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And Then What Happened? | Be Aware, Be Prepared, Be Alert

And Then What Happened? | Be Aware, Be Prepared, Be Alert2020-04-04T21:44:03-06:00

And Then What Happened? | How Can Curiosity Help Us?

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And Then What Happened? | Mark 11 | Online-only Service

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AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED? | The Time is Now–The Great Reveal  | Mark 11 | Pastor Dan Elliott

This message I’m going to be bringing this morning is from Mark 11.  We’ve had a great series so far in the gospel of Mark….And Then What Happened?   This eleventh chapter has some very interesting things in it; I’m calling it The Great Reveal.  I think how gender revealing is a big thing these days.  I’m talking about babies.  I’m talking about when people have babies and they go through all these antics about revealing what the gender of their child is going to be.  It’s often times a big surprise.  I remember when it used to be a cookie with different colored M&M’s on it.  Red was a girl, blue was a boy.  Then it progressed to donuts with different colored jelly in the centers.  I was at one party where they had a cake and when they cut into the cake, you could see the pudding and you could tell if it was a boy or a girl.  Speaking of cake, I think I saw a gender reveal that takes the cake.  I went over to see Terry and Ann Bote and Terry showed me a video of their nephew, David Bote.  David is a third baseman for the Chicago Cubs.  Here’s a video of his gender reveal.   

We go to certain lengths on all these different reveals.  We do things uncharacteristic of us.  I think in Mark 11, we have Jesus doing some very uncharacteristic things as he comes to, what I’m going to call, the great reveal.  I think there’s three uncharacteristic, maybe unpredictable things that he does here.  Let me read Mark 11:7-21  — Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it, and he sat on it.  Many in the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others spread leafy branches they had cut in the fields.  Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting…”Hosanna!  Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD!  Blessing on the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  So Jesus came to Jerusalem and went into the Temple.  After looking around carefully at everything, he left because it was late in the afternoon.  Then he returned to Bethany with the twelve disciples.  The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.  He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs.  But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit.  Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!”  And the disciples heard him say it.  When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices.  He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace.  He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”  When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him.  But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching.  That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city.  The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up.  Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!”

Before we dig into it, let’s have a word of prayer.  Lord, thanks for this word.  I pray you help us to may some sense out of it.  Jesus, thank you so much that you walk on this earth.  Teach us now.  I pray this in Jesus’s name….Amen.

As I look at these events we just read, I see three uncharacteristic, almost unpredictable events that occurred in Jesus’ life, when I compare it to the rest of his life and ministry.  He has this public celebration about himself.  And he hadn’t really done that to this point.  I would say, well, it’s about time.  He had this kind of destructive miracle.  Yeah, I don’t know what to make out of that one.  And then, he had this public display where he goes and makes a public scene flipping the tables in the temple.  In fact, he was kind of like a public nuisance.  If he’d try to do something like that today, he’d probably be arrested.  Of those three events….we really know the triumphal entry, we really know about him cleansing the temple, but that fig tree thing!  That’s a puzzler to me, so I want to start with that.  

Let me just set this—I’m not doing this in chronological order, as you can tell.  I’m taking the middle event where he curses this fig tree.  On Sunday he came through and had this triumphal entry.  The next morning he gets up and he’s going down.  I just picture him coming over the brow of Mount of Olives, coming down and there’s this fig tree.  He’s hungry.  It’s in leaf and it looks like it has lots of fruit.  He goes over to it and finds out it has no fruit.  Then he says those interesting words….May no one ever eat your fruit again!  He speaks to the tree.   You wonder why Jesus did this.  This is uncharacteristic…that he would curse one of his own creation.  Maybe he was kind of hangry, as we’d call it.  Maybe he realized the tree had lost its usefulness so he kind of said, “Okay, I’ll put it out of its misery.”  Or maybe, and I think more so, he might have been having a living parable about this.  I still wrestle with it.

I came across the term “breba fig.”  I had never heard of this before.  Basically a breba fig is really the first fruit that comes out in a season.  It comes out before the season of figs even comes.  Oftentimes a tree may leaf out in June and little figs begin to develop in mid-June to late-June.  The harvest for figs usually takes place at the end of summer.  THIS is time of Passover which is in the spring.  It’s early and Jesus sees this tree and it’s all in leaf.  It looks like it has lots of fruit.  Breba figs are those figs that come out first fruits, right around this time, and they’re actually the fruit that’s growing on, what they call, the old wood or the mature wood.  It’s not the new branches that are growing, the ones that produce the new harvest.  It’s the old ones from last season.  These are kind of leftover figs that continue to grow and they’re suppose to be real sweet and real good.  People, after a long winter, look forward to having these.  

Anyway, Jesus sees this tree that looks like it’s going to be fruitful, that looks like it’s going to have lots of figs.  He goes up and finds that there’s none.  So he says, “May no one ever eat from you again.”  There’s a verse I want to throw out to you to be thinking about.  It’s found in Micah 7:1-2a —  How miserable I am!  I feel like the fruit picker after the harvest who can find nothing to eat.  Not a cluster of grapes or a single early fig can be found to satisfy my hunger.   The godly people have all disappeared; not one honest person is left on the earth.  I just threw that out to make you kind of think.  When Jesus went to this tree to find some early figs and there wasn’t anything, but it looked like it was going to be fruitful and it wasn’t.  It looked like there would be some of that early first fruit on those mature branches and there wasn’t anything.  You put the pieces together while we go on.    

I want us to look at that second event that we all know as the Triumphal Entry.  On Sunday, Jesus comes into Jerusalem with the disciples and he orchestrates a celebration.  He instructs these two disciples to go ahead of them and find a donkey.  We know the story.  He gets this donkey, puts his garments on top, he gets on the donkey, comes down the hill from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem.  Everybody cheers and says hosanna.  We reenact it many times on Palm Sunday; we love it!  I love singing those songs, “Hosanna,” and waving the palm branches.  But, I will tell you, this is pretty uncharacteristic of Jesus, orchestrating a celebration about himself, and that’s why I think it’s a unique time in the ministry of Jesus.  This is coming to that final week and he’s going to reveal something very important about himself.  

The reason I say it’s very uncharacteristic…..well, we can look through the gospel of Mark and it seems like time and time again he’s telling people to be quiet, he’s telling people not to tell others about him.  In Mark 1:34, it says:  ….and he cast out many demons.  But because the demons knew who he was, he did not allow them to speak.    I think that would be some pretty good PR, to have your enemy point out that you are the Son of God, but he didn’t allow them to speak.  It tells us a few verses later that the crowds were so great, they found him and said, “Everyone is looking for you.”  What did Jesus say?  Okay, that means we’ve got to go to another town.  We’d want to stay there where all the crowds were, but Jesus said no, it’s time to go on then. (1:38)  One time he healed a man of leprosy and sent him on this way with a stern warning: “Don’t tell anyone about this.” (1:43)  Don’t spread the word.  Another time when he’s dealing with a demon, an evil spirit — “You are the Son of God!  But Jesus sternly commanded the spirits not to reveal who he was. (3:11)   Probably the one that I think takes the cake is when raises the little girl from the dead — Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell anyone what had happened. (5:43)   

So, this is a change, this is something unique, something uncharacteristic, Jesus is now revealing himself.  Jesus is doing this great reveal.  He sends his two disciples in to find a donkey he can sit on.  The crowds develop around him and they all start screaming and having a great time together. {Puts Triumphal Entry slide up}  It does look a little like Sunday School, I realize, but I wanted to kind of focus on this donkey and this picture.  It said you’re going to find a colt, a foal, which is really a young, young donkey.  The reason I like this picture is it kind of looks awkward to me.  I see Jesus sitting on this little donkey, his feet are maybe a few inches off the ground.  He’s even a little askew on the donkey.  The folks who were in Jerusalem at the time had been overrun by the Romans.  These folks had seen the Romans enter at different times in ceremonies of celebration and victory.  The generals of the Romans never rode a white donkey.  These always rode a white stallion.  They always rode high and mighty.  They always looked down on the people they had conquered.  Here comes Jesus as a king….but he’s coming very humbly.  There’s some verses in Zechariah (9:9) which really speak to this:  Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!  See, your king comes to you; righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  

Sounds like Zechariah sees this picture of Jesus awkwardly coming in.  A king…but coming in in awkward humility.  But as I look at this picture, I know this is Jesus, this is the Son of God, who’s coming in like this.  This is the Son of God who has AWESOME majesty, yet he’s coming in in awkward humility.  This is Jesus who has sovereignty.  Sovereignty over all things.  He created all things….yet he’s coming in in great submission.  This is Jesus who has full authority and ALL power over ALL things….Jesus, the Son of God….yet he’s coming in in total dependence on the Holy Spirit.  What a juxtaposition when we come to worship Jesus.  I think John faced that same kind of juxtaposition when he was weeping (Revelation 5:5-6) — But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, “Stop weeping!  Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory.  He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.”  Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered.  The Lion.  The Lamb.  The King. The donkey.  The majesty.  The humility.  It’s Jesus.  He’s making a great reveal and he’s fitting totally into Zechariah’s prophecy.  

But there’s some other things.  The people were saying — Hosanna!  Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD!  Blessings on the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David!  Hosanna in highest heaven!   

During Palm Sunday I love this!  We wave branches, we say hosanna, and I’ve always seen this as a great word of worship.  Hosanna.  It comes from Psalm 118:25-26.  One of my father-in-law’s favorite verses comes out of this psalm.  This is the day the LORD has made.  We will rejoice and be glad in it.   Kerry said he would say it every morning at breakfast.  She remembers how she’d come in for breakfast and he’d start “This is the day the Lord has made….” and she’d go, “Oh, Dad, I’m so sleepy.”    Let’s look at these verses:  This is the day the LORD has made.  We will rejoice and be glad in it.  Please, LORD, please save us.  Please, LORD, please give us success.  Bless the one who comes in the name of the LORD.  We bless you from the house of the LORD.   Do you see the word hosanna in there?  Well, I’ll tell you it is.  It’s translated here “please save us.”  There’s a desperation.  There’s a hope.  The people are proclaiming he’s the Messiah, but it’s not that kind of victorious worship that we do on Palm Sunday, it’s kind of Lord, we need you.  I wonder if I have that same kind of desperation in my worship.  

When I told you all those things about Jesus holding back the crowds from proclaiming who he was or from pushing him too quickly….four days from now, Jesus is going to be talking to his Father and he’s going to be saying, “Father, the hour has come.”  (John 17:1)  I believe very much that Jesus is making the great reveal that he is the Messiah.  

As Jesus comes into Jerusalem in this victorious parade with these palm branches waving, it has a very interesting little verse that’s added here.   Mark 11:11 — So Jesus came to Jerusalem and went into the Temple.  After looking around carefully at everything, he left because it was late in the afternoon.   This was the time of Passover and I just want to give you a little bit of background of what Jesus was observing when he got off that little donkey and walked into the temple courts.  Let me show you a diagram of Herod’s Temple.  It took Herod about forty years to construct this edifice called the Temple.  There’s the Court of Women where the Israelite women could go in.  Then there was the Court of Israelites where the men could go.  That’s where the altar was, where sacrifices were made.  There was a tall structure which was the Holy Place, that’s where the priests could go in.  There was a large area called the Court of Gentiles or the Court of the Nations.  Josephus who was a Jewish historian tells us that on Passover, many times, the population of Jerusalem would multiply to almost two million people.  Two million people.  That’s a lot of people!  I wondered what Jerusalem’s population was so I looked it up.  At Jesus’s time the population of Jerusalem was about forty thousand.  Can you imagine how many people came crowding in?  

For Passover, these courts would have been filled with all kinds of people.  They were getting ready to offer sacrifices.  Every family that came had to offer a lamb or a dove to cover their sins.  The animals had to be without blemish or marks.  What developed over the years was that the priest had to examine each sacrifice that was brought.  Many of those sacrifices didn’t pass the mustard so they had to have substitute sacrifices for them.  The priests themselves had flocks of sheep available if they wanted to buy a lamb to be able to offer as a sacrifice.  Many times during Passover these courts were filled with stalls of animals.  The shepherds and other animal keepers were there.  Many of the sheep were from Bethlehem, but they would come to Jerusalem (about five miles away) and have these animal sacrifices available for Passover.  If the pilgrim’s lamb was not acceptable, they would have to buy an acceptable lamb.  Many times those prices were four, five, six times more than what a lamb normally cost.  They had to produce the money and then they faced another dilemma.  Most of the time the money was in Roman currency and that wasn’t acceptable in the temple of the Jews.  They had to use Jewish currency, so they had to exchange it.  So you had tables of money exchangers.  They would exchange it at exorbitant rates.  So the pilgrim got taken both ways:  exchanging money so that it was usable, buying animals that cost a lot of money.   Josephus said that one Passover, the estimate the priests gave was that there were 250,000 lambs sacrificed.  If you can imagine all that cacophony going on in those courts.  Someone made the comment:  If you think about Wall Street and our financial floors and how chaotic and confusing those seem, and then you add thousands  of animals to it, you might get an idea of what the Temple may be like.  

It says Jesus looked at everything.  I never spent a lot of time thinking of that, except, I was reading Tim Keller and he started stimulated my thinking to ask the question, “What is the purpose of the Temple and what might Jesus be observing as he’s looking at all these things taking place?”  To tell you the truth, I think He’s thinking back to that first temple.  No, that’s not Solomon’s temple.  Yeah, it was the first one mankind built.  But there was a temple before that.  I believe the first temple was the Garden of Eden, where God, man, and woman had a unity together that we long to have.  That’s what the purpose of the temple is suppose to be, where we connect with God, where we come together with God.  Tim Keller puts it this way:  “The story of the temple starts all the way back in the Garden of Eden.  That primal garden was a sanctuary; it was the place where the presence of God dwelled.  It was a paradise…  In the presence of God there is shalom, absolute flourishing, fulfillment, joy, and bliss.”  I kind of picture Jesus walking through there, thinking back, “Boy, what we had for these people.  What the Father, what the Spirit and I had to offer you, the people, and what you threw away.”  I wonder what might be going through his mind.

In Genesis 3, I read these words.  After Adam and Eve chose a different way and chose not to go in God’s way and not to walk in this unity with God, God had to banish them from the garden.  (Genesis 3:22-24)  And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.  He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.   I’m sure Jesus is looking at that flaming sword.  I’m sure Jesus is remembering how precious it was to walk with his creation, and now he’s seeing this temple and how sad he is to see where it’s come. 

I just want to challenge us with a simple thought:  Remember, the Gospel begins in Genesis 1 & 2.  It does not begin in Genesis 3 where we failed.  It begins with God’s great picture and purpose for us as his creation.  He so much wants to have that unity and that oneness.  Here’s Jesus walking in that temple and seeing what has transpired, what we’ve come up with as far as what a temple should be.  Jesus is remembering back to the original temple, that first temple.

Let me move on to the third event.  We’ve looked at this destructive miracle of the fig tree….interesting.  We’ve looked at this triumphal entry of coming in and people proclaiming “hosanna,” and him fulfilling these Messianic prophecies…riding a donkey, a foal.  Then going in and looking at the Temple and reminiscing about the Garden.  Now we come to what many of us know as ‘The Cleansing of the Temple.’  Let me again set the chronology, because we mixed it up a little bit.  It starts with coming down in the Triumphal Entry, then he takes a look at this temple.  Then the next morning, he’s hungry, the fig tree doesn’t produce any fruit, those mature branches don’t bring the first fruits he’s looking for so he curses it.  Then he goes to Jerusalem and this it what happens.  When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices.  He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace.   

We see Jesus cleansing the Temple.  We see his anger coming out.  He’s overturning all these moneychangers’ tables.  All these animal stalls, he’s cleaning out.  John’s gospel even tells us that he makes a whip and he drives the animals out of the Courts of the Nations.  And then Jesus says these words:  He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”    

A house of prayer for all nations, but you’ve turned it into a den of thieves.  You know, it’s so easy for me to read that and not let it sink in.  As I was working on this passage, it kind of hit me.  In fact, I’ve always looked at it as saying, “My temple is a place of prayer and we’re going to come together and we’re going to pray for all nations.”  That’s the way I always interpreted this passage.  I actually asked Kerry if she looked at these verses the same way—the temple is a place of prayer and we’re suppose to pray for all nations?  Kerry said, “Well, no, it says it’s a place for all nations to be able to pray.”  You know what?  That’s true.  

On the temple grounds was this huge court called the Court of the Nations or the Court of the Gentiles.  It was made for the Gentiles to be able to come and to pray and converse with God.  This challenged me because I wondered, “Man, is there some racism in my bones?”  Yeah, I guess there is.  I kind of have this ‘We/They’ mentality.  I kind of see the Temple as for me to be able to pray for everybody else instead of realizing the Temple’s for everybody else to get together WITH me and we commune with God.  The Temple is not suppose to have anything hindering all of this world coming together.  I have to admit, for me, I want that Temple to open up to what God’s purpose would be.  I bring up another simple little point:  Remember, the Temple is where we connect with God and with all His people.  

I’m sad when I think about Sunday mornings, because I think someone said that Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours of the week.  We kind of worship God with people we like like us.  Instead of coming together with the world before God.  I’m challenged as I think of that temple and I think of what the mess was that Jesus saw and how He cleaned it up and how He overturned those tables.  You know, it wasn’t forty years later that the temple was destroyed, but Jesus did an amazing powerful work and it’s found in 1 Corinthians 3:16 — Don’t you realize that all of you yourselves are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?  {We are the temple.  We are God’s place.  We are the temple of God.}  God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple.  For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.   That’s a challenge to me, folks, because I realize that I’m suppose to be a welcoming person to people that are very different than I am.  

At this point, if we hadn’t had all this stuff with coronavirus, I would probably be making this shameless plug for a seminar we were suppose to have tonight called “Fear, Facts, and Faith.”  This centers on the whole immigrant and refugee situation.  We’re not going to be able to have that tonight, but we’re going to try to have it again sometime.  We’re postponing it until we get through this time in our lives.  But I need to hear about that and I hope you realize you probably do too.  Somehow we have to ask ourselves how do we really make our home?  How do we make South that welcoming place for people that are different than us?  How do we make ourselves, our hearts, welcoming for people that are different than us?  How do we make room for others?  Not just for where we’re comfortable, but maybe where the rubber meets the road and it gets a little uncomfortable.  I’ll leave that with you.  Think about it.  

We’re coming to the end.  Jesus, after overturning those tables, goes back out to Bethany.  The next morning, he and his disciples start coming back towards Jerusalem and we read these verses:  The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up.  Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Rabbi!  The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!”  I kind of picture the disciples and Jesus coming down the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem and here’s this dead fig tree.  Peter brings this up and he’s amazed.  I previously shared a verse from Micah, now let me share a verse from Hosea 9:10-11a  —  The LORD says, “O Israel, when I first found you, it was like finding fresh grapes in the desert.  When I saw your ancestors, it was like seeing the first ripe figs of the season.  But then they deserted me for Baal-peor, giving themselves to that shameful idol.  Soon they became vile, as vile as the god they worshiped.  The glory of Israel will fly away like a bird…”  When I see what Jesus has done to this fig tree and when I see in the context of these verses in the Old Testament, I almost see, wow! here’s this fig tree that looked like it was fruitful, had all kinds of fruit, and when Jesus got there, there was no fruit at all.  The fruit was suppose to appear on the mature branches, the old wood, I guess you call it, and there was nothing so He did away with it.  

Then I saw Him overturning the tables in the Temple.  The Temple that looked like it had so much fruit, that it should be producing so much closeness to God and yet, all it was producing was commerce, so He cleansed it.  I see a parallel and I expect Jesus just to kind of rake the situation that was going on there.  Yet Jesus says:  Have faith in God.  He turns to his disciples and they’re saying, “You destroyed this fig tree.  Wow!  Look at it!  It withered from the ground up.  What a miracle this is!”   And Jesus says, “Have faith in God.”  Then he goes on to say these words:  Have faith in God.  I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, “May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,” and it will happen.  But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart.  I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.  But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.  

It was funny, as we were talking about this passage, we were with some friends, and he shared how when he was a kid, he remembers standing in front of a window and praying that a tree across the yard would move.  He prayed earnestly and prayed earnestly and it never moved.  He’d just read this verse, but he started questioning.  Let me say that this is not a verse about how to become a wonder-worker.  This is a verse to say how do we have faith in God.  How do we have faith in the God who can do wonders?  But how do we have faith in Him who we know will do what is best?  How do we have faith in God?  I wrote down that our faith is not meant to force God to do anything.  No.  Our faith is meant to allow us to surrender to God who can do anything and trust Him.  To trust Him to do what’s best.  

You may say to me, so what’s this bit about the mountain?   Telling the mountain to go jump in the lake.  Here’s the setting:  Jesus coming down the side of the Mount of Olives.  Jesus by that fig tree.  Jesus looking across the valley toward a mount.  It’s called the Temple Mount.  Kerry and I had the opportunity of being in the Holy Land, two years ago, and we saw this Temple Mount.  I can just imagine…it took Herod forty years to build this temple, and part of the reason was he had to build a mountain to be able to put the temple on.  He had to build a mountain so he could make those huge courts.  It took years building these reinforcing walls, filling it with dirt and going higher and higher.  On top, he built the temple.  I see Jesus looking across there, because look what Jesus says:  You can say to THIS mountain, “May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea…”   I almost hear Jesus saying, “You can say to all this religious tradition….you can say to all these rituals and relics….you can say to all these things you put your hope and faith in….go jump in a lake!”  Your faith has to be in God.  When I say that, please don’t misunderstand, I’m not doing away with miracles or anything like that.  I think we have a wonder-working God, but our faith is in Him, not in our faith producing those things.  So another simple little reminder:  Remember, our faith is in the ONLY God who can do anything.  Our faith is only in Him.

As we bring this to a close, I see Jesus, who’s had this great reveal.  He’s set the stage.  He says to his Father, “The hour has come, the time is now.”  I’ll go back to the Garden where this angel is placed with that sword that flamed, that kept people from going back to that Tree of Life.  Ever since that time, people, in order to come into the presence of God, had to basically have something go under that sword.  They had to provide some kind of sacrifice so that they could enter into the presence of God somehow, some way.  Jesus knows he’s coming to be that final, full sacrifice.  He’s going to go under that sword for each and every one of us….and He did!  And in going under that sword, four days from now, being hung up on that cross, going through that excruciating time, separation from God Himself…being the Son of God, He made that way open for us to be able to come in to His presence.  In fact, I would say, He made that way open for us to be able to come to that Tree of Life, because we now have eternal life because of Jesus Christ Himself.  Boy, can you see Jesus, that victorious Messiah, coming down the Mount of Olives on a humble donkey?  Coming in with peace, grace, righteousness, justice, mercy.  And He’s calling each and every one of us to step into this new life that he has created for us, to be able to bring hope and change into this world.  To be able to not fall into the rituals and all the regulations and the hopes of just religious foolishness.  But instead, to walk a life with Him.

I’ll just say in closing, we are in some very unique times.  I can’t remember a time in my life when we’ve had to close public places, where we’re fearful of a virus that could come and we have no idea where it might be.  It would be so easy to fall into that fear.  But I hear those words of Jesus, “Have faith in God.”  Jesus is saying to each and every one of us today, I’ve already taken the sword for you.  Now bring yourself to God Himself.  There’s one little thing he adds on the end of there:   If you’ve got a grudge against somebody, forgive them, so that God can forgive you.  It would be so easy to get caught up in trying to change systems and to be upset at everything, yet Jesus said don’t be upset, try to understand why they’ve gotten to where they’ve gotten.  Instead, take my grace and my peace with you into this world.  I challenge you, don’t live in fear, live in faith.  Live in faith in the amazing God.  Live in faith of the full work of Jesus Christ.  Live in faith of knowing that the Holy Spirit lives within you.  You are his temple.  

Let’s bow our heads.  Father, I thank you for this time.  Lord, I don’t know who’s watching this right now, but, Father, I just ask that you be so real to them.  Lord, may we know your strength and your hope and your power, and Father, may we not sink into fear, but help us instead to stand on faith.  Faith in you, the Hope of Glory.  We love you.  We give you this time.  In the name of Jesus…..Amen.  

 

And Then What Happened? | Mark 11 | Online-only Service2020-08-20T19:03:09-06:00

And Then What Happened? | Mark 10:17-30 | Week 9

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AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED?     Mark 10:17-30    Dr. Scott Wenig   (2nd Service)

{Manuscript–View video for complete content.}  So good to see all of you here today.  If you’ve been with us, you know we’ve been walking our way through the Gospel of Mark.  Starting about the eighth chapter of Mark, Jesus begins to orient himself and his disciples toward Jerusalem, where he’ll eventually end up, in what we call, Holy Week.  Today we’re looking at Mark 10.  At the beginning of Mark 10, there’s an encounter that Jesus has with the Pharisees over the issue of divorce.  After that, a bunch of children come to Jesus and they want to sit with them and the disciples get all upset so he has to correct them.  Let the little kids come to me, because that’s what the kingdom of God is about—accepting Him as a little child does.  Then once again, Jesus points himself toward Jerusalem.  He’s talking about his death and gets everyone freaked out.  James and John come up to him, in a narrative after that, and they make this weird request that when Jesus comes into his kingdom, they want to sit on his right and on his left—they feel entitled. After that, there’s this blind beggar, Bartimaeus, and he asks Jesus to heal him.  Given all of that, what I decided to do today was focus our attention on a narrative right in the middle of that starting with Mark 10:17.  That’s what we’ll look at today.  Jesus has an encounter with a young man that I think, Lord willing, speaks to all of us.  So before we look at that, let me lead us in prayer and then we’ll walk our way through this story.

Lord, you are a great and awesome God, and because of your power, grace, and mercy, you have called us out of that grave, and we thank you for that.  And Lord, because you’re sovereign and you care about your planet and you care about all the people of this planet, we pray today for the removal of the coronavirus.  We pray for government and health officials, that you would give them wisdom and grace, all around the world to get a handle on this.  We pray for our administration.  We pray for local and state officials, that they would be really up to speed.  Lord, we would pray that you would protect us.  Lord, as we think of other issues in the world, other issues in our own lives, we pray that you would come and meet with us.  We pray that you would speak to us.  We pray that you would give us wisdom and guidance.  Lord, as we look into this text today, I ask that you would enlighten our minds, you would touch our hearts, that you would speak to us through your word.  We ask this, Lord, for your glory and for our benefit, and we pray all of this in your powerful name, Jesus.  Amen.

This is Hetty Green.  She lived in a dark, downtrodden, cheap boarding house in New York City at the beginning of the 20th century.  Because of, what she perceived, the high cost of food and energy, each morning for breakfast she would eat cold, dry oatmeal.  A lot of people who saw or knew her called her a witch and didn’t want to be close to her, partly because she wouldn’t pay for soap or buy new clothes.  When her son injured his knee, she didn’t want to take him to a doctor.  Instead, they sat at home for two years and eventually, when his pain became excruciating, she decided to dress him and herself in rags hoping that the doctor would treat her son for free out of pity.  When the doctor found out who she was, he kicked her out and several years later her son’s leg had to be amputated.  Now what’s really interesting is that as a young woman, Hetty Green had inherited 20 million dollars in today’s currency from her parents.  And because of her frugality and her focus on enhancing her wealth, she eventually turned that into 100 million by the time she died in 1916.  She was the richest woman in America – the richest, saddest, loneliest, and poorest woman in America.  I wonder if there are any rich, lonely, and sad Hetty Greens around today in 2020?

Jesus once said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  He was a wandering, itinerant preacher with no home, checkbook or retirement account and only a cross to bear at the end of His earthly life.   But did Jesus live a life filled with purpose and joy?  Well, He must have possessed something magnetic because all kinds of people were attracted to him, not the least a young man who was seeking the kind of life that Jesus exhibited and lived out with the men and women who were his disciples, even though they didn’t have much of what our culture (or even theirs) supposedly has that makes for happiness.  To see who this man was and what happens in his encounter with Jesus let’s look at Mark 10:17-20. As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.  You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”  “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

In the parallel texts in Matthew and Luke, we’re told that his man was young, rich, and a ruler, and so we know him and refer to him as the rich, young ruler.  It seems that he was a person of wealth, power and prestige. In all likelihood he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth; perhaps he inherited the family winery and the business had gone from good to great.  And it’s clear that he was also well-educated in the local synagogue, because as he interacts with Jesus it’s clear that he knows certain portions of God’s Word. But despite his wealth, his education and his upper class culture something was missing; there was a gap in his heart—a yearning for something that life offered beyond the business, the clothes, and the books—so he comes to this rabbi seeking salvation.

Initially, Jesus directs his attention to the commandments and in v. 20 the rich young ruler responds that he’s kept them all since he was a child.  Now, to our ears, that sounds a bit presumptuous, doesn’t it?  From a Bible-believing Protestant perspective—where we emphasize the sinfulness of humanity and our inability to keep God’s commands—we might interpret that statement as either a sign of spiritual pride or a reflection that this guy’s unaware of how spiritually crippled he really is.  But here’s where his interaction with Jesus gets really interesting. Look at v. 21:  Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said.   Jesus doesn’t appear to interpret him as we might; instead Mark says Jesus loved him which means that He felt tremendous affection for this young man.  And because of that affection He tells him that he lacks one thing.  And once again, from our Protestant evangelical perspective, we might be pretty sure that Jesus means that ‘The thing you lack is faith in Me’; or ‘The thing you lack is finding your personal identity in me,’ or ‘The thing you lack is that you’ve never bowed your head and prayed that prayer to invite me into your heart.’  But Jesus says something really different.  Look at v. 21-22.  “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus loved this guy and so He called him to give his money to the poor, to those who could really use it, and then join His apostolic band as one of His disciples.  But the rich, young ruler wouldn’t do it.  He couldn’t let go of his gold!   And what’s so tragic is that Jesus didn’t want his money.  He’s not doing a building program or a capital campaign or looking for a raise—not that those are bad things at all!!   What Jesus wanted was this man’s heart.  He wanted him to become like a child and enter God’s kingdom where there’s joy and fulfillment and purpose and happiness, but the rich, young ruler shook his head, and walked away dejected and sad.  C.S. Lewis once said, “Hell is the place where you get what you want but you’re incapable of wanting what is good.” Instead of following Jesus, this man decided to keep his wealth which he saw as his security, but in reality it was his prison, and in time it became his hell!

Friends, let’s not kid ourselves, that’s what money can do to us, whether we have a lot or just a little, because money has tremendous power in our lives.  Money can motivate people to neglect friends and family, in order to amass a fortune.  It can block out everything else of importance in life. It can cause us to turn away from God and others and live a life of frugal misery, just like Hetty Green.  In fact, money is so powerful that Jesus gave it a personal name.  He called it Mammon, because He understood that it’s a living, driving force in our lives.

Now, if you think that I’m misrepresenting the Scripture or over-stating the case, then let me ask you to consider how we treat money.  Do a little social experiment:  The next time you’re at a friend’s house or at a party and the conversation lags, just say, “Let’s all share how much money we made last year.”  See, how that goes over!  In our society, people will tell each other the most intimate details of their lives, but they’ll never share with you the contents of their checkbook.  Many of you here have heard of Howard Stern, the disc jockey and sometime cable broadcaster, who is well known for his vulgar, crude and, often times, very lewd antics on both radio and TV.  In fact, over the past 25 years, he’s been fined almost $2 million by the FCC for various and sundry violations. Back in 1994, Stern was considering a run as governor of New York, UNTIL he found out that he would be required to issue a public statement disclosing his finances.  At that point he withdrew, because he reasoned that talking about his money was WAY TOO personal to be made public.  Here’s a guy who regularly talks about his sexual behavior in vulgar detail to hundreds of thousands of people, but he won’t talk about money.

The reality is that lots of people aren’t all that different from Howard Stern when it comes to their finances. They’ll fight about it with their spouses, hide it from the kids, fret over it at three in the morning, spend hours and hours planning investment strategies to double it, work lots of overtime to get more of it, and then do anything the can to avoid talking about it in public or with others.  Money has an enormous spiritual power that can come to control us.  That’s why Jesus says what He does in v. 23-24:  Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

One of the things we must remember is that when a biblical author, or in this case the Lord Himself, repeats something, it’s VERY, VERY important because the Hebrews used repetition—like we use bold, CAPS, or underlining, or italicizing—in order to get the readers’ or the listeners’ attention.  Jesus uses repetition and this picture of a camel trying to go through the eye of a needle because He loves us and wants us to know that money can be dangerous to our spiritual and emotional health.  Wealth can give us the illusion that we’re self-sufficient and independent of God.  It has a way of binding us to the physical and temporal, and blinding us to the spiritual and the eternal.  Instead of being a friend that can be used to help ourselves and others, money can become an enemy of God’s best for us that leaves us unhappy, just like Hetty Green and the rich young ruler.

And what’s really scary is that wealth can deceive us into thinking we’re spiritually okay, when in reality we’re on the broad road that leads to destruction.  Here’s a man who thought he was godly, after all he told Jesus had kept the commandments, and yet when Jesus told him to give his money away and become a disciple he said ‘NO!’ and lost out on salvation!  Is it possible that the same thing might be true among some in 21st century America who call themselves Christians?

Let me give us a statistic to ponder.  Twenty-five years ago the average amount of giving to charity in American households under $10,000 a year was 2.8%.   Not exactly a tithe of 10% but not bad considering that $10,000 a year isn’t much money.  You’d think that as income goes up so would giving, but in households with income between $50,000 and $75,000 a year, the average percent was 1.5%, and recent statistics don’t look any more promising even though Americans increased their net worth since 1970s by billions of dollars.  Have millions of people sitting in churches in North America been deceived into thinking that they don’t need to give to their church, or to the poor, or to other ministries and yet still be saved?  Have those of us who call ourselves Christians and live in the most affluent civilization the world’s ever seen been lulled into the false belief that what we do, or don’t do, with our money has zero impact on our relationship with Jesus?   If that’s true then Jesus wants to set us free from that erroneous cultural narrative.  Look at how He interacts with the disciples in v. 26-27 after the rich young ruler leaves.  The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

The disciples were shocked when they heard Jesus say that wealth could be a huge hindrance to the kingdom, because they were part of a culture that believed being rich was a sign of God’s blessing. In fact, Mark says that they were amazed and then even more amazed because from the perspective of 1st century Judaism the amount of money you had was a sign of God’s blessing; the more you had, the more God was blessing you!  So Jesus corrects their misinformed and culturally-conditioned theology by teaching them about the true nature of salvation and eternal life.  He says that no one gets into the kingdom of God by what they do, not even someone like the rich young ruler who said he kept all the commandments.  Our entrance into the kingdom and our enjoyment of life in the kingdom is totally by the GRACE OF GOD.  Jesus went to cross for us and rose from the dead for us and ascended to heaven from where He’ll return, for US.  That’s grace and it simply requires that we receive from God what we can’t do for ourselves.

About four months ago I was on my way to school.  I was driving this way.  I always go through River Point.   I came up to the stop sign and went through it.   I’m turning right onto Santa Fe to go south towards school, and I notice there’s a Littleton police officer behind me.  Except, he’s not just right behind me, he’s on my bumper.  I think, “That’s a little bit weird.”  I pull out on Santa Fe and he is still on my bumper.  I’m thinking, “He’s running my plates.”  He wants to know if there are any outstanding warrants on me.  I’m thinking, “Wait a minute!  I haven’t done anything wrong!  I’ve kept all the commandments!  Why is he tailing me!”  Before I get down to Bowles, he turns the lights on.  I’m thinking, “Busted! But I don’t know for what!  I’m innocent.”  I turn onto Bowles and eventually pull over and stop.  The officer comes up—young guy, big guy, brute guy.  I give him my license and registration and as he looks it over, he says, “Mr. Wenig, do you realize that back there at River Point, you slid right through that stop sign?  You kind of slowed down, but you didn’t stop.”  I said, “You know, officer, I’ll be honest with you, I have a lot on my mind.  If you say I slid through that stop sign, I believe you.”  He says to me, “You’re confessing that you slid through the stop sign?  You’re taking responsibility?”  “Officer, if you told me I did that, I believe you.  I’m taking responsibility.”  He said, “That’s good to hear.  I’m going to let you off.  I’m going to tell you that from now on please stop at the stop signs, but no ticket.  We’ll let it go today.”  HE. GAVE. ME. GRACE.  He had me dead to rights, guilty as charged, I slid through the stop sign.  Yet, he let me off, and all I had to do was receive it.

It’s easy to make this story about Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler all about money, when in reality it’s just as much about God’s grace.  And Jesus’ response to a question Peter poses reinforces this.  Look at v. 28-30.  Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”  “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.  Now, a lot of commentators think Peter was out of line for asking what he and the rest of the disciples were going to get out of their sacrifice to follow Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t seem bothered by that at all.  He responds by telling them that everyone who follows Him will ‘receive a hundred times as much and will receive eternal life.’  The point is that we RECEIVE.  That means that when we genuinely, in our hearts, truly receive God’s grace, that enables us to follow Jesus fully.  When we’re following Jesus fully, we’re going to manage our money wisely.

This is Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf.  Zinzendorf was a rich young German count who grew up in the Lutheran church and went about his life as a nobleman with all the privileges that came with that.  He lived in the early 18th century.   One day, Zinzendorf was touring a museum in the city of Düsseldorf when he came upon a portrait by Feti called “Ecce Homo.” It’s a picture of Christ.  Christ has been beaten and is wearing the crown of thorns on his head.  At the bottom of the painting it says, “I’ve done this you for you; what have you done for me?”  Zinzendorf said later, “I’ve know Him all my life but I’ve never done anything for Him. From now on, I’ll do whatever he tells me.”  So he went home and prayed about it, and the Lord told him to open up his vast estate, called Herrenhut, to a group of Christians known as the Moravians.  Zinzendorf invested and gave his resources and helped these people.  The Moravians became the first Protestant cross-cultural missionaries in Christian history.   Zinzendorf was the rich young ruler who said YES!

See, once we realize that God really loves us and that He’ll provide for us, our whole perspective changes about what it looks like to follow Jesus.  We can enjoy all the blessings of life and God’s kingdom and live with purpose, peace and joy.  And then we can begin to value what God values.  His heart is our heart.   We start to  invest our financial resources in people, and projects, and institutions, and churches, that are about God’s advancement.  When we truly receive God’s grace, it enables us to follow Jesus fully and then manage our money wisely.

One of my favorite writers is Philip Yancey.  A long time ago, he wrote this article in Christianity Today and it’s still the single best essay I’ve ever read.  It’s about the relationship between Christian faith and money.  Yancey was talking about his pilgrimage with money.  In the mid-seventies, he and his wife Janet lived in a depressed area of Chicago.  She was a social worker there and he was a struggling writer.  He said they were kind of living on the edge.  Then he wrote a book called Where’s God When It Hurts?  The book went viral.  It sold thousands and thousands and thousands of copies very quickly, and all of a sudden Philip Yancey, poor writer, is now Philip Yancey, rich young guy.  He got a lot of money really fast.  He wrote more books and got more money.  He said, “Most of my life I haven’t had money and now I have a ton of money.”  In this article, he talks about his pilgrimage of learning to navigate money.  Here’s what he concludes:  “The act of giving best reminds me of my place on earth.  All of us live here by the goodness and grace of God – like the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, Jesus said.  Those creations do not worry about future security and safety; neither should we.  Not even Solomon, the wealthiest man of his time, could outshine a common lily.  Giving offers me a way to express my faith and confidence that God will care for me just as he cares for the sparrow and lily.”  Yancey’s right….If we’ve really received the grace of God, we can follow Jesus fully, and that will enable us to steward our money and give a lot of it away, very wisely.

I’ve been a pastor now for over 40 years, and I’ve learned that whenever you teach on money or giving, everyone gets nervous or defensive.  But I don’t want us to get nervous and I certainly don’t want to make you defensive.  I just want us to receive the abundance of Jesus’ loving grace, follow Him fully, and then steward wisely what He’s entrusted to us, however much that is or however little that may be.

In late 19th century Philadelphia, there was a church that wanted to construct a new building because their Sunday School was so over-crowded. One little girl, Hattie May Wiatt, went to that church and she knew there wasn’t any room for new children, so she began to collect pennies to contribute to the new building.  Tragically, two years later, she died from diphtheria.  Her parents found her purse, a short time later, which had 57 pennies in it and a note saying it was for the new building.  Her parents gave that note to the pastor who used it to make a dramatic appeal to the congregation.  Obviously, people’s hearts were touched and they generously responded.  One realtor gave the church a piece of land and said he wanted a payment of just 57 cents.  The local newspaper picked up that story and it went across the wire-services—like a U-Tube video going viral today —and money flowed in from all across the country.  People were touched by the story and the generosity of Hattie May Wiatt.  Now, in 2020, you can see the results.  That church has a 3300 seat auditorium and tons of space for Sunday school.  And eventually, due to its growth, it helped start Good Samaritan Hospital and Temple University in downtown Philadelphia.  And at Temple University there’s a special room dedicated to the memory of Hattie May Wiatt, the little girl whose 57 cents made such a dramatic impact for Jesus and the spread of His Kingdom.

Friends, you don’t have to be rich, or affluent, or live in Cherry Hills Village to make an impact for the Kingdom.  We all need to just receive God’s grace daily and then follow Jesus fully.  As we do that, we’ll manage our money wisely for the expansion of God’s kingdom, the good of His church, and the blessing of other people. Let’s pray.

Lord, wherever we are at today, I just pray that by your grace and your Spirit you would speak to us and that we would hear.  For our benefit and the good of the kingdom, we ask this in Jesus’s name.  Amen.

And Then What Happened? | Mark 10:17-30 | Week 92020-08-20T19:01:05-06:00

And Then What Happened? | Mark 8:27-9:8 | Week 8

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AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED? — Wait….What??   Mark 8:27-9:8   Pastor Yvonne Biel  (2nd)

It is well with my soul.  Sometimes when I’m singing this song, I want to take that truth and I want to push it, infuse it, into the inward parts of my soul.  Sometimes I also look around and I know those people that are singing it from the overflow of their heart.  You know those people.  The ones who are sitting in the midst of their storm.  Maybe they’ve been diagnosed with cancer and in the midst of treatment, they’re able to have a beautiful smile on their face and say, “It is well with my soul.”  I have some friends who lost a child—a stillborn birth.  They never got to meet their child.  And yet, on their blog and social media posts they said, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Right now, I’m following my sister’s updates on my dad.  Currently he has something in his foot that needs to be removed.  Over the last couple of years, he’s been having eye issues—there’s an amoeba that got stuck in his eye.  Over this last week it started to act up and he’s in extreme pain in both his eyes.  He’s been getting medical help and is sometimes there at midnight.  On his way home, they went to get his car from valet parking and they lost his keys.  Midnight turns to two in the morning and the hospital decides to send them home via Uber.  My sister says that in the middle of the Uber ride home, my dad is telling the driver about Jesus!  In the midst of his pain, he’s still able to say, “It is well with my soul.”  What’s the secret?  How do we get to the place where we are able to have that phrase overflow from our soul?

It’s my privilege today to continue our series on the gospel of Mark.  As we read through the gospel of Mark, it seems like Jesus has a secret too.  It seems he entered a series of wilderness wanderings with forty days—no food, no drink—and he comes out the other side and he’s ready to grab a whole bunch of followers.  It’s like that didn’t even happen.  There are all these people sending rumors about him.  People think he’s demonic or some type of crazy fanatic.  Even the religious and the political leaders are trying to scheme against him.  And yet there’s this calmness, this confidence, that Jesus has.  What’s his secret?  As we open up to Mark 8 today, I think that John Mark, in his gospel, is finally unveiling the secrets.  Today I would love to share with you three secrets of the kingdom of God.  These secrets might be very familiar to you, but my prayer and my hope is that you can receive these secrets of the kingdom and you can allow them to permeate into your soul as an anchor in the times of the storms.  But I’m not trusting my own wisdom to tell you these secrets, I’m going to pray and ask that the Lord and the Spirit of the Living God would help you to receive these secrets and let them become an anchor for your soul.

Let’s pray.  Father God, King Jesus, Holy Spirit, we ask that you would be present with us right now.  As we read your Holy Scriptures and you make the truth real to us, Jesus, may your Spirit sink down these secrets, these mysteries of your kingdom, into the depths of our souls.  May they become anchors for us in the time of storms. I pray this in Jesus’s name and in the power of His Spirit.  Amen.

A few month’s back, I was hanging out with my two little nephews.  A four- and a five-year-old.  They live in Colorado Springs.  They are both learning the ways of the world and the ways of secret telling.  My four-year-old nephew David was really enjoying this.  He jumped up on my lap and gets really close into my ear—so close where they’re tickling the hair on your ear lobs and you can hardly hear what they’re saying.  David says, “Aunt Yvonne, I want to tell you a secret.”  He says, “Do like candy?”  “Yeah, David, I like candy.”   He says, “I’m going to tell you another secret.  Do you like coffee?”  “I love coffee, how did you know?”

As I was preparing for this message, I felt like the Lord reminded me that sometimes His secrets come in the form of a question.  Sometimes he lets us discover the secrets by just probing and asking.  We’re going to see several questions today.  Open your Bibles to Mark 8:27.  Here we have Jesus walking on the road with his disciples.  They’re in the middle of the earthly kingdoms.  Here they’re walking in Caesarea Philippi.  This is a place where Philip the Great went back and reestablished this place to be a place of the kingdom of the world.  It was like Rome wanted to show how amazing they were.  He made a little Caesarea and he dominated and wanted everyone to know that this was the center of the kingdoms of this world.

And in the middle of this kingdom of the world, a place that Rome had its fingerprint, Jesus started whispering his questions, whispered his secrets.  On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”   The secret revolves around “Who do you say that I am?”  If Jesus were to whisper that to you, I’m wondering how you might answer him.  In the reading of the gospel of Mark, we should know who Jesus is.  That’s actually not a secret to us.  Mark 1:1 says:  The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”   He comes right out of the gate and says this is Jesus, He’s Messiah, he’s the Christos, the Anointed One, the One who is to come.  We should know who Jesus is when we come to this question.

As you can see by the way the disciples answer him, there are lots of rumors around of who Jesus is.  The crowds have rumors; they’re saying, “This guy is pretty cool!  He’ll heal you.  Maybe we should check it out.”  They’re trying to figure out where his power and authority come from.  The rumors are spreading and they’re trying to figure it out.  Even the political leaders and the religious leaders are trying to figure it out.  They don’t know who He is.  They don’t know where His power is coming from.  Many are accusing him of having demonic powers.  A couple weeks ago, Josh talked about even Jesus’s family hadn’t a clue.  He wasn’t even received in his hometown.  And now his disciples don’t have a clue either.  Earlier, in verses 17-19……Do you still not see or understand?  Are your hearts hardened?  Do you haves eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?  And don’t you remember? (v 21) Do you still not understand?  They’re suppose to understand the secret, but they don’t get it.

Jesus takes it a step further and says okay, that’s who people say I am, but he turns to his disciples and says:  “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”  Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”    Hooray!  He finally gets it!  The mystery is revealed.  Peter, one of the disciples, finally gets it!  We’ve reached this point in the middle, in the hinge passage in the gospel of Mark where they get it.  Jesus says, “That’s not the only part of my secret.  There’s more.”  It’s not just that Jesus is Savior, or the Anointed One come to save, but he begins to speak to them plainly it says:   then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.  He spoke plainly about this.

THIS is the secret:  Jesus is the suffering Savior.  Maybe you need to hear that today.  That’s a seed of the secret of the kingdom of God.  That Jesus is not the kind of God that comes blaring and blasting in and says, “You need to believe me.  You need to do XYZ.  You need to follow the rules and somehow make your way to figure out how to be good enough to reach me.”  Instead, Jesus WILLINGLY, voluntarily, comes and says, “I’m going to come to you.”  I’m going to suffer, be rejected.  I’m going to experience the pain and the agony, the suffering, the grief.  Maybe your soul needs to be reminded of that secret today.

Sometimes we don’t want to resonate with a Suffering Savior.  Imagine if you were in a dire situation (an accident) and somebody comes to save you, to help you, to rescue you, and they come bloody, and beaten, and frail, pierced.  Does that look like someone who could save?  I don’t know if I’d have a whole lot of confidence if my EMT has a bloody nose and is keeling over and suffering himself.

This was difficult for Peter as well.  With his Jewish lens, he didn’t want to receive a Suffering Savior.  In fact, that was very unexpected.  When Jesus was talking that the kingdom was near and that he was going to reestablish himself, Peter’s like yeah, I’m in!  Let’s reestablish this kingdom.  Let’s set up our power and authority and let’s take back what is good!  Let’s set the prisoners and captives free and the oppressed.  Let’s make and set up a new kingdom.  He didn’t want to hear that Jesus was coming to suffer.  Of course, he responds very adamantly.  Peter took aside and began to rebuke him.    This is a very strong word.  He’s correcting Jesus.  Saying that’s not a true secret.  No, no, no, no, no.  This word rebuke is ‘to forbid.’  No, I forbid you from saying that you’re going to suffer.  No, you’re the King of kings.  You’re the Messiah.  That doesn’t make any sense.  Wait!  What???

How often in our lives do we want to do the same thing to Jesus.  When our lives are going on and we hit a moment and we think, “Wait….what???”  You want my story to include WHAT??  Maybe it’s a health diagnosis that you never saw coming, and Jesus changes your story.  Maybe it’s difficulty in your relationship and it’s a divorce that you’re looking at.  Maybe it’s those places that you don’t want to go, like finances.  Maybe your life has taken a transition and it’s not gone the way you expected it to go.  Or even in your journey with God and you’re hitting a wall and He’s silent for you, and you think, “Wait….what?? No, I forbid it!  I don’t want this in my life!”  I think sometimes our rebuke comes in the form of anger or frustration.  Sometimes it comes in the form of resistance—No way, Jesus, I’m not going there.  Sometimes it comes in avoidance.

I think sometimes we do the exact same thing like Peter does and we want to say, “No, Jesus, this isn’t my story.”   We start to listen to a different kind of whisper.  A whisper that says, “Did God really say that you have to go through this?”  Did God REALLY say that this is going to be your new story.  That whisper started a long time before this moment.  Because that whisper originates from the pit of hell.  Satan himself is the one who said, “Did God really say not to eat of the tree?”  That whisper has been over and over in many of our stories.  I think this was what Peter was whispering and Jesus saw straight through it.  John Mark says it this way:  But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter.  “Get behind me, Satan!” he said.  “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  Peter is listening to the lie of the enemy and in this moment, Jesus pulls back the curtain and says THIS is a war, and it is not between Jesus and Peter.  It is a war between Jesus and Satan.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12) 

In this moment as Jesus turns to Peter, Jesus is calling him out.   I love how Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn puts it:  “The battle line between good and evil runs through the heart of every human.”  Peter has just gotten it right.  He said, “Jesus, you’re the Messiah.  I get it!  We’re in!  I’m going to follow you!”  Then he says, “No way!  I’m not going to follow you.  Did God really say you had to suffer?  No way!”  He is tangled in between his story of good and evil.  I think this is where we often stand.  Sometimes when Jesus turns to us and he shows us and reveals to us those places that we’re listening to the whispers of the evil one, we think, “That’s painful! Ouch! That helps.”  Maybe, just maybe, Jesus wants us to be released from those places that we’re believing the lies.  It’s not that we’re a victim of Jesus’s confrontation, but it’s that we are a participant in his life.

Jesus keeps going on because he wants people to understand what this invitation is, the invitation from the Suffering Savior.  So he not only grabs his disciples, he grabs the crowds.  This is so important that he wants more people to know.    called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple {Whoever wants to participate in this journey and even in the struggle.} must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”    This is the cornerstone of discipleship.  Volumes have been written on this, and I am not going to be bold enough to speak much about it, but I do think that some of us need to hear that the secret invitation from the Suffering Savior is to voluntarily surrender in solidarity with Jesus.

This invitation is a voluntary action.  That means that we are free to decide that we can surrender.  That’s like the most free thing that we can do….that we get to volunteer ourselves and say yes to God.  The type of yes that Jesus wants and is inviting is a yes to surrender.  It’s like bowing down before a king and we have no idea what he’s going to do to us, and if we bow down our head, he just might slice off our head.  Or we can trust that he’s good and that he will bless us for surrendering to him.  This invitation is solidarity.  I love this word because it’s ‘union.’  It’s we’re in this together.  Union with Jesus, the Suffering Savior.  So we voluntarily surrender in solidarity with Jesus.

Sometimes this also doesn’t resonate with us and we really want to push back on this type of full life, voluntary surrender.  That’s because we’re in the middle of the tension between good and evil.  Jesus’s heart is so for us in this instance.  Where he says if you want to actually save your life, you’ll lose it.  If you’ll lose your life, you’ll save it.  He wants to give us hope in this, but sometimes we wrestle with what this really means.  On top of that, in our Christian world, sometimes we misapply what Jesus means by this.  Have you ever heard someone say that they’re denying themselves, and they say, “I don’t want to be selfish by asking people for what I need.”  Maybe you’ve heard somebody say, “Well, I don’t really want to be prideful and put my gifts out there.”  I think those are ways we’ve misapplied denying ourselves.  Jesus never said that we’re to deny the goodness inside of us.  He has created us in his image—We are fearfully and wonderfully made.  We have a God-given calling.  It says in Ephesians 2:10 that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.  If Jesus were to deny the goodness in Him and His God-given calling, we would never have the cross.  So we don’t deny ourselves anything that is good, we actually offer ourselves.  That’s part of it.  It’s not sacrifice out of ‘I want you to pity me….oh, I’m denying myself.’  Or to get accolades or self-advancement.  Sometimes we do that; we think we’re following Jesus, but it’s really about us.  It’s about me feeling like a good Christian.

No.  Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, and even he, as Creator of the universe, said, “This is tough. Can you just take this away?”  God, I don’t want to go through with this suffering.  In his flesh, he was crying out, but he said, “Not my will, but yours be done.”  This is denying self.  It’s saying, “It’s not my way.  It’s your way, God.”  And your way is to deny the tangle of the evil within me.  If I deny that—the sin that so easily entangles me—I can set it aside and run and flourish in the way of Jesus.  If I deny that I’m shortsighted.  I’m only human and I have a limited capacity.  I need to trust in God and align with his ways.  I need to say, “God, I don’t know the full picture, but you do.”  I can deny that I know the way.  It’s a voluntary, self sacrifice.  This word deny is kind of self-forgetfulness or forgetting.  It’s like whatever is in front of me is so much more important than my thing and my self that I’m almost forgetting myself so that I can move toward what is good and love a God who loves me.

I think we do the same thing when it comes to this metaphor of taking up our cross.  We deny ourselves and let something go in order to take up the cross.  Sometimes we do the same thing with this metaphor of the cross, because we look on Jesus and we see that this is a heavy weight, it’s a burden.  It’s a hardship.  He’s suffering.  He’s going through total rejection and pain and agony.  Sometimes we think that our burden needs to feel like pain and agony, and it needs to feel like condemnation.  Sometimes, for the reason of being good Christians and good disciples of Jesus, we get weighed down by shame and hardship, and the enemy’s lies of condemnation.  That is not what Jesus says.  In Romans 8:1, it says:  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  The carrying of our cross should not be the type of weight that oppresses.  Jesus was obeying his Father and he was obeying with the strength of the Spirit within him.

Taking up our cross is not suffering under condemnation.  It’s also not taking up somebody else’s burden.  How often do we do that?  We think,  “Oh, this is life.  This is hard.  I’m going to be a good Christian and help you carry your burden,” but then it starts to push us down.  Sometimes I think we carry burdens that are not ours to carry.  Not that we don’t carry other people’s burdens, I think we do, but sometimes it’s not what God’s called us to take up.  Sometimes we make that kind of hardship an excuse to not do what God is really asking us to do.

I have a dear friend, who I worked with on the mission field, who was going through a period where she was under this kind of weight, and shame, and pain, and oppression.  She said it was her cross to carry.  She started reading The Voices of the Martyrs and she was finding solace and solidarity with them.  What she really needed to do was deny her fear that she might have something chemically wrong in her body.  She was so afraid by being embarrassed by having her story be one of mental illness that she continued to hold under the weight of the pain, instead of denying the things that were inside of her that stopped her from saying, “Yes, God, I will embrace a new story.  It might be embarrassing and difficult, but I will take that up for you and your kingdom.”

I can’t tell you what you need to deny and what you need to take up, because it’s different in everyone’s story.  Of course we want to deny those things—the sin that easily entangles us—and we need to choose the way of Jesus.  Sometimes we’re in situations where two people are in the exact situation and it’s different for them.  They may be in a situation where the work environment is not fulfilling, not satisfying and they don’t know what to do.  One person may need to stop fearing that God won’t provide if they step out and step into their calling.  Maybe you need to trust that he will provide financially and He will carry you even though you don’t know what’s ahead.  The other person might need to die to their unforgiveness, their struggles with their boss.  Maybe they need to sharpen their character as they love the people in their working environment.  God will turn that around to have them be a witness within their workplace.

So for everyone of you I can’t tell you what you need to deny and what you need to take up, but I can tell you that the secret of the Jesus way is to endure this kind of hardship with purpose.  Suffering with hope.  Using Jesus’s strength to sustain you as you obey his call to voluntarily surrender in solidarity with Him.  Maybe you need to hear today that you need to re-up your commitment to surrender your life, to give it up freely to the Lord.  Oftentimes, right before Easter, we take part in a journey called Lent.  This is a good way to actually strengthen our solidarity with Him, to recommit to voluntarily give our lives to Him, by setting aside some things that we’re intentionally denying in order that we might take up the banner of Christ yet again.

We know there are people throughout church history who have done this very thing.  They’ve denied themselves and taken up their cross, even to the point of their death.  I think about the Apostle Paul as he’s saying, “I count it all joy to take up my cross, to endure hardship and pain.”  I was reading The Seeds of the Martyrs last week and these two women stood out to me—-Perpetua and Felicity.  They had just given birth.  Even though they could have chosen saving their babies and raising them and being wonderful mothers, they said, “Yes, I am a Christian,” and were sentenced to the stadium where they were attacked by wild boars and speared to death by gladiators, in the name of Christ.  We have this happening all over our world, whether it’s a Columbine shooting, execution in the Middle East, or globally, believers who are saying, “Yes, I believe,” and becoming martyred.  That word means to witness for the sake of the gospel.  How in the world do you get that kind of resolve to fully surrender, voluntarily surrender, even to the point of death?

I wondered, “Jesus, why are you making me talk about suffering?”  I can look out and see that many of you have experienced and walked some heavy roads.  I’m thinking, “How do I get that kind of resolve to walk like the people here at South and those that have gone before me?”  I think, “Yes, it is voluntary surrender to the way of Jesus, but there’s another secret that if we miss we might just crush under the weight of condemnation.”  That secret is that there is glory on the other side of our pain.  John Mark does not stop with you just need to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.  He keeps going as we see as we begin Mark 9 — After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone.  There he was transfigured before them.  His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.  And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.   {This interaction of the heavenly realms coming to the earth.}  (verse 7) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to him!”  Jesus showed off his glory.  This was not the end, it was a promise of what was to come.  A promise that there would be a hope of glory on the other said.  I love how Paul says it, that Christ in us is the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)  This is one of the secrets that maybe today your heart needs to be reminded of.  Glory is on the other side of the pain.  The pain is temporary and the glory will be eternal.  THIS is what we look forward to, and this is why we’re willing to voluntarily surrender our lives because THAT is the way that we save our souls.  We can’t gain anything in this world, whether it is power and wealth, or influence….none of that will save our soul, but trusting that these secrets and mysteries of the kingdom will ground us, will anchor us, in the time of storm.

One of the best practices we can do as believers and followers of Jesus is to be strengthened by the practice of communion.  This is a practice where we’re claiming in our hearts and receiving elements (bread and juice) in our bodies and saying, “Jesus, we want these mysteries of the kingdom to become so integrated inside of us, just like bread and juice, that they might flow out of us.”  I think this practice of communion would be a practice that can remind us of the solidarity that we have with Jesus.  As you come and receive these elements, maybe you’re receiving the fact that Jesus is the Suffering Savior, that He’s close to the brokenhearted because he knows your pain.  Maybe the secret you need to treasure as you receive communion is that this is a recommitment to voluntarily give up and surrender our whole lives in solidarity with Jesus, knowing that we’re doing it with Him, not alone.  Maybe you need to be reminded that there’s glory on the other side of the pain, and that you can go through this pain knowing that it is temporary and that glory is what Jesus bought for you.  He victoriously rose from the dead to purchase that victory so that you can say, “It is well with my soul.”

{Communion commences}

And Then What Happened? | Mark 8:27-9:8 | Week 82020-08-20T19:00:03-06:00

And Then What Happened? | Mark 7 | Week 7

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AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED?   Mark 7   Pastor Larry Boatright     (2nd Service)

{Manuscript—View video for complete content.}  Ladies, I have something I need to tell those of you who are currently in a relationship or hope to be in a relationship with a handsome fella. It might be hard to hear, but I need you to hear it:  MEN ARE GROSS SOMETIMES!!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been eating at a restaurant and need to go to the restroom.  So I go in and do my business, and then wash my hands.

And I can’t tell you how many times someone was in the urinal next to me, and while I washed my hands,  they finished their business, flushed, walked towards the sink, and walked right passed it, and grabbed the door handle and went back to their table.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been washing my hands when I hear a toilet flush, the stall door opens—and you know what happens in the stall—and I see a man walk out of the stall toward the sink, only to walk right passed it, and go to the door and HEAD BACK TO THE TABLE!!!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to follow him out of the restroom to his table and tell his lady, “HE DIDN’T WASH HIS HANDS!!” I mean, you deserve to know, right??  I was telling a friend about this the other day, and she said, “It’s not just guys, plenty of women do that too.”

Now let me ask you a question: does not washing your hands after using the restroom and then eating somehow make you a bad person unworthy of God’s love?  It might make you sick, but Jesus definitely still loves you… although I’m sure he would be a big fan of you washing your hands before you eat!  Turn in your Bibles to Mark 7.   Today we’re going to see a story where a group of people have a huge amount of rules they follow in order to keep themselves acceptable and pure before God, including rules around hand washing and dinner, and, in the process, they miss God completely.  If we’re honest, all of us have taken on certain practices and rules and behaviors to feel like we measure up.  If we’re really honest, chances are those things don’t make us feel closer to God at all, in fact, often, they leave us empty and exhausted.

We’ve been in a series called And Then What Happened?  We’ve been going a chapter or so at a time through the Gospel of Mark, studying the life of Jesus.  Our hope has been to learn more about: Who Jesus is, what Jesus does, and what Jesus invites us into.  Really, we want to see how Jesus shows us the heart of God by His teaching, His character and His actions, and we want to let that inform how we think and act as we seek to live in His way, with His heart.

In this series, we’ve seen a lot of pretty incredible things so far.  Jesus has healed lots of people of all kinds of things.  He’s cast out impure spirits/demons. He’s frequently challenged the religious establishment.  He calls His disciples and trains them as they journeyed together.  In Mark 6, we see that Jesus feeds the multitudes.  Jesus travels all over, preaching the good news, including going to places good religious folk would never go.

And so, as Jesus travels, he’s teaching and healing and casting out impure spirits, and large crowds begin to form.  By the time we get to Mark 7, Jesus is a bit like a modern day celebrity, in that he drew a crowd everywhere he went and he struggled to get away for some peace and quiet.  His reputation precedes him.  People hear about him, they see him, they see what he does, and by the end of Mark 6, people were so convinced he was a healer that they were bringing their friends to him.  They didn’t even have the expectation that he must ‘say something’ to heal, they thought, “If we could just take our friend to him and touch his garment, we’ll be healed.”  That’s pretty impressive, isn’t it?

The bottom line is that we see Him bringing God’s goodness everywhere He went.  As Jesus’ popularity with the common people increased and crowds grew, the Pharisees and teachers of the law became increasingly agitated and confronted Him regularly.  And as we’ve seen earlier in the book of Mark, there’s a pattern here where the Pharisees confront Jesus because He or His disciples didn’t behave in a way they deemed appropriate.  He didn’t interpret the law the way that they did.  And Jesus, instead of being intimidated by that, leverages it as an opportunity to teach the proper way to think about subject X.  He also demonstrates God’s heart for the people.  He didn’t just talk about God’s heart, he didn’t just quote Scriptures, he didn’t just give rules and regulations, He demonstrated the heart of God.

Mark 7 starts with Pharisees and teachers of the law coming down from Jerusalem to once again observe Jesus, looking for faults.  I’m imagining they went into the restroom to wash, and they noticed Jesus’ disciples using the bathroom and not washing their hands, and then returning to the table.  And unlike me, who never followed someone to the table, they went to the table of Jesus and essentially said, “Why don’t your disciples follow the rules we have established instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”  See, the law dictated that priests must follow a very specific set of rules to come before God and be considered clean and pure.  As you might know, God had tasked Israel with being a light in the world, and tasked them with representing God well as a pure and holy nation. As you might also know, Israel had a rather checkered past, and frequently drifted from God’s best for them.  And so a few centuries before this encounter with Jesus, a group of religious leaders thought, “If doing all of these rules made the priests pure and holy before God, why don’t we have everyone follow all of these rules so we can ensure the nation is pure and holy before God!”  In addition, they came up with hundreds of other rules that would help them to do what God asked them to do.  Listen, in some ways, I can understand that—let’s put guardrails in place, parameters to ensure we walk in a way worthy of being called God’s own.  It’s like having a rule that says, “Thou shalt not lust after a woman.”  A good rule, indeed, but then adding ten other rules about how to walk and what angle your eyes should be, and then adding rules to women about how they should dress and so on and so forth, in order to prevent you from breaking God’s law.

You can see a clear picture of this even today by going to some parts of the Middle East.  And if you’ve ever been a part of a legalistic tradition, you know all of the additional rules can be impossible to keep up with, and can actually keep you from connecting with the God you so desperately want to and need to connect with.

So the Pharisees challenge Jesus about His disciples, not because of the disciples’ hygiene, but because the disciples didn’t ceremoniously wash their hands.  They didn’t follow the man-made rules in the way the Pharisees deemed acceptable.  Get the picture?  Let’s pick it up in v 6:  He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:  “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’  You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”    Ouch!  That would not be fun to hear, right?

He called them hypocrites.  They’re actors, mask-wearers.  They put on the illusion of having it all-together, doing all the right things.  We see stories in the Scriptures of people standing on the street corners and loudly praying and giving their money as a tithe and all these sorts of things to externally look really good.  Maybe some of them legitimately thought the things that were doing caused them to be pure.  But Jesus said that their hearts were far from Him.  He said their worship was in vain and their teaching was merely human rules.  I can only imagine how much that must have agitated the Pharisees and teachers of the law!

Jesus goes on to give an example of how they would claim money they should give to their parents they actually intended to give to God, so they wouldn’t have to take care of their parents, and justify it as if it were God’s law.  Jesus reminded them of the command to honor your father and mother.  He said, “You created these rules as a way to get out of following the words of God himself.”  Why was Jesus so worked up about this?  I want you to pay close attention, because I think you can be so focused on following rules and regulations that make you appear to be pure before God and completely miss having a real relationship with God.  That’s kind of scary. But you can do all the right things—you can go to church all the time, you can go to all the Bible studies, you can pray the prayers and do all that stuff.  It reminds of the Scriptures where people said, “Lord, we cast out demons in your name.  We healed in your name.”  And Jesus said that’s really nice and all, but we never hung out.  I didn’t even know you.  The thing is, living in a system like that ALWAYS puts yourself and sometimes others in bondage and dehumanizes people, but worst of all, completely misses the HEART of GOD.

I know so many people who have focused on sin avoidance in their lives.  They’re like I don’t have a problem with X so I’m going to do everything I can to walk away from that.  Their lives are a series of don’ts—I’m not going to do this, I’m not going to do this, I’m not going to do this.   I’ve said this before: Don’t drink, don’t dance, don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t hang out with those who do.  Then it’s a life that’s a slave to what not to do.  It’s one thing to say all the right things, to do all the right things, to do your best to live in the way of Jesus, but as Rodney Pennington pointed out so helpfully a few months ago, you can do all these things to emulate living in the way of Jesus, but you can’t fake living with the heart of Jesus.

The Pharisees taught a faith of rules and regulations—you just do this and measure up, you do this and stay pure—and so they confronted Jesus about why His disciples didn’t live by all of those rules.  And so, Jesus called them out on it and reframed the message for the crowd and then his disciples in a way that shaped an understanding of rules that surrendered to a relationship with the Savior.  See, the Pharisees wanted a faith that was clean, that avoided dirt and being associated with the wrong kind of people, so they avoided people, they avoided going to places where people they considered dirty were, they weren’t willing to get dirty in order to help people have a relationship with God.  And so, in their system, God’s heart for human contact was completely lost.  I think it’s important that we know that in God’s economy, relationship is greater than rules.  The Scriptures point us to a relationship with God, but when we add all these peripheral things to it, rules become more important than relationship.

The Pharisees believed that external things defiled them—that is, kept them from being pure before God—so they engaged in a religious system that focused on avoidance.  But Jesus flipped that thinking on its head.  Look at v 14:  Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.  Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

This was completely against what the Pharisees taught with all of their extra rules.  They thought if they just avoided coming into contact with unclean things, they would remain clean.  But Jesus said no, no, no. You have all of these rules and avoid all of these things, but your HEARTS are unclean—dead as a doornail.  At one point, he called them whitewashed tombs—you look good on the outside but the inside still smells like death.  He said it was what comes out of the heart that makes someone defiled.

Verse 20 — He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. {Then he gives a list of what defiles us.  The external things that are happening as a result of a corrupt heart.} For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”  Imagine living a life filled with rules trying to appear as good, pure people, and then this man gives this list of things (things the Pharisees would have wanted to avoid), and points out the fact that they come from the HEART—the core of a person, the inside, the seat of emotions, NOT from external things.  Now I know what you’re thinking, “Can’t external things impact your heart? The way you think?”  Absolutely. Some of us are so focused though on AVOIDING what we let in that we strip our lives of real human interaction, of meeting people where they are in fear others will corrupt us. Here’s what I want us to know: A corrupt heart is a heart that isn’t fully surrendered to the lordship of Jesus. I’m not talking there’s a gun to your head, you must surrender.  I’m talking about understanding who Jesus is and what he does and what he invites us to prompts a surrender.  It’s not a ‘you must surrender,’ although we should, it’s because of who Jesus is and because of what he does….    Surrender is an inevitable by-product of following whole-heartedly after Jesus.

Years ago in my early 20s, I was a good little Baptist boy and was doing lots of things trying to put my name out for the kingdom.  The thing is I was in a system that gave us a lot of rules.  I was very convicted about that because I constantly heard sermons about what not to do.  I thought, “You can’t listen to secular music.  You can’t watch R-rated movies.  You can’t go to Disney.”   I had these secular CD’s I really liked, but I felt so convicted that I thought, “I MUST get rid of these things.”  I had this plan that my buddy and I were going to go down this country road and get rid of the devil—these secular CD’s that were going to defile me.  We threw the CD’s on the road and shattered them….not thinking about the fact that in my effort to run to Jesus, I was littering all over the countryside.   But, within a couple of weeks, I was going, “I really like Nirvana,” so I’d go to Walmart and buy the CD all over again.  And go through that cycle and litter again in an effort to purge my life.  Fast forward three or four years—I ended up going on staff at a church where this guy listened to secular music by pagans such as U2 and Cold Play and the Beatles.  He sometimes watched R-rated movies and every now and then he had a beer.   For me, good little Baptist boy trying to please the Lord, I’m going, “Holy cow, you can’t be doing that and walk with Jesus.”  What confounded my brain was that he seemed to love Jesus way more than I did.  He was deeply connected to the Spirit of God.  That was a big turning point in my life.  I thought, “This doesn’t compute because I’m doing all the rules and I don’t feel I’m connected to God, and here’s this person who’s doing these things I was told I was not allowed to do and he’s connecting with God deeply.”  He’s an amazing person.

Listen.  Hear me, I’m not advocating for you to go break all of the rules.  The Apostle Paul told us that although we CAN do lots of things, it doesn’t mean we SHOULD.  Remember, the Isaiah passage Jesus quotes said the people did all of the right things, but their hearts were far from God.  Jesus is showing us by his words that we can play the part, we can go through the motions, but our hearts absolutely can be far from God.  This is the contrast we see between Jesus and the Pharisees.  I love that we see in the beginning of the chapter who Jesus is and what he does and so much about the heart of God.  I would be shocked if when we took an honest look at our lives, that most of us in here didn’t fall victim to that other way of thinking at some point in our life.

The list of things he gave that came out of a defiled heart, I would guess that most of us could spot one, two or three things on that list that come up on a regular basis.  If so, consider that maybe, just maybe, you have a heart that’s not fully surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus.  That’s the whole issue… you can externally look good, but still have a heart that is far from God.

How do we make sure we have a heart that is fully surrendered to the heart of Jesus? I think Paul, in Galatians 5, kind of gives the answer.  Paul’s a theological rockstar and in verse 16 of Galatians 5, he says:   So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.   The flesh seeks outward approval…seeks to look right, to say the right things.

And Paul gives a list of acts of the flesh—the corrupt heart—that look very similar to the list Jesus gave.  But Paul also goes on to say that if we’re led by the spirit, we’re not under the law.  And then he explains what it looks like to be clean from the inside out—to live a life surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus.  Look at what He says in Galatians 5 starting in verse 22—But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  There are laws against ‘don’t do this and don’t do this’ and there are man-made laws, but against THOSE things, there is no law.  It’s like eating your vegetables—eat as many as you can stand.  It’s not bad for you, do it.  Against love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, all of that, there is no law.   And in verse 25, Paul tells us to keep in step with the Spirit.  That’s how we have a heart that’s surrendered to Him, that’s fully His.  If we do that, the Spirit will produce that fruit.  If you’re asking yourself, “Am I connected to the Lord?” well, the question you probably should be asking is “Do I see the fruit of the Spirit in my life?”  If you don’t, there’s probably parts of your heart you have yet to surrender to the lordship of Jesus.

So the Pharisees contended that being unclean came from external things, but Jesus showed that a life of doing the right things and avoiding the wrong things apart from being connected to the Spirit of God is what defiled.

So Jesus confronted their thinking and corrected it, teaching about the heart of God, but as Jesus does time and time again, He then demonstrated what He was talking about.

Then the story shifts a bit; Jesus left and went north to get away, up to a place called Tyre, which was a city way up on the Mediterranean Sea coast.  I have to tell you what, after all the snow we’ve had, the Mediterranean Sea (or any kind of ocean with a beach) sounds heavenly, doesn’t it?  Here’s the thing….Tyre was well known as a pagan area, not a God-following area, and definitely an area Pharisees wouldn’t be caught in.  Why? You guessed it, because they didn’t want to become unclean by stepping on such ungodly soil.  I think it’s really interesting that Mark, after taking us through the first narrative in this chapter, has Jesus going right into a place that was unclean.  He goes into a house to get away, but he was known in that area.  He had been there before and healed lots of people and cast out impure spirits.  So a woman boldly comes to the house who was a gentile (Syrophoenician).   She so strongly believes Jesus can heal that she persists in asking him to cast an impure spirit out of her daughter (who’s not even there) and Jesus relents and does it.  What we’re learning here is that

Jesus shows us the heart of God.  He goes to an area most people wouldn’t go, and serves someone most people wouldn’t serve.  And as we see time and time again, He responds to the faith of this woman by restoring her daughter to wholeness.

But what I want to do with the rest of our time is to look at the last account in Mark 7, which I think is an absolutely beautiful contrast to the Pharisees and their way of thinking at the beginning of the chapter. And here, I think we see an incredible picture of the heart of God on display which really shows us what his teaching from earlier really means.  Verse 31 — Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.  I don’t want you to miss this….Jesus went to the Decapolis, the region of the ten cities southeast of Tyre.  Yet He took a really circuitous route to get there, because he went up to Sidon, which was on the coast another twenty miles or so north of Tyre, before He went down to the Decapolis?   Why did he take that route?  I don’t know.  He most definitely went through an area that the Pharisees believed was unclean, filled with Gentiles.   Maybe it was a foreshadowing of what Paul says is the mystery of the Gospel:  that the gentiles were also recipients of the Gospel and not just the Jews.  Jesus is going and healing people and bringing wholeness to people that the Pharisees thought were ‘out,’ us versus them.  In versus out.  Jesus is modeling that he’s for everyone.  To the point that this woman comes to him, who is gentile, and he uses this illustration about the dogs and the children.  But this woman says, “I understand that Israel is suppose to receive the gospel first and then the rest of us, but I tell you what, I’m okay just getting scraps, because at least the dogs under the table get to eat at the same time as the children do.”  She was relentless.  He marveled at her faith and he healed her daughter.

He goes up through Sidon and then southeastward  to the Sea of Galilee, and here is the most beautiful part of the chapter, in my eyes:  There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.   The Pharisees had dead hearts, think about it.  God gave rules to help them stay pure.  They made up additional rules to help them stay pure.  God came in the flesh to them and didn’t abide by their rules.  They judged God harshly for not abiding by their rules.  Again, they were so focused on rules that they missed God Incarnate right in front of their eyes.  Yet these people in this area—the gentiles, unclean—had seen with their eyes and heard with their ears exactly what the Pharisees did, and yet they had faith.  If we can honestly take a look at who Jesus is and what He does, surrender of our hearts is easy because it’s a natural overflow of seeing Jesus for who He is.

Imagine having friends who loved you so much, or even were just people so full of faith that they would bring you to the feet of Jesus.  See, they so believed Jesus could heal, that they brought this man to Jesus. The man had become deaf, and he had a speech impediment so severe he couldn’t be understood.  Imagine what a low quality of life that man must have felt.  Imagine how people might have treated him.  Imagine being frowned at, yelled at, maybe hit, mistreated, a host of other things.  That man would have been labeled and blamed by the religious establishment—his sin, maybe his parent’s sin, had caused this.  The Pharisees would NEVER touch a man like this.  Yet the story becomes very intimate here, and we get such a marvelous glimpse of the heart of the Jesus we seek to be like.   After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue.   

The man is pushed through the crowds, his friends are taking him to Jesus, but Jesus could have spoken a word and healed this man.   But no, no, no, no, something different happens, something incredible happens.  Do not miss this!  This is the heart of the story.   Notice, Jesus ‘took him aside.’  I would bet that man had been taken aside many times for being in the way, taunted, teased, etc.   Yet in a deeply personal demonstration of who Jesus is and therefore, who God is and what God is like, he takes the man aside.  This verse has gripped me for weeks.  Thank God we have a Savior who is deeply personal, who pulls us aside, who meets us in our infirmities, who isn’t just out there, and cold, and distant, and judging, and who, unlike the Pharisees, gets dirty on our behalf.  Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears.  He spit and touched the man’s tongue—spit on spit— deeply personal and intimate.  This was the epitome of doing something that, if you followed the Pharisee’s way of thinking, would make someone unclean.   But for Jesus, it was deeply, deeply personal.   For us as spectators, 2000 years later, it’s deeply, deeply beautiful.

Verse 34 — He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”).  At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.  Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.  People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”    Jesus is in a gentile area, getting dirty, sharing spit, and I love how it says, “With a deep sigh.”  If you notice Jesus healing, quite often he expresses some kind of emotion.  It’s as if he is feeling the weight of the broken world we live in, feeling grief that his people are hurting so badly, so broken.

There were lots of so-called “magicians” who did all sorts of incantations in that area, made-up words to conjure up some kind of experience.  I believe Jesus demonstrated surrender to God here, but the transliteration of the word Ephphatha, a real word that means ‘be opened,’ wasn’t just made up words like the magicians.  I think this is Mark’s way of showing this was a real word uttered by a real God leading to a real healing.

No doubt, readers of Mark’s gospel would think of the words in Isaiah 35:3-5 —  Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution, he will come to save you.”  Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 
Hundreds of years before Jesus came, Isaiah shows us what the kingdom of God looks like.  He shows us Jesus’s divine agenda.  Then Jesus shows up on the scene and goes to the most unlikely of places and heals the most unlikely of persons, exactly as it says it Isaiah 35:5.  The crowd seemed very surprised and delighted that Jesus healed him. This is such a beautiful  picture of the heart of God. Jesus pulled him aside—out of the crowd.  He could have just spoke a word or they could have just touched his garment.  No, Jesus got down and dirty with this guy.  He touched him, he spit, he shared saliva.  Touch was so important because the man couldn’t hear words of healing.  His friends brought him to the Savior and Jesus went beyond words to touch and beyond that to deeply personal, deep intimacy in sharing his saliva.

In Mark 7 we see this crazy contrast where the first part is the Pharisees with their rules and regulations, trying to help them look pure, to appear to be righteous.  I’ve been thinking of words that describe the encounter with the Pharisees:  Rules.  Regulations.  Oppression.  Stress.  Emptiness.  Bondage.  Corrupt Hearts.  I don’t know about you, but I feel stressed just looking at those words.  That’s the way of man-made rules and regulations.  That does not reflect the heart of the Father.  But I’ve also spent time thinking of words that describe Jesus’ encounter with this man.  So, the way of the Pharisees and the way of Jesus.  Ear.  Tongue.  Dirt.  Spit. Touch. Intimacy.  Compassion.  Freedom.  Look at those words.  They’re very earthy, aren’t they?  They’re very human.  They’re very relational.  Remember, earlier I said relationship is greater than rules, and Jesus modeled this so incredibly well.  I guess the question I would ask is which set of words more closely resonates with the type of king and God that you want to serve?

I’d like you to listen to me….if you’re here this morning and you believe that you’re unlovable, that what you’ve done keeps God at bay, that you’re not worthy of the love and affection of Jesus, you need to know that Jesus, just like he did in going to Tyre and Sidon and down to the Decapolis, goes out of his way to meet you. He is ready and willing to forgive you, to meet with you, and so much more.  If you’re here this morning and you’re trapped in trying to do all kinds of things to “measure up” and you realize your heart isn’t with Him.  Maybe you’ve gone through all the motions, but you realize your heart isn’t fully surrendered to the lordship of Jesus.

You just need to know that you can simply run to the heart of the Father and let go of those things, and just have a real relationship with the One who spoke all things into existence.

You might be here this morning and you have a friend or a spouse or a family member that desperately needs an encounter with Jesus.  Maybe their heart is hardened, maybe their heart is broken, maybe they’ve given up asking Jesus to bring them freedom.  The Scriptures over and over honor the faith of those who bring their friends to Christ.  I just want to say whether that’s your spouse or friend or family member, DO NOT GIVE UP!!  I plead with you!  Continue to bring them to the feet of Jesus, and like that Syrophoenician woman, go to the arms of God and say, “I beg you for the table scraps on behalf of my friend!”  DON’T GIVE UP.

And finally, you might be here this morning and desperately need Jesus to heal you and set you free.  Jesus still heals today.  This isn’t just some account we read in lifeless pages made from wood.  This is the story of the Living God intersecting with humanity and He still intersects with humanity TODAY!  You might be here and you need to be set free, whether it’s something physical, or it’s a broken marriage or a relationship, or patterns of thinking you can’t seem to get free from, or you can’t seem to walk away from emotional bondage.  I want you to know that myself and our elders would count it all joy to pray that Jesus would meet you in your brokenness and ask Him to free you and heal you.  I don’t know how he chooses to do that.  Sometimes it’s instant and miraculous, or through the work of a doctor or a therapist, or whatever His good plan is.

The last thing we see in Mark 7 is that the people marveled at what they saw and said, “He does all things well.”

The Pharisees judged things that people didn’t do well. They tried to do things well, according to their tradition, but their heart was not in step with the Spirit.  But rest assured, Jesus does all things well.  Listen, Jesus does all things well. He shows us what God is like well.  He goes beyond man-made boundaries and expectations to come to us.  He pulls us aside and meets us where we are. He shows us exactly what He wants His Kingdom to look like.  People moving back to wholeness.  Relationships being moved back to wholeness, and ultimately, all of creation achieving shalom.  And humans living out the fruit of the Spirit:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  That is the way of Jesus and Jesus gets what He wants.

And I have no doubt that He is here, He is in charge, that this kingdom is breaking forth in this room, in this moment, and in this city that God has strategically placed us in, and around the world.  In all of creation the kingdom of God is breaking forth.  We get to be on board for the ride.

So my question is this:  What is Jesus asking you for?  Your money? Your Time? Your attention? Maybe.

But most importantly, He wants your heart, fully surrendered to Him.  All that other stuff will come.  Listen, surrender isn’t forcing you to do this thing, it’s a response to who Jesus is and what He does.  So remember,

it’s out of the heart that we connect with God, and it’s out of the heart in step with the Spirit that leads to transformation.

As we sing, would you bow your hearts before God, ask the Spirit of God to show you if any part of your heart isn’t fully surrendered to Jesus, and give it over to Jesus?

And Then What Happened? | Mark 7 | Week 72020-08-20T18:58:31-06:00

And Then What Happened? | Mark 6:1-11 | Week 6

TRANSCRIPT

AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED?  Mark 6:1-11  Pastor Josh Suddath  {1st Service}

{Manuscript—View video for complete content.}  On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had been invited to the wedding also.  When the wine was gone, Jesus mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Dear woman, why do you involve me,” Jesus replied, “my hour has not yet come.”  Jesus mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you to do.”  Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water;” so they filled them to the brim.  Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”  They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned to wine.  He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who drew it out knew.  Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have all had to much to drink, but you have saved the best until now.”  This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee.  He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in Him.  (John 2:1-11)

I love this account in John’s gospel for two reasons.  First for what it says about Mary and her strength.  Mary was a young woman when she had Jesus, but she isn’t young anymore.  And like many of you in this room who have had children, Mary’s word to Jesus is, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it.”  She knows the power he holds.  And when Jesus balks at his mother’s request for more wine, Mary forces the hand of God.

Secondly, I love this account for what it says about the servants. Given the opportunity to hear the voice of God, to do what He told them to do, and then to know where the wine came from. When they bring the wine to the master of the banquet, the text says, the master did not know where it had come from, but the servants who drew it out, they knew.  This was first of the Spirit’s public demonstrations of Jesus miracle working power.

And as we continue our series in Mark 6, a quick note about what we will cover today.  We’re only going to look at Mark 6:1-11. If you want, by all means, go ahead and read the other three stories in this chapter.  Let me sum them up for you.  Two of them involve a platter—one holding five loaves and two fish by which Jesus feeds five thousand, and the other holding the head of John the Baptist, by which an angry woman feeds her pride.  And then Jesus walks on water.

In Mark 6, we find Jesus returning to the place where he was raised, Nazareth, for the first time since his earthly ministry has started.  Nazareth is eight miles from where the wedding at Cana took place.  That’s from here to the Hogback.  When Jesus returned to Nazareth, it must’ve been midweek, because the text seems to indicate that there are a few days before the Sabbath came, which is Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown.  When the Sabbath comes, and people are off of work and going to the synagogue, when crowds would’ve been present, Jesus begins to teach.

And we can notice from the nature of the questions that follow, that something felt different to the people gathered.  “Where did this man get these things?” they asked.  “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?”   Whether Jesus had made any small demonstrations there, or whether the wind had blown far enough that the Nazarenes had heard of Jesus miracles in other cities—we aren’t told what was said or what was done—but we’re told people recognized it as wisdom and remarkable and they were amazed.  And they recognized him right off the bat.   Isn’t this the carpenter?  Those were the hands of a blue-collared teenager from their town.  The hands that had fixed some of their stables and maybe even built a few of their dinner tables.

As they think back to Jesus’s teenaged years, they become a little bit agitated that this kid from their town would now speak to them with authority.  Several of them were probably much more thoroughly trained than He was, so they begin to mock him.  As they begin to mock him, they were faced with a dilemma.  They couldn’t seem to easily bring to mind a time when he screwed up as a teenager.  Nothing that every hurt anybody at least.  There wasn’t much to poke at.  So they do what anyone does who has no ammo—they went after his mom.  Isn’t this Mary’s son?  Certainly we’re told the full story with Mary, of the immaculate conception, and the virgin birth, but this text and others in scripture seem to indicate that people in that day either didn’t know or didn’t believe that part of the story.   They saw Jesus as the son of Joseph and Mary.  And they don’t even mention Joseph.  So this is an underhanded dig at Mary and at Jesus.  “Aren’t you the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?  Aren’t your sisters right here?   They’re all pretty normal human beings.  What makes you any different?”  And Jesus, knowing their hearts, responds, not with thunder from heaven, but with a universal truth that pierces the hearts of the people gathered, and might just pierce ours.   A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives, and in his own home. 

 

And you and I wonder how in the world they could be so blind, deaf, and rude? This was the son of God they mocked.   And yet we’ve done the very same things him.   We’re the hometown.   Corporately and individually, we become inoculated by our culture and we’ve lost our sense of anticipation of seeing the Spirit work.  We’re the master of the banquet who doesn’t know where the wine has come from.  Or maybe we’re so drunk that we fail to see the Spirit moving.   Maybe that’s why the scriptures say don’t get drunk on wine, but rather be filled with the Spirit.  And when we mock Jesus in this way, we also often mock the ones in whom His spirit resides,   sometimes the people closest to us.

When was the last time someone close to you went away for a while?  Maybe for a year, maybe off to college, maybe just a mission trip or a retreat.  Here’s what may have happened.  They came home, and in the first few days of being home, they did something, or said something remarkable….something unexpected and something that proved some significant spiritual growth.  And you mocked them.  You didn’t do it intentionally.  It’s your default.  You’ve seen them screw it up so royally that when you see the Spirit do something amazing in them, at best you question it, and at worst you fail to see it altogether. We dismiss it and without knowing just what we’ve done, we’ve simultaneously preached a false gospel to our loved ones and we’ve given the enemy a foothold.

I know a young man who went away to college and this very thing happened.  God did something radical in him.  He came back and he looked different.  He had a zeal for Jesus that I hadn’t seen before.  He wanted to share with me some scriptures he was learning and excited about.  This was at the beginning of Christmas break.  And then what happened?  He hung out with his old friends from high school and some of his extended family members, and this zeal for Jesus wasn’t met with the same kind of encouragement that he had hoped for.  I saw the young man after Christmas break and he looked like he’d just gotten out of the ring.  He said, “I just don’t know what happened.”  He shared that the enemy had had a hey-day over his life over that break.

A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.  Sometimes without knowing it, the gospel that we’ve preached to those people we love the most is ‘something like that could never come from someone who’s screwed it up like you have.’  We’ve said to those closest to us, God chooses to use the strong things of the world, the ones who have it together, the pure, the wise, and the polished people.

And God says to us,  “I chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  I chose the lowly things of things and the despised things and the things that are not to nullify the things that are.”  Because if it was the other way around we’d beat our chests and show everyone the number on our jerseys, but if it’s this way, our only recourse is worship.  The next time the Spirit shows his work, show your worship.  When you see Him working, or moving, or speaking in someone you love, encourage it, pour gasoline on that fire.   Paul says it like this to the church in Thessalonica:  Don’t put out the Spirit’s fire.  Don’t treat prophecies with contempt, but test them all; hold on to what is good, rejecting all that is evil. (1 Thess. 5:19-21) 

In one of my favorite Jerry Seinfeld stand-up routines, he impersonates the flight attendant who stands at the barrier between first class and economy and gives you that look.  “If only you had worked a little harder.”

At first glance, this seems to be what Jesus is doing to his hometown of Nazareth.  The text says:  He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  I think the verse, in and of itself, is kind of funny.  He couldn’t do any miracles there, except the ones he did.  This begs the question, could He do miracles there?  I bet half the people in this room would say, “Absolutely, He’s the Sovereign God of the universe.  He can do whatever he wants.”  He’s not limited by human beings.  The other half of this room might say, “No, the text said he couldn’t do any miracles there, so that must be what it means.  He was limited in some capacity, obviously.”  I wonder if it might not be a little bit of both.  Maybe he is limited but not by what we see in this verse.  Maybe he’s not limited just because of their lack of faith.  Maybe God’s limited in this moment with his hometown because He’s so committed to his character and to the unraveling of his kingdom, that when He’s presented with this moment of the lack of faith of the people He knows the best—He came to that which was his own and his own didn’t receive him.  He loves them so much that he withholds the full measure of his blessing and his healing in that moment because he knows he has something better for them.  Sometimes what looks to us like the judgment of God is actually his mercy.  So often we want mercy in the giving from God, but we get mercy in the withholding.  In Nazareth, Jesus withholds the full measure of his healings, and miracles in his hometown because knows it’s these “things” that the people are fixated on.  In a place where people are failing to see WHO it is behind the WHAT.  They proved it with their questions in the beginning of this text:  Where did this man get these things?    So, by withholding the full measure of his gifts, he’s giving Nazareth a chance to wrestle with the person they’ve just encountered.  That’s mercy. I wonder this morning, what is it that God is withholding from your life right now?  The thing that’s just eating away at you, and that He would have you wrestle with himself.

So Jesus’s time in Nazareth comes to an end and he moves on from village to village, meanwhile calling twelve disciples to himself, gives them authority and sends them out to do what he’s doing.   These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.  Wear sandals but not an extra shirt.  Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.  And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”  

While this seems like a list of directives to his disciples, Jesus is not giving a list of rules that will cause their mission to fail if broken.  He’s not giving a mandate that should be followed by all future missionaries.  He’s not calling all of his followers to a life of poverty.  He’s making a statement about his kingdom.  He’s using language that would’ve made his disciples scratch their heads and think, “Where have I heard that before?”   That’s right—the stories from Egypt.  Exodus 12:11 when God is instructing his people on how to observe the very first Passover meal in Egypt.  These were the directions.  This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand.  Eat it in haste.  Because the Israelites were about to go on a journey to a new land, new hope, and new life.  By using this language in Mark 6, Jesus is telling his disciples, “I’m inviting you and giving you authority and power to invite the people around you on a new kind of exodus.  A new journey into a new land with new life and new bread to eat…..and it’s me.”   In John 6:33, Jesus says:  For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

“Sir,”  they said, “always give us this bread!”  Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never go hungry.”   And in that moment, the Jews who were with Jesus did the same thing that the people in Nazareth did…they began to mock him.   Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he say, I came down from heaven?  All too often all we can see is humanity, when Jesus is showing us heaven.

Mark’s message is the same as John’s—God’s Spirit is at work, but there are some of you who just don’t see.  Quick note to those of you who may be in here this morning and you’re struggling to see or hear Jesus……get out.  I’m totally kidding!  Isn’t that what you hear from the church pretty often?  We see and you don’t; we know and you don’t; we get it and you don’t so if you’re not there, just get out.  Jesus would warn us to be careful if you think you stand, lest you fall.  The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know and right now you only see dimly through a glass.  There’s nobody sitting in this room that sees clearly.  If you’re here and you’re struggling to see God and hear from Him….lean in!  Ask.  Seek.  Knock.  Cry.  Get mad.  To be balanced, if you’re a person who’s pushing against the goads and you’ll have nothing to do with it, the truth should’ve been reaching out to you and they’ve been  extending their hand for a while.  Maybe you’ve taken what they give you because things are fun, but you don’t want to listen to anything else, don’t be surprised if the church moves on.  At least for a season.  Because there’s something in this passage from Jesus that seems to say to his disciples that if no one’s going to listen to you or welcome you, shake the dust from your feet and move on.  In other words, if it starts to rust, shake the dust!   If God is working in you and through you, don’t let the blindness and deafness of others slow you down.

Jesus’s statement to his disciples may have been part euphemism, but he may have actually wanted them to literally do it.  He may have been reminding them that the feet of those who bring the good news are actually quite beautiful.  Don’t miss the irony that Jesus chooses one of the ugliest parts about us to remind us how beautiful we are.

Jesus’s words to the servants at the wedding are his words to us.  Just fill the jars with water.  You’re the jar.  He’s the water.  And when we do, people around us will begin to ask the same questions they asked of Jesus,

“Where do these people get these things?”  You and I then have the opportunity to tell them where the wine came from.  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God, and not from us.

One of these precious jars of clay, a friend of my family, passed away this week.  She was, as I observed from afar, a woman who lived a life expecting her Jesus to move and expecting him to speak.  Her name was Robin.  Robin lived 50+ years with down syndrome.  Somewhere along the line Robin developed a friendship with Joni Erickson-Tada through Joni’s work with the disabled community in her Joni and Friends summer camps.   The story goes that one of Joni Erickson Tada’s representatives called Robin after a few years of Robin attending their camps as a camper.  “Robin, we have an exciting opportunity for you.  This year we’d like you to be a counselor at Joni and Friends and lead other campers.  Is that something you’d like to do?”  The representative heard no immediate response.  Instead she recalled hearing the phone set down on the table on the other end of the line.  Then, in the background, she heard Robins’ voice, “Jesus, do you want me to be a counselor at Joni and Friends this summer?”  Then a pause. Then this.  “Sounds good, Jesus.”  And she picked up the phone and said “Jesus told me I’m in.”  Robin was a servant who knew where the wine came from.

Let’s pray.  Heavenly Father, I love that song—we came here with nothing, but all that you’ve given us, Jesus, bring new wine out of us.  Lord, we need you.  Fill us with your water.  In Christ’s name.  Amen.

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And Then What Happened? | Mark 4 | Week 4

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AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED?: How to Hear a Who   Mark 4   Pastor Dan Elliott  (1st)

We are in this series going through the Gospel of Mark.  Today we’re taking chapter 4, which is the longest chapter so far (about 40 some verses).  I’m going to ask you to read the first eleven verses with me.  Again Jesus began to teach by the lake.  The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge.  He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said:  “Listen!  A farmer went out to sow his seed.  As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil.  It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain.  Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”  Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”  When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables.  He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you.  But to those on the outside everything is said in parables.”  

We’re going to take a look at parables today.  I was going to call this “The Perplexing Problem of Parables.”  Instead we’re calling it “How to Hear a Who.”  Let’s bow our heads.  Our dear Heavenly Father, what a great God you are!  Lord, I’ve loved singing these songs that focused in on you.  Jesus, because you’re alive, we’re alive today with hope, with future, with eternity in mind.  How great is that?!   Lord, open our eyes, open our ears.  Join us together, make your word come alive.  Would your Spirit teach us now.  I praise you, in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

When I read through this chapter there were some things about the kingdom of God that seemed to jump out, and that Jesus was illustrating as he told these parables.  But there was one principle that jumped out pretty strong.  It was one of my favorite principles growing up.  When I was a kid, I lived about a quarter mile from the library in our little town of Hancock, New York.  I would come home with three or four books and usually there was at least one that was Dr. Seuss.  One of my favorite characters was Horton the Elephant.  The book was titled “Horton Hears a Who.”   Horton hears some sounds when he’s out.  On the 15th of May, in the Jungle of Nool, in the heat of the day, in the cool of the pool, he was splashing, enjoying the jungle’s great joys, when Horton the Elephant heard a small noise. So Horton stopped splashing.  He looked towards the sound.  “That’s  funny,” thought Horton. “There’s no one around.”  Then he heard it again!  Just a very faint yelp, as if some tiny person were calling for help.  “I’ll help you,” said Horton, “but who are you? Where?”  He looked and he looked.  He could see nothing there, but a small speck of dust blowing past through the air.  “I say,” murmured Horton, “I’ve never heard tell of a small speck of dust that is able to yell.  So you know what I think?  I think that there must be someone on top of that small speck of dust.  Some sort of creature of a very small size, too small to be seen by an elephant’s eyes.  Some poor little person who’s shaking with fear that he’ll blow in this pool, he has no way to steer.  I’ll just have to save him, because after all, a person’s a person no matter how small.”  So gently, and using the greatest of care, the elephant stretched his great trunk through the air, and he lifted the dust speck and carried it over and placed it down safe on a very soft clover.    The rest of the story is how Horton tries to help these people on that small speck of dust.  He discovered they actually live in a little town called “Who-ville.”  He meets the mayor who says, “My town is called “Who”-ville, for I am a “Who.” and we “Whos” are all thankful and grateful to you.  And Horton called back to the mayor of the town, “You’re safe now, don’t worry, I won’t put you down.”    But of course, there’s challenges that come.  Horton hears the Whos, but nobody else does, and they think Horton’s nuts.  Because he’s walking around holding this little clover very carefully.  Pretty soon the animals around him try to figure out ways to sabotage, figure out ways to make him let it go.  Finally…..“Believe me,” said Horton, “I tell you sincerely, my ears are quite keen and I heard him quite clearly.  I know there’s a person down there.  And what’s more, quite likely there’s two even three, maybe four.” 

Like I said, I’d go to the library every week and get two or three books and there was always a Dr. Seuss book.  Dr. Seuss was one of my heroes.  Dr. Seuss’s real name was Theodore Geisel.  I was surprised when I read his life’s story.  During World War II, Theodore Geisel drew about 400 political cartoons.  When I saw some of the cartoons, I was shocked.  They were very racist and hateful towards the Japanese people.   So much so, that some of the newspapers that published the cartoons received angry letters from parents asking them not to publish them because they didn’t want their kids to see them.  After the war was over, in 1953, Theodore Geisel/Dr. Seuss was hired by Life Magazine to go to Japan.  He was asked to write an article on the post-war efforts and how it was helping the Japanese children.  He went to Japan with a Japanese and went from school to school to school.  He asked every child to draw what they wanted to be in the future.  During that trip, Theodore Geisel was changed as he heard what these children were saying, as he saw the dreams that they had for the future.  He realized, “These kids aren’t any different than mine.  And the parents of these children aren’t any different than I am.”   He came home and wrote the article, but he also sat down and wrote “Horton Hears a Who.”  A person’s a person no matter how small.   I love that theme that goes all throughout the book:  “Should I put this speck down?” Horton thought with alarm. “If I do these small persons may come to great harm.  I can’t put it down!  I won’t, after all, a person’s a person no matter how small.” 

That’s a great theme.  And it’s a theme we find throughout the kingdom of God.  Everybody’s made in the image of God.  A person’s a person.  Everyone we are to love and to reach out to.  But that’s not the theme I want you to get from Horton this morning.  I want you to get this theme:  “Believe me,” said Horton, “I tell you sincerely, my ears are quite keen and I heard him quite clearly.  I know there’s a person down there and what’s more, quite likely there’s two even three, maybe four.”    My ears are quite keen and I heard him quite clearly.  My hope today is one of the principles we’re going to hear about the kingdom of God is we’ve got to start listening.  With keen ears.  With Horton-like ears.

I think of the parable we just read. It was book-ended with these words:  He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: Listen!   And the ninth verse, at the end of this parable, said:  Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”    The same word is used three times:  listen/hear.  It’s the Greek word “akouo.”   You can almost hear the word ‘acoustic’ coming through it, which means ‘fine tune’ or even ‘tune in.’  The word akouo means ‘listen, because this needs careful thought.’   What Jesus is saying when he’s telling this parable is listen to this, because I want you to give some practical application, I want you to think about this.  I want you to enter into this.

When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables.   What exactly were they asking?  Did they want to know what the parable meant?  Did they want to know why he was using parables?  In a parallel passage in Matthew, it said they asked, “Why did you use parables and what did they mean?”  I think they’re asking something more.  If you go back to what Aaron preached last week and you go back to Mark 3, there’s a couple pictures that hit you.  One is there was so many people, such a large crowd, that Jesus said to his disciples, “Hey, let’s get a boat and I’ll get in it and you go out a little way from shore so I can teach from it, so I won’t get pressed by the crowd.”  He’s doing the same thing here…..it said he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake.  So there were large numbers of people.

Secondly, we see there was opposition rising.  In chapter 3 there were the Pharisees, there were the Herodians, there were others coming.  It tells us in three different places.  One said they were coming to see something they could accuse Jesus of (Mark 3:2).  In verse 6, it said they were coming to kill Jesus.  They were trying to stop his ministry.  Toward the end of the chapter (3:22), they were accusing him of being of Satan.

When I hear the disciples asking him about the parables, I hear them saying, “Jesus, why did you tell a story about a farmer?  Good grief, you’ve got big crowds here.  What a chance to teach them what you’ve been teaching.  Furthermore, now those people are scratching their heads wondering what you meant by that! You’ve got the big-wigs from Jerusalem coming.  What an opportunity to be able to teach your truth and be able to change their minds.  Now all they think is you’re nuts!  You had an opportunity and what do but tell them a story about a farmer throwing out some seed!”  Then Jesus says to them…..and I’ve got to say that this is one of the more puzzling verses—definitely in chapter 4 and maybe even in Mark’s gospel.   He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you.  But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'”

There’s a couple of things in those verses that stopped me in my tracks.  One of those is ‘the secret’ thing, and the other thing is the quote from Isaiah 6:9-10.  It’s after Isaiah had been commissioned and had his great vision and the angel put a piece of coal on his lips.  Then he’s given this charge which Jesus repeats here:  ….ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!   It almost sounds like Jesus wants to be cryptic so that he doesn’t have to forgive these people.  That doesn’t sound like the Jesus I know.

I mentioned parallel passages and Matthew’s gospel has a little longer explanation that we’re going to look at.  Some of you may be wondering what I mean by parallel passages.  There’s four gospels in the beginning of the New Testament:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Each one of them written by those individuals.  They’re all about the life of Christ and they all give a little bit of flavor from their personality as they’re sharing about the life of Jesus Christ.  Sometimes you read it and it follows together and sometimes you read it and there’s some different slants on how they viewed what was happening.  Matthew shares this parable of the farmer or the parable of the sower, and the disciples asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”  Jesus answers in Matthew 13:14-15  —  In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:  ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.’  For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.  Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.   In that I hear a little different tone than what I heard in Mark.  Yes, Mark quotes some of this, but not all of this.

I remember when Larry started us off on this study of Mark and he referred to Mark’s gospel as the ADD gospel, as a gospel that flits from this story to the next story to the next story, then the next story.  And it flies!  So sometimes in Mark’s gospel things are kind of compressed, but in the other gospels things are expanded.  I see Matthew expanding this and giving you more of the feeling.  I feel Jesus saying, “Oh man, if only these people opened their eyes, I’d heal them, but they’ve closed them.  If only they’d open their ears, but they’ve stopped them up.”  Notice what he says at the very end (Matt. 13:16) — But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.   Commentator William Barclay takes this passage and interprets it like this:  “When Jesus said this, he didn’t say it in anger or irritation or bitterness or exasperation, no, he said it with the wistful longing of frustrated love.  The poignant sorrow of the man who had a tremendous gift to give, which people were too blind to take.”  I think that’s what’s going on here when Jesus uses those words that sound a little harsh to us.

He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you.  But to those on the outside everything is said in parables.”   So that brings me to the secret of God.  What is the secret of God?  One of my favorite verses….actually my life verse…..which I took after seminary and said I want this to be the verse that defines my ministry throughout my life.  It’s Colossians 2:2-3  —  My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.   The secret of the kingdom of God is Jesus, is Jesus Christ.   Here’s Jesus, and I can believe is that these disciples have been given a little bit of an insight to realize that Jesus is unique.  He’s the one we’re going to follow when he called us to follow Him.  Jesus has the answer, and so, when Jesus tells some kind of a story about someone spreading seeds, they’re curious and they want to know why.  When those people who are against Jesus, who say they have to stop him any way possible, hear him telling a story about a farmer throwing seeds around, they’re saying, “Well, why do we have to waste our time with him?  He’s lost this crowd if he’s going to talk like that.”  It kind of keeps the opposition away, and it kind of draws the curiosity of a people who have received this inclination that there’s more to Jesus than we see.  Yeah, they had this secret, but they didn’t have all the answers.

When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables.  This brings us to the first kingdom principle that I see in this passage.  The principle is we need to listen, we need to be curious, we need to ask questions.  We need to listen intently with Horton-like ears that can hear what other people aren’t hearing.  We need to be curious and question.  Kerry and I are going to get flown back to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where I started my ministry.  I was able to plant a church called Lancaster Evangelical Free Church.  What amazes me is it’s still going today!  We’re going back for their fortieth anniversary.  I’m looking forward to seeing the changes, but it’s caused me to reflect a lot.  Especially as I come to this principle of listening, being curious, and asking questions.  I think of those years I was in Lancaster.  I was totally bent on giving them great answers.  Stop the questions.  Give you satisfactory reasons why this is.  I never taught those people how to question.  In fact, I’m not sure that I knew.  I’m not sure that I was comfortable in questioning what I was taught.  It wasn’t until I started to question that I began to deepen and understand more.

I’ve told you about ‘The Guys Must Be Crazy’ on Friday mornings.  I love it, because we read a passage of Scripture and then the way we start is “Okay, what bugs you?”  It’s terrific to hear the conversation that happens and the teaching that takes place around that circle of men.  Listen.  Be curious.  Ask questions.

We just had Family Promise here.  I had a great experience during a Friday night I was there.  As coordinator, I just make sure nothing goes wrong.  I was sitting in the kitchen and I could hear the commotion of all the kids playing in the room next door.  Everything else seemed to be quiet.  One of the dad’s came in, got a drink, sat down, and said, “Hey, can I ask you a question?”  I said, “Sure, ask me a question.”  He said, “Doesn’t it take a man with a woman to have a kid?”  “Yeah, I pretty much agree with that.  Sure.”  He said, “That’s what throws me off.  I just don’t understand this Mary bit and how she could have Jesus without Joseph.”  “Oh, that’s where you’re going.”   We had a great time for about forty-five minutes.  He had one question after another after another.  What I began to realize is that many of my answers came back as “I can’t fully explain this to you,”  but I know that as I’ve stepped into this circle where I say ‘Yeah, Jesus is unique, Jesus is the Son of God,’ it helps me understand the virgin birth and why we need it.  It helps me understand the crucifixion and why Jesus went through it.  It helps me understand that yes, He conquered death.  All of this centers around Jesus.  I love the fact that he was curious.   I believe that Jesus liked the fact the disciples came to Him and said, “Okay, tell us about this story.  Explain this story to us.”

They’ve been told the secret.  Let me tell you, the secret’s out.  The secret’s out and everyone here knows that secret.  One, I just told you.  But you knew it anyway.  Right after Jesus explains a little bit more about this parable, He says these words (v. 21-25) —  Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed?  Instead, don’t you put it on its stand?  For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.  If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.   I believe he’s telling his disciples the day’s going to come when this secret that you know is going to be out in the open.  And my goodness, we’ve got it written right in front of us.  It’s out in the open.  That doesn’t mean we keep it to ourselves, not at all.  It means that when we go and share with other people, they might say, “Aaah, you’re talking about that Jesus who was born by virgin birth.”  It gets the conversation going.  Listen.  Listen.

We come to these parables and we’ll just review it because it’s one that we all know.  The parable of the sower and the seed.  We’ve had it taught all different ways, but he basically says the farmer goes out and spreads some seeds.  Some lands on hardened ground.  You picture a sidewalk or a path that’s beaten down.  Seed lands on it and birds come and snatch it away.  Some goes on rocky soil.  It’s shallow.  It starts to germinate quickly and then the sun comes out and scorches it; there’s no root and it dries up and goes away.  Some fall on thorny or weedy ground.  It grows up with the thorns and the weeds and the weeds choke it out and it’s gone.  Some goes on good soil.  In good soil it grows and harvests a crop thirty, sixty, a hundred times.

Then Jesus sits down with his disciples after they say, “Tell us about this parable.”  He gives them some insights.  The seed that the birds came and took away is really Satan coming and snatching it away, because it’s a hard spot, a hard soil that doesn’t take root.  It’s like people who are hardened and Satan snatches them away.  That rocky, shallow soil is like people who receive the truth really quickly and they’re all excited about it, then pressures and challenges come and all of a sudden it dries up and is gone.  Then there’s people in thorny, weedy soil who receive the word, but then all the cares of the world, the desires, the temptations, the question marks .  It’s not fruitful.  Finally, the good soil.

I tried to figure out what the kingdom principle for this was.  I’ve always looked at this in an ‘evangelistic’ way.  Which means how we go about and share the gospel and how the reception is to that gospel.  Evangelastic is those in the evangelical church that kind of like to expand the numbers too big, so we say it’s evangelastic.  The more I thought about it, I realized that’s not really a kingdom principle—how people receive it.  I wrestled with this well-known parable, and you know what jumped out at me?  This farmer’s pretty sloppy.  Here’s the sower or the farmer with a handful of seeds that he just tosses.  Some lands on the sidewalk, some lands on the rocks, some lands in the thorns, and some lands on good soil.  I remember my grandfather (Pa) had a big garden when I was growing up.  He’d take me out there to plant and we never wasted seed.  This farmer seems pretty reckless.  The word ‘reckless’ can be translated as ‘prodigal.’  You think of the parable of the Prodigal Son….well, a lot of people interpret that as a prodigal father who had a reckless love.  You know what I see here?  A prodigal farmer.

It brings out the second kingdom principle:  God is generous with His truth, regardless of how it is received.  He spreads just as much seed on that hardened path, as he does on that good soil, as he does on those thorns, as he does on those rocks.  And the seeds are spread.  There’s a verse in Romans 1:19-20 — Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.   The same truth is shared.  God’s love is generous and he spreads it out.  I know some people wrestle with this parable and we try to come up with all kinds of theological implications.  Like, so if these people are hardened, they get one chance and then Satan snatches away and it’s over.  I don’t know, the farmer probably came out the next day and spread some seed.  I don’t know.  But I don’t think he’s talking about that.  But it really hits me, the generosity of God to spread His truth.

So I look back at those pictures, and when I go through the translation here in Scripture, it basically portrays Jesus as saying, that’s a person who’s got a hardened heart, that’s a person who was shallow and gave into temptation and drifted away.  I started looking at these and started asking the question is this talking about people, or is it talking about the conditions of souls?  Is it different souls?  As I’m thinking about this, I realized that I think I’m listening and I’m curious and I want to know more.  As I look at these soils, as I look at these conditions, as I look at these things in the parable, man, I could tell you everyone of those is in my life right now.  I started to get very convicted, because I like to think I really hand it all over to God, but there’s some areas of my life I’m hardened to.  I’ll say, “God, take anything….but this.”  I put it under lock and key and keep it away from him.  I have some of areas I just won’t let go of, that represent to me that hardened path.  I wondered how many times God has thrown some seed on there and it’s been snatched away because I wouldn’t let it sink into me.  Psalm 23:6 came to mind — Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Recently I was reading about that verse and what came across was surely God’s goodness and God’s unconditional love is going to be more than passively following me, it’s going to be pursuing me, it’s going to be chasing after me, it’s going to be seeking to capture me all the days of my life.  God does not give up on those hard areas in my life.   Am I listening?  Do I have Horton-like ears to hear that?  Do I ponder it?

What about those areas in my life that are kind of shallow?  In the enthusiasm, I’ll receive something and get all excited about it, but then there’s outside pressures that come in and it seems to squelch it.  I’ve shared with you that I’m an anxious person.  I can be intimidated rather quickly.  In fact, just knowing I was going to be preaching is a little intimidating.  Matthew 28:20 came to mind.  When Jesus is meeting with his disciples the last time, he says:  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.    Do I listen to that?  Do I realize, that right now as I’m up here in a rather intimidating situation in front of you all, that Jesus is up here with me?  Jesus is inside of me, and Jesus is speaking through me, and Jesus is giving you ears to hear.  Do I realize that?  Wow! What a concept!  What a thought!

I receive the truth and I know the truth, but I live kind of in fear.  One of the thoughts that came to mind as I was wrestling with this “thorny” soil—about areas that tempt me—I always wonder….I’m suppose to be the provider in our family.  I wonder, “Have I provided enough to get us through?”  I know I shouldn’t be like that, but I do.  We had a great Christmas trip.  While I was there, I was talking to my brother-in-law.  He was sharing how his company was bought out.  The company that bought them gave him a tremendous stock option.  In fact, they gave him fifty percent more to buy him out.  He said, “Dan, I could retire today and we’d have no worries.”  I was smiling on the outside, but on the inside I was thinking I’d better go home and figure things out!  Do I hear Matthew 6:33?  Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.  Don’t worry about tomorrow.  I know that verse, but am I listening?  Am I curious?  Am I asking God questions?

Then you come to the good soil, producing thirty, sixty, a hundred times.  We’ll get to that.  But the kingdom principle that comes out is we can cultivate our hearts to receive more and more of His truth.  Just because we may have a hardened place in our life, I don’t want you to write yourself off saying, “Well, that will never change.”  Oh no, just know God’s pursuing you and He’ll never give up.  Just because you may have a weakness and you’re living in fear because of something else, realize God is with you and He can give you the strength to keep on going.  We can cultivate our hearts to receive more and more of His truth and allow it to penetrate deep into our hearts.

The soil that produced thirty, sixty, a hundred-fold, that’s where I think Jesus went with the next parable.  (Verses 26-29)  He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like.  A man scatters seed on the ground.  Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.  All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.  As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”    I want to assure each and everyone of you here today who has entered into that wonderful mystery of God, that Jesus is the one who has the wisdom and knowledge.  Your life is producing something.  I want to encourage you to look for it.  Look for it!  It’s tempting to always say, “I see it in this person, but I’m still wrestling, I’m still struggling.  I don’t know if it’s here.”  I was talking to someone this past week.  We got into one of those political conversations.  This individual looked at me and said, “You know, Dan, three years ago that would have just yanked my chain!  But today?  So what, God’s in charge.”  Hey, that’s crops growing, that’s fruit being produced.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23)   I want to assure you, we can do things to try to cultivate the fruit a little bit, but it grows by the work of the Spirit within us.

I’m amazed as I look at my driving skills today, compared to what it used to be.  I’m amazed how I can drive and somebody can cut me off and now I see the patience.  I’ve never prayed for patience!  But it’s interesting to see that grow as the Spirit lives inside of us.  It’s interesting to see the love of God for other people grow as the Spirit lives inside of us.  I want to tell you, there are places in your life where those seeds that God has planted are producing a crop of thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold.  Look for it.  Be encouraged.  Walk in that joy.  So the next kingdom principle is:  When we receive His truth, it produces results.

We can cultivate our lives to receive His truth more, but when His truth gets in there, it produces results and changes in our life.  Isn’t the kingdom of God great?  He’s generous with His truth and He scatters it all over.  We can cultivate our lives to receive more.  And we can receive His truth and it will produce results.  Boy, do we have ears to hear that?  Horton-like ears?

It finally brings us to the last parable in this passage, the parable of the mustard seed.  (Verses 30-32)  Again he said  “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?  It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth.  Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”   When I think of the smallest of all seeds….diminutive….tiny.  Boy, not impressive at all.  But out of that grows something that can provide shelter for the rest of the world.

The last principle is His truth is unassuming, but it packs a wallop!  I think of Isaiah 53:1-2.  We’ve heard the secret is Jesus Christ.  Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.  He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.   And yet He’s the Savior of the world.  He’s the mystery of God.  He’s the transformer.  Wow!  I think of Ephesians 2:8-9  —  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  It’s not us…..it’s Him filling us with His truth and using us as his instruments in this world.

As I was thinking about the fact that His truth is unassuming, but it bring changes within  our world and within our society.  I was trying to think….when you think of hospitals, most hospitals have some kind of faith-based organization behind it that started it. (I couldn’t find many details on that.)  But I was interested to find this…when you think of universities, colleges, places of higher learner, I was interested to find that in colonial America there were 123 universities that were started then.  One hundred twenty-two of them were church-related.  They had wonderful statements of purpose.  I’m going to read this one and you tell me which school you think it is:  Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life.  {Harvard University}  I’m not sure where it is now, but isn’t that a great start?  Boy, starting from something so small, something that looked like it was almost blown out on the cross.  But look what’s happened today!

I think, right here in our church, is something that illustrates this principle very well.  It’s the Food Bank.  Let me show you what it looks like today.  On Tuesday night, we had the opportunity as Elders to have the team from the renovation come and share how it’s grown, how it’s changed and been transformed.  I remember when the Food Bank started in someone’s garage.  It eventually got moved over here and got moved from corner to corner to corner.  It was stuck back in that corner.  People would come on a Saturday morning, but, yeah, it was in the back of the church.  And you people gave a year ago, and that corner’s been transformed.   And I don’t mean just transformed so that it looks nice, it’s been transformed so that the people who are working in the Food Bank are working there to recognize the image of God in every person that comes in.  To encourage people that God has a plan for them and a purpose and they love on them.  And to be able to meet physical needs like food.  I love what’s going on there!  It’s like that little tiny mustard seed that has blossomed into this today!

Those are just some of the principles of the kingdom.  Do we hear those?  Do we allow ourselves to listen?  Are we inquisitive and curious and digging in deeper and deeper?

The chapter doesn’t end with a parable.  It ends with a story.  And it’s a real story.  But I think it’s kind of a good parable for us today too.  It ends with Jesus, after a long day of teaching and a long day of explaining, saying to his disciples, “Come on.  Let’s get into the boat and go over to the other side of the lake.  Let’s get away from the crowds.  Let’s have some quiet.”  They get in the boat and start making their way across.  Jesus falls asleep.  He had to be exhausted, because while they’re on the lake, a storm rises and beats and batters the boat.  It says water was washing into the boat.  Finally, the disciples go and wake Jesus and say, “Aren’t you worried that we’re going to drown?”  I kind of think Jesus rubbed the sleep from his eyes, looked around, then stood up.  It says in Scripture he said these words:  Quiet!  Be still!  I don’t know if the water all of sudden went ‘boink,’ or gradually got quiet and then went still.  I can’t help but think that Jesus wants us to listen and to hear those words.  I know that all of us here today have storms.  We have things we’re anxious about, things that are eating away at us.  Maybe it’s a marriage going in a direction we didn’t want it to go.  Maybe it’s a kid that’s just not following what we want them to follow.  Maybe it’s thinking about taxes or politics.  Jesus says, “Quiet!  Be still!”  Do we hear that?  Do we take it seriously?  Do we listen to that?  The disciples in the boat said, “What manner of man is this?”  That’s a great question to ask!   What manner of man is this?

We have the opportunity to come to His table.  We do this every month, and sometimes maybe that just becomes a tradition or a pattern.  But I want to encourage you today, as you would come to take these elements, as you would come to take the bread and the wine, that you would listen.  When He was meeting with his disciples that night before he was crucified, he said, “This is my body broken for you.”  I’m sure they were thinking, “What in the world is He talking about?!”  I want you to ask questions as you take this piece of bread. His body broken for me….what does that mean?  As you take this cup, the cup of the new covenant….what does the new covenant mean?  {Leads into communion instructions.}

And Then What Happened? | Mark 4 | Week 42020-08-20T18:51:57-06:00

And Then What Happened? | Mark 3 | Week 3

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And Then What Happened? | Mark 3 | Week 32020-08-20T18:46:12-06:00
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