Sunday, October 29, 2017
Growing in Grace: What it Means to Follow Jesus
Introduction: Have you ever been amazed by the performance of a world class tightrope walker? Would you trust one enough to allow him to push you across a chasm in a wheelbarrow? My short answer: “N O W A Y!” That’s the difference between amazement and faith! Remember Mark’s first summary of Jesus’ preaching in Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus came to reveal himself and to make a way for sinners to be reconciled to God. That involves recognizing our sin and turning from our pride and rebellion to Him. It means surrendering to Him, being willing to “get in the wheelbarrow,” and trust Him with our life. The first verse of Mark said it, Jesus Himself is the Good News, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The miracles Jesus did amazed many people. Only gradually are the disciples understanding what the signs reveal about the miracle worker. When Jesus calmed the stormy sea in Mark 4:41 the disciples “…were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?’” Faith is recognizing who Jesus is, and receiving Him, trusting Him, taking Him at His word. Three of the four gospels accounts report this miracle, all three connecting it to the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. In Mark’s account of Jesus walking on the water he explicitly says in 6:51-52, “…And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” All that Jesus is doing is to lead them to believe.
Matthew and Mark tell this story from very different perspectives. In Matthew the miracle leads to a confession of faith. In Mark the writer exposes the underlying “hardness of heart” that still lingered in the apostles, and points to the “amazement” of these men instead of to their faith. Is this a contradiction? God doesn’t contradict Himself. So then, is it growing faith or lingering unbelief? I would say that both are true! Matthew is looking at the glass half-full, the disciples are growing in their understanding of who Jesus is. Mark is saying the glass is still half-empty, they still have a long way to go! That’s the Christian life, and it brings us to…
The Maine* Idea: Discipleship is a process of the Lord graciously leading us into a deeper, more intimate, trust in Him.
I. Jesus showed by example the importance of solitude and prayer (45-47).
45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.
The language Mark uses underscores a sense of urgency which we have seen consistently in this gospel. “Immediately” is that same favorite word of Mark, euthus, and it underscores the movement from what just happened, the miraculous feeding, to the next scene. First, He “made the disciples get in the boat…” There is a sense of insistence and urgency. He sent them out onto the lake ahead of Him. Why? Some suggest that we can get insight into the urgency of sending them off from John’s gospel, where we learn that some, on being fed miraculously, desired to “make Him king by force.” If that was the motive Jesus was trying to spare the disciples from getting caught up in this wrong-headed attempt to preempt the unfolding of the messianic story according to the Father’s plan. Focusing on Mark’s account we don’t see any reference to that part of the story. Mark is emphasizing Jesus’ patient work with the disciples, leading them from unbelief and “hardness of heart” to faith. He had a plan to reveal himself further to the disciples. So He sends them ahead and dismisses the crowd.
As for himself, Jesus goes up on the mountain to pray. Mark doesn’t emphasize as frequently the example of Jesus praying compared to Luke. But we see Him at a few key moments withdrawing from the crowds and spending time with the Father (see also 1:35). We are not told what Jesus was praying about, but could it be that He was asking the Father to continue His work in the hearts of His disciples? We know He prays for them in the Upper Room (John 17). There is a lesson for us here about the importance of prayer. If it was necessary and important for Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, to pray, how much more should we be people of prayer? Spending time with God is one of the keys to knowing Him and loving Him.
The scene was set, after a night of prayer (and for the disciples, a night rowing against the wind!), Jesus was alone on the mountain, and the disciples were out on the lake, this time without Jesus in the boat. Class in session! Discipleship is a process of the Lord graciously leading us into a deeper, more intimate, trust in Him.
II. Jesus guided the circumstances of the apostles to maximize their growth, and saw them in their need (45-48a).
45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd... 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them.
The omniscience and omnipresence of God were attributes of God recognized in the Old Testament Scriptures. David, for example, asked…
O LORD, you have searched me and known me! 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. 3 You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. 5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. 7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me… (Psalm 139:1-10).
The disciples have been getting glimpses of the glory and power of God in Christ, but they haven’t yet understood the full answer to the question, “Who is this Jesus?” They asked the question when He stilled the storm in Mark 4, and Jesus will ask it of them again in Mark 8, but here in chapter 6 they are still in the darkness, still straining at the oars, against the wind. Remember how they got there, out on the lake alone. Mark says that Jesus “…made the disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side…” He had a plan. Dewey Mullholland said,
“…Jesus is seeking to cure their hardness of heart. He does this by teaching, testing and retesting them through word and example, adjusting the methods to the disciples’ comprehension… [He] increasingly teaches them apart from the crowds, even at night on Lake Galilee…”
This week I saw a relevant quotation from Eugene Peterson (via Pastor James Lee on Facebook), "Our faith develops out of the most difficult aspects of our existence, not the easiest." We see Jesus using difficult circumstances, another storm, contrary wind, to move the disciples toward faith. Discipleship is a process of the Lord graciously leading us into a deeper, more intimate, trust in Him.
III. He reveals Himself to us during times of trial, when we may feel weakest (48b-50a).
And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified.
The fourth watch would have been between three and six in the morning. Assuming the disciples left in the late afternoon, they would have been on the lake for 9 or more hours, now rowing hard against the wind. Mark doesn’t emphasize the severity of the storm in the same way that Matthew and John do. Nor does he speak about what the disciples learned through these signs. Instead, he emphasizes what Jesus is doing and why He is doing it. Let’s try to hear Mark’s message without injecting too much from the other gospels for now.
First of all, this is the second miracle on the lake in Mark. The last time, Jesus was in the boat with the disciples, this time they are out there alone (cf. Mk 4:35-41). Mark doesn’t emphasize imminent danger from the storm, but rather that the disciples are rowing hard against the wind and not making much progress. They are no doubt discouraged, exhausted, and frustrated. And then they see something that they have no frame of reference for, a figure walking toward them on the water! They are terrified! For the reader of the gospel, it is easier for us than it would have been for the disciples at that moment in the boat to think of Old Testament passages like Job 9:1-11…
Then Job answered and said: 2 "Truly I know that it is so: But how can a man be in the right before God? 3 If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times. 4 He is wise in heart and mighty in strength- who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?- 5 he who removes mountains, and they know it not, when he overturns them in his anger, 6 who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble; 7 who commands the sun, and it does not rise; who seals up the stars; 8 who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea; 9 who made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south; 10 who does great things beyond searching out, and marvelous things beyond number. 11 Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not; he moves on, but I do not perceive him.
The translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, the Septuagint, uses several of the same key words in Job’s discourse that we see here in Mark 6. For a reader steeped in the Greek version of the Bible, Mark’s account would immediately evoke the words of Job. It is foolish to be hardened against the Lord. He is the One who can walk on the sea as on the ground. As He passes by, we should recognize Him and see Him for who He is. This interplay with the language of the Old Testament is intentional, it is part of the context in which the works and words of Jesus must be understood (the literary devise is called “intertextuality”). The idea that this was a “theophany,” a manifestation or revelation of God, is further reinforced in the context.
He meant to “pass by” them – in theophany! (cf. Ex 12:23; 33:19,22; 34:6). The phrase “He meant to pass by them” may seem troubling at first. He walked all the way out to them on the lake, and then intended to walk right past them? What is that about? While the English translations are difficult for us, once again the Greek translation of the Bible would evoke the revelation of God to his people in times past. For example, we read in Exodus 33:18-22,
18 Moses said, "Please show me your glory." 19 And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name 'The LORD.' And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live." 21 And the LORD said, "Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by…
The same verb, “pass by,” is used three times here in this key text of God’s self-revelation to Moses. Remember the words in John 1:14, where John, from his post-resurrection perspective says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” God has revealed Himself in history. By the way, in the following context in Exodus 34:6, the Lord showed himself to Moses saying…
6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…
When Mark says Jesus “intended to pass by them” he is saying that He came to them intending to reveal His glory, to display His deity before them.
Mark tells us they were terrified. They still were not recognizing Him fully. Remember that in Matthew’s account, this event led to a confession of faith. Mark wants us to know that the disciples have a way to go before they will be ready to embrace the mission to proclaim Christ fully to the nations. We’ve seen several instances in this gospel where the revelation of God in Christ evoked “fear” from those witnessing his works. Not reverence, but a lack of faith is exposed. But God isn’t finished with them (or us!) yet! Discipleship is an ongoing process of the Lord graciously leading us into a deeper, more intimate, trust in Him.
IV. He offers the comfort of His presence and the truth of His Word (50b-51a).
But immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid." 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased.
“Take heart… do not be afraid…” We can “lose heart” when we are exhausted and frustrated or discouraged. It may help to remember that God is there with us, and He is in control, even using the circumstance that is troubling us to grow our faith. Frequently, as God is revealing Himself to humans, there is the need for Him to say, “Do not be afraid!” Multiple times God appears to people, intending to reveal some aspect of His unfolding story. The disciples thought they were seeing a ghost, but in fact they were in the presence of the Holy One! They were tired, perhaps frustrated, maybe even fearful of the wind and the storm. And Jesus came and met them, and He speaks words of comfort and hope. Dr. Paul Tripp said,
"God meets us where we are. This is the beautiful, hope-giving reality of grace... He comes to us in our fear. He draws near to us when we are separated. He meets us in our doubt. He pursues us when we wander. When we sin, he comes to us with conviction and forgiveness. He empowers us when we're weak. He restores us when we are unfaithful. When we deny him, he does not deny us. He comes to us at the moment of our salvation, and he comes to us again and again as we journey from the already to the not yet... He does not wait for us to come to him; he comes to us. It is the way of grace."
“It is I…” = ego eimi = literally, “I AM”- I don’t think we can miss the allusion to the divine revelation in Exodus 3:14,15…
14 God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" 15 God also said to Moses, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
Who is Jesus? The Lord, Yahweh, God incarnate, the Great I AM. Discipleship is a process of the Lord graciously leading us into a deeper, more intimate, trust in Him.
V. Jesus knew their hearts, their needs, and their unbelief (51b-52).
And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
Jesus knew exactly where the disciples were, and He came to them, revealing himself in the midst of their exhaustion and discouragement, calling them to deeper trust in Him. What does it mean to follow Him? There is no promise it will be easy. On the contrary, “In the world you will have tribulation…” But He does promise to be with us… always. You can take Him at His Word.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Discipleship is a process of the Lord graciously leading us into a deeper, more intimate, trust in Him.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? As you follow the story of the Gospel of Jesus, the Son of God, as presented by Mark, is your heart being stirred, moving you deeper in your walk with Him? By grace, I am learning each week. Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice… and they follow me.” Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. God opens the eyes of our heart when we believe in Him and trust Him as our personal Lord and Savior. But that is only the beginning of a process of discipleship. It’s easy to look at the disciples and marvel at their spiritual dullness. That is until I look in the mirror! We can all be slow of heart to believe! As the Spirit convicts us through the Word, He exposes areas of our lives where we are still not living in the light of the Gospel. Discipleship is the ongoing process of conviction and surrender, of trusting Him and entrusting more and more of our life and our heart to Him. By God’s design we do that most effectively as part of the church, a community of faith, provoking one another to love and good works. Let’s grow together, it’s His plan for us! AMEN.
Sunday, October 22, 2017
Feed My Sheep
Introduction: Pediatrician David Cerqueira shares a story of how a little girl showed his church the honor of serving God:
One Sunday my wife had prepared a lesson on being useful. She taught the children that everyone can be useful—that usefulness is serving God, and that doing so is worthy of honor. The kids quietly soaked up my wife's words, and as the lesson ended, there was a short moment of silence. [A little girl named] Sarah spoke up. "Teacher, what can I do? I don't know how do to many useful things."
Not anticipating that kind of response, my wife quickly looked around and spotted an empty flower vase on the windowsill. "Sarah, you can bring in a flower and put it in the vase. That would be a useful thing."
Sarah frowned. "But that's not important."
"It is," replied my wife, "if you are helping someone."
Sure enough, the next Sunday Sarah brought in a dandelion and placed it in the vase. In fact, she continued to do so each week. Without reminders or help, she made sure the vase was filled with a bright yellow flower, Sunday after Sunday. When my wife told our pastor about Sarah's faithfulness, he placed the vase upstairs in the main sanctuary next to the pulpit. That Sunday he gave a sermon on the honor of serving others, using Sarah's vase as an example. The congregation was touched by the message, and the week started on a good note... [S.N.: More of this story later].
Jesus Himself came as a Servant. What a contrast between this scene in Mark’s Gospel and the previous account of the death of John the Baptist. Both scenes involved banquets. Both involved “kings.” Herod’s party and almost every aspect of the story revealed the depravity of the human heart. Jesus’ ministry to his disciples, and to the multitude, reveals the fruit of the Spirit and the grace of God. Jesus offers life to those who will receive it. Herod brings death to a servant of God. Remember that Jesus knows how this story will unfold, He came to lay down His life for His sheep. He is preparing His disciples to continue the mission, in His name, after His departure. At the heart of this passage, Jesus turns to his doubting disciples and says, “You give them something to eat!” The disciples have just returned from an itinerate ministry of preaching, healing, and casting out demons. They still did not grasp what Jesus could do through them if they would only trust Him. Our brother Herb M. used to say, “He saved us on purpose, for a purpose.” The disciples didn’t understand that Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for many. We are called to follow Him.
The Maine* Idea: Jesus alone can meet our deepest need. He calls us to trust Him, and to follow His example, serving others with compassion. That will be our focus in this study as we consider: 1) Jesus’ concern for His disciples; 2) His compassion on the multitude; and 3) His conviction of the doubtful: provoking faith in some, revealing unbelief in others.
I. Jesus shows his concern for the disciples. He knew them and was concerned for them, and He knows us and is concerned for us. He cares for his sheep (30-32).
30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.
Last installment in this series we ended with verse 30, “The apostles returned to Jesus and told Him all that they had done and taught.” They were “apostles,” sent with authority as the representatives of Jesus. The cultural idea was akin to our word “ambassador,” someone who is authorized to speak on behalf of another. Jesus would later say to his disciples, “He who receives you receives Me” (Matt 10:40). That is part of what Jesus is doing, preparing these men to go out in His name and continue the mission after His departure. Their “short term mission trip” in the previous context was a part of that training. The miracles that He continued to do during this next phase of his ministry, as well as His teaching, both public and private, would reveal the Truth, and would also continue their spiritual formation. But after the exciting and no doubt exhausting mission, the Lord is concerned that they needed some time for rest and reflection (31,32).
There is always more to do, but we can learn from the example and the teaching of Jesus that we all need times of rest, times when we can get away from our daily routine and reflect on what God is doing. We enjoyed our week away, visiting family. Helping with the grandkids can be tiring, but it’s also refreshing. We take a day off on Friday most weeks, and usually are out doing our shopping for the week and other out of town errands. It is a change of pace that might sound tiring, but is actually refreshing. Jesus would at times withdraw, and go up on the mountain to pray. He sees the need for the disciples to do the same.
Do you have any margin in your schedule? Jesus made time to retreat from the activity and pressures of the daily ministry, spending time alone with Father. If we think we have more going on than Jesus did, or that we are more indispensable because of the demands of modern life, we’ve got a problem! Jesus told the disciples to “…come away by yourselves… and rest awhile…” He did it Himself and he taught it. It’s God’s design that we include rest, and even solitude, in our lives. Jesus knew the disciples, and he was concerned for them. And He knows us and cares about us. Jesus alone can meet our deepest need. He calls us to trust Him, and to follow His example, serving others with compassion.
II. Jesus demonstrates His Compassion on the multitude. They were like sheep without a Shepherd (33-34; cf. Ps 23; Ps 80).
33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.
The people seemed “hungry” for more of Jesus (33). The crowds of people were desperate to be with Jesus! There was something about Him, and they wanted to hear and see more. Their need touches the Master. The background of the shepherd/sheep imagery is pervasive in the Old Testament (Al’s message on Psalm 23!). One passage the comes to mind is from the prophet Ezekiel,
2 "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. 6 My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them... (Ezekiel 34:2-6).
Through Ezekiel the Lord was rebuking the leaders of Israel for not “shepherding the sheep.” In contrast, Jesus, the Shepherd of the sheep, is moved with compassion for the people (34a). They were like sheep without a shepherd, and the Good Shepherd, the true Shepherd of Israel, felt compassion for them. Let’s pause here for a moment. Do you see the heart of Jesus in his response to the multitude? Like lost sheep they were wandering, scattered, “harassed and helpless,” and He loved them and felt pity on them. Jesus modeled the heart of a Shepherd, one who feeds, and leads, and protects the sheep. Their need touched his heart. Do we feel the same way about the people around us, the people in our sphere of influence? Do we have compassion on the unsaved people in our lives? Are they any less lost? Jesus is teaching his disciples, showing them by example, that our mission is to go to the lost sheep around us and point them to “green pastures,” to the “Bread of Life.” Notice what Jesus does first of all…
“…He began to teach them many things…” He began to address their deepest need… spiritual food… He began to teach them! We don’t have the details of His teaching in this context, but we can glean some insights from other Gospels since this miracle is reported in all four of the gospel accounts. Mark has emphasized the call to repentance and to the coming Kingdom. It may be that some reflected on God’s provision for the nation in the wilderness, and the promise that the Messiah would bring bread from heaven (see John 6). That fits with what we see in John’s account when some of the people, in response to the miracle, want to make Him king by force. Mark tells us that before “lunch,” He fed the people spiritually, “teaching them many things.” I think this is a good reminder that it is good and necessary to meet the physical and material needs of people if we are able. Things like the food pantry and Car Care, and community lunches and the like are important. But Jesus first “taught them,” He shared the Word of Life with needy souls. We need to be sensitive to the material needs of our neighbors and our community. But let’s not forget there is a deeper need. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Jesus alone can meet our deepest need. He calls us to trust Him, and to follow His example, serving others with compassion.
III. Jesus revealed His messianic identity through the feeding. His act of power brings Conviction to the doubtful: provoking faith in some, revealing unbelief in others (35-43).
The disciples needed to better understand His power. They were learning, but they had a way to go. It almost seems sarcastic for the disciples to bring such a meager lunch to Jesus in the face of such a need. 5000 men, plus women and children! Let’s be conservative and assume some of the men were there alone, and estimate at least 10,000 mouths to feed. But little is much when God is in it! The disciples were perhaps tired. Where was the “rest” Jesus had promised? What happened to their retreat? They describe a problem created by the crowd…
35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, "This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat."
The crowds needed to eat physical food as well as spiritual. Miraculous feeding is something that was known in the past in Israel. The provision of manna in the wilderness spoke of God sustaining His people (Exod 16; Num 11). During the time of the prophet Elisha the Lord had miraculously multiplied bread…
42 A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And Elisha said, "Give to the men, that they may eat." 43 But his servant said, "How can I set this before a hundred men?" So he repeated, "Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the LORD, 'They shall eat and have some left.'" 44 So he set it before them. And they ate and had some left, according to the word of the LORD… (2 Kings 4:42-44).
A hundred men fed with 20 loaves was miraculous. And they had some left! But how far could 5 loaves go among 5, 10, or 20 thousand people? Little is much when God is in it! Those with “eyes to see” would get a glimpse of the Kingdom.
41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
One of the blessings that Jesus would have spoken as He prayed said, “Blessed are you, Adonai our God, King of the world, who causes to come forth bread from the earth…” (Alfred Edersheim, Messiah, 684). Notice that Jesus prays and then gives the loaves and fish to the disciples who distributed it to the multitude. Not only were they all satisfied, but each of the disciples picked up a full basket of leftovers! How many of the people realized that a miracle was happening? Certainly the disciples did, but many in the crowd probably didn’t know, only that they were getting a free lunch! Elisha fed a hundred men with 20 little loaves, a miracle. But now one greater than Elisha or Elijah was on the scene!
Do you see how Jesus was not only feeding the crowd, but He was deepening the faith of the disciples, revealing himself to them, fleshing out the answer to the question, “Who is this Jesus?” By the way, some will say that this wasn’t really a miracle of multiplication, but that the crowd was moved by the generosity of a boy giving up his lunch, and that the people began to spontaneously share what they had with one another. Like a big pot-luck luncheon. That is clearly not what the gospels say (and all four include this miracle story). The God who made the universe out of nothing, who preserved a nation in the wilderness for 40 years, can multiply a little lunch to feed a stadium sized crowd of people!
What is God saying to me in this passage? Jesus alone can meet our deepest need. He calls us to trust Him, and to follow His example, serving others with compassion.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? The little girl who put the dandelion in the vase each week was honored to serve… There is a twist to that story. Dr. Cerqueira goes on…
During that same week I got a call from Sarah's mother. She worried that Sarah seemed to have less energy than usual and that she didn't have an appetite. Offering her some reassurances, I made room in my schedule to see Sarah the following day. After Sarah had a battery of tests and days of examinations, I sat numbly in my office, Sarah's paperwork on my lap. The results were tragic. [She had leukemia.]
On the way home, I stopped to see Sarah's parents so that I could personally give them the sad news. Sarah's genetics and the leukemia that was attacking her small body were a horrible mix. Sitting at their kitchen table, I did my best to explain to Sarah's parents that nothing could be done to save her life. I don't think I have ever had a more difficult conversation than the one that night. …
Time pressed on. Sarah became confined to bed and to the visits that many people gave her. She lost her smile. She lost most of her weight. And then it came: another telephone call. Sarah's mother asked me to come see her. I dropped everything and ran to the house. There she was, a small bundle that barely moved. After a short examination, I knew that Sarah would soon be leaving this world. I urged her parents to spend as much time as possible with her.
That was a Friday afternoon. On Sunday morning church started as usual. The singing, the sermon—it all seemed meaningless when I thought of Sarah. I felt enveloped in sadness. At the end of the sermon, the pastor suddenly stopped speaking. His eyes wide, he stared at the back of the church with utter amazement. Everyone turned to see what he was looking at. It was Sarah! Her parents had brought her for one last visit. She was bundled in a blanket, a dandelion in one little hand.
She didn't sit in the back row. Instead she slowly walked to the front of the church where her vase still perched by the pulpit. She put her flower in the vase and a piece of paper beside it. Then she returned to her parents. Seeing little Sarah place her flower in the vase for the last time moved everyone. At the end of the service, people gathered around Sarah and her parents, trying to offer as much love and support as possible. I could hardly bear to watch. Four days later, Sarah died…
I wasn't expecting it, but our pastor asked to see me after the funeral. We stood at the cemetery near our cars as people walked past us. In a low voice he said, "Dave, I've got something you ought to see." He pulled out of his pocket the piece of paper that Sarah had left by the vase. Holding it out to me, he said, "You'd better keep this; it may help you in your line of work."
I opened the folded paper to read, in pink crayon, what Sarah had written: “Dear God, This vase has been the biggest honor of my life—Sarah”
Life is an opportunity to serve God by serving people. And, as Sarah put it, that is the biggest honor of all. Remember the Lord’s words to Peter: “Peter, do you love me? ...Feed my sheep.” Ask the Lord to give you His heart for the people around you. Show compassion… and care enough to tell them what great things the Lord has done for you. After all, only He can meet our deepest need. Amen.
Sunday, October 8, 2017
Conscience, Conviction, and Courage
Introduction: This last week a madman barricaded himself in a hotel room with a small arsenal and thousands of rounds of ammunition, and for reasons we still don’t know executed the worse mass shooting in American history, 59 dead, over 500 wounded. The horrific attack in Las Vegas reminds us of the evil that lurks in the hearts of unregenerate humans… Jeremiah asked rhetorically, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?” We are reminded daily that we live in a fallen world, and that all around us are people who desperately need the Lord. This story in Mark is another illustration of how much the world needs Jesus… Mark answers one of the questions with a perspective we might not like: What does it mean to follow Him? Count the cost!
The Maine* Idea: We are called to follow Jesus, and the path of true discipleship is one of self-denial and self-sacrifice. We’ll look at that from 4 perspective…
1. Be Informed: Who is this Jesus? We must know Him in order to follow Him.
2. Be Ready: Some will be intrigued by the Gospel, even while they resist!
3. Be Aware: Others will be actively hostile to the truth.
4. Be Encouraged: Jesus is building His church! So first…
I. Be Informed: Who is this Jesus (14-16)? We must know Him in order to follow.
14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some said, "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him." 15 But others said, "He is Elijah." And others said, "He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised."
The question being overtly discussed at the outset of this passage is one that has been at the forefront of Mark’s gospel from the beginning: “Who is Jesus?” People had a lot of theories about the identity of this preacher and miracle worker. Some were saying that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead. Others thought he was the prophet Elijah, whose coming was foretold in relation to the advent of the messianic kingdom. Others thought he was a prophet like the Old Testament prophets of the past.
Remember the context. The passage begins by saying, “King Herod heard of it…” Heard of what? The apostles, sent out by Jesus, preaching, casting out demons, and healing the sick. The multiple teams of two had been sent out, and their activity throughout the villages and the countryside was causing a stir, and word had gotten back to Herod. The ministry of the apostles was further spreading the news about Jesus, and people were wrestling with the question about His identity. Herod Antipas was convinced that He was John the Baptist raised to life. So Herod concluded that John, who he had beheaded, had been raised from the dead!
The question of Jesus’ identity has been at the forefront of this Gospel. Who is this Jesus? A later Jesus will voice this same question to His disciples…
27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" 28 And they told him, "John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets." 29 And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Christ." 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. 31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again… (8:27-31).
In order to believe in Jesus, and follow Him as your Savior and Lord, you need to understand correctly who He is. Even Muslims will say He was a prophet from God. Some Jews and others will acknowledge Him as a great teacher. That idea seems popular as people pick and choose some of the sayings of Jesus, wrenching them out of their contexts, for their own purposes [For example, some would say that teaching a biblical view of marriage and sexuality is intolerant and inconsistent with the “spirit” of the teaching of Jesus]. Neither Jesus nor John, nor the leaders of the apostolic church, found it necessary to be politically correct, always being careful to never say anything that might offend! Don’t get me wrong, we don’t want to be unnecessarily offensive! But there is offense in the message of the Cross, because it means that we are sinners, condemned and unclean, unable to come to God in our own strength. To the Greeks, foolishness, to the Jews a stumbling block, but to those who are being saved, the power and wisdom of God!
We are called to follow Jesus. To do that we need to know Him as He really is. Then we follow Him, and the path of true discipleship is one of self-denial and self-sacrifice. That means we need to know the truth about who Jesus is and what He did, and we need to know Him personally as our Savior and Lord. And we need to Be Ready to give a reason for the hope we have in Him. That brings us to…
II. Be Ready: Some are intrigued by the Gospel, but resist Him (17-20).
Sinclair Ferguson said, “…Unless we silence sin, sin will silence conscience…” That is seemingly what happened with Herod. It seems he was intrigued by John, He recognized something in him that was not of this world, but he was unwilling to repent of his sin and turn in faith to the coming King that John was announcing. Like Jezebel and Ahab in the days of Elijah, Herod Antipas’ wife, Herodias, was able to manipulate her husband to carry out her evil wishes.
17 For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.
If you have ever tried to figure out the family line of the “Herods” in the New Testament and went away scratching your head, you are not alone! What a convoluted mess! Herod the Great was the one who tried to kill Jesus in Luke 2 when he sent his men to Bethlehem and had all the boys under 2 slaughtered. Herod Antipas, who appears in this context, is one of the sons of Herod the Great (He also appears later in the passion narrative). Another brother, Aristobulus, had a daughter named Herodias. Philip was another son of Herod the great. So, Uncle Philip married his niece Herodias! And then Herod Antipas, took her from his brother (though from what we know about her, it may be that Herodias was the one trying to “move up” and gain more power).
Enter John the Baptist. Like the prophet He was, John the Baptist loudly and clearly denounced the relationship between Herod and Herodias as sinful and called the tetrarch to repent! He spoke the truth, apparently without any fear of the consequences. Herodias was infuriated and wanted to put John to death. As T.W. Manson said: “…the only place her marriage certificate could safely be written was on the back of the death warrant of John…” She wanted to kill him… but she couldn’t do it. Why? Because Herod “feared” John, and knew that he was a holy and righteous man. He seemed to know that John was close to God, and so He protected Him, He would listen for a while, perplexed, maybe intrigued, but kept him a prisoner, just out of Herodias’ grasp… or so he thought.
Have you ever encountered people who seem uncomfortable around believers? They may be interested, even intrigued, about spiritual things, but they don’t want to deal with the implications of God’s truth in their lives? R.C. Sproul tells the story of a top-level golfer who played a round with Billy Graham.
…Afterward, the golfer stormed off the eighteenth green, went over to the practice tee, and began hitting drives in a state of fury. A friend observed his evident agitation and asked why he was so upset. He replied, “I don’t need to have Billy Graham forcing religion down my throat.” Then he went back to pounding drives down the range. When he finished, his friend walked over to him and said, “Billy really came on strong to you, did he?” At that, the golfer hung his head and said: “No, actually Billy didn’t say a word about religion. I just had a bad round.” Isn’t that fascinating? Dr. Graham said not one word about religion to this man, but he did not have to. Dr. Graham’s mere presence and what he represented to this golfer was enough to make him supremely uncomfortable. This golfer was a little like Herod Antipas in front of John the Baptist. He could not deny that John was a just man, a holy man. He was both fearful and fascinated. He agreed to put John in jail to make his wife happy, but he would not go any further. He did not want to put John to death.
Be ready! People will react to Jesus. And some will be both fearful and fascinated. They will be intrigued, but still resist Him. From our perspective, post-cross / resurrection / Pentecost, Mark’s mentor Peter spoke of the perspective we need…
14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil… (I Peter 3:14-17).
When you experience “push back” don’t take it personally! For we are called to follow Jesus, and the path of true discipleship is one of self-denial and self-sacrifice. Be informed, Be ready, and…
III. Be Aware: Others are actively hostile to the Truth (21-29).
21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias's daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you." 23 And he vowed to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom." 24 And she went out and said to her mother, "For what should I ask?" And she said, "The head of John the Baptist." 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
It seems that Herod chose to throw himself a birthday party and invited nobles and military commanders, along with all the leading men of Galilee. It would have been a wild kind of a party, lots of food, the wine flowing freely, music, and at least one dancer... With a group of half drunken, partying men it would have been against social norms for a member of the royal family to come in and dance. But look again at v.21, “But an opportunity came…” An opportunity for who? It seems for Herodias to exploit the weakness and pride of her husband to finally resolve her problem with John the Baptist!
Herodias doesn’t go herself, but she sends her daughter (named Salome according to Josephus) into the party to dance before Herod and his guests. And Herod takes the bait. Herodias’ daughter “pleased Herod and his guests” and Herod foolishly promises what He cannot give: anything she would ask, even up to half of His kingdom. Herod did not even actually have the title “king” in any legal sense. He was tetrarch over Galilee, and was one of four sons of Herod the Great who had been given authority to rule, essentially as puppets of Rome. But Herod, in full party mode, claims the title and essentially boasts of his power to give her anything she would ask. The girl doesn’t want to waste the opportunity, the trap has been sprung, so she goes out to her mother and asks her what she should do. And with all that she could ask for, Herodias asks for the head of John! Such was the hatred she held for the man, and for the coming Kingdom that he was announcing. Herod regretted the situation that he had placed himself in, but he could not bear to lose face before his guests, so he sends the executioner and the deed is done, He grants her terrible request.
Be aware, some are not only resistant to the Gospel, but they are hostile to the message of God. This reminds us of the depths of human depravity, the point to which our rebellion against God can lead us. As Jeremiah the prophet said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). We see the depths of sin in the news reports all the time, as we did last week in the horrendous carnage in Las Vegas. But it is not only the worst of the worse that are in rebellion against the truth. We need to be aware that when we start sharing the Gospel with our unregenerate neighbors, sometimes anger will be seething under the surface, and sometimes it will be directed at the messenger! John the Baptist told the truth, and the hard heart of Herodias, and of Herod, led to his imprisonment, and eventually to His death. But he stayed firm until the end. We have some great testimonies from the pages of church history that illustrate the connection between the Greek word “witness,” martus, and the English word “martyr.” Through the ages many faithful witnesses, like John, paid with their lives. One great story of faithfulness is that of Polycarp, who personally knew the apostle John. As an old man he was arrested by the Roman authorities and told that He could save himself by denying Christ. Polycarp famously replied,
“Eighty and six years have I served Him and He never did me wrong; and how can I now blaspheme my King that has saved me?” (Cited by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History).
The missionary David Livingstone expressed the same perspective of faith when asked if he didn’t fear that going to Africa was too difficult and too dangerous. He answered, “I am immortal until the will of God for me is accomplished.” And guess what? So are you and I! So be discerning, speak with gentleness and respect, we won’t argue anyone into the Kingdom of God. We are called to follow Jesus, and the path of true discipleship is one of self-denial and self-sacrifice. So… Be informed, Be ready, Be aware, but please…
IV. Be Encouraged: Jesus is building His church (30)! “The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.”
Remember, this story about John the Baptist and his martyrdom is sandwiched between Jesus sending out the 12 “two-by-two” and the report of their return in 6:30. He had sent them to preach, to have authority over demons, and to heal the sick in His name. The context reminds us that resistance will come, but we can be encouraged, Jesus is still building His church. Remember His words to His disciples in the upper room, encouraging them to persevere in the face of the trials to come: “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33).
Be informed… Be ready… Be aware… but please, Be encouraged!
What is God saying to me in this passage? We are called to follow Jesus, and there will be a cost, because the path of true discipleship is one of self-denial and self-sacrifice.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Who is this Jesus? Why did He come? What does it mean to follow Him? He claimed to be the Son of God, God, the Son, and He demonstrated His identity through His works and words, and ultimately through the Cross and Resurrection. Do you believe that? Has He opened your understanding, and by His kindness led you to repentance and faith? Or could it be that you have been intrigued by the gospel, you like talking about spiritual things at times, but then it gets “uncomfortable” and you back away? Do you feel a prompting in your heart right now to put your trust in Him? This is the day of salvation, admit your need, and trust in Him! And brothers and sisters, if you know Him, stay faithful, be aware and be ready, and stay engaged in the mission that the Lord has entrusted to us! AMEN.
Thursday, October 5, 2017
Boothbay Baptist Church – Pastor’s Report – October 2017
“...Go home to your people and tell them what the Lord has done for you..." (Mark 5:19b).
The Fall colors and cool nights make it clear that summer is over and a new season is upon us. As surely as changes are happening around Boothbay Center, we at Boothbay Baptist Church need to be willing to be flexible, growing together as God directs us into the future. The process may bring some discomfort, but at least for the church, the end result will be glorifying to the Lord! Certain things cannot change: our commitment to the Lord and to seeking His glory; our commitment to the Bible as God’s infallible and inspired Word; our desire to not only know what the Bible says, but our willingness to submit to the authority of the Word in every area of life. It is my hope that our current preaching series in the Gospel of Mark is challenging us to deepen our understanding of who Jesus is, and to strengthen our appreciation of why He came, while also provoking us to consider what it means to follow Him. I am learning, and hopefully growing, each week. My hope is that you are as well.
This quarter Vacation Bible School was once again a successful outreach as a team of workers came together to minister to more than 50 children, sharing Christ–centered lessons. Our “Church on the Go” summer prayer / Bible study was a success as we moved from house to house for our Wednesday night studies until mid-September. These times together presented a “small group” environment where we encouraged and challenged one another, as the writer to the Hebrews said, “…provoking one another to love and good works…” Our Wednesday night meeting is now meeting in the parsonage, and we share a warm time of fellowship and worship, through music, Bible study, and prayer. The elders are open to other small groups starting so please talk with us about your interest. Fay Murphy has restarted a Wednesday morning ladies’ Bible study, and we continue to host an early morning men’s coffee and prayer time at 6:30 AM on Tuesday. Our Fall outreach event, “Trunk or Treat,” will be bigger than ever this year, including about 20 students from Word of Life Bible Institute who will be helping with two bounce houses and a climbing wall! C.E.F. will be participating as well, seeking to share the Gospel with children. Please help us promote this event, scheduled for Monday, October 30th, starting at 5:30 PM. If you can help, either by decorating your vehicle or with the food table, please let us know as soon as possible. We’ll also need to house the Word of Life students for Monday night.
Be encouraged, changes are coming, but Jesus is Lord, and He is still building His church. Let’s continue to trust Him and also to do His will. Let’s commit to serving Him together, and embracing the mission that He has entrusted to us.
Your coworkers in Christ,
Pastor Steve and Mary Ann
Sunday, October 1, 2017
Called and Sent!
Introduction: Mark introduced his story of Jesus with the phrase, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” He, like the other gospel writers, wants us to understand correctly who Jesus is and why He came. He wants us to understand what it means to follow Him. So, we see the various characters in the story struggle with their own answers to those questions, and we are invited to follow along, to examine our own heart, to ponder the question “Who is this?” And then, to consider the implications of His person and work, and the implications of His call on our lives.
He had already called the twelve, with the intention of sending them out (3:14). Now the time had come to put their training into practice, and to seek to multiply the outreach of the gospel. This first “short term mission” experience would prefigure the sending out of the church after the cross / resurrection / Pentecost. Remember Mark, like the other gospel writers, is writing from a post-resurrection perspective, telling us what happen “then and there,” and inviting us to consider the implications for his readers, including us, “here and now.” Mark says, “He called the twelve and began to send them out…” That brings us to…
The Maine* Idea: God has called us to Himself and He is sending us with His message as His ambassadors to a desperately needy world.
I. Jesus came to serve: He modeled faithful ministry and continued preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom to those who would hear (6:6b).
“And he went about among the villages teaching…”
Even in this context, where we’ll see Jesus sending out the twelve as His authorized representatives, Jesus himself is their example. Remember the previous context, Jesus had presented himself for a second time in the synagogue of His hometown, Nazareth. And for a second time, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not…” The first part of verse six tells us “…He marveled at their unbelief…” That should remind us that the way is narrow that leads to life, and few there are that find it. It illustrates the truth that the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, and He cannot understand them since they are spiritually discerned. How does Jesus react? Does He abandon the mission? Does He begin to question His calling? No, rather, He continues on, preaching the Gospel and calling the people to repentance and faith.
Have you ever faced rejection as you went to your own people, those closest to you—friends, relatives, neighbors—and sought to point them to Jesus? I have! And I am pretty sure that if you have ever shared your faith you have as well. Jesus was still teaching His disciples, by His example, and preparing them for the mission that still was before them. In the upper-room He is preparing the disciples to continue the mission without His physical presence. He tells them not to be surprised if the world hates them—the world hated Him first! In fact, in the next context, we’ll see the depth of the hatred and rejection of the world in the martyrdom of John the Baptist. Only after Mark gives the report of John’s death, does he tell us that the disciples return and “…told him all that they had done and taught.” (Mark 6:30). Later in chapter 8 we’ll see what I think is a key verse for Mark in 8:34-35, calling would-be disciples to count the cost…
34 And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "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.
That is a sure-fire recruitment line! No sugar coating the truth for Jesus, His “would-be disciples” needed to know that following Him would mean entering into a battle, and they needed to count the cost. Mark has been inviting us to consider: What does it mean to follow Him? God has called us to Himself and He is sending us with His message as His ambassadors to a desperately needy world.
II. We are called to serve in His name: Jesus called the twelve and sent them out with spiritual authority (7). Remember Pastor Gregg’s message, “There is no plan B!” God has a remnant that will believe on this peninsula, and His plan includes us to be His witnesses exactly where we are! We are called to reach out to those around us with the “good news” of salvation by grace, through faith in Jesus!
7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.
First, we see the model of TEAM Ministry, Jesus does not send each disciple out to do his own thing. Rather, He sends them “two by two.” None of them were sent out as “lone ranger” missionaries. There were probably several reasons for this. The principle spoken by Solomon in Ecclesiastes certainly applies, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil…” (Eccl 4:9). Why are two better? 1) They would have been safer traveling together. 2) There may have been complementary personalities and giftedness among them. That is certainly true in the church. 3) They could hold each other accountable, and be a second witness testifying to the truthfulness of what was being taught (remember the principle of “two or three witnesses”). So, He sent them out two by two.
Mark’s language here is interesting, “…He began to send them out…” Each pair was specifically chosen and personally directed to the ministry the Lord had for them. He put a team together and sent them in one direction, and chose another team and sent them somewhere else. In His sovereignty, and through His providential guidance, the Lord had “divine appointments” for these men to keep. They were all a part of the mission, but each pair had their particular direction and calling. As I considered that I realize this isn’t yet the church, the church would be born after the cross and resurrection on the day of Pentecost, but this does prefigure the church and our mission in the world. God has chosen each of us who know Him to have a part in his mission. He has placed us in the family in which we are, with the co-workers and neighbors that are around us, the people that we live life with. Remember the statistic: 95% of those who believe come to faith primarily through the witness of someone who is already in their life. On average, each of us has somewhere between 8 and 15 people that we regularly interact with. They know us and they are watching us (like it or not!). Hopefully by our life we are earning a hearing, we have their respect. And we are called to point them to Jesus.
Even the verb “…to send…” which is used here is instructive. It is the verb apostello, the same root from which we get the word “apostle.” These men were sent and commissioned as the authorized representatives of Jesus. They were to be His ambassadors to the people to whom they were sent. Later Jesus will say to them, “As the Father has sent Me, so send I you…” They weren’t seeking to make disciples for themselves, but rather their mission was to point people to Jesus.
Notice also that “…He gave them authority over unclean spirits…” This is the initial fulfillment of His expressed purpose in calling them back in Mark 3:14-15,
14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15and have authority to cast out demons.
This was that! And notice His plan from the beginning was that they would be Empowered for Ministry. They had no authority or power of their own to cast out demons, he gave them authority and sent them out in His name. If some of that sounds familiar we see some of the same language used, after the cross and resurrection, in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20,
18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
In case you missed it, that is the Maine* Idea: God has called us to Himself and He is sending us with His message as His ambassadors to a desperately needy world.
III. Outwardly Focused: Ready to go when He calls, where directed, and ready to be re-directed when necessary (8-10). I thought of Paul’s admonition to Timothy, “Be ready in season and out of season…” Or, as my Bible College teacher used to say, “Be ready to preach, pray, or die on a moment’s notice!”
8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff- no bread, no bag, no money in their belts- 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there…”
The instructions here might sound strange. Why limit what the disciples were to bring on this first “short-term mission”? It seems the idea was to call them to believe, to trust in God’s providence, and to urge them to be unencumbered, ready to move, to travel light. It is reminiscent of the instructions given the Israelites for eating the Passover on the eve of the Exodus…
In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD's Passover… (Exodus 12:11).
Sadly for the Israelites, it wouldn’t take them long before they started lamenting life in the wilderness, and longing for the “good old days” in Egypt. When God said “Go!” they needed to be ready to move quickly, and they needed to trust Him to be with them. John admonished the readers of his first letter,
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions- is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever… (I John 2:15-17).
This may be one of the biggest challenges we face, particularly as 21st century Christians in the United States. We are too addicted to our comforts and our security. We love the blessings of life in this world and that makes it harder for us to take a risk and reach out with the message of the Cross, the cost seems too high. That is not unique to our context however. Later in Mark’s Gospel, we’ll read the story of Jesus encountering a rich, young, ruler. As He is pointing the man to the way of life Mark writes,
“…And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions…” (Mark 10:21-22).
We need to realize that you can’t take it with you! Life is short. But we were created for eternity! God has a plan, and He has called us to Himself and He is sending us with His message as His ambassadors to a desperately needy world.
IV. Unfazed by opposition: Don’t be surprised by animosity or opposition (11).
11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them."
The language of “shaking the dust off your feet” was well known in the Ancient Near East in general. The Jews then would customarily “shake the dust off their feet” when they left a pagan land so as not to contaminate the Holy Land on their return. The disciples were being sent out to Jews, and to “shake the dust off their feet” after leaving them would be a dramatic testimony of the seriousness of their rejection of the Gospel message. Bob had an interesting suggestion in our Tuesday morning men’s meeting: the origin of the practice might have been an acknowledgment that they had not even been received with proper respect and hospitality, they weren’t even given water to wash their feet! For their part, the disciples presented the message, calling the people to repentance and faith, with gentle persuasion, not with forceful intrusion… If they were rejected they were to just move on… Others would hear. Just as Jesus went on after being rejected in His home town, their ministry of the Word must persist through difficulty…
Remember Paul’s word to the Corinthians:
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain…” (I Cor 15:58).
God has called us to Himself and He is sending us with His message as His ambassadors to a desperately needy world.
V. We have an urgent mission (12,13). There is a sense of urgency throughout this passage… this is implicit here, and throughout Mark’s Gospel.
12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.
The entire Gospel of Mark has been presenting the ministry of Jesus in a setting of urgency. The repeated use of the word “immediately” [euthus] serves to give the reader of this gospel the impression that the ministry of Jesus, and by extension, the ministry of his followers, is a vital mission and presents an urgent message that the world desperately needs to hear and believe. At the start of the Gospel, John was “…baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…” (Mark 1:4). Then we read that 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’” (Mark 1:14-15).
Now the disciples who He is sending continue the mission, calling people to repentance and faith. Preaching the message, speaking the words of Christ and calling the people to repentance is at the heart of their mission. And just as we see in the book of Acts, the Lord “…bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands…” (Acts 14:3). Those attesting miracles were a testimony to the people, an evidence that God was at work. They gave a preliminary glimpse into the future. As Jesus said in Mark 1, “The kingdom of God is at hand! Repent and believe the gospel!”
What is God saying to me in this passage? God has called us to Himself and He is sending us with His message as His ambassadors to a desperately needy world.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? You know the story of the Lord calling the twelve… have you acknowledged His call on your life? Yes, I believe that the “Apostles” had a unique ministry in the foundational period of the church. In fact, Paul says the church is “…built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…” (Eph 2:20). The foundation was laid in the first century as those men spoke and acted in His name, and by the end of that period they brought the final books that would form God’s completed written Word to the church. Their ministry was unique, but we too are sent, with a mission, to the world. As Jesus gave the Great Commission as we have it at the end of Matthew, He said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The implication is that the call to make disciples of all the nations continues until He returns. Communion reminds us of the price that was paid to reconcile sinners to God. Our mission is to proclaim the Gospel to all who will hear! Jesus is building His church. He would use us to bring the message! AMEN.