Sunday, November 26, 2017

Inside Out! (or, “The Heart of the Matter”) Mark 7:14-23

Inside Out! (or, “The Heart of the Matter”)
Mark 7:14-23
Introduction: There is the story of a father who told his son to sit down at the table for dinner. The boy was having too much fun playing and ignored his dad. Patiently the father again told him to sit down, and again the child stubbornly refused. Finally, the father said, “If you don’t sit down I’m going to give you a spanking!” The boy sat down, crossed his arms and said, “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m still standing up on the inside!”  It is (relatively) easy to do what is expected outwardly, but how are our hearts? When David was confronted with his sin, in his brokenness he saw his need for divine intervention and prayed, Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me…” (Ps 51:10; cf. Ps 139:23,24).  In our study of Mark, Jesus has just rebuked the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, holding to the external system of rules that had been developed over the years while neglecting the weightier matters of the heart. They needed a “heart check”!  James got at “the heart of the matter” when he wrote, “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don't they come from the evil desires at war within you?” (James 4:1, NLT). In another place Jesus said, “out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks…” (Luke 6:45). 
       Did you go shopping on Black Friday? Imagine this. You are circling the parking lot at the Maine Mall, hoping to find a spot so you can get in for that door buster sale for which you’ve been waiting. Finally, you see an elderly couple walking toward their car. Why do they move so slowly? You feel like your getting older just waiting! Then the old man walks around the car and opens the door for his wife. She gets in slowly and buckles up before he closes the door. He hobbles around the car… meanwhile the guy behind you is beeping his horn and waving his hand at you. Finally, the old guy gets in the car, starts it, and seemingly five minutes later starts to back out. By now you’re thinking, “Maybe I’ll get my bargain on cyber-Monday at this rate!” And just as he pulls away, a van zips around the corner into “your” spot!  How do you react? Anger toward the guy who took your spot? Toward the old man who didn’t move quickly enough? Toward that impatient guy behind you? Or, should we focus on our own attitude: was it really that important to get that spot, or even that bargain? What if the old guy’s license plate said, “Combat wounded veteran”? Would it make a difference? Or what if his wife had just gotten out of three months in rehab, and she really wanted to go to the Mall just to do some walking, and something as little as Black Friday wasn’t going to keep her husband from making her day a little happier?  You get the idea, there is always a backstory that we don’t know, we’ve received grace, should we extend grace as well? What would Jesus do? How’s your heart?
The Maine* Idea: When God gives us a new heart in Jesus, our life will change, from the inside out!
I. The principle stated: Superficial rules can’t change hearts (14-16).
14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, "Hear me, all of you, and understand:  15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him."  16 [“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”] 
       As our passage opens, Jesus turns from the leaders who He had just rebuked, to the crowd, and He speaks a short “parable” that has a spiritual point. The question of the Pharisees in Mark 7:5 had been addressed only in part: Why do some of your disciples not wash in the traditional way? He pointed out the foolishness of supplanting the Word of God with their traditions: they followed human traditions, yet neglected the Spirit of the Law!  After all, the Gospel He preached focused on faith in Christ and trusting in His grace, not man’s traditions! Their traditions were superficial, focused on external rules and regulations. They somehow had come to believe they would be able to earn God’s favor. The Gospel, on the other hand, acknowledges our depravity and our total inability to earn God’s favor. After all, as Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?” We need a new heart.
       Have you heard the story of the little girl who wasn’t feeling good and was taken to the doctor for a check up…
A grandmother took her four-year-old granddaughter, Amanda, to the doctor's office because she'd been running a fever. The doctor looked in her ears and said, "Who's in there, Donald Duck?"
Amanda said, "No!"
Then the doctor looked in her nose and said, "Who's in there, Mickey Mouse?"
Again she answered, "No!"
Finally he put his stethoscope on her heart and asked, "Who's in there, Barney? [the purple dinosaur!]"
Amanda replied indignantly, "No, Jesus is in my heart. Barney is on my underwear!"
Most of us probably don’t have Barney on our underwear (I hope!), but is Jesus in your heart? If you have trusted Christ as your Savior you have a new life. Paul said “If any man be in Christ—a New Creation!” (2 Cor 5:17).  When God gives us a new heart in Jesus, our life will change, from the inside out!
II. The principle explained: What we eat or drink doesn’t make us “unclean” (17-19).  What goes in our mouth is neutral, in itself it has no spiritual implications.
17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable.  18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him,  19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 
       When Jesus confronted the Pharisees about the hypocrisy of their man-made rules that neglected the heart, he was always gentle and careful not to offend, right? Not exactly. After all, they were the supposed experts in the Law, the supposed “shepherds of Israel,” and they should have known better. So He pulled no punches. Listen to this, from Matthew 23:23-33,   
23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.  24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!  25 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.  27 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness.  28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.  29 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous,  30 saying, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.'  31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.  32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.  33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?
As we read that it is important to remember that Jesus is God, He knew the hearts of His audience, including the religious leaders! We only see the outside, God knows the heart. Rather than seeing this as motivation to judge what we perceive to be hypocrisy in others, we need to use this text as a mirror and turn it on ourselves. Remember Jesus, after the resurrection, asking Peter (the man who denied Him) “Peter, do you love me?” We need to ask ourselves, do we love Him? Really? How then should we live?  Paul said in Romans 12:9, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.The Proverb says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for from it are the well springs of life…” (Prov 4:23).
       Mark says that “When Jesus entered the house his disciples asked him about the parable.” My first reaction when I read that was, “What parable?” Jesus’ teaching in vv.14-16 seemed so transparent, it seemed to me self-evident. But apparently this was a little like Nicodemus in John 3, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus about spiritual birth, and he wasn’t elucidating the human digestive process to the crowd and to his disciples!  He was speaking about the actions that proceed from the attitudes of our heart. What comes out of us in terms of our attitudes and actions?  That is the point in this passage: When God gives us a new heart in Jesus, our life will change, from the inside out!
III. The principle illustrated: Sin is a matter of the heart, it comes from the inside out (20-23).
20 And he said, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,  22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."
       Notice that the “sins” Jesus points to here focus on our sins that typically involve or affect other people… (focusing on 5-10 of the Decalogue). We see sexual sin, murder, adultery, coveting envy… Ultimately all sin is against God, but our relationships with other humans expose what is really in our hearts. God promised through Ezekiel a new covenant that would include a change in our hearts, and so result in changed lives. He said in Ezekiel 36:25-27,
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
Notice that it begins with cleansing, God pronouncing us righteous by His grace. That is justification. This New Covenant also includes regeneration, a new creation that includes a new heart. It also speaks of the gift of the Spirit, God himself who is with us and in us, to guide our new heart in making choices and decisions that bring glory to God. That is practical sanctification, growing in holiness. When I read this my mind went to Galatians 5 and the contrast between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. We read in Galatians 5:16-25,
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.  18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,  20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,  21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
Notice that there is a statement in v.16, and then an admonition in v.25.  Do any of you ever use a GPS when you drive? I do it all the time. Sometimes I decide to take a different route than the GPS is suggesting.  For example, if I am going to Sawyers Island it still wants me to take the Gacklin Road!  My GPS is not fully trustworthy, but our new life in Christ comes with a guidance system we can trust. It includes a new heart, and it comes with a GPS… God’s Presence in the Spirit! If we “walk in the Spirit,” recognizing His presence and yielding to His guidance, we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. V.25 reminds us that our will is involved, “let us walk in the Spirit… We need to trust the Spirit and not override God’s GPS! We can trust Him, and the fruit of the Spirit will be evident in our lives.
        We read in Luke 6:43-45 that Jesus said,
“For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.  For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. (45) "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks…
A pure heart comes from spending time in the Word of God and allowing the Spirit to apply the truth and to expose sin and cleanse us. The transformation is ongoing, and it happens from the inside out. People will notice by the way. Like it or not, if you name the name of Christ, you are a living letter, seen and read of men. We are His witnesses, good or bad, effective or ineffective.
What is God saying to me in this passage? When God gives us a new heart in Jesus, our life will change, from the inside out! In His sermon on the Mount Jesus said in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” I like the way The Message puts it, "You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.” That is the heart of the matter! A new heart in Jesus, and our life changed and changing, from the inside out!
What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  Do you ever find yourself “sitting on the outside, but still standing up in your heart”?  I think most of us do, at one time or another. Why is that? Could it be that we too easily neglect the inner matters of our hearts?  Let me read an excerpt from a letter written on October 2, 1840 by Robert Murray M’Cheyne to a young man leaving for missionary service in Germany.
“…I trust you will have a pleasant and profitable time in Germany. I know you will apply hard to German; but do not forget the culture of the inner man – I mean of the heart. How diligently the cavalry officer keeps his saber clean and sharp; every stain he rubs off with the greatest of care. Remember, you are God’s sword – His instrument – I trust a chosen vessel unto Him to bear His name. In great measure, according to the purity and perfection of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awesome weapon in the hand of God…”

M'Cheyne seemed to understand that fluency in German was not as important as intimacy with God. Yes, missionaries need to learn the language of the people they are going to minister to, and they need to study the culture so they can be more effective in reaching them. But most important is nourishing their own relationship with God. You can't impart what you don't possess! I know from experience that a growing, intimate relationship with God is something that we cannot assume, and it is indispensable for life on the mission field. That goes for home missionaries as well, people reaching out to their friends, relatives, and neighbors.  There is no better time of the year to shift the conversation to spiritual things. Think of the questions Mark has been answering week by week: Who is Jesus? Why did He come? What does it mean to follow Him? We have some activities coming up relative to Advent and Christmas, including the program we are planning for December 9th and 10th. What a great opportunity to invite someone to come with you and to see the presentation and hear the message of the coming of the Savior of the world!  Amen.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Tradition... TRADITION! Mark 7:1-13

Tradition… Tradition!
Mark 7:1-13
Introduction: In “Fiddler on the Roof” Tevye says,
“A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn't easy. You may ask, why do we stay up there if it's so dangerous? We stay because Anatevka is our home... And how do we keep our balance? 

That I can tell you in one word... Tradition." Chorus: “Tradition…!”

(Tevye continues…)
“Because of our traditions, we've kept our balance for many, many years. 
Here in Anatevka we have traditions for everything... how to eat, how to sleep, even, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered and always wear a little prayer shawl... This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, how did this tradition start? I'll tell you - I don't know. But it's a tradition... Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do."

What does God expect us to do? Do we approach Him on the basis of traditions developed by humans, or on the basis of the Truth revealed by God himself?  Do we allow our traditions to come in alongside of Scripture, or even to rise above it as our authority? This was a problem in Jesus’ day, and it can be a problem today. We like tradition. It makes us comfortable to do what we’ve always done. We know what to expect. And we know what is expected of us. There is no problem with that, as long as our traditions don’t conflict with God’s word, and as long as we don’t require others to obey our traditions if they are not specifically taught in the Bible. Our preferences and our practices should always be examined against the absolute truth of the Scriptures. Humans like to have a way to measure their acceptability to God, something they can manage and measure.
The Maine* Idea: The Gospel focuses on faith in Christ and trusting in His grace, not man’s traditions. Let’s stay “Gospel focused”!
I. The Hubris of man: Foolishly exalting tradition as our spiritual authority (7:1-5).
Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.  3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.)  5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" 
       What’s the problem with washing hands? We just came back from visiting our grandchildren (and daughter and son-in-law!). The kids occasionally need to be reminded to wash their hands (even that can be an adventure with the three-year-old!).  “Again grandpa? Why?” I remember one nephew when he was small, after a hard day of playing, being told by his mom that it was bath time. He replied, “I just took a bath yesterday, this is getting ridiculous!” Hygiene is a good thing, right? I remember once many years ago we took the same nephew when he was little to some kind of outdoor event. He went in and used the porta-potty and came out, and took Mary Ann’s hand as we walked. He then proudly announced, “There was nowhere to wash my hands, so I spit on them and rubbed them together!” Oh well! The issue wasn’t cleanliness with the Pharisees and the scribes. They practiced a “ritual” of handwashing that, according to their tradition, rendered their hands ceremonially “clean.” Ray Stedman explains…
…scholars tell us that it was the rigid custom among the Jews to wash in this way: The hands had to be held out, palms up, hands cupped slightly, and water poured over them. Then the fist of one hand was used to scrub the other, and then the other fist would scrub the first hand. This is why the fist is mentioned here [v.3]. Finally the hands again were held out, with palms down, and water was poured over them a second time to cleanse away the dirty water the defiled hands had been scrubbed with. Only then would a person’s hands be ceremonially clean.
It was the outward ceremony, the ritual, that was viewed as indispensable for pious Jews. One rabbi even determined the amount of water to be used: one and a half egg shells!  This didn’t come from Scripture, it was rabbinic tradition that was viewed as inviolable. The tension between God’s revealed truth and human tradition was at the heart of the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees particularly. Jesus came to reveal the way of Grace and to be Himself the propitiation for the sins of all who would believe. The Pharisees had embraced a religion of works, essentially believing they could follow the rules that had developed.
       Notice that Mark tells us that some of the opposition that aligned itself against Jesus and His disciples had come from Jerusalem (v.1). We are being reminded that it is the religious leaders, represented by the geographical center of Judaism that was opposing Jesus. The opposition came from Jerusalem and it would eventually be in Jerusalem that Jesus would be handed over to the Romans to be crucified. (Mark is always telling his story of Jesus with an eye toward the Cross of Calvary). In the centuries between the last of the prophets and the time of Christ the rabbinic tradition had continually expanded. The rabbis were essentially “building a hedge” around the Law to make keeping the Law attainable. Their intentions may have been good, as one writer said,
“…The Jewish traditions did not arise out of a desire to inflict spiritual harm on people, but out of a desire help them not break the law of God. Yet, they came to view their traditions as on par with Scripture, and that led to spiritual disaster…”
God gave us the Law as a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ. The Law was intended to expose our weakness and to show our desperate need for the grace of God. The multiplication of man-made “rules” gave a false assurance that outward obedience to these traditions could make us right with God. On the contrary, God says that by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. Why? Because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, because there is none righteous, no, not one (Rom 3:23; 3:10).  By the way, the fact that Mark takes the time to explain the practice and traditions of the “elders” is one indication that Mark is writing to a primarily Gentile audience, or at least one that has far removed from the Jewish practices of Jesus’ day. The church in Rome, with a mixed, but primarily gentile community would be a good fit. So is Boothbay, Maine by the way! Mark speaks to us.  The Gospel focuses on faith in Christ and trusting in His grace, not man’s traditions. Let’s stay “Gospel focused”!
II. The Hypocrisy of “[false] religion”: God predicted that human tradition would supplant the Word of God in the hearts of many (7:6-8).
6 And he said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;  7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’  8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” 
        The exchange here between Jesus and these religious leaders is fascinating. The Pharisees are focused on the failure of Jesus’ disciples to adhere to certain rituals that had become viewed as outward expressions of their religion. They were not saying the disciples had violated the Law of God, but that they failed to keep the traditions of the fathers.  Rigorous obedience to these rules marked the Pharisees. Most of the people viewed them as pious and holy men. Jesus calls them hypocrites… actors wearing a mask, playing a part.
      God is concerned with our heart, more than our words or our appearance.  Elizabeth Elliot reported the following conversation between two men…
A young man asked, “I am in earnest about forsaking ‘the world’ and following Christ. But I am puzzled about worldly things. What is it I must forsake?” The answer, “Colored clothes, for one thing. Get rid of everything in your wardrobe that is not white. Stop sleeping on a soft pillow. Sell your musical instruments and don’t eat any more white bread. You cannot, if you are sincere about obeying Christ, take warm baths or shave your beard. To shave is to lie against Him who created us, to attempt to improve on His Work.”
Elizabeth Elliot then commented…
“Does this answer sound absurd? It is the answer given in the most celebrated Christian schools of the second century! Is it possible that the rules that have been adopted by many twentieth-century Christians will sound as absurd to earnest followers of Christ a few years hence?” (The Liberty of Obedience, Nashville, Abingdon, 1968, pp. 45-46).
      The point: Human traditions are not doctrine! The Pharisees and scribes no doubt felt their expectations were reasonable. Every Jew knew that the ritual washing before eating was to be done, and done in the right way.  It seems the question of why it was done this way, or where the “rule” had come from, was irrelevant. Remember the story of lady preparing a roast for a family gathering…
A little girl noticed that every time her mother cooked a roast she chopped a piece off the end of the roast before putting it in the oven.  Intrigued, she asked her mother why she did this.
     “Well to be honest, I do it because that’s the way my mother always does it” came the reply. “I’m sure she must have some good reason for it.”
At the next family gathering, the child decided to satisfy her curiosity.     
     “Grandma, why do you always chop the end off the roast before cooking it?”
      “Well to be honest, I do it because that’s the way my mother always does it” came the reply. “I’m sure she must have some good reason for it.”
     A week or so later the little girl was visiting her 90-year-old great grandmother. She explained that mummy and grandma always chop the end off the roast before cooking it, but couldn’t remember why. Did she know?
     Great-grandma answered, “Imagine the two of them doing that! Why, I only cut the piece off because my pan was too small!”
       Why do we hold to our traditions so tightly? It’s what we’ve always done, even if we forget where they came from! Remember the Fiddler on the Roof, “…how did this tradition start? I'll tell you - I don't know. But it's a tradition…”! Listen, tradition is not in itself bad, but too often we allow religious “tradition” to come in and to be established alongside God’s revelation. If we start to view it as “law,” that is as the necessary way to live the Christian life and come to God we are supplanting the Word with tradition and undercutting the Gospel. We are told in the Bible, for example, to celebrate the Lord’s table. it is an ordinance Christ gave to the church until Jesus returns. That is God’s Word. Does the Bible say it must always be on a first Sunday? Or once a month? That is part of our tradition. We are flexible with that, but for some churches it can be viewed as “law.”  For many churches it would be unthinkable to meet at something other than 11 AM. “We’ve always done it that way!” Or reading from a different English language version would cause controversy, “If the King James version was good enough for Jesus it is good enough for me!” You get the idea? It’s not about what we’ve always done. Traditions are not necessarily good or bad. Do our traditions conflict with the Word of God? Do they rise in our thinking to the level of Scripture? That is what happened with the Pharisees. The Gospel focuses on faith in Christ and trusting in His grace, not in human traditions. Let’s stay “Gospel focused”!
III. The Heart of God: His will is revealed in Scripture, while human desires may be shrouded in tradition (7:9-13).
9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!  10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’  11 But you say, 'If a man tells his father or his mother, Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban' (that is, given to God)-  12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother,  13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do."
       Jesus uses an example to show the problem with elevating tradition to a level equal to or above Scripture. It is a well-established biblical principle that God’s people (then and now) are to honor their parents. Being sure that an elderly parent is cared for and that their needs are met is something that we should all embrace. It is really not the responsibility of the government to take care of our parents, it is our responsibility. The rabbis had developed a practice of allowing people to declare some property “Corban,” that is, dedicated to God. It remained under their control, they could derive income from it and live off of it as long as they lived, but on their death it would go to the Temple treasury.  This became an acceptable excuse for not taking care of parents: “Sorry, I can’t help, all my property is in this irrevocable charitable trust.” Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for this: “You have a clever way of getting around God’s Law!
       Remember Jesus in the sermon on the mount repeatedly looking behind the letter of the Law to its heart, “You have heard it said… but I say to you…” He says adultery is sin, of course, but what is going on in your mind, in your heart? You say “Murder, I would never!” Really? Are you angry with your brother? You get the idea. We all desperately need the grace of God. Trusting in Jesus and His finished work is our only hope of being justified before Him. That is the Gospel!
What is God saying to me in this passage? The Gospel focuses on faith in Christ and trusting in His grace, not human traditions. Let’s stay “Gospel focused”!

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Are there any situations where our traditions have assumed a place of such authority in our thinking that we inadvertently blur the lines between “what we have always done” and Scripture…? First of all, don’t misunderstand, traditions aren’t necessarily bad, they can in fact be helpful. But we always need to be careful to discern the difference between our traditions and the Bible. We must not make our traditions, the things we do that are not scriptural, as our supposed measure of spirituality.  We certainly shouldn’t circumvent the clear teaching of the Bible with our man-made rules.  We might not all wear only white. Some of us might shave our beards. You might prefer white bread… or even a different style of music than I do. Let’s not judge each other on our preferences. What does the Bible say? Jesus summed it up: Love God with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. That is the kind of “religion” that will be attractive to our neighbors. And then we can be ready, always, with gentleness and respect, to give a reason for the hope that is in us!  AMEN.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Popular Christianity or Authentic Discipleship? - Mark 6:53-56

Popular Christianity or Authentic Discipleship?
Mark 6:53-56
Introduction: Frank Abagnale Jr. was a brilliant young man, who got off to a rather dubious start (You might know his story from the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, Catch Me if You Can). He learned from his father the art of the “con” and began as a teenager to put it into practice. Once, on the first day he was in a new school, he pretended to be the substitute teacher, and got away with it for a while. He pretended to be an off-duty pilot and got free rides in the jump seat of airlines, reportedly traveling over a million miles before he was caught. He also became an expert at falsifying checks and was eventually caught by the FBI, and sent to prison. Later he got an early parole from prison and was recruited to help the FBI in detecting false checks and catching those who were forging them. He knew what to look for. In order to discern what is “false” we need to carefully study what is authentic. There is a disparity between popular Christianity and the call to authentic discipleship that we see in the gospels. Mark is making it clear that the way of a Christ-follower is not going to be all gentle seas and green pastures. It is more often stormy seas and desert roads where we grow, learning to know Him better and trust Him more.
The Context: The loaves and the lake… Jesus was revealing Himself, and teaching the disciples, preparing them for the ministry they will have after His ascension.
The Maine* Idea: Jesus is the revelation of God, able to bring healing and life to all who believe.
The Setting: Jesus guided them to their destination. He has a plan (53)!
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 
       Remember the context… Jesus had sent them out onto the Lake, and then, in their frustration and exhaustion, He came to them on the water, revealing His glory in His divine power, speaking words of life and hope to them: “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid!” The Great I AM was present, and He was strengthening their faith, revealing the truth, leading the disciples deeper. He is continuing in this Gospel to teach them and to prepare them for the mission that would very soon be entrusted to them: bringing the Gospel of Jesus to the ends of the earth.
I. Popularity: Many were looking to the Lord to meet their needs (54,55a).
54 And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him  55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 
       I couldn’t help but see a contrast here between the experience the disciples just had on the lake, and the people in the region of Gennesaret. Jesus came to the disciples in their need, walking on the water, and they didn’t recognize Him. They thought they were seeing a ghost!  Instead of relief and joy their first reaction was fear. They did not recognize Him. They hadn’t understood the loaves, and they had no expectation that they were never out of His line of sight, never somewhere where He could not come to them in their need. In contrast, as soon as Jesus and His disciples got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized Him. He was known to them, His reputation preceded Him, and they knew this was the miracle worker Jesus, the One that could help and heal those in need.  Have you ever been near a famous person and not recognized them? Many years ago Mary Ann and I were at a marriage conference and got in an elevator with a rather friendly guy. He asked us how the conference was going and made some small talk. I think one of us finally looked at his name tag and we realized it was Dennis Rainey, the Founder and main speaker of the Family Life conferences!
       Mark is wanting us to be reminded of the dullness of the disciples more than the spiritual acumen of the crowd. It is probable that very few in the crowd had a right understanding of who Jesus is and why He came. His popularity came with limited understanding from the people. But the point of the contrast is that the disciples should have been further along in their understanding! Jesus’ focus was on preparing a relatively small group of followers to take a key, foundational role in the church, after the cross / resurrection / Pentecost. Their faith needed to be sure before they could proclaim Jesus as the revelation of God, the One who is able to bring healing and life to all who believe.
II. Persistence: If we care about people we will want to do all we can to bring them to Jesus (55). What did the people do when they realized Jesus was there?
[They] ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 
       You have to admire the tenacity and persistence of these people in Galilee who were running around bringing the sick to wherever they heard Jesus was! This indicates commitment, and caring for their needy friends, bringing them to the One who could help! It might have been easier to stay at home, or to even visit their friend and let them know they should be alert in case Jesus passed by! They were persistent, they got their sick friends, and brought them to Jesus. That kind of caring takes diligent effort, intentionality.
A common phenomenon in nature is “the path of least resistance.” Electricity moving through a circuit will travel where it has the “easiest” route... Rivers always travel around a mountain because it is easier than going through one.
     Frequently people are like that too. It is easier to sit in front of the TV than to care for a neighbor’s needs. It is easier to get angry at your mate and let that anger diminish (or smolder) over the course of time rather than sitting down and working the problem through… And so we find that humans are prone to “take the path of least resistance.”
     But there is one difference between ourselves and electricity or a river. They will never have to give an account of what they have done. We will. Thus, perhaps we should incline ourselves to take the path of greatest persistence.
Greatest persistence, not least resistance! So, we should be persistent (if not pesky!) in seeking to bring our friends, relatives, and neighbors to Christ, because Jesus is the revelation of God, able to bring healing and life to all who believe.
III. Power: Jesus is the Way to Life, He alone is able to Save (56).  
56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. 
       The wind storm last week was amazing… some trees that had stood tall and strong for a hundred years were knocked down in one night.  The power of the storm caused damage that a week later still has some without electricity! Even so, relatively speaking, that was a mild show of the power that we find in nature. One astounding demonstration of power in nature occurred on May 18, 1980, when Mount St. Helens in Washington State exploded. According to one report…
…At 8:32 A.M. the explosion ripped 1,300 feet off the mountain with a force of ten million tons of TNT, or roughly equal to five hundred Hiroshimas. 60 people were killed, most by a blast of 300-degree heat traveling at two hundred miles an hour. Some were killed as far as sixteen miles away. The blast also leveled 150-foot Douglas firs, as far as seventeen miles away. A total of 3.2 billion board-feet of lumber was destroyed, enough to build 200,000 three-bedroom homes…
We can hardly comprehend such power! Yet that power is only the flicker of a candle compared to the power of Jesus Christ. We see a glimpse of it here as the crowds are bringing the sick to Him, and all who come are healed, just by a touch of the edge of His garment. Let’s look at a couple of the details.
        Mark is describing the exploding popularity of Jesus at this stage of the ministry in Galilee. He says “…wherever He came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplace…What a contrast to the ministry of Jesus in His hometown of Nazareth at the beginning of chapter 6! Remember Mark told us, And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them…” (Mark 6:5). Why could He do no miracles there? It seems that the residents didn’t think this hometown boy could do anything for their friends, so they didn’t bother to bring them out in public places for Jesus to do His works of power and heal them. They were indifferent, unbelieving. And Mark tells us that Jesus “marveled” at their unbelief! Throughout the rest of Galilee, the crowds were coming, bringing the sick, and laying them in public places where Jesus was expected to pass.
     “…they implored Him Grammatically, it seems that the ones doing the “asking” were not the sick, but those who brought them and laid them in Jesus’ path. Not only had they brought their needy friends and relatives to Jesus, but they were “imploring” Jesus on their behalf!  I couldn’t help but think of the idea of our ministry to our oikos, our extended household, family, neighbors, and friends. Are we imploring God on their behalf? How these people must have loved the sick that they were bringing to meet Jesus! And they were also asking Jesus to help them. We’ve been encouraging our church family to embrace these same ministry opportunities toward our friends, relatives, and neighbors, starting with prayer! Have you listed the 8 to 15 people you live life with, and begun praying?
     “…the hem of His garment…” (see Num 15:38,39; Zech 8:21-23). Back when we were looking at the story Jairus, and of the suffering woman touching Jesus’ garment and being healed, Herb M. and Bob C. were talking in our Tuesday morning prayer time about the significance of the tassels on a Jewish man’s garment. We see God’s purpose for these tassels in Numbers 15:37-41…
37 The LORD said to Moses, 38"Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner.  39 And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after40 So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.  41 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the LORD your God."
       Chris Wright in his book The Mission of God comments on Zechariah 8, another key Old Testament passage that is echoed in our context in Mark…
Zechariah 8 also promises that God will return once more to Zion to dwell with his people (Zech 8:3). The covenant relationship will thus be restored (Zech 8:7-8). The result is that the curse will change to blessing. Echoes of the Abrahamic promise surface in verse 13. But the chapter concludes with the picture of the nations urgently encouraging one another to go find the Lord where he may be found—among the people where he dwells. This may be centripetal, but it is certainly also missional. People will clamor to join those who know the living God. God dwelling among his people should be the most attractive force on earth. (Mission, p.339).
Read that chapter if you have a chance this week, but for now look at Zechariah 8:20-23, and listen for echoes of this story of Jesus in Mark…
20 "Thus says the LORD of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities.  21 The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, 'Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the LORD and to seek the LORD of hosts; I myself am going.'  22 Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD.  23 Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'" 
It seems Zechariah is talking about the future kingdom when the Messiah will reign from Jerusalem, but remember that as Jesus walked on earth He was announcing that the kingdom was at hand, because He, the King, was present. By grace we too have taken hold of the robe of a Jew, Jesus, the promised Seed of the woman, the descendant of Abraham who would bless the nations, the Son of David who would have an eternal kingdom!
       “…as many as touched it were healed [saved]…” The context is clearly talking about the miraculous healing of the sick who were brought to Jesus, and who touched the hem of His garment. His compassion and his power is revealed by the healing of all who reach out to Him. H.A. Ironside said,
God incarnate was walking about in the midst of His people, and it was His delight to relieve their sufferings and to cure them of their diseases. His saving-health was manifested wherever He went. Yet, alas, all this failed to convince the leaders that their long-waited-for Messiah had come to deliver them.
The hard hearts of the leaders will come out again in Mark 7. Here Jesus is offering healing and life to the people. This story makes me think of another scene in the book of Numbers, when God sent judgement, or at least chastening, on the grumbling Jews. We read in Numbers 21:6-9,   
6 Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.  7 And the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people.  8 And the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live."  9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
Provision was made: Look and live! We don’t know, but could there have been some who refused to look, or who thought that it was silly to think a bronze snake on a pole could help them, and didn’t bother to even look? Jesus referred to this scene when He said in John 3:14-15,
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
The issue was faith. And so Mark tells us that as many as “touched the fringe of Jesus’ garment were healed.” The Greek verb used here, sozo, has the primary meaning of “save.” In fact, the first use of that verb in the New Testament occurs in Matthew 1:21 describing the work the coming Child would accomplish,
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
Here the “healing” that Jesus would do is described as primarily spiritual, He would “save His people from their sins”! The connection between “healing” and our sin problem was stated by the prophet Isaiah 7 centuries before…
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all… (Isaiah 53:5-6).
What is God saying to me in this passage? The Maine* Idea we see here is that Jesus is the revelation of God, God incarnate, and He alone is able to bring healing and life—eternal life, abundant life—to all who believe. Have you trusted Him?
What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  This same Jesus, who healed the sick, who fed the multitudes, who calmed the sea and walked on the water, came to meet our deepest need. He came to resolve our sin problem, and to make it possible for fallen humans to be reconciled to our Holy God. The provision has been made, his death was the perfect and sufficient sacrifice for sin. Have you reached out your hand and touched the fringe of His garment? Have you believed in Him as your Savior and Lord? The promise of the Bible is “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!
       Let’s be reminded again of the friends, relatives, and neighbors who brought their loved ones to Jesus, and who “implored Him” that they might touch the fringe of His garment and be healed. Shouldn’t we love our friends enough to do the same, praying for them, and by every means possible, seeking to bring them to Jesus? That is what authentic Christianity looks like! We’ve experienced God’s grace, and we are compelled to tell others! Only He can meet their deepest need!

       On this first Sunday we remember the sacrifice that made that salvation available to those who believe.  This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.  AMEN.