Mark 1:14-2:12: Priority One

mowingI’m pretty easily distracted. I start Saturday morning with a whole list of jobs that need doing. But the MAIN one/ is I need to make sure the lawn is mowed.

As I head out to the backyard, I notice some tools that need to be put away. I’ll just do those first, then get onto the mowing. As I’m putting the tools away. I notice the fertiliser, and I remember that the plants really need fertilising. So I go and do that. On the way back from the garden, I notice that the side gate has a squeak in the hinge, so I go and get some WD40 to fix the squeak. While I’ve got the WD40 in my hand, I remember that the gears on my bike are a bit sticky, so I spend the next hour fixing those, and adjusting the brakes, and checking the tyres. Then I remember that the air pressure on the car tyres is a bit low too. So I drive down to the service station, check the tyres, and the fluid levels. And then on the way home I stop at the hardware store to buy some sandpaper for the windows. While I’m at the hardware store, I notice five OTHER things I’d been meaning to buy for a while. And so it goes on until, you guessed it, I get to the end of the day… And the grass hasn’t been mowed.

It’s easy to get distracted from what’s REALLY important. All sorts of good things to be doing, all competing for my attention. Even when you’ve got your priorities CLEAR, when you KNOW what’s most important. It’s hard when you’re SURROUNDED BY COMPETING CRIES. All sorts of GOOD things distracting us from what’s MOST IMPORTANT.

Or what about as a CHURCH? How do we work out what are the important things WE should be doing? Different churches take different approaches, don’t they? For some churches, SOCIAL WELFARE is the most important thing. Soup kitchens, meals on wheels, or drop in centres. Meeting people’s physical needs. OTHER churches focus on being RELEVANT. On having a political voice on current issues. Their emphasis is abortion or asylum seekers or the environment. Others churches see that MEETING COMMUNITY NEEDS is what they should be doing. And so their week is full of educational workshops, Alcoholics Anonymous, parenting courses or marriage seminars. For OTHER churches, the emphasis is all about THE SUNDAY MEETING. Whether that’s FORMAL and TRADITIONAL and LITURGICAL, or MODERN and RELEVANT and EXCITING.

They’re all good things to be doing. But how do we DECIDE what our priorities should be? And how do we STICK to them? Even when you’ve got your priorities CLEAR, it’s hard when you’re surrounded by competing cries. Which is how it must have been for Jesus. People pulling him in a dozen different directions.

And as you look at the passage we’ve just read, you can SEE that… Jesus: surrounded by competing cries. So many people. So many needs. And yet for Jesus the top priority is very clear.

  1. Jesus’ priority (14-20)

You can see it in his FIRST RECORDED WORDS. Chapter 1 verse 14. A statement that spells out EXACTLY what he’s going to be on about. EXACTLY the way he’s going to do business. Pick it up half-way through verse 14.

Jesus went into Galilee, PROCLAIMING THE GOOD NEWS OF GOD. {15} “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. REPENT AND BELIEVE THE GOOD NEWS!””

He’s come to bring in God’s kingdom. He’s the KING calling a people to himself.  Calling a kingdom into existence. And he does that by PREACHING. Preaching for REPENTANCE and FAITH. It’s his TOP PRIORITY. He wants people to change from the heart.  “Turn around, repent, and your sins will be forgiven.” THAT’S his message. THAT’S his mission. Jesus has come to PREACH.

So it’s no surprise that’s exactly what you find him doing when you get to v21. They arrive in Capernaum, and Jesus heads to the synagogue TO TEACH. But can you see? Straight away, there’s a competing cry. A HUGE NEED. A man possessed by an evil spirit. He’s crying out. Have a look at what he says V24

“What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”

So what does Jesus do? He’s the king of God’s kingdom. The unclean spirit can’t compete with his power. Jesus says, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” The ROYAL COMMAND! And v26 the evil spirit shakes the man, and comes out of him with a shriek. And the evil spirit does what it’s told. A competing cry. And Jesus deals with it. And the people are AMAZED!

Let’s keep going. V29 Jesus leaves the synagogue with Simon and Andrew. He’s FINISHED preaching. And Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. They tell Jesus about it. A CRY FOR HELP. So Jesus touches her and she’s healed. And she gets up, and makes them dinner.

But the day’s not over. Word gets out. V32. That evening after sunset. The whole town gathers at her door. All the sick and demon-possessed. I wonder if Peter’s mother-in-law had enough dinner for them TOO?! And Jesus healed WHOEVER CAME TO HIM.

And a bit further on. V40-45 HERE’S a cry. A man with leprosy comes and BEGS on his knees. “If you’re willing you can make me clean.” And of course he’s willing. Jesus is filled with compassion. “I am willing,” he says. “Be clean!” And he is.

  1. The people’s response:

It’s amazing stuff, isn’t it! All these competing cries, all that NEED. And finally here’s someone who can DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Heal the sick, drive out demons, clean lepers. They’ve GOT to be the things to focus on, SURELY? The important things? The priorities? Crowd pleasers like this are FAR MORE IMPORTANT than preaching.    AREN’T THEY? The LOVING thing is to meet people’s FELT NEED … ISN’T IT? FAR MORE IMPORTANT than preaching about repentance and forgiveness of sin…    ISN’T IT? At least, that’s what the CROWDS THINK. Which is why so many people are crowding around.

In v45, the healed leper tells so many people, and the excitement multiplies, until Jesus can’t even stay in the towns without causing a RIOT of desperate people. But even then they FLOCK to him out in the desert!

It’s like in the movie “Notting Hill”. Julia Roberts is a famous movie star; She’s staying the night at a normal house in a normal street in Notting Hill. And the paparazzi turn up outside the door. And when she answers the doorbell in the morning, there’s an ABSOLUTE CIRCUS OUTSIDE. Thousands of camera flashes going off. There’s shouting and movement and pushing. EVERYONE wants a piece of her. And it’s getting like that for Jesus.

  1. Jesus’ response:

So what’s Jesus’ do? What’s his response? How does he DEAL with a situation like that? It’s tough sticking to your PRIORITIES when you’re surrounded by competing cries. But THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT HE DOES.

  1. a) He sticks to his priorities by CONTROLLING THE PUBLICITY.

There are three parts to his strategy. The first one is He sticks to his priorities by CONTROLLING THE PUBLICITY. Look back at v25. How does he respond to the evil spirit? He tells him to be quiet. Perhaps he’s not doing anything more than showing him who’s boss. But it SEEMS like he’s deliberating trying to keep his mission under wraps.

But it’s there again in v34. He’s healed many with all sorts of diseases. Driven out lots of demons. But look what it says. v34 HE WOULDN’T LET THE DEMONS SPEAK because they knew who he was.”

Same thing a bit further on. This time to the leper. He’s just been healed. Have a look at v43

Jesus sends him away at once WITH A STRONG WARNING: {44} “SEE THAT YOU DON’T TELL THIS TO ANYONE.

Jesus is ACTUALLY TRYING TO KEEP THE MIRACLES QUIET. To control the publicity. To stop people getting distracted. You’d think that if Jesus was on about PREACHING, and GETTING HIS MESSAGE OUT, then he’d be HAPPY for the publicity. But we see WHY he’s doing it when we look at what happens NEXT. Why he wants to control the publicity. V45. (The EVIL SPIRITS might obey Jesus, but THIS man doesn’t.)

“INSTEAD he went out and began to TALK FREELY, spreading the news. AS A RESULT, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.”

The publicity actually makes it HARDER for Jesus to go into the towns. To preach where the people are. Because there are healing riots. People DISTRACTED from the MOST IMPORTANT thing by a GOOD thing. (Which is UNDERSTANDABLE. Because they’re SUFFERING. And JESUS can do something ABOUT it.)

So Jesus’ first strategy was attempting to control the publicity. To try to keep people’s attention on his top priority.

  1. b) To keep preaching

His second strategy is TO KEEP PREACHING. To keep DOING what his priority was. We can see it best in the episode starting at v35. It’s stuck in the middle of all the healings, and it doesn’t seem to fit. Until we take a closer look.

It’s the morning after the night before. A huge night of healing. You’d think everyone would be entitled to a sleep-in. But not Jesus. He’s up before sunrise. He’s found a quiet place for some quality time with his Father.

But there’s not much peace and quiet. Because his disciples find him. And their concerns are different from Jesus. They’re concerned about SATISFYING THE CROWD. (Meeting the need). That’s the competing cry. When they find him, they say the words you can see in v 37. “EVERYONE IS LOOKING FOR YOU!”

And what does Jesus answer? What’s his strategy for maintaining his priority? Verse 38

“Let’s go SOMEWHERE ELSE–to the NEARBY VILLAGES–so I can PREACH THERE ALSO… because THAT’S WHY I’VE COME.”

It’s TOUGH sticking to your priorities when you’re surrounded by competing cries. It’s tough, but THAT’S WHAT HE’S GOING TO DO. He’s here TO PREACH. To call on people to REPENT. And be forgiven for their sins.

Now let’s get this straight. It’s not that Jesus didn’t WANT to heal. He didn’t IGNORE the competing cries. Whenever suffering people CAME to him, he healed them. ALWAYS!

Jesus healed because of WHO HE WAS. His NATURE is to help. To love. He healed because he had COMPASSION. You see that in the story about the leper. In v40. (Which comes straight after Jesus, single-mindedly, chooses to leave the crowds behind. Almost as if Mark knows we might be wondering about Jesus’ compassion.)

The leper comes to him, and begs him on his knees, “IF you’re willing, you can make me clean.” (So used to rejection and abuse, he can’t imagine anyone wanting to give him ANYTHING.)

And look at Jesus’ response. V41.

41 Filled with COMPASSION, Jesus reached out his hand and TOUCHED the man. “I AM willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

His heart goes out to this abandoned, suffering man. He TOUCHES him. But rather than uncleanness being contagious, it goes the other way. HEALING and WHOLENESS is contagious. And he’s HEALED.

Including this story HERE is Mark’s way of saying that Jesus’ single-minded focus on PREACHING isn’t because he doesn’t care. In fact, it’s his COMPASSION THAT DRIVES HIS PREACHING. Because ONLY PREACHING could meet people’s GREATEST need.

(His SECOND strategy was TO KEEP PREACHING.)

  1. c) To give what’s needed most (2:1-12)

The third part of his strategy was TO GIVE WHAT’S NEEDED MOST. To meet the GREATEST need.

The people want ONE thing, Jesus wants ANOTHER. The disciples value ONE sort of attention. Jesus values a DIFFERENT sort.

And you can see the contrast most clearly at the start of Ch 2. A story that ties the whole section together. Jesus is back in Capernaum. It’s a few days later. He figures things might have settled down.

But the crowds are bigger than ever. And they’re still hungry for HEALING. While Jesus STILL wants to PREACH. Look at Ch 2 v2

So many gather that there’s no room left, not even outside the door, and he PREACHES THE WORD to them.”

But there’s one group who are SO DESPERATE for HEALING, they do something amazing.

They don’t just push and shove, they RIP THE ROOF OFF; then they lower their paralysed mate down, on his bed. The ultimate cry for help. It’s a dramatic moment isn’t it?

What does THIS man need most from Jesus? His greatest need? It’s obvious to everyone watching! I mean, he CAN’T WALK!

But Jesus looks down at the man. The man looks up at Jesus, His friends look down at Jesus…

And Jesus says, it’s there in v5…. “Son, your … sins are forgiven!

Imagine the crowd! What’s FORGIVENESS got to do with it? It’s HEALING he needs! ANY FOOL can see THAT – he can’t even WALK!

But somehow, for Jesus, the big thing’s ETERNITY, and WHERE YOU STAND WITH GOD. Which matters more than fixing the guy’s legs for THIS LIFE.

But notice again, he doesn’t IGNORE his pain. He actually HEALS HIS LEGS TOO! And he does it to PROVE he really CAN forgive sins. Because the teachers of the law are RIGHT, only GOD can forgive sins! And Jesus PROVES that he’s got God’s authority, by HEALING LEGS.

And the guy DANCES out of the house. With forgiven sins AND strong legs. The BEST thing, AND the GOOD thing.

And everyone PRAISES GOD. Because Jesus IS God. The BIG, BIG GOD, who’s in charge of EVERY part of life. And who cares enough to fix it ALL up. Body, soul and Spirit. He’s the KING of God’s kingdom, who brings healing and wholeness and freedom.

Conclusions

So what’s this have to say to US? The first thing to recognise is that Jesus’ priorities haven’t changed. What was important THEN is still important now. THE GOSPEL IS STILL THE PRIORITY. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it. Especially if you’re struggling with some sort of chronic illness. That you need to REPENT. And have your sins forgiven more than you need physical healing. You need to REPENT and have your sins forgiven more than you need a long life, or a new job. You need to repent and have your sins forgiven more than you need that holiday, or a marriage partner, or a new house.

If you haven’t repented, and allowed Jesus to be boss, then NOTHING ELSE MATTERS!

So how does this work itself out in practice? What about PRAYER? What sort of things do you pray about? What matters most? What sort of things are you determined and committed and regular about praying for? Is it physical, temporary things? Or eternal, spiritual things? Reflects your priorities, doesn’t it?

I know that EVERY NIGHT since before our kids were born, my parents (and Caron’s parents too) prayed for them. They prayed that they’ll grow up continuing to love and serve the Lord Jesus. Which is a much higher priority than health or wealth, or any of the other things we fill our prayers with.

Or how you use your money? We say WITH OUR HEADS that the gospel is our number 1 priority. But is it backed up with your wallet?

And what about us AS A CHURCH? There are LOTS of good things we could be doing, but unless we’re telling people the gospel – the good news about repentance and forgiveness and a relationship with Jesus, then we aren’t doing our job. ESPECIALLY as we start some new things here. We’re hosting a pre-school. We’re running ESL courses. We show movies. We could find jobs for the unemployed. We could run soup kitchens. All sorts of good things we COULD do. That would treat people with the compassion of Jesus.

But if they’re not BUILDING BRIDGES. If they’re not HELPING us introduce people to Jesus. And not challenging them to repent and turn to him, it doesn’t matter HOW MANY good things we do, we’re not really helping WHERE IT MATTERS MOST.

Whatever new things we consider doing. Let’s make sure we hold up the measuring stick of how they’re going to help us take the GOSPEL to people. They don’t all need to have a SERMON as part of every event. But they need to be part of A STRATEGY. They need to fit into a PLAN. A SERIES OF STEPS THAT MOVE PEOPLE TOWARDS JESUS. Towards getting right with God.

A full stomach, or a job, or new parenting skills, or quitting smoking. They’re ALL GOOD THINGS. Jesus CARES about those things. Jesus came to DEAL with those things.

But they’re not THE BEST THING.

We need to be a church whose NUMBER ONE PRIORITY is the same as Jesus. We need to be a church who PREACHES THE GOSPEL as our TOP PRIORITY. In as many different WAYS as we can. To as many different PEOPLE as we can. As winsomely and engagingly and lovingly and fully as we can.

It’s what Jesus was on about. And it’s what WE need to be on about too.

The gospel – the CALL TO REPENT AND BELIEVE in Jesus – is the most important thing! No matter what competing cries there are.

 

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