission. He said, you may think…
…Let the preachers do this preaching stuff. I’m just an ordinary person.” There are many people you can reach far more effectively. You can reach them because they know you. They work with you. They live next to you. You are able to speak to them like perhaps no other person could. God has given you a group of people whom you can influence. God wants to use you right where you are. It will start small, like a mustard seed, but take hope, the end of the story is going to be greater than we can possibly imagine!                                

Sound familiar? You have an oikos, an extended “household.” God has put those people in your life, and you in theirs.  Keep sowing! Keep inviting! Keep sharing!  Trust God. His word will accomplish the purpose for which it is sent.  AMEN!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Shine Jesus, Shine! Mark 4:21-25

Shine Jesus, Shine!
Mark 4:21-25
Introduction: The writer to the Hebrews began his epistle,  “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,  2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” That statement is profound: the God who is, has spoken. Not only did He speak through messengers throughout biblical history, but finally, He revealed Himself personally, sending the Son.  Jesus said, “He who has seen Me, has seen the Father…” (John 14:9b). Paul said that “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form…” (Col 2:9; cf. John 1:18). That is at the heart of these verses in our context in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is the revelation of God, and He is the subject of God’s revelation. The written Word points us to the living Word…
The Maine* Idea: God has revealed Himself in the Son. We who know Him are responsible to share the message of His Grace with the world.
I. The Light shined into the darkness (21-23).
And he said to them, ‘Is a [the] lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand?  22 For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.  23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.’”
       Following the explanation of the parable of the soils, Jesus continues His teaching in figurative language. The imagery of a “lamp” is used with a somewhat different emphasis by the Lord in the sermon on the mount. There we read,
14 "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven…” (Matthew 5:14-16).
There Jesus tells His followers that they are light, and they are to shine brightly to point people to God. Here, it seems the light is more “focused.” In fact the language is better translated, “Does [the] lamp come to be put under a basket…” Most of the English translations leave the lamp indefinite, “a lamp,” whereas Mark uses the definite article, The Lamp.  It also seems that it must be the subject of the verb, “come.” It seems to me that this evokes the language of the Old Testament from a couple of perspectives. For one, it points to one of the verses the VBS kids learned this week, Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” The Septuagint translation of the psalm uses the same Greek word that Jesus uses in parable.
       The other key word that seems to fit with the message of Mark in these opening chapters is the verb “come.” Remember Mark has been answering for his readers some key questions, the first two: “Who is Jesus? Why did He come?” The promise that the Messiah, our Rescuer, would come is woven into the pages of the Bible. Here Jesus asks, “Does the lamp come…” So is the Lamp the Word of God (in keeping with the psalm), or is it Jesus himself (in keeping with the broader messianic expectation)? I would say “YES!” (see Jn 1:18). The Bible is the written Word of God. One of the verses the kids learned this week says, “All scripture is inspired by God…”, that is “God-breathed.” The Gospel is the heart of the message of the Bible. And Jesus, the Word who was made flesh, is the subject of the Good News, He is the coming one, the promised “Rescuer,” who bridges the gulf between fallen humans and Holy God. And He didn’t come to say hidden! John is speaking in the context of creation and re-creation when he wrote in John 1:4-11,
4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.  8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.  9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
In his gospel Mark is describing the period of Jesus’ earthly ministry, but He, like John, is writing to believers after the cross and resurrection.  Jesus’ parables veiled the message for some for a time. Others, those with ears to hear, were drawn to the Light. Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…” That is faith, believing Him, taking Him at His Word, trusting and obeying what He says. Later in John’s Gospel he talks again about the Light…
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.  20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God (John 3:18-21).
Here we are reminded of the dual nature of light: on the one hand it illuminates and guides, on the other it exposes sin, the things hidden in the darkness. In another passage Paul uses the light metaphor to talk about the “blindness” of unbelievers, and the gracious revelation of Christ to those who believe…  
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, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.  6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ… (2 Corinthians 4:3-6).
I think our English translations are right is using a lower case “g” to describe the god of this age… Going back to the parable of the Sower remember it is Satan who is the “bird” that swoops in and plucks the seed from hard soil by the wayside.  If the gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. If we have believed in Christ, and received the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation with God, it is because the same God who said, “Let there be light!” has “…shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ…” Remember what Paul told the Corinthians: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast…?” Jesus did it all. And the God who “is” has spoken. He has revealed Himself in the Son. We who know Him are responsible to share the message of His Grace with the world.
II. We are responsible for what we do with the Light (24,25).
24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you.  25 For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
        Watch what you hear!  That phrase strikes me as funny since the verb “to see” and the verb “to hear” describe two different senses! “See what you hear!” But Jesus is not just talking about physical senses, he is talking about spiritual perception. He is urging His hearers to be active hearers, to hungrily devour the Word of life, to long for it, to receive it joyfully. Yet again we can hear an admonition to prepare our hearts, to come to the Bible expectantly, to come to church longing to hear from God. Last week I quoted Colossians 3:16, “Let the Word of Christ dwell richly within you…” That is a command!
       God wants us to listen with a good attitude. I read an illustration this week about two men who went to church one Sunday: Jim Smith and Sam Jones...
       At his church, Jim noticed a typo in the bulletin and thought about how sloppy they were in the church office. Then Jim was offended when a visitor had the nerve to sit in his regular seat. The pianist missed four notes during the offertory. And Jim felt like the usher was watching to see what he put in the offering plate. That made him boil. Then the preacher mispronounced three words in his message. Jim was keeping count. The sound of that guy’s voice was even getting annoying!
       Sam went to church, and was blessed as he worshiped the Lord through the beautiful music he heard. He was grateful that the preacher was preaching the Word of God. And the sermon answered a question that had bothered him for a long time. The best news of all was the good report he heard on Vacation Bible School and that a child had gotten saved that week at VBS and that several others recommitted their hearts to the Lord!
This is the amazing part of the story: Both of those men were in the same church at the same time! Their hearts, however, were in very different places!
       God wants us to listen with a good attitude, and listen with good attention. There was a “Lockhorn” cartoon where Loretta asked Leroy if they could talk. Leroy replied, "Sure we can talk. Just don't block the TV." Oh boy. Are you a good listener? Or do you listen to the first few words and then find yourself distracted by the answer you are planning in your mind? That’s too convicting! That is bad for human relationships, and guess what, too often we give God the same kind of attention. We need to be intentional about listening to what the Lord is saying to us. And vs. 24-25 remind us that the more that we seek, the more we will find.
        Everyone is responsible to use what God has given. Have you heard the expression “use it or lose it!”? Trainers use that phrase to urge us to exercise our muscles to stay strong. In the Christian life, it seems that as “we long for the pure milk of the Word” we grow, our understanding deepens, we long for more, and God gives it!  He wants us to grow in our relationship with Him, to learn what it means to “walk in the Spirit,” and to “…put off the old man, and put on Christ.” I like the famous line of the Unicorn, in the Last Battle, the final volume of C.S. Lewis’s the Chronicles of Narnia, that says…
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now...Come further up, come further in!”
Yes, the imagery points to eternity, and the deep, unfettered fellowship we will have one day with God. But I think C.S. Lewis is also inviting the reader not to settle for superficial faith, to hunger for more, and calling us to “Come further up, come further in!” As we live the Christian life, and live under the light of the Word, we grow to know and love God more deeply, and the amazing Grace that Has been revealed in the gospel fills our heart, and hopefully, moves us to obedience. Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Are you drawn to Him? Do you long to know Him better? He has given us a mission. He has called us to share the “light” of the Gospel with the world… starting right where He has placed us.
What is God saying to me in this passage? God has revealed Himself in the Son. We who know Him are responsible to share the message of His Grace with the world.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Jesus didn’t come for His presence to be kept a secret, for His gospel to remain hidden. God had a plan Yes, it had to lead to Calvary. Once the story unfolded according to His plan, He entrusted His church with a mission! That means us. We need to be engaged… praying… preparing… inviting… sharing… He is building His church!  Communion points to the heart of the Gospel, it is a reminder of God' supreme act of grace and love… The children in VBS learned several verses this week, one says: “God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…” (Rom 5:8).  In another place Jesus said, “Greater love has no man this this: that He lay down His life for His friends…” Think of that… we were sinners, deserving judgement, and yet through the death of the Son we’ve been brought near… That is truly amazing grace!      AMEN.