Category Archives: Mark

Mark 4:35-41: Why are you so afraid?

There’s a growing crisis in workplaces and universities. Many competent and successful people suffer from IMPOSTER SYNDROME. It’s a secret fear that their lack of ability will be exposed. That they’re not as capable as everyone believes, that their success was due to luck, and they don’t deserve the achievements they’ve received.

IMPOSTER SYNDROME stops people from stretching themselves and trying new things. It stops them going for promotions, or risking anything on a big project. Imposter syndrome stunts teamwork and collaboration, because people are too scared to ask for help, and they don’t want anyone to suspect they’re not competent to do their job.

People can HIDE imposter syndrome in all sorts of ways. They CRITICISE and put other people down to make themselves feel bigger. Or they’re WORKAHOLICS, because they make the amount of work they do a source of validation, and a cover-up for their insecurities.

Others are PERFECTIONISTS. They set incredibly high standards for their work because if they achieve less than perfection, they take it personally and doubt themselves. They micromanage others, or they won’t delegate to others, or they won’t start something for fear of failing.

FEAR governs the behaviour of many people at work.

And, of course, it’s not just at work. Anxiety is the new epidemic. An Australian government health report says that 1 in 7 Australians had experienced anxiety disorders in the previous 12 months!

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Compared to Australia in our parent’s generation, there’s fear about job security, housing prices, the cost of living, economic uncertainty, climate change, environmental destruction, and terrorism.

Max Lucado, in his book Fearless, writes, “We fear being sued, finishing last, going broke; we fear the mole on the back, the new kid on the block, the sound of the clock as it ticks us closer to the grave. We implement sophisticated investment plans, create elaborate security systems, and stronger military; yet we depend on mood-altering drugs more than any generation in history. Moreover, “the average child today … has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the 1950s.”

In the Bible passage we just read, Jesus asks his disciples a great question, “Why are you so afraid?” Yes, there are SCARY THINGS IN THE WORLD. But Jesus is WITH them. And he’s got the POWER and the WISDOM and the LOVE to deal with them ALL.

And while much has changed in our world since Jesus’ time, in other ways not much has really changed. There are the same fears, the same dangers, the same things we have no control over. And so it’s a great question for us, as well.

Perhaps you’ve got phobias you can’t conquer. Heights, or enclosed spaces, or flying, or public speaking, or spiders. Or maybe it’s a fear of not being in control. Or of being exposed – being seen for what you really are. Or a fear of not being accepted, or of being ridiculed. Or maybe there’s a fear of what might happen TOMORROW. That’s anxiety, or worry. We’ve ALL got fears. In different combinations, and different amounts. But we ALL FEAR.

But here’s the problem. Our fears impact the choices we make. They LIMIT life. We MISS OUT on things because of fear. We SETTLE for SECOND BEST. We miss out on new experiences. We miss out on the character development that comes from being taken out of our comfort zones. And we miss out on opportunities to help other people.

Jesus cares that we’re scared. And he wants us NOT to fear. In fact, it’s his MOST COMMON COMMAND. Someone’s counted 125 commands of Jesus recorded in the gospels. TWENTY-ONE urge us to not FEAR, or to have COURAGE. The SECOND most common command appears only EIGHT times. Less than HALF as many. If we simply go on the numbers, it’s important to Jesus that we DON’T FEAR.

Over the next five weeks we’re going to examine FEAR. And learn what God wants to say to us about our fears. And about how we can learn to FEAR LESS.

Fear the storm

Have a look at Mark 4 from v35. It’s night-time, and Jesus is in the boat with his disciples. He’s spent the day teaching, and he’s exhausted. They’re travelling across the lake. But part way across, v37, a furious storm blows in. And the wind and the waves are so big, the boat’s in danger of being swamped. And everyone’s BUSY, madly trying to keep themselves alive. Tying down sails, and wrestling with the tiller, and bailing water. Plenty of reason to fear. But Jesus is ASLEEP. At some point, in their busyness, they NOTICE Jesus sleeping. And it BOTHERS them. V38, they wake him up and accuse him, “Don’t you CARE if we drown?”

Notice the focus of their question. His CONCERN. They mistake his INACTIVITY for DISINTEREST. They don’t question his POWER. (They know he CAN do something). And they don’t question his KNOWLEDGE. (He KNOWS they’re in trouble). They question his CHARACTER. His CARE for them.

What does fear do?

And that’s what FEAR does. Fear corrodes our confidence in God’s goodness. We doubt his INTEREST in us. We doubt his LOVE. The thing we fear casts a huge shadow that blocks out all the light. It stands in the way of us seeing God. Fear makes THE THING WE FEAR into an IDOL.

And, secondly, fear SHORTENS OUR MEMORY. We forget God’s goodness and answered prayer and how far we’ve COME. All we can see is the present crisis. That’s FEAR.

Look at how it worked for the disciples. Chapter 4 describes Jesus teaching. But before that, they’ve seen Jesus heal many and cast out many demons. The crowd SO great, 3:9 tells us he needed to hop into a small boat to keep the crowd from pushing him into the lake. Perhaps even THE SAME BOAT THEY WERE IN AT THE MOMENT!

They’d witnessed all that, but in the heat of the moment, fear caused them to FORGET it.

They’d mistaken Jesus’ lack of ACTION as a lack of power, or knowledge or concern. And we often do the same thing. We’re in a difficult situation. And fear is hovering. We’ve prayed and prayed. And nothing happens. And fear and doubt grow. And we begin to question what God’s doing. Or NOT doing.

But God’s answer might be, “Not YET. Keep praying. Learn to TRUST me. Learn to not be fearful. THEN I’ll calm the storm.” His answer might be, “You want the storm to STOP. But I’ve got a DIFFERENT plan. My will is that storm CONTINUES. The storm is MY INSTRUMENT. I’m USING it to work on YOU.”

We shouldn’t be surprised that the Christian life has STORMS in it. Jesus PROMISED it. Shortly before his death, he said to the disciples (Jn 16:33), “In this world you WILL have trouble.”

But then he adds, “But TAKE HEART!” (Have CONFIDENCE, or COURAGE). I have overcome the world! Fear makes the storm bigger than Jesus. But he commands us, “Have COURAGE!” And then he comforts us, and CORRECTS our fears, “I’m not just bigger than the storm. I’m bigger than the WORLD. I’ve BEATEN it.”

So, v39, Jesus stands up, rebukes the wind, and says to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” And they OBEY him. Just as SICKNESS does, and SATANIC FORCES. Because he’s overcome the world. They go completely quiet. In complete submission. Recognising his power over them, even as the disciples doubt it. And then, v40, he turns to the disciples, “Why are you so AFRAID?” You should know better! You should remember.

Fear is the opposite of faith

And then he adds, “Do you still have NO FAITH?” He connects fear with a lack of faith. FEAR IS THE OPPOSITE OF FAITH.

Let’s be CLEAR. There are times when a certain TYPE of fear is WISE. It’s appropriate and right to have a healthy CAUTION and WARINESS in certain situations. It will stop you putting yourself in danger. Fear of lung cancer will stop you smoking. It’s right to be careful as you approach a clifftop lookout. You won’t get too close to the edge. And it’s right to be cautious when you drive on a slippery road. You won’t drive too fast for the conditions. And a healthy respect for electricity makes you call an electrician rather than re-wire your house yourself.

THAT sort of caution isn’t a lack of faith. It’s using the wisdom God’s GIVEN us. And it OPENS UP the world to opportunities. You’re STILL ALIVE to serve God and enjoy his world!

But FEAR is MORE than that. Fear PARALYSES. Fear LIMITS your world. Fear makes you MISS OUT. It stops you climbing the hill, so you miss out on seeing the incredible view. Fear stops you driving on a wet road at all, so you cancel dinner with friends. Fear stops you catching the plane, so you miss the incredible experiences of the overseas mission trip. It robs you of JOY.

And it robs GOD of your service in his kingdom. Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy. And he says, Ch 1 v6, FAN INTO FLAME the gift of God. Work at it. Don’t settle for what you naturally want to do. Step out of your comfort zone. Train, develop, work at your gifts.

And then he says, v7, For God did NOT give us a spirit of TIMIDITY, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

God’s Spirit causes and influences us to POWER, and LOVE and SELF-DISCIPLINE. The characteristics you need to REPLACE fear. To use in scary situations.

And those characteristics have a PURPOSE. V8 continues. “Don’t be ashamed to TESTIFY about our Lord. And join with me in SUFFERING.” Fear RUNS from conflict and suffering. But POWER stands firm in the face of opposition. And LOVE for your enemies MOTIVATES you to SPEAK when it’s easier to be SILENT. And SELF-DISCIPLINE enables your WILL to win the battle over what your FLESH wants.

And, ultimately, it’s FAITH that’s the beginning of all that. A trust that God’s way is RIGHT. And that his promises are sure. And his plans succeed. And that Jesus HAS overcome the world. THAT FAITH fuels the power and love and self-discipline that SPEAKS the GOSPEL and ENDURES PERSECUTION. And the gospel goes out. And God’s kingdom GROWS.

But if TIMIDITY and FEAR rule you, then none of that happens. Max Lucado writes, “When fear shapes our lives, SAFETY becomes our god. When safety becomes our god, we worship the RISK-FREE LIFE. Can the safety-lover do anything great? Can the risk-averse accomplish noble deeds? For God? For others? No. The fear-filled cannot love deeply; love is risky. They cannot give to the poor. Benevolence has no guarantee of return. The fear-filled cannot dream wildly. What if their dreams sputter and fall from the sky? The worship of safety emasculates greatness. No wonder Jesus wages such a war against fear.”

You see, fear makes the DANGER greater than God. It lines the two up, and gives the danger more credit and more power than it deserves. Fear looks at the DANGER through a microscope – makes it BIG. And God through a TELESCOPE – and makes him small.

And when God is SMALL, we don’t TURN to him in our fear. To turn away from him. And turn to OURSELVES. Instead, we respond with anger, or silence, or binges of eating or drinking, vice-like control, or mind-numbing TV or computer games. Fear allows anxiety to dominate and define us.

But FAITH recognises that God is GREATER than the danger. Jesus says, “Take COURAGE. I have overcome the world.” Faith expresses itself in COURAGE. Courage is the strength to act DESPITE the fear. Courage says, “I trust that God will look after me on the wet road, or the plane flight.” Courage says, “Even if something happens, God will be WITH me through it. And strengthen and lead me.”

And courage says, “Even if the WORST happens, and I DIE. He’s with me in THAT, TOO”. Courage allows you to speak Romans 5:9-11 to yourself.

9 Since you have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall you be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when you were God’s enemy, you were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall you be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but you also REJOICE in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom you have now received reconciliation.

Who is this?

So how can we DO that? How can we move from FEAR to FAITH? How can we fan into flame the spirit of courage? Look at how the story finishes. V41.

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “WHO IS THIS? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Their attention turns from the calm sea and still air. And they look at Jesus. And their fear of DROWNING changes to fear of the one who’s SAVED them from drowning. The One who is GREATER than the storm and the sea. Greater than Satan. Greater than their problems. Greater than their doubts.

Who is this? That’s the question to ask. And that’s where the solution to your fear begins.

We need to see MORE OF JESUS. More of his LOVE and his POWER. More of his WISDOM. More of his understanding of our temptations. More of his high priestly representing of our weaknesses before God. We need to see more of God’s purposes to bring all things in heaven and earth together underneath KING JESUS.

We need to see THIS Jesus. The Jesus of Revelation 19!

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.   12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

That’s the One to lead you when you fear the storm.

Mark 2:23-3:6: Work and rest

Japanese people are working themselves to death. Literally. The work culture is so intense, in the 1970’s they invented a word – karoshi – that translates as death by overwork. Since the 1950’s, in a government sponsored effort to rebuild the national economy, companies have expected significant amounts of overtime. But before long workers began committing suicide, or dying of strokes or heart attacks – the result of stress or lack of sleep.

Beginning in 1987 the government was documenting a couple of hundred cases every year. But by 2015, claims for government and company compensation for karoshi had risen to a record high of 2,310, according to the Japanese Labour Ministry. But the actual figure could be far higher. According to the National Defence Council for Victims of Karoshi, the true figure may be as high as 10,000 deaths per year.

But it’s not just Japan. It’s reported that China now leads the world in the number of deaths from work-related stress, with an estimated 600,000 deaths every YEAR.

And we’re not immune IN THE WEST EITHER. A study published last year in the medical journal, The Lancet, concluded that if you’re working more than 55 hours per week, you’re 13% more likely to suffer a heart attack, and 33% more likely to suffer a stroke than people who work 35-40 hours a week. They think the cause is elevated levels of “stress” hormones like cortisol and epinephrine. As well as other cardiac risk factors, such as lack of exercise, poor diet, and high consumption of alcohol and tobacco – all associated with overwork and work stress.

Over the last five weeks we’ve been looking at what God says about work. And we’ve found that he MADE us to work. And that work is GOOD. And yet, God’s good purposes for us include REST. Work is good, and REST is good. We’re just not created to keep WORKING AND WORKING. For our physical and emotional and psychological and spiritual health, we need regular rest.

God rests

In fact, REST is bound up in God’s creation of the world. Right from the START. Even GOD rests. At the end of Genesis 1, God’s finished creating the world in six days. And we read in 2:2

2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he RESTED from all his work. 3 And God BLESSED the seventh day and made it HOLY, because on it he RESTED from all the work of creating that he had done.

Six days of WORK. ONE day of REST. He didn’t rest because he was TIRED. But because he’d FINISHED. Everything was DONE. ACOMPLISHED. It didn’t have to be repeated, repaired or revised. And so God could sit back and ENJOY what he’d worked for. That seventh day was DIFFERENT. SPECIAL. HOLY. A day to APPRECIATE what he’d done on the PREVIOUS six days.

He commands us to rest

And as we keep reading, we see that God’s rest is a BLUEPRINT for US to rest. In Exodus 20, God gives the 10 commandments. Which includes, in v8,

8 “REMEMBER the Sabbath day by KEEPING IT HOLY. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall NOT do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, BUT HE RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

God embeds a regular PATTERN and RHYTHM of rest right into the nature of creation itself. Day and night, work and sleep. And six days to WORK. And ONE day to REST. Just like God himself.

There’s the PHYSICAL rest. But it’s also PSYCHOLOGICAL or EMOTIONAL. It’s a day that’s set apart by God as SPECIAL, and he BLESSED it. On the seventh day God ENJOYED what he’d made on the first six days. And so do WE. We enjoy his creation, and the fruit of the work we’ve done. But it’s also SPIRITUAL rest. The Sabbath is to be kept TO THE LORD. FOR him, and in RECOGNITION of him.

It’s not God’s design if our rest is ONLY self-centred and self-indulgent. TRUE Sabbath rest is TO THE LORD. It INCLUDES him. And reconnects with him. And rejoices in his goodness. True rest GRATEFULLY CELEBRATES. We see that emphasised in Deuteronomy 5. Jump forward 40 years, and the people are just about to enter the Promised Land. So Moses repeats the teaching of the Ten Commandments. And he gives a DIFFERENT reason for resting on the Sabbath. v15. No one is to work on that day, even the servants.  15 Remember that YOU were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you OUT OF THERE with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. THEREFORE the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

The Sabbath is REST FOR THE RESCUED. The slavery is over. And each Sabbath, they remembered that. And gave thanks to God their Redeemer. And they SHOWED their appreciation by allowing THEIR slaves to rest. Merciful because they’d been SHOWN mercy.

And if that was ISRAEL, how much more reason have WE got to be grateful? How much greater is our RESCUE?! And how much greater is our REST? So how much more JOYFUL should our rest be!?

If we jump forward to Jesus. (The leader better than Moses. And the one who WORKED to bring US REST. Who rescued US from the slavery of sin and death.) Here’s what HE has to say about rest. Matthew 11:28-30. He invites any who are humble enough to receive like little children

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you REST. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Modern life is about working and striving for success and approval and fulfilment. And it never ends. No matter how long you work, next week there’s always more work to do. It’s wearying, and often pointless. And there’s frustration and disappointment.

That’s a THEOLOGICAL truth, but it’s also a SCIENTIFIC truth. It’s called the first law of thermodynamics. The Universe is set up so that it’s gradually unwinding, getting more and more random and disorganised. (Entropy increases). Left to themselves, things naturally rust and separate and breakdown. Rooms get messy, gardens get overgrown. Machinery breaks. To work AGAINST the forces of randomness and disorder takes ENERGY. WORK. We exert EFFORT to grow things, and tidy things, and manufacture things, and organise and assemble. Of course God’s work of creation was the GREATEST input of CREATIVE, INTELLIGENT ENERGY.

But our efforts of WORK, paid or unpaid, are always working against the tide of things. We’re always pushing a boulder uphill. And it’s a hill that never ends. And if we stop for a MOMENT, it rolls back on top of us, and crushes us. All we’ve achieved is undone.

That’s EARTHLY, PHYSICAL work. Then there’s SPIRITUAL work. IT never ends, and it’s frustrating and pointless. Humanity has an inbuilt SPIRITUAL hunger. Every culture and people group reaches out beyond what they can see/ to GOD, however they define him. And every religion, in whatever age, is about WORKING to REACH their God. Bridging the gap from the earth UPWARD to heaven. Through prayers or sacrifices or obedience or pilgrimages or study or ritual or initiation. And it never ends. Because the deity is never SATISIFED. He or she always wants MORE. And because it all depends on OUR efforts and OUR performance. There’s no certainty. Or assurance. Or REST.

But, instead, Jesus says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you REST.

Isn’t that the BEST NEWS you’ve ever HEARD?! This Sunday, as most of us get to stop and rest, stop and dwell on that promise for a moment. Jesus offers weary and burdened people REST! Knowing God doesn’t depend on building a bridge from EARTH to HEAVEN. Because God HIMSELF, in Jesus, has come down from heaven to EARTH. And it doesn’t depend on your performance, or work, or consistency, or endurance. It’s all about Jesus’ introduction. In the verse just before his invitation to come and rest, he says, (12:27)

27 “All things have been COMMITTED TO ME by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and THOSE TO WHOM THE SON CHOOSES TO REVEAL HIM.

Jesus has the delegated authority – the executive order- to make the introduction. And it’s JESUS who chooses US, not the other way around. And Jesus who REVEALS God to us. Who bridges the gap. Who performs the work. So we don’t HAVE to.  Which means we can STOP. And REST. And CELEBRATE. With CONFIDENT, GRATEFUL CERTAINTY. Job done! Come to Jesus. Hand your burdens over to him. Burdens of guilt, and expectation, and impossible to-do lists. Burdens of living in the mess you’ve created by poor choices, wrong priorities, and selfishness.  Come in humility and repentance. Come when you’re at the end of your rope, and the bottom of your pit. Come with empty pockets and open hands. Jesus invites you, if you’re weary and burdened, to COME to him. And REST.

But that doesn’t mean you never work again! There’s STILL WORK TO BE DONE. Notice that there’s still a yoke to bear. But Jesus promises that his yoke is EASY and his burden is LIGHT. Because he’s GENTLE.  Now we’re following Jesus, work is TRANSFORMED. It’s work that’s done BECAUSE we belong to Jesus. Work done from WITHIN THE RELATIONSHIP. Not work done to ENTER it. Not work done to PROVE something.  But work done for a new Master. For a new PURPOSE. With new perspective and new HOPE. With a new power, and a new MOTIVATION.

And that changes EVERYTHING.  It changes the PAID work we do. AND the unpaid work. It changes WHY we work, and what we want to ACHIEVE. It changes the way we TREAT people at work. And WHY. It changes the MINISTRY work we do. Gives it a new motivation, and a new energy. And it changes the way we THINK about ourselves if we’re unemployed, or unable to work. Because our identity isn’t found, anymore, in what we do, but WHO WE BELONG TO.  And even in the midst of work BUSYNESS and ACTIVITY, we can find REST FOR OUR SOULS. (Peace. Contentment. Satisfaction. Joy.)

Are we still required to keep the Sabbath?

So what’s all this got to do with PHYSICAL rest? With taking regular breaks? And do Christians have to rest on the Sabbath? And if so, WHY? They’re all questions that’d take a little longer to answer than we’ve got time for.

But Jesus, in Mark chapter 2, gives us some help. Out of all the Ten Commandments, KEEPING THE SABBATH is the one that seems to cause the most friction between Jesus and the religious leaders. All the others Jesus affirms, or even STRENGTHENS. But he goes out of his way to DO things on the Sabbath the leaders thought BROKE the command. Like healing people. Or allowing his disciples to pluck grain and eat. He’s not CANCELLING the command. He’s RE-INTERPRETING it. Calling the people BACK to what God had originally INTENDED the Sabbath to be.

And he’s got the AUTHORITY to do it because he’s LORD of the Sabbath. That’s what he says in Mark 2:28. The Pharisees accuse his disciples of doing unlawful work on the Sabbath. And Jesus points them back to what his ancestor, King David, had done. He’d authorised his men to eat the consecrated bread.  And now Jesus is doing the SAME. Because he’s the GREATER king. The Lord of EVERYTHING. Even Lord of the Sabbath. And he gives his ruling, in v27, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

God gave us the Sabbath FOR OUR GOOD. For our refreshment and rest. It was never meant to be ENDURED. Or to lock us in and restrict us. It’s meant to be ENJOYED.

The Sabbath is for US. But it’s also FOR THE LORD. Just like Israel was to keep the Sabbath TO THE LORD, so should WE. Israel kept the Sabbath to remember how God had rescued them from Egypt, and brought them into the rest of the Promised Land. We should do the same. Our Sabbath rest reminds us of OUR rescue, by Jesus, from death and judgment. And how he’s brought us into rest. And it helps us to look forward to the even BETTER rest that’s coming into eternity. And so our God-designed rest is TO THE LORD. In joyful gratitude for Jesus who gives us TRUE, ETERNAL rest.

But perhaps you’re thinking, “Hang on a minute, David! The Sabbath’s A SATURDAY. Why do we rest on SUNDAY?

It seems like the early churches began meeting on Sundays. For example in Acts 20:7 Luke describes how the church in Troas met on the first day of the week. That is, Sunday.  And in 1 Corinthians 16:2 Paul tells the Corinthians to bring their collection on THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK. And in Rev 1:10 John says that he was in the Spirit on what he says was THE LORD’S DAY – that is, the day of Jesus’ resurrection – SUNDAY.  So, that was probably ONE reason.

ANOTHER likely reason was the problems the Gentile churches were having with Jewish legalists. These false teachers were tying SALVATION to keeping Jewish laws, like circumcision and food laws and Sabbath. Galatians and Acts 15 tell us all about that. And Paul may have encouraged the Gentile churches to SPECIFICALLY MOVE AWAY from keeping the Sabbath. And, instead, to meet on Sunday. For example, in Galatians 4:9, he rebukes the Galatian Gentile Christians 9 But now that you know God-or rather are known by God-how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be ENSLAVED by them all over again? 10 You are OBSERVING SPECIAL DAYS AND MONTHS AND SEASONS AND YEARS! 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. It seems like Paul’s worried that by they’re being pressured to keep special days as part of their salvation. But that means they’re letting go of grace. And Paul won’t let that happen!

And in Colossians 2:16, he seems to be thinking of the Jewish legalists when he says 16 Therefore do not let anyone JUDGE you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration OR A SABBATH DAY.  In other words, keeping Jewish laws, including the Sabbath, doesn’t make you right with God. So don’t let anyone put you down, or make you feel inferior, because you don’t keep THEIR VERSION of the rules.

And then he adds. 17 These are a SHADOW of the things that were to come; the REALITY, however, is found in Christ.  In other words. Food and drink, and circumcision, and keeping the Sabbath are just temporary, and shadows. They all point to the REALITY that LASTS. To Jesus. Jesus gives us the REAL rest Sabbath points to. So there’s no need to stick to what’s only a SHADOW. ESPECIALLY if people are making it a condition of salvation.

So, what gave these early Christians the freedom to just change their day of rest from Saturday to Sunday? It seems like it’s the attitude of Jesus in Mark 2. That Sabbath was MADE FOR MAN, not man for the Sabbath. That there’s PRINCIPLES more important than the LETTER of the law. Like doing what’s GOOD for people. And so that’s why most Christians meet on Sundays. And it’s why it’s ok for you to WORK on Sundays if you can’t avoid it.

It’s STILL God’s design for you to REST. And he still wants you to MEET WITH HIS PEOPLE. To HELP you rest TO THE LORD. To gratefully rejoice in his salvation rest.  And the BEST way to do that is if we all rest on the same day. And Sunday’s as good a day as ANY.

So, on this Lord’s Day Sunday, if your tendency is to overwork, can I encourage you? For the sake of your HEALTH, and the sake of your SPIRITUAL HEALTH, and the sake of your family, and your CHURCH family. Take some deliberate, targeted steps to taking regular rest. Most of us have SEASONS of overwork. But if you’re regularly working more than 60 hours a week, sit down and, prayerfully, consider WHY. Are there sinful motivations you need to repent of? Is there GREED? (A desire to accumulate wealth)  Or PRIDE? The pride of perfectionism – that every project has to be perfect. Or the pride of STATUS? Or the pride of being indispensable? (You can’t take a holiday because no one can do your job but you) Is there the idolatry of finding your importance and self-identity in your EMPLOYMENT, rather than in Christ? Or maybe you’re a people-pleaser, who can’t bear to disappoint people. Or is there faithless WORRY about tomorrow? Jesus says you can’t add a single hour to your life by worrying. And that God knows what you need, and provides.

And whether you’re working, or resting. Keep God’s ETERNAL perspective. There’s a FINAL victorious resurrection rest for us. It will make your WORK TODAY more satisfying and purposeful. And it will make your REST more joyful and thankful.  1 Corinthians 15 is all about Christ’s resurrection and then our resurrection on Judgment Day. And there’s 57 verses describing what that will be like. But then in v58 we read the “SO WHAT.” (How that affects our work NOW.) And I’ll make THOSE the last words (Death has been swallowed up in victory… 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.) 58 THEREFORE, my dear brothers, STAND FIRM. Let nothing move you. ALWAYS GIVE YOURSELVES FULLY TO THE WORK OF THE LORD, because you know that your LABOR IN THE LORD IS NOT IN VAIN. Amen

Mark 9:14-32: Towards Belief (Big Questions 9)

Today we come to the end of our series of Big Questions. (Nine barriers that stand in the way of people believing the Christian message.) We’ve looked at topics like suffering, abuse in the church, Science, the reliability of the Bible. And the goal’s been to help people TO THINK THROUGH THE EVIDENCE. Because that’s the thing with belief in God. (Belief in the Christian message). It’s about investigating evidence. And thinking it through. And then BASING your belief on the evidence.

And that’s very different from what lots of people think Christian faith is like. They see it as a CHOICE between BELIEF or BRAINS. Belief when there IS no evidence. Or worse, belief DESPITE the evidence. But that’s BLIND faith, not BIBLICAL faith. Like Richard Dawkins. The atheist, who wrote The God Delusion. Here’s how he defines faith: “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.”

That might be how HE chooses to define Christian faith. But when the Bible uses the word, it’s more about TRUST, or RELIANCE, or CONFIDENCE.

And it’s BASED on evidence. Not PROOF. But investigating what you CAN know. And then RELYING on that for what you CAN’T be sure of.

And it’s no different from the way all of us trust ANYTHING. For example, you need an operation. You can’t be CERTAIN it will be safe or successful. So you do your research. You ask the opinion of people you trust. They recommend a surgeon. You check her credentials, and her experience. You talk to her. She explains what she’s going to do, and what the risks are. And then you weigh up all the evidence. (It’s not PROOF the operation will be successful). And then you make your decision. You choose to TRUST the surgeon, or not, on the basis of the evidence. And then you SHOW that trust by allowing her to operate.

And it’s the same with Christian faith. (With trusting the Bible. Relying on the claims of Jesus.) It’s about investigating what you DO know, and then choosing to trust what you can’t prove on the basis of that evidence.

In fact, it’s the sort of thing JESUS HIMSELF did. We read about it Mark 2. A paralysed man is lowered through the roof. His friends have gone to a huge effort for him to meet Jesus. When Jesus sees him, he says, “Son, your SINS ARE FORGIVEN.”

The Jewish teachers scoff, “Who does he think he is? Only GOD can forgive sins?”

Do you see the problem? Jesus MIGHT be able to forgive sins. With the authority of GOD HIMSELF. Or he might NOT. It’s easy TO SAY. But hard to PROVE.

And so Jesus gives them some EVIDENCE. Something they can SEE/ to help them trust what they CAN’T see. V10. He says, 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . .” He said to the paralytic, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” And the paralysed man gets up, takes his mat, and walks out. IN FULL VIEW OF THEM ALL. The evidence is there for EVERYONE TO SEE!

And Jesus’ point is THIS. We don’t have to BLINDLY trust that he can forgive sins. He gives us EVIDENCE WE CAN SEE – legs that work again – to help us trust what we CAN’T see. And it’s evidence to help us trust that he forgives OUR sins, TOO.

And John, the gospel writer, was aiming to do the same thing. He picks out certain VISIBLE things to help his readers rely on what CAN’T be proved. At the end of his gospel. Ch 20 v30, he concludes, 30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But THESE ARE WRITTEN that you may BELIEVE that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by BELIEVING you may HAVE LIFE IN HIS NAME.

Lots of OTHER things Jesus did. But John picks out SPECIALLY those events that HIGHLIGHT who Jesus is.

And he calls them SIGNS. Things you can SEE that POINT TO something. And as readers observe and analyse and investigate the signs. It helps them TRUST the person they POINT to.

And THAT helps them trust God’s promise. That Jesus gives them life when they TRUST him. (He forgives their sin, restores them to knowing their Creator. And defeats death on their behalf.)

And that’s the purpose of THIS SERIES, TOO. (The last nine weeks.) To help people THINK THROUGH the EVIDENCE. To move them TOWARDS BELIEF.

I believe, help my unbelief

Now, I don’t know where you’re at. (What you BELIEVE and what you DON’T). Perhaps you’ve made some progress. Perhaps there are STILL some hurdles in the way.

So, if you’re NOT a Christian. And you’ve sat through a few of these topics. Let me ask a rather blunt question. What’s STOPPING you?

Don’t just leave things the way they are. (Somehow hoping that there’ll be some miraculous change). Stop and ask yourself. What’s STOPPING me from trusting Jesus?

WHATEVER those barriers are. Write them down. NAME them. And then do something about ADDRESSING them. INVESTIGATE. Ask questions. Read some books. Move from where you are. It’s WORTH it.

And, by way of encouragement, let me tell you about someone ELSE who wasn’t completely there yet. But who wanted to be there. Who WANTED to believe. And who Jesus worked with BECAUSE of that desire. It’s over in Mark ch 9 v14. Jesus and three of the disciples come down from a mountain retreat. Back to the others. And they step right into a major disagreement. The teachers of the law are arguing with the disciples. And there’s a large crowd standing around watching all the action.

Jesus asks the disciples what’s going on. But instead, a man in the crowd answers. V17. An evil spirit’s stopping his son from speaking. (A bit further on we learn he’s deaf as well). But it’s the symptoms like epilepsy that REALLY trouble him. And so he brought the boy to the disciples. But when they tried to cast out the demon/ nothing happened.

Now, it’s important to remember that only a few chapters before/ they actually HAD cast out demons and healed people. Jesus sent them out two by two. Back in Ch 6. But NOW when they tried it … NOTHING. But Jesus knows exactly what’s gone wrong. Nothing happened because the disciples weren’t acting IN FAITH. Look at v19. He’s talking about his disciples. “O UNBELIEVING generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” He’s exasperated with the disciples. They’ve seen everything he’s done, and STILL don’t trust him. And he commands them to bring the boy to him.

But when they do, the evil spirit doesn’t it, and does the only thing it can – tries to harm the boy. Something it’s been doing for the whole of his life. Because Satan is always about destroying whatever’s GOOD. Verse 20. It threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

The father’s DESPERATE. Because at any moment, his son might drown, or burn to death. So he PLEADS with Jesus. (And those of us who are parents can understand a little of his desperation. Because we’d do almost ANYTHING to help our children.) V22, But if YOU can do anything, take pity on us and HELP us.”

There it is. That’s the invitation. “Take PITY on us. And HELP us.” Not just help the SON. But help the FATHER. Because he’s suffering TOO.

But Jesus picks up on three of his words. Words that show this man’s got the same problem as the disciples. A lack of faith. Look at what Jesus answers. Verse 23. “‘IF you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who BELIEVES.”

The man thought it all depended on JESUS – whether HE had the power to make it happen. Which, in a way, it DOES. But instead Jesus turns the question around. The crucial question isn’t whether JESUS has the power. But whether the MAN has the FAITH. “If YOU believe/ EVERYTHING is possible.”

Jesus has a limitless supply of power to do ANYTHING. But it takes FAITH to TAP INTO that. And once you DO, Jesus says ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

And immediately the man responds with a great answer. One that sums up OUR situation so often, too. Verse 24. “I DO believe. Help me overcome my UNbelief.” He asked for Jesus’ help with the evil spirit IN HIS SON. And now he asks for Jesus’ help with the UNBELIEF IN HIS OWN HEART. “I DO believe. Help me overcome my UNbelief.”

That’s a GREAT prayer if you’re not SURE about Jesus. If you’re investigating the truth. “I know a LITTLE. I believe A LITTLE. But I’ve got questions. Doubts. So HELP me. GROW my faith. Show me evidence that will SUPPORT it. PROVE yourself reliable. And trust-WORTHY.” Because it’s LESS about YOU. And MORE about JESUS doing something.

But it’s not just a prayer for those INVESTIGATING Christianity. It’s a prayer for those of us who’ve been Christians for DECADES. Like the disciples, we doubt Jesus’ power, and try to do things on our own. “I DO believe. Help my UNBELIEF. God, I THINK I believe you’re in control. I THINK I believe you’ll provide all my needs. I THINK you’ve got plans for tomorrow. I THINK I believe nothing can separate me from your love. I THINK I can trust you with my child, or my future, or my cancer.”         “I DO believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.”

But what’s so great about this/ is that Jesus never expects PERFECT faith. (Or complete faith. Absolute faith). He can work with faith THE SIZE OF A MUSTARD SEED. He’s THE ULTIMATE MICRO SURGEON. Working with things SO SMALL you need a microscope to see them.Have you got faith THAT big? Enough to ask Jesus to step in, and HELP your unbelief?

The man DOES. He’s got SOME faith. He MUST have, because Jesus does his work again. Verse 25. He rebukes the Spirit, it comes out of the boy, and Jesus helps him to his feet. Healed and whole. Jesus MEETS us where we are. Do you have enough faith to ASK for faith?

Christianity is about Christ

But there’s something ELSE interesting in this passage. It’s the role of the CROWD. V15. Jesus arrives, and the crowd are overwhelmed with wonder and RUN to greet him. What do they WANT? If you jump back a page or two, you can see the last two public events were Jesus feeding the four thousand, and the healing of a blind man. So it’s likely they want a FEED, a SHOW, or a HEALING. And as THIS event unfolds, it looks like they’re going to get at least a SHOW, and A HEALING. Jesus has COMPASSION on those in pain. And he wants to HELP. But notice what happens in v25.

The boy’s convulsing on the ground, the father’s pleading for Jesus’ help. And then v25,

25 WHEN JESUS SAW THAT A CROWD WAS RUNNING TO THE SCENE, he rebuked the evil spirit.

The spectacle’s attracting an even GREATER crowd. And now, THEY’RE running towards him. Rushing over to see what all the fuss is about. And Jesus wants to avoid too much of the wrong SORT of attention. (People coming to Jesus to have THEIR OWN NEEDS FIXED).

It’s something he’s done all the way through Mark. Back at the end of Ch 1, he heals a leper, and commands him not to TELL anyone. Instead, he goes and tells EVERYONE. And we read in v45. 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.

He wants to TEACH. About himself and repentance and forgiveness. But the crowd want HEALING. Which Jesus DOES, because he CARES. But it distracts them from his TEACHING. So much NEED, but no EARS TO HEAR.

Same thing again in Ch 5. He raises a dead girl to life. And then GIVES STRICT ORDERS NOT TO LET ANYONE KNOW ABOUT THIS. (Which I would have thought was a bit difficult with anyone who knew she’d DIED!)

Or Ch 7, he heals a deaf and mute man, and he commands them not to tell anyone. V36. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.

And even here in Ch 9. After he’s healed the boy with the evil spirit. V30, we read,

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was TEACHING his disciples. TEACHING is what the people REALLY need.

We see it in ch 4 where Jesus talks about the different types of SOIL. Different reactions people have to hearing about Jesus. And those who DON’T produce fruit, (who don’t believe), are those who let TROUBLE or PERSECUTION, or WORRIES, or the desire for other things CHOKE OUT JESUS’ MESSAGE. Our NEED can STOP us from believing. Whereas the GOOD SOIL. Are those people who… HEAR THE WORD. Who don’t let their needs or problems distract them from LEARNING. Learning that leads to belief, and forgiveness, and LIFE. And his conclusion is, He who has EARS TO HEAR, LET HIM HEAR.

Because, ultimately, Jesus didn’t come to satisfy people’s needs. He came to show people HIMSELF. To teach about HIMSELF. Because that’s what people REALLY need. They might come to Jesus for healing, or help with a problem or a relationship, or with guilt. And Jesus will often DEAL with our pain and struggles.

But what we need MOST is Jesus. We need to know the One who came from the Father. Who shows us what he’s like. And who shows us what WE’RE like. And then who dies in our place to restore our relationship with our Creator. And who defeats death, and demands our loyalty and service. And gives us LIFE.

We saw it in chapter 2, the crippled man is brought by his friends to Jesus. What do they want? It’s obvious – HEALED LEGS! But what does Jesus do instead? FORGIVES HIS SINS! Because that’s what WE ALL need most.

So, as you think about investigating evidence, and growing in your belief. As you think about what you might GAIN from coming to Jesus. (Your needs, or problems, or questions). Just remember that, in the end, what you need MOST is JESUS HIMSELF.

Look at what Jesus’ priority was. He takes the disciples off, away from the crowds, and their needs. And he teaches them about HIMSELF. V31. he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”

Ultimately THAT’S the Big Question we all need to consider MOST. As much as all these other questions might be real issues. Who is JESUS? What did he DO? And what should YOU DO in response to that? And we get a great answer to that question if we look at the events described just BEFORE the boy’s healing in Ch 9. Where Jesus and the other disciples had been. They’ve been up on a mountain, and Peter and James and John get a vision of Jesus’ eternal nature. His TRUE IDENTITY. God’s eternal Son. V2 says,

There he was TRANSFIGURED before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

And the point of Moses and Elijah was that they were two prophets with EXPERIENCE at speaking to GOD/ on a mountain. And they’re TALKING TO JESUS. JESUS IS GOD. Glorious and eternal. Pure and holy and powerful.

But there’s more. Not just VISIBLE evidence. AUDIBLE evidence TOO. V7. Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” God himself speaking up for his Son. Declaring his love for his obedient, victorious Son. And then speaking a command to the three disciples. But also to US. “LISTEN to him.” Will you DO that?

Will you consider the evidence? Trust it? And then trust Jesus? That you might believe that he is the Christ. And that by believing, you may have LIFE in his NAME?

 

Mark 10:13-16: Abuse in the Church

ChildProtectionPolicyWhat would Jesus say if he sat in on the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse? As he heard the heart-breaking evidence from victims of unspeakable acts and ruined lives? As he heard of the cover-ups and incompetence and deception of Christian leaders and institutions?

In a sense, it’s the wrong question. Because Jesus HAS heard all the evidence. But more than that, he’s SEEN all the CRIMES. The hidden, shameful acts and thoughts and motives. And he’s WEPT with victims. And he’s ANSWERED their prayers with comfort and healing and strength. And his JUDGMENT against the abuser is to be feared far more than that of any royal commissioner. So perhaps a BETTER question is what HAS Jesus said?

The Book of Hebrews talks about what Jesus himself endured. And how he’s uniquely qualified to speak. Hebrews 2:10 says that God made Jesus, the author of salvation, PERFECT THROUGH SUFFERING. Then a bit further on in v17 it says that Jesus “had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a MERCIFUL and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because HE HIMSELF SUFFERED when he was tempted, he is able to HELP those who are being tempted.

Jesus is ready, willing and ABLE to understand, and to HELP, those who suffer.

Jesus and the children 

And if we turn to the gospels, we see HOW Jesus helped. And we see two parts to that. First, his attitude to the vulnerable, especially children. And then his attitude to those with POWER.

In Mark 10 v13, parents are bringing their children to Jesus to place his hands on them and BLESS them. All sorts of people wanted Jesus’ attention. And it seems like the disciples saw themselves as the gatekeepers. The priorities were the important or the wealthy. Or perhaps those who needed it MOST – the most helpless and desperate. And children weren’t EITHER of those. They had no status, or power, or connections, or wealth or even any great need. And so the disciples turned them away. And rebuked the parents for wasting Jesus’ time.

The problem is the disciples have only just been given a LESSON in how to treat children. Back in the previous chapter, Ch 9, they’re arguing among themselves as to who the GREATEST is. And, v35, Jesus sits them down, and sees a little child, off to the side, ignored by everyone. The opposite of great or important. And he brings him right into the middle of the circle. The centre of attention. And then he TAKES HIM IN HIS ARMS, and he says, v37, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me”

Jesus’ kingdom is about RECOGNISING and VALUING the LEAST important. Children, and poor, and old. People with learning difficulties, and disabilities, and issues. The least, and the lost, and the last. People who TRULY follow Jesus/ value and welcome and protect people LIKE THAT.

But by the very next chapter the disciples have already FORGOTTEN THE LESSON. And they’re TURNING kids AWAY. Because they’re not IMPORTANT. And Jesus REBUKES them. V14 says he was INDIGNANT.

The world values productivity and efficiency. Return on investment. Value-adding. What you can GET. Not what you can GIVE. But that’s not the kingdom of GOD. Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for THE KINGDOM OF GOD BELONGS TO SUCH AS THESE.

They’re not off on the edges: ignored, overlooked and taken advantage of. They’re right there in the MIDDLE of the kingdom. And, v16, he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and BLESSED them. Acceptance, inclusion, love, relationship and BLESSING. That’s what children mean to Jesus. And so anyone who calls himself a Christian, and yet abuses kids. Or who overlooks, or fails to act against, people who DO. Isn’t following Jesus. It’s as simple as that.

Jesus and the hypocrites

Children matter to Jesus. And we see it, not just in how he treats CHILDREN. But in his warnings to those who MISTREAT them. Back in the previous chapter, (Ch 9 v42) He’s just commanded the disciples to WELCOME little children in his name. And then he turns it around. V42. “And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.

Those in Christian leadership have a great responsibility. We’re not only responsible for our OWN behaviour. We bear a load to guide and protect and set the example for our little ones. And Jesus will hold us ACCOUNTABLE for how well we DO that.

What a great reminder TODAY, at the baptism of A. It’s a serious promise you make that you’ll receive these children into your midst with Christian love and consideration, to pray for them, to care for them, and to provide them a Christian education and godly example.” Jesus is WATCHING and LISTENING. And he’s PROTECTING his little ones. And punishing those who lead them to sin.

That’s how we should treat children SPECIFICALLY. Jesus also had some stern words about the Jewish teachers of his time. Especially when it came to HYPOCRISY IN GENERAL.

And I think that’s one of the big complaints non-Christians have with the church, and the problem of abuse. There’s the hypocrisy of the abusers themselves. But also, of the Christian church in general. We TEACH about love and service. And about truth and justice. And yet we’ve overlooked, protected and covered up abuse. We can’t expect people to listen to our message when our actions say something DIFFERENT.

And we need to OWN UP to that. And apologise. And repent. And work at restitution and restoration. And commit to doing better in the future.

In Matthew 23, Jesus calls the disciples and the crowds together. And he WARNS them about the Pharisees and teachers of the law. He says, “Obey them. But don’t do what they DO. Because they don’t PRACTICE what they PREACH.”

It’s the classic definition for a hypocrite. (Someone who doesn’t practice what he preaches.) People very quickly lose respect for someone if their LIFE doesn’t back up their WORDS. The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote the following, often-quoted, piece of advice for the hypocrite. (Social Aims, 1875) “Don’t say things. WHAT YOU ARE stands over you the while, and THUNDERS so that I cannot hear what you SAY TO THE CONTRARY.”

That’s the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Jesus goes on to describe, v5, how they do things for APPEARANCES. For people to see. They love the place of honour. The complete OPPOSITE of the kingdom! Or down in v23. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more IMPORTANT matters of the law-JUSTICE, MERCY AND FAITHFULNESS. You should have practiced the LATTER, without neglecting the FORMER. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

Focussing on MINOR things. Things that other people NOTICE. But not worrying about things that GOD notices. Justice and mercy and faithfulness. And it’s a word STRAIGHT to our churches that, in the past, have overlooked abuse. We haven’t been concerned enough about JUSTICE. And MERCY. When you get priorities upside down like that you’re not leading people ANYWHERE. You’re like a blind guide! Which is DANGEROUS, and DEADLY!

And Jesus CONTINUES. V25. More back-to-front priorities. 25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you HYPOCRITES! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Cups that are clean on the OUTSIDE, but FILTHY on the INSIDE. That’s what hypocrites are like. It’s what happens when you’re more concerned with reputation and appearances. (With EXTERNALS.) But not with INTEGRITY AND CHARACTER, (the INTERNALS), because no one sees them.

But JESUS sees the inside. He knows our TRUE motivation. And that’s what counts to him. Because when you deal with the INSIDE, then the OUTSIDE takes care of itself. The outside FOLLOWS the inside. The actions of our HANDS follows the desires of our HEARTS. And he says, “WOE to the hypocrite. WOE. Keep on the path you’re on and you’ll end with JUDGMENT and PUNISHMENT.”

And then in v27 there’s ANOTHER image that’s even MORE confronting.crypt

27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Perhaps you’ve seen them at Rookwood Cemetery. The family crypts. Beautiful gardens, fine marble, clean, shiny plaques. But inside there’s death and decay. Generations of bodies, slowing rotting away.

And that’s what HYPOCRISY is like. That’s what abusers in the church are like. Presenting a good clean face to the world. While living out a secret, dark, rotting life.

Hypocrites are happy to keep the INSIDE and the OUTSIDE separate. They don’t see the contradiction. It doesn’t BOTHER them. There’s a PUBLIC life that says ONE thing. And a PRIVATE life that says SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

And Jesus HATES it! Because he can see straight through the pretend. Straight through the tidy, impressive clean face hypocrites present to the world. And he sees the dead bones. The uncleanness and sin.

Jesus and the church

And so, when it comes to how THE CHURCH deals with abuse. We need to be JUST LIKE JESUS. We need to VALUE the weak and fragile. And then that means we need to PROTECT them. Because they can’t protect themselves.

And when we VALUE the weak and fragile, then we’ll HATE it when they’re HARMED. And we’ll be ACTIVE at seeking it out. The WHOLE truth. And bringing justice against WHOEVER harms them. Without fear or favour. We need TRUTH and TRANSPARENCY.

And it means we need to own mistakes we’ve made IN THE PAST. Be HONEST about them. We need to WEEP in sorrow and repentance. And do what we can to MAKE UP for them. We need to bring justice against the abusers. And work to bring restoration and restitution to victims.

And then, looking into the future, do all we can to make sure children are protected. That we make it as HARD as we can for people to harm the vulnerable.

And so the Presbyterian Church, along with all the major denominations, has a comprehensive process for how we deal with abuse. There’s our POLICY. That’s our public commitment to dealing with abuse. And PREVENTING it. And we make statements like;

  • We believe that churches ought to be places of safety and refuge for children, young people and others, where they should be and feel safe from any threat
  • We commit ourselves to striving to ensure that all our actions are morally upright
  • We are committed to establishing a process that strives for truth and confidentiality.
  • We are willing to know the full extent of the problem of abuse and the causes of such behaviour within the church.

And, when it comes to PUTTING THAT INTO PRACTICE. Everyone who works with children is AUTHORISED and TRAINED. And there’s a CODE OF CONDUCT all our volunteers sign off on. It includes obvious things we can’t do. But also a lot of things that might have been fine ONCE, but that aren’t appropriate anymore.

So, our volunteers know that inappropriate physical contact or even personal correspondence between a leader and a child is out. So is a leader being in a room, or a car, alone with a child. And we’re happy for parents to observe any of our activities.

And the goal is to create a climate that makes it very difficult for an abuser to operate in. We set up a fence that EVERYONE stays behind. And so, if someone steps PAST the fence, it’s OBVIOUS.

Now, that’s a MAJOR EFFORT. And it’s taken HOURS and HOURS. And there’s a COST. Because we need to employ people whose JOB is to keep us compliant. But it’s WORTH it. Because our YOUNG PEOPLE are worth it.

We can’t guarantee abuse will NEVER happen. But, without doubt, our churches are safer places than they USED to be. It’s more complicated to do ministry. But it’s an effort we’re WILLING to make to PROTECT people.

And we make the effort because of what Jesus wants his church to be. It’s WORTH it because JESUS is worth it. Jesus is the only one who has the power to forgive sin. And the power to produce REAL CHANGE for the BETTER in people.

In Colossians 3 we read about a whole string of things that should flow from people who belong to Jesus. Life should look VERY DIFFERENT. Not just in ACTIONS, but WORDS, and PRIORITIES and ATTITUDES.

The chapter begins by describing something that’s ALREADY HAPPENED. V1. Talking to the church. “SINCE you’ve all been RAISED WITH CHRIST.” In other words, since you’re a new creation. Since God’s forgiven your sin, and you’re born again.

That comes FIRST. Ethics and morals come BECAUSE we’re Christian. They don’t MAKE us Christian. (Same thing down in v12 it says AS God’s chosen people who are holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion etc. It’s BECAUSE we are dearly loved that we clothe ourselves. We don’t DO good things SO God will love us.)

Then it continues. SINCE you’re born again, that affects what you FOCUS on, and what’s MOST IMPORTANT. V1 “Set your hearts and your MINDS on things ABOVE, where Jesus is, not on EARTHLY THINGS.”

Because that’s where your FUTURE is found. In fact, there’s a sense in which your life is ALREADY hidden there with Christ (v3). And when Christ returns, you’ll be WITH him. In GLORY.

And because that’s TRUE. It means something about what your life looks like NOW. V5. You should be PREPARING NOW for that FUTURE GLORY. Making sure you’re FIT for it.

Put to death whatever belongs to your OLD, EARTHLY nature. Which includes sexual immorality and impurity and lust and evil desires and greed. God’s WRATH is coming against that sort of life. But not only that (v8). Get rid of anger and slander and lies.

And, INSTEAD, v12, clothe yourselves with compassion and kindness and humility and gentleness and patience. (Like getting ready for a wedding – put on your best clothes). And then in v14, put on top of all of these things the big overcoat of LOVE, that binds them all together in perfect unity. (That sets them all in their appropriate CONTEXT. And is the right MOTIVATION for them to COME from.)

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if THAT was the reputation the church had in the local community? A group who genuinely LOVED everyone, irrespective of their influence, importance, or what they had to offer? Rather than a reputation as a bunch of HYPOCRITES. Who TALK about love, but don’t PRACTICE it. Who TALK about truth and justice, but who don’t DELIVER.

If we can begin to live out THOSE things. Then we’ll better be able to do what verse 17 calls us to. 17 And WHATEVER you do, whether in word or deed, DO IT ALL IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Doing it all FOR him, and in RESPONSE to him. And according to HIS VALUES and his KINGDOM. Because on our OWN we can do NOTHING. We need Jesus for EVERYTHING. We need his GRACE and forgiveness and strength and help. Every minute of every day. Because we’re ALL sinners, broken and helpless.

I love the final comment on the video from Dale Kuohne, himself a victim of abuse. “It’s not going to do any of us any good to beat up on God and beat up on Jesus WHEN THEY’RE OUR ONLY HOPE.”

In all of this, HUMAN SOLUTIONS can only do so much. Jesus IS our only hope.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, DO IT ALL IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Mark 16:1-8: The Great Omission

Let me give you a friendly warning. Don’t ask A.M. what she thinks of “The Lord of the Rings” movie. It’s not too flattering! I’ve rarely seen Amy get so animated as she did describing how ANNOYED the movie made her.

The book might be a literary masterpiece. Voted one of the greatest books of the twentieth century. But when it comes to the movie which is only based on PART ONE of the book (with two more parts to go). The movie just doesn’t SATISFY. Because it FINISHES when we’re only one third of the way through the story.

Which is okay if you KNOW that that’s what’s going to happen. But poor old Amy didn’t realise that the movie was going to finish with Frodo and Sam just STARTING the next part of the journey on their own.

It’s the sort of ending that’s BOUND to cause a response when you see it. Some people can’t WAIT to see the next movie. Others, like Amy, are frustrated that there’s no resolution. No finish.

And it’s the same range of responses that people have with the end of Mark’s story. Because it finishes quite suddenly.

Luke’s gospel finishes with lots of appearances of Jesus, and with the ascension. John finishes with Jesus appearing to Doubting Thomas, catching and cooking breakfast for the disciples, and then reinstating Peter to look after the church.

Then there’s MATTHEW’S Gospel. It finishes with the Great Commission. Jesus’ command to the disciples to go and tell everyone the good news. But there’s none of that in Mark. If you like, it’s the great OMISSION. The last thing we read/ is that the women said NOTHING to ANYONE because they were so afraid.

And lots of people think that it CAN’T be the end that Mark wrote. Because it doesn’t FIT the way WE would finish a story.

And so they decide that, somewhere along the line, we must have lost the last page, or something like that. And so, someone decided to WRITE another ending. One that ROUNDED THINGS OFF a bit better. And that’s the bit you’ve got in your bibles from verses 9 to 20. As far as we can work out, that probably happened sometime around 300 or 400 AD.

But WHO ARE WE to say that Mark’s done it the wrong way?

The BEST way to read the Bible is with a firm commitment that it’s just the way God wants. Complete with what WE might think are mistakes. And then to work hard to understand WHY God’s caused things to be written the way they are.

And that’s what we’re going to do today. WHY does Mark’s story finish in such an unusual way? What message is he sending his readers?

The plan is/ we’ll start off looking at what Mark says about Jesus’ resurrection. And then we’ll think about two questions that his ending raises. Two reactions we have as we read it.

1. An empty tomb!

But, first, let’s look at what happened that Sunday morning. At the empty tomb. And the first thing to notice is that Mark actually takes up the story the night before. On Saturday evening. Verse 1. “When the Sabbath was over”. That is, after sunset, Saturday night.

And the women who’ve been at the centre of everything since Jesus crucifixion are still active. They were WATCHING when Jesus was CRUCIFIED. They were WATCHING when he DIED. And they were watching when he was put in the TOMB. And here, at the first available moment, they go and buy spices for Jesus’ body.

And then they go home until the next morning. Because it’s too late to do anything now. And then Verse 2, They’re up bright and early. As soon as there’s enough light to see. They’re off to the tomb.

But as sometimes happens when you make an early start, you forget things. “Hang on a minute! Who’s going to roll that whopping great stone out of the way?”

I once had to preach at an early church service. 8 am traditional. And we were staying about 45 minutes drive away. So I packed the car the night before, and left my sermon notes near the front door, so they wouldn’t get packed at the bottom of the boot.

Well, we packed everyone in the car, and made it on the road in time. And we were about 15 minutes down the road, when I had this awful feeling. My stomach dropped. I’d left my notes at the front door.

We were on the Gold Coast freeway heading north to Brisbane. There were no exits, and nowhere to turn around, and go back.

Thank goodness for mobile phones! Our friends had found the notes as soon as we left. And taken off after us. We got in touch by mobiles. And we stopped by the side of the road for the pick-up.

It’s quite funny now, looking back. But it wasn’t too funny at the time.

Early starts can make you forget things. And it seems like that’s what these women had done. But they needn’t have worried. Because look at what happens when they arrive at the tomb. Verse 4.

(Mark 16:4 NIV)  But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.

The whole thing was designed so that the stone could be rolled down into a channel fairly easily. But once it was there, it was almost impossible to budge. But SOMEONE had moved it.

And straight away the women find out who. Look at v5.

(Mark 16:5 NIV)  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

For some reason Mark doesn’t call him an ANGEL. He’s just a young man dressed in a white robe. But an ANGEL is obviously what he is. Because the women respond the way people do when they come in contact with the things of heaven. They’re ALARMED. AMAZED. Jaw-droppingly, hair-raisingly ASTONISHED.

He’s come from heaven. Because he’s got a message from God. Verse 6.

(Mark 16:6 NIV)  “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.

He tells them NOT to be alarmed! And then he gives them the most ASTOUNDING news break ever. There’s probably never BEEN news that’s MORE alarming. Amazing. Astonishing?

He says not to be alarmed. But there’s NO WAY his message is going to calm their nerves. Because if they were astonished at a stone rolled away. And a young guy dressed in white. Then his news is going to KNOCK THEIR SOCKS OFF.

“You’re looking for Jesus. Yes, the Nazarene. Yes, the one who was crucified. You’ve got the right bloke. And yes, you’ve come to the right place. Because here’s where he lay.  But he’s been RAISED. RESURRECTED. Brought back to life. And he’s not hanging around here anymore. He’s had QUITE ENOUGH of death.”

That’s the news. And then he adds a COMMAND. What they’re to DO with the news. Verse 7.

(Mark 16:7 NIV)  But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'”

“The one who was dead. But isn’t anymore. Is going home. And he wants the disciples to follow him back to Galilee. And make sure you tell Peter. Just in case he thinks he’s not included.”

That’s the message. The angel’s done his job. And now it’s up to the women. But do they do their part? Hardly. Look at v8.

(Mark 16:8 NIV)  Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

The angel told them not to be ALARMED. So they’re trembling and bewildered instead. Shaking like leaves. Shocked. Not knowing WHAT to do.

And so they run. But not to tell the disciples. To get as far away from the tomb as quickly as they can. And Mark finishes by saying, “They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid”. The last sentence in the greatest ever story. “They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid”.

I don’t know about you. But I have a sort of “Amy Moore/ Lord of the Rings” reaction to that finish.

How can FEAR be the final emotion? What about JOY? And cheering?

And where’s the PROOF? Noone actually SAW Jesus. All they see is a young man who SAYS he’s risen.

And how come they didn’t say anything to anyone? What sort of a finish is that? What chance is there of ANYONE finding out about Jesus if THIS is the best the women can do?

It’s all very unsatisying for the reader. Half-baked and unfinished. We expect to turn over the page, looking for part 2 to start.

But let me suggest that that’s EXACTLY what Mark WANTS us to think. Because he even SAYS that he’s only writing part 1. Look back at the start of the book. The very first verse. Mark Ch 1 v1.

(Mark 1:1 NIV)  The BEGINNING of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Mark’s story is only the BEGINNING. The story CONTINUES. The story of Jesus continues FAR BEYOND his life and death and resurrection. It continues through the life of the church. The group of people who take on his name. Christian. And who keep telling each other the stories of Jesus. It continues in the lives of people who walk WITH Jesus every day/ through his Spirit.

Let me suggest Mark’s designed the end JUST THE WAY IT IS. To UNSETTLE us. And force us to ask these sorts of questions.

And there are two questions in particular we’re going to think about.

1. Is the MESSAGE of Jesus enough? And

2. Is the METHOD of Jesus enough?

2. Is the message of Jesus enough?

Firstly. Is the MESSAGE of Jesus enough?

One thing that’s not satisfying for me is that there’s no actual SIGHTING of Jesus. No PROOF. No eyewitnesses. Just the word of a young man.

And PROOF’s what I’d like to be able to give people. “Believe in Jesus. See, here’s the PROOF he rose from the dead.”

But Mark’s message is “That’s not the way it works. Whether it’s Mark’s FIRST hearers. In about 60 AD. Or today. Here in Doonside. We’ve got to take SOMEONE’s WORD for it. We have to TRUST the message.

Perhaps there were people in Mark’s time who were saying, “We can’t PROVE it. There’s noone left who actually SAW Jesus after he rose. How can I be SURE it happened?”

But whether it be 60 AD, or 2002 AD. That’s not the way Christian faith works. It’s not the way God designed it. We can’t PROVE anything. Faith involves TRUSTING something you CAN’T SEE. Clinging to something you’re FAIRLY SURE is there. And that’s not easy. If it was so easy – everyone would be doing it.

Don’t get me wrong. That doesn’t mean Christian faith is BRAINLESS faith. There are valid, rational reasons for believing. But ultimately, we need to TRUST the message. And the messengers, And, most importantly, we need to trust THE ONE THE MESSAGE IS ABOUT. Does what we read about Jesus ring true? Is he the sort of person I’m willing to trust my life to? The sort of person I’d risk DEATH for?

When we start to wonder “Is the message of Jesus enough?” we need to remember that it was enough for the Apostles. They met with the risen Jesus, and they told others. And the message changed their lives. And the lives of those they told. And the lives of those THEY told. And the lives of you and me.

The message of Jesus is STILL enough. The gospel still changes hearts. It doesn’t need to be ADDED to by multi-media presentations. Or slick advertising campaigns. Or the need to speak in tongues, or acts of healing. Or lives where nothing ever goes wrong.

Here’s the message. “Jesus lived to show us the Father. He died to pay for your sin. He rose from the dead, and defeated death for you. He’s gone home to wait for us”. That’s the message. And it’s still ENOUGH to change the world.

3. Is the method of Jesus enough?

The second question we might have is/ Is the METHOD of Jesus enough?

It seems a very dodgy strategy to leave the future of salvation in the hands of women who are too scared to say anything to anyone. Will the whole thing end with a whimper, rather than a bang? Who will tell the good news?

Yet, even though they were scared. Fear and amazement are the APPROPRIATE RESPONSES whenever human beings catch a hint of heavenly things. All through Mark’s gospel, that’s how people have reacted whenever they’ve glimpsed the transcendent, heavenly Jesus. Something beyond the normal, human everyday Jesus. And so it makes sense here at the END.

In Ch 2:12 Jesus heals paralysed legs. And the crowd are AMAZED.

In Ch 4:41, he calms the storm. And the disciples are TERRIFIED.

In Ch 5:15, he casts demons into pigs, and the crowd are AFRAID, and beg Jesus to leave.

In Ch 5:42 he raises a 12 yr old girl to life, and they’re ASTONISHED.

In Ch 6:50 Jesus walks on water, and the disciples are TERRIFIED.

In Ch 9:6 Jesus is transfigured into his gleaming, heavenly appearance, and the disciples are so FRIGHTENED, they babble like idiots.

And so when the women hear about the resurrected Jesus, and they’re too afraid, and alarmed, and trembling to tell anyone, it’s NOT THAT UNUSUAL. In fact, fear and awesome wonder is a perfectly appropriate response to glimpsing heaven.

Is that something YOU’VE experienced? Has a glimpse of Jesus affected YOU like that?

I can imagine those FIRST hearers of Mark’s gospel. Perhaps meeting in secret. Fearing Roman persection. Being thrown to the lions. Listening to Mark’s story being read.

“But if the women were too scared to say anything to anyone, what will happen to the message?” But then they looked around at each other. And the light gradually dawns. “Hang on a minute, we’re here today. That must mean the message DID get out.”

“They MUST have got over their fear. And told SOMEONE. Who told someone ELSE. And that’s how we got here today. And if THEY managed to get over THEIR fear. Then I can get over MY fear TOO. I can speak boldly. And pass the message on to someone else.”

And it’s exactly the same for us today. The message spread so far, it’s even made it to DOONSIDE. That’s a lot of people who spoke up, despite the fear.

Who told YOU about Jesus? Parent? Friend? Neighbour? Workmate? Someone swallowed their fear long enough to tell you the good news about Jesus! Thank GOD for them! Who will you do the same for?

Perhaps Jesus’ method wasn’t such a bad idea after all. It certainly DOES seem risky. But that’s the way he’s chosen to do things. Through US. We are his body. His means of working in the world. We SPEAK for him. On his behalf. We COMFORT, and HEAL, and SUPPORT, and PREACH, and ENCOURAGE, and REBUKE the world ON HIS BEHALF.

Jesus’s method for reaching the world is US. And it IS enough.

Mark finishes his story the way he does. Because his story is only PART ONE of the story. The BEGINNING of the good news of Jesus. We are part TWO. Where will it END? How will it end?

It’s up to US to write the rest of the story.

Mark 1:1-20: Getting Ready for Royalty!

103 days left until the Athens Olympic Games. And no-one except the organising committee thinks they’ll be ready on time.

People joke that THE ATHLETES THEMSELVES could help with the construction. The shotputters could train by throwing bricks to the bricklayers.

The weightlifters should lift something USEFUL for a change. Like bags of cement, or steel girders.

And they reckon that the triathlon this will consist of swimming, running, and pouring concrete.

From the moment Athens was announced more than seven years ago as the venue, they’ve been frantically getting ready. Some people would say “Not frantically enough”

And no doubt there’ll be plenty of VISITING ROYALTY. Kings and queens and princes and counts. All sorts of VIPs. From all sorts of different cultures.

And I guess they’ll have ADVISORS helping them to get ready. Cultural attaches. Experts. Making sure that no-one is insulted.

That all cultural considerations are met. That no-one is seated beside an enemy. That no-one is given offensive food, or gift, or accommodation.

WHEN YOU’RE MEETING ROYALTY, IT’S GOOD TO HAVE SOMEONE HELPING YOU TO GET READY.

1. John gets people ready for royalty (1:1-8)

And here in Mark Chapter 1 that’s exactly what’s happening. ISRAEL is getting ready to meet royalty. And they need someone to help them. Because it’s important to PREPARE PROPERLY when royalty comes to visit.

And so Mk starts by telling us about GETTING PEOPLE READY. Have a look at verses 2 & 3

(Mark 1:2-3 NIV)  “{2} It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”– {3} “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way (get it ready) for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'””

And those words are about to be fulfilled. Because God sends John the Baptist to PREPARE the people for Jesus. His job was to SMOOTH THE WAY for the arrival of the King. Just like the cultural attaches for the Olympics.

John’s job is to get people ready for the King. But how do you do that? How do you get ready for Jesus – the King of the universe?

Do you teach manners? Do you teach what things you should DO? Things you SHOULDN’T do?

Look at what John’s message is all about. Look at how he smoothed the way for the king. Verse 4.

(Mark 1:4 NIV)  “And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

The way to get ready for the king of the universe is to repent!

To repent is to recognise that you’ve rebelled against Jesus. That you’ve lived your life as a rebel against the king. And to do a U-turn.

And we ALL live like that, don’t we? We all hate people telling us what to do, and when to do it. We’d rather be our own boss, than recognise Jesus’ right to rule.

A friend of mine went to visit a dying man. He was waiting for a heart-lung transplant, and his life consisted of a ten foot long tube attached to a large oxygen bottle. He’d sit in a chair sucking on this mouthpiece for all he was worth. This was all that was keeping him alive. And he waited for someone else to die so that he could live.

Over the course of a few weeks my friend did Christianity Explained with the man. And he was confident that if ANYONE would become a Christian – THIS MAN would!

But at the end of the course, there was no response. And the reason? HE DIDN’T WANT TO LOSE CONTROL OF HIS LIFE!

He was in charge of his life, and he wouldn’t submit to anyone!

He died a few weeks later… completely in control of his own life… a life that consisted of a 10 foot length of plastic tube!

We all love to control our own lives. And we’ll love to do that even to our dying breath!

But John’s message is “That’s got to stop!” “You need to recognise Jesus’ right to rule over you as king”. To bow the knee to him, and to let HIM be boss.

That’s what it means to get ready for royalty!

And if you AREN’T recognising that authority, then John’s message is to YOU! YOU need to get ready for Jesus – YOU need to repent!

So what about John’s hearers? How ready were THEY?

They had HUNDREDS OF YEARS to get ready, so you’d think they’d be KEEN! And they were!

John’s running his “royalty-preparation courses” at his desert retreat. And people are flocking to hear him.  His services are in HOT DEMAND. His speaking calender is BOOKED SOLID. See what it says in v5

(Mark 1:5 NIV)  “The WHOLE JUDEAN COUNTRYSIDE and ALL THE PEOPLE OF JERUSALEM went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”

Now it would be easy for John to get carried away by all the excitement. To let all the attention go to his head.

But it’s important for a signpost to remember its place. And it’s important for the SUPPORT ACT to remember that the crowd haven’t come to see him. They’ve come to see the main attraction. The headline act.

I’ve been to a few concerts in the Sydney Entertainment Centre. And every time I go I can’t help feeling sorry for the POOR SUPPORT BANDS. They come out to a half full arena. Noone knows who they are, and what’s more noone cares!

They finish their set on a high, and it’s followed by a deathly silence. Or even worse  – by noisy conversation.

The only time they get any cheers is when they’re going off because then everyone knows that the REAL BAND is about to come on.

It’s not hard for A SUPPORT BAND to remember it’s place. (There’s plenty of people to remind them). Harder for John though, because he’s so POPULAR.

But remembering his place is just what he does. His job is only to PREPARE PEOPLE FOR THE REAL THING. Someone is coming who is WAY more important. That’s what he says if you look at v7-8

(Mark 1:7-8 NIV)  “And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. {8} I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.””

John was only the FORERUNNER. He was the ENTREE, The MAIN COURSE was still to come. And John says, “I’m not worthy to LICK HIS BOOTS”

And so here we are, the stage is set, the houselights are dimmed, the curtain is drawn back, the audience is hushed. Who is this one who is greater than John?

2. Jesus arrives: (1:9-13)

It’s now that Mk introduces the star of the show. The one John’s been preparing for. The one the people are waiting for. ROYALTY’S ARRIVED!

I wonder if people were expecting someone special? A royal figure on a chariot? A mighty leader like Moses?

I reckon that you’d be looking around you, checking out likely people. Perhaps it’s him… or him!

But my guess is that Jesus was among them WITHOUT THEM EVEN KNOWING. ‘Cause just like lots of others he was baptised by John in the river. Verse 9

(Mark 1:9 NIV)  “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee … and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”

IMAGINE, a king, doing something that humble, just like you or me!

I was waiting at the airport once. (Waiting’s something you seem to do a lot of at the airport.) And a huge black limousine pulled up. A guy in a snappy suit got out and walked quickly into the terminal.

As people came out of customs, he held up a sign “Bill Thomson – IBM”. I just couldn’t help checking out the people coming through the door. What must Bill Thomson from IBM look like? What sort of person has a limo at his disposal?

Was he that tall distinguished man in the black suit?

That older man with the grey hair carrying the expensive briefcase?

Or perhaps he was the young executive in the dark blue pinstripe?

I COULD HARDLY BELIEVE MY EYES when a short, unassuming, older looking man walked up to the guy with the sign. He was wearing a lairy Hawaiian shirt, baggy shorts, and casual shoes. He looked about as much like a high powered business executive as I do!

And it’s THIS TYPE OF REACTION that the people at the river have. “WHAT SORT OF A KING waits his turn in line to be baptised in the muddy water of the river just like all the rest of us?”

BUT THIS IS WHAT JESUS DOES.

And it’s only as he comes up from the water that we see his true credentials. His secret identity is revealed. His true occupation.

Read v 10 and 11. See what happens

(Mark 1:10-11 NIV)  “As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. {11} And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.””

Heaven is split apart. (Something special is coming from God). He declares Jesus as HIS SON. A son he loves, and who he’s pleased with!

THIS IS THE KING we’ve been waiting for! THIS IS THE ONE John’s been getting people ready for!

And yet there are questions about his kingship, aren’t there? WHAT SORT OF A KING cues up to be baptised like all the rest?

And the mystery continues. Because rather than the king putting together a procession to escort him up to Jerusalem. Rather than finding a golden chariot, horses, and soldiers. Rather than establishing a palace, and a royal treasury.

He heads off into THE DESERT… By himself – Just like Israel who’d been tested in the desert, This king did just what they did. Look at v 12

(Mark 1:12-13 NIV)  “At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, {13} and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”

It’s a STRANGE sort of kingship. It’s a kingship of CONTRADICTIONS.

Jesus: God was PLEASED with him, but wild animals still threaten him and he needs the comfort of angels.

He’s God’s SPECIAL SON, yet he stands in line to be baptised with sinful people, and goes out of his way to be tested just like us.

In some strange way, that’ll be explained later in the story, the King of the Universe has come to stand in the place of sinners.

We don’t have all the pieces yet, but it’s enough to get us to ask the question. What SORT of king is Jesus?

And that’s what Mark’s gospel is all about. This is the question we ask ourselves over and over as we read through the book. What sort of king is Jesus?

3. Jesus wants us to get ready (1:14-20)

And so we move onto Jesus himself. We’ve heard from JOHN about Jesus. And we’ve heard from GOD about Jesus.

And now we hear from JESUS HIMSELF.

He comes proclaiming good news from God. And His message is that something exciting is about to happen.

The good news is that the time is nearly here. The coronation is just around the corner! The time Israel’s been waiting for. The time when God would show his rule over the world IN A MIGHTY WAY.

But Jesus does more than just DECLARE IT.  He’s about making sure that people are READY FOR IT!

And he gets people ready with the same message as John’s. Remember? You get ready for the king by repenting.

Read what Jesus says – his first recorded words – in v 14 & 15.

(Mark 1:14-15 NIV)  “After John was put in prison, 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!””

To believe the good news was to recognise what time it was. That the wait is over. That the king had come.

The message of Jesus, and the message of John, was “Repent and believe the good news”.

“Big things are just around the corner! The Kingdom of God is nearly here! A time when the king is crowned!” It’s coming! It’s coming! Get ready! Get ready!

And in Mark’s story, he leaves that part right to the end.

Because the crowning doesn’t happen on a throne, before thousands of noisy and adoring subjects.

The final, victorious moment happens before a group of petrified women on a quiet Sunday morning. It’s the very last episode in the original story Mark wrote. Chapter 16: verses 1 to 8.

King Jesus defeats the greatest enemy. DEATH ITSELF.

He’s raised from the dead to prove who he was. He shows once and for all that the first verse of the story was right.

(Mark 1:1 NIV)  “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus – CHRIST, THE SON OF GOD.”

He shows that JOHN THE BAPTIST was right.

(Mark 1:7 NIV)  “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.”

And he shows that GOD was right.

(Mark 1:11 NIV)  ” You are my SON, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.””

The response of the women on that Sunday morning was FEAR. Fear at the awesome power of King Jesus who defeats DEATH.

It’s a pretty appropriate response actually.

And so is REPENTANCE. Because repenting is about bowing the knee to the one who deserves it, rather than being king of our own lives.

THAT’S how we get ready for Jesus – by REPENTING!

But what about Jesus’ hearers? How did THEY respond? Were THEY ready for kingdom time.

Mark tells us how SOME people responded to Jesus’ message. There were SOME AT LEAST who were ready to meet royalty. Pick it up in v16.

(Mark 1:16-20 NIV)  “As Jesus walks beside the Sea of Galilee, he sees Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. {17} “Come, follow me,” Jesus says, “and I will make you fishers of men.” {18} At once they leave their nets and follow him. {19} When he had goes a little farther, he sees James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. {20} Without delay he calls them, and they leave their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and follow him.”

The starting pistol of Jesus’ message had fired. And these guys LEAP OF THE BLOCKS. THEY’RE ready for the kingdom! THEY’RE ready to follow the king!

Jesus’ call has come to them. A call to repent and believe. A call to follow him. And they answer straight away.

It’s a call which still rings loudly to US. A call to be ready for royalty.

1. A call to repent – to repent from ignoring the kingship of Jesus.

2. A call to believe – to recognise his right to rule over us.

3. A call to follow – to go where Jesus wants, and to do what Jesus wants.

If you aren’t sure who Jesus is, and exactly what He’s asking of you, then keep checking him out! The book of Mk is a great place to start. Because as we read more, the strange kingship of Jesus becomes clearer.

And what it means to get READY for him also becomes clearer.

So keep checking him out! Keep getting ready for Jesus!

But this isn’t just a call to NEW PEOPLE. It’s a call to those of you who’ve known Jesus for YEARS,  or even DECADES.

Being ready for Jesus is a decision we need to make over and over. To recognise Jesus’ kingship is a conscious act in every part of every day. In each choice we make, we decide to follow King Jesus or not.

To repent … …  or continue doing our own thing.

To believe ……   or to trust that we know best instead.

To follow ……  or to turn our backs and ignore him.

Or what about us as a CHURCH? What can WE be doing to be ready for royalty? How can church be a place WHERE PEOPLE ARE ENCOURAGED TO REPENT?

1. First, We need to keep making sure we’re giving non-Christians the opportunity to repent. To keep presenting the good news about Jesus, and about how they can have peace with God through him.

2. This church needs to be a place where repenting is on the agenda. And one of the ways we can do that is to make sure part of our prayer during the service is repentance.

For 2000 years church services have changed hugely, but lots of things HAVEN’T changed. And one of them is that we begin church by APPROACHING GOD. By recognising who HE is. And recognising who WE are in comparision. And that will always cause us to confess how sinful we are. To REPENT. And to recognise our need for Jesus.

Let me encourage you SERVICE LEADERS. Let me encourage you who are ROSTERED TO PRAY. THINK about what things you pray for. PLAN and PREPARE what things you ask forgiveness for. Because as you confess certain things on behalf of all of us, it’s one of the ways God can show US things we need to change. And it’s one of the ways we make sure that REPENTING stays on our agenda.

3. Church also needs to be a place where, INDIVIDUALLY, people are changing. Repenting. Turning from what they ONCE were like, and becoming more like Jesus. A continual, gradual process. A journey of repenting. Of getting ready.

This needs to be a place where we can SEE each other becoming more like Jesus.

4. It also needs to be a place where it’s OKAY TO FAIL. We need to be transparent with each other. To not pretend that we’ve got everything together.

I don’t have everything together. I struggle with sin. I argue with my wife. I make mistakes with my children. I REPENT.

This needs to be a place where we can be HONEST. Where we can SUPPORT each other. Without being judgemental. And help each other to repent, and to become more like Jesus.

5. And if repentance is going to become part of the culture. Then FORGIVENESS needs to as well. If we want to encourage repentance, then we need to make sure that if someone hurts us, that we FORGIVE them.

Repentance is encouraged by PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL.

Repentance is encouraged by PEOPLE REPENTING and becoming more like Jesus.

Repentance is encouraged by being OPEN.

Repentance is encouraged by being SUPPORTIVE.

Repentance is encouraged by being FORGIVING.

Let’s work hard at GETTING READY FOR ROYALTY.

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.

 

Mark 2:13-3:6: Something New and Fresh

We visited Steve and Sheryl  last week. And saw the new house they’ve built at Greenacre. They pulled down the OLD house. (It was more than 50 years old. And it had been patched and repaired and extended. It had a leaky roof and small pokey rooms). And they built a brand new home with big living areas, a music room for Steve, ducted air conditioning. And a roof that doesn’t leak. And the same thing’s happening all over Greenacre. Old fibro houses on large quarter acre blocks pulled down, and large double-story brick mansions built in their place. As they lived in their OLD house, with all its problems, they had a choice to make. How bad IS it? Is the OLD worth SAVING? Could they just patch it up? Repair? Replace? Join the new onto the old, so there’s A MIXTURE of old and new? Or do they tear the whole thing down, and start again? Replace the old with new? Renovate? Or Rebuild?

And it’s the same question Jesus is faced with. He comes to THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL. They’re meant to be God’s people. A light to the world? But they’re old and broken. Is it a renovation job? Or do you just DEMOLISH it and start again with something new and fresh?

And as you look at what Jesus says in v21&22, it looks like he thinks the OLD Israel is too broken to patch up. It needs a REBUILD. We’ll see WHY in the passages on either side, but just for the moment, let’s start with what he says.

No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an OLD garment. If he does, the NEW piece will pull away from the OLD, making the tear worse. {22} And no one pours NEW wine into OLD wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours NEW wine into NEW wineskins.

Israel is the OLD garment. The old WINESKIN. Broken and brittle. Useless. And Jesus has come in with SOMETHING NEW AND DIFFERENT. And it’s not just a simple case of joining the new onto the old. Because they’re SO DIFFERENT. And the old is SO broken. And when you TRY, there’s going to be TROUBLE. The two just won’t go together.

It’s like you’ve got an old shirt with a hole in it, so you sew in a patch of new material. But the NEW material’s never been washed, so it’s going to shrink when you wash it. And tear the hole even BIGGER. Or putting NEW wine into OLD wineskins. The new wine FERMENTS. But the old skin’s stiff, with no flexibility. And the whole thing EXPLODES. The “old” is just too tired and decayed. And the “new” just won’t join to it any more.

It’s like trying to install old software onto a brand new computer. At SOME point, the new computer is just running too fast, and the old is just too old-fashioned. And they’re just not compatible.

Like I’ve found recently after updating Windows on my computer. And my Bible software wouldn’t work any more. Even after re-installing it. It was about 15 years old. Which isn’t old if you’re a PERSON. But it’s ANCIENT for SOFTWARE. And it just wouldn’t work.  The new and the old just couldn’t MIX.

  1. The New Arrival

2a Sinners only need apply  (?) (13-17)

And it’s like that when JESUS comes along and clashes with the “OLD”. What Jesus is on about is “NEW”. And they don’t MIX. And you can SEE it in every section in the passage today. Different issues. But always that SAME UNDERLYING TENSION. Have a look at the section starting at v13. Old and new clashing headlong. Jesus vs the Pharisees.

Jesus is walking along. He sees a tax collector called Levi sitting in his office. So Jesus says, “Follow me”. And v14. Levi does.

A bit later, he throws a party. All his mates are there. And so are Jesus and the disciples. But in verse 16, here’s the tension. Because the Pharisees don’t approve. All their extra laws were meant to define who’s acceptable to God.

And tax collectors and sinners are PRIME EXAMPLES of those who DON’T MAKE THE GRADE. And yet here’s Jesus EATING with them. Not PREACHING like he’s been doing up until now. Just EATING. Spending time with them. Accepting the unacceptable.

And the OLD way of thinking means that makes JESUS unacceptable.

But Jesus is doing something NEW. He hasn’t come to be seen with people who think they’re OK. Who are SELF-righteous. They’re just deceiving themselves.

He’s here for people who SEE THEMSELVES CLEARLY. Who understand that, before God, they’re helpless. People exactly like Levi. This is DOCTOR Jesus. And that’s what he says verse 17. He hears them complaining and he says.

“It’s not the HEALTHY who need a doctor, but the SICK. I haven’t come to call the RIGHTEOUS, but SINNERS.””

Someone like LEVI THE TAX-COLLECTOR doesn’t measure up in the OLD Israel. But in the NEW Israel, he’s JUST what Jesus was looking for. The perfect credentials. Because in the NEW Israel, only SINNERS are invited to apply.

So, how do YOU see yourself? Respectable. Upstanding. Self-righteous? Doing just fine? Like the Pharisees?

Or someone who’s NOT perfect. Who needs Jesus’ help. Like Levi?

Are YOU willing to be a LEVI? To see yourself WARTS and ALL. Faults, mistakes, weaknesses, dark thoughts and all? And to OWN them? And to run to Jesus for the cure?

Or are you still stuck back with the Pharisees. Refusing to recognise there’s anything wrong? Proud and complacent? Too busy COMPARING yourself to OTHERS, than to take a close look inside your own HEART?

Do you welcome constructive criticism? Loving interventions from friends or family? Do you THANK people for it? Or do you get defensive and hurt instead?

I know who Jesus would rather hang out with!

But let’s turn it around. It’s really the point Jesus is making to the Pharisees. How do WE evaluate OTHERS? Are we only interested in people who’ve got it all together? (Moral, upright, normal people?) Or in SICK people? Are we trying to build a church of people who are RESPECTABLE? Or REAL people? People who know what they’re REALLY like?

We might SAY we’re interested in reaching everyone. But let’s be honest, it’d be a lot easier if SOME types of people didn’t come to church. WOULDN’T it?

DIFFICULT people, or SMELLY people, or TIME-CONSUMING people, or people with LOTS OF PROBLEMS – people who just WEAR YOU OUT.

I’m not saying that people like that aren’t hard work, but THEY’RE OFTEN THE ONES WHO KNOW THEY NEED HELP. And that’s the right attitude. The attitude Jesus is interested in. He’s come for the SICK, not the healthy.

There’s something about middle-class Australians. We’re keen to present the image that we’re FINE. We don’t need help. We’re independent. And coping with life. Even if we’re falling apart on the inside.

And for Jesus, that’s the OLD way. And he’s not interested in it. He can’t HELP people with THAT attitude!

We need to look at church, and at people, like JESUS looks at them. Church is about MENDING SICK PEOPLE, not building a successful, well-trained, outwardly-impressive institution.

So it’s NEW vs OLD. The old way. The Pharisees. Who see people ONE way. And the NEW way. Jesus. Who looks at people differently.

2b. Feast or fast? (18-19)

Same again in the next story. V18. New vs Old. The same tension. And again people decide Jesus is getting it wrong. This time, about FASTING. All the BEST people are doing it!

EXCEPT Jesus and his disciples. And so the question gets asked. WHY NOT? What sort of Jews ARE YOU?

V19. Jesus answers that the NEW Israel is more about FEASTING than fasting. Fasting’s just trying to IMPRESS God. To get his attention. A recognition that something’s MISSING.

But who needs that anymore? It’s not the time for FASTING. The kingdom is near, because the King is HERE! It’s time to celebrate. Feast, not fast. Which you can see in v19

Jesus says, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They can’t, so long as they have him with them.”

What Jesus wants is A NEW ATTITUDE. Rejoicing in what you’ve already received. Not FASTING to influence a reluctant, stingy God. Celebrating. Not walking around with long faces and grumbling stomachs. So again – new wine into old wineskins. And it’s INCOMPATIBLE.

2c. For enjoyment or protection?

More of the same. V23. It’s the Sabbath. The Jewish day of rest. Jesus and his disciples are walking through a field, picking some heads of grain and chewing them. Just a travelling snack.

But the PROBLEM IS, it’s the Sabbath. And according to the Pharisee’s definition, they’re WORKING. And so the accusations start. V24. “Why are you picking grain on the Sabbath? It’s unlawful. God’s not pleased.”

Jesus answers them in v27. An answer that turns the OLD way of seeing things on its head. An answer that’s going to provoke a reaction. Check out v27 & 28.

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. {28} So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.

For the Pharisees, keeping the Sabbath had gone WAY beyond what God intended for it. Their rule book was FULL of things you couldn’t do. Trying to PROTECT the Sabbath from people breaking it. Walking a certain distance, cooking, feeding animals, lifting things. That’s the old way… a rule for everything.

But Jesus says, the Sabbath starts WHENEVER IT SUITS YOU. Because Sabbath was made for MAN, not the other way round. It’s meant for enjoyment and REST, not for making rules. Sabbath was meant to PROTECT people. It didn’t need protecting BY people.

It’s like that episode of Yes, Minister, with the hospital that had no patients. It was the most efficient, and tidiest hospital in the whole NHS system. When it was suggested they needed to get some patients, the argument was that patients would ruin their statistics. They’d missed the point that the HOSPITALS were for the benefit of PATIENTS. Not to be PROTECTED from patients.

Same with the Sabbath. Its purpose is for THE BENEFIT OF PEOPLE. Not to be protected from people.

2d. To heal or hurt?

Same point in the next story. And the same sort of tension. This time A LIVING EXAMPLE. Jesus SHOWS HOW the Sabbath is for man’s good. Ch 3. It’s Sabbath again, some time later, and Jesus is in the synagogue. There’s a man there with a shrivelled hand.

And again, there’s trouble brewing. People WATCHING; WAITING for Jesus to make a wrong move. One false step. So they can get him. Look at v2.

Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely TO SEE IF HE WOULD HEAL HIM ON THE SABBATH.”

More concerned about Jesus than their suffering brother. All eyes on Jesus.

And Jesus is going to show them again, how the NEW is different from the OLD. The OLD was worried about KEEPING THE RULES of the SABBATH. But JESUS is on about HELPING PEOPLE. V4. He gets the man to stand up, then he asks everyone

“Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”

Reminding about the REAL tragedy. And they’re CAUGHT. They can HARDLY say it’s for evil or killing. But if they say it’s for doing good and saving lives, then Jesus has WON the ARGUMENT.

He’s making the same point as BEFORE. The Sabbath is FOR MAN. Not the other way round. It’s meant for enjoyment and benefit and restoration. Not to be protected with rules and regulations. And to PROVE it, he HEALS the man. Even though it’s against their rules.

And it’s an attitude that makes Jesus MAD! How can people get it so WRONG? V5 says he’s ANGRY at DEEPLY DISTRESSED at their attitude.

God gave the Sabbath as a wonderful gift, but these leaders are using it as a club to beat people over the head with.

But if Jesus is mad with THEM, then the feelings are MORE than mutual. The old guard means business. Verse 6

Then the Pharisees go out and begin to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.”

And as Mark tells the rest of his story, as the gospel unfolds, we see how the opposition keeps growing. Whenever Jesus does something great, there’s always a dark cloud. THE PHARISEES. The OLD way of doing things. Looking to kill Jesus. To silence the new voice.

  1. How do you really please God?

Old ways, the new way. The difference all comes down to a question of “HOW DO YOU REALLY PLEASE GOD?” Because THAT’S where the problem lies. The tension between the old and the new.

Do you impress God by MIXING WITH GOOD PEOPLE? Do you impress God by FASTING? Do you impress God by keeping the Sabbath special? SO SPECIAL that you won’t lift a finger to help anyone? Do you impress God by killing anyone who steps out of line – who suggests that perhaps there’s a new way of doing things?

That’s the OLD WAY – the stuff the Pharisees somehow think makes a good impression with God. Show him how GOOD YOU ARE.

BUT THEY’VE GOT IT WRONG. That’s NOT how you please God at all.

WHAT’S SO SCARY, is that they were THE RELIGIOUS PEOPLE OF THE DAY. The ones who were devout, and consistent, and regular. The same way people might describe many of US.

In all the EXTERNAL SIGNS, they looked like they were pleasing God. Impressive. But WRONG. It’s what happens whenever people take their eyes away from what GOD says, and replace it with man’s opinions.

You want to please God, don’t you? Ask yourself this question. What do you put your CONFIDENCE in? In something YOU’VE done, or something GOD’S done? Levi the tax collector knew who to trust. And it wasn’t himself. HE FOLLOWED JESUS. Following Jesus. That’s the simple, quiet example we’re meant to follow, in the midst of all the action and strong personalities in this section. FOLLOW JESUS. That’s how to impress God.

According to Jesus, you DON’T impress God by simply MIXING WITH GOOD PEOPLE. By going to lots of bible studies, or even going to BIBLE COLLEGE. You don’t impress God by listening to lots of sermons, or belonging to the right organisations, or being on the right committees. Maybe you’ve been thinking you can impress God like that? You CAN’T.    He’s not impressed simply by FASTING. Or keeping rules. Because ACTIONS BY THEMSELVES are worth NOTHING. You don’t impress God simply by keeping the Sabbath special. Legislating what we CAN and CAN’T do on Sunday isn’t what Jesus is on about. Sabbath is made for man.

So what should our attitude be to Sundays… or fasting? For some Christians these things are very important. For others, they’re not important at all. Some Christians are very careful about what they do, or DON’T do, on Sundays. Other Christians don’t see a problem. Some Christians find that FASTING is great for their spiritual lives. Others find it just makes them hungry.

So what should our attitude be? It’s important to remember exactly what Jesus is SAYING about keeping the Sabbath, and about fasting. And what he’s NOT saying. He’s NOT saying that they’re WRONG. Or BAD. It’s the wrong ATTITUDE Jesus condemns. It’s the attitude of TRYING TO EARN CREDIT WITH GOD Jesus is against. And the PRIDE and JUDGMENTALISM that often goes with it.

He doesn’t say NOT to observe the Sabbath. He doesn’t say NOT to FAST. But his NEW way is that these things are to happen WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF A RELATIONSHIP. Levi followed Jesus FIRST. Then threw a party out of gratitude. We may choose to do certain things BECAUSE God loves us, and because we want to HONOUR him. We AREN’T to do them to MAKE God love us. It’s not the ACTION ITSELF that makes something right or wrong. It’s the attitude BEHIND the action. The INTERNAL not the EXTERNAL.

People reckon the difference between cooking a steak in the microwave and on the BBQ is THIS. The microwave starts heating things up on the INSIDE, and WORKS ITS WAY OUT. While the BBQ starts heating on the OUTSIDE, and works its way IN.

And as much as we might prefer a BBQ STEAK. What Jesus really wants to see is a MICROWAVED Christian. They’re much better. Where the warmth starts on the INSIDE, and works its way OUT. Attitude that heats up actions. A warm heart that fires up hands and feet. That’s Jesus’ NEW way. Microwaved.

While the Pharisees are more interested in the BBQ’ed type. Start on the OUTSIDE. When the INSIDE is COLD and FROZEN.

But Jesus says you just can’t DO it that way. You’ve got to get the ATTITUDE right. Warm up from the INSIDE OUT. THAT’S the new way. Getting the attitude right is a matter of life and death.

My Grandma used to say to me, “I’m not a bad person”. And it’s true. By HER definition she wasn’t a bad person at all. She didn’t kill anyone, or cheat on her taxes. She was nice to people. A good hostess and a great cook. She didn’t swear, or get drunk, or steal.

She died a number of years ago. And the saddest thing was that, from what we could tell, she died thinking God was going to be impressed by all the good things she did. She spent her life building up a list of credentials. Of receipts, and personal references, and good works. But it was all a waste, because none of it impressed God.

But she didn’t realise that God’s standard of what’s good enough, was FAR HIGHER than hers. NO-ONE’S good enough for God.

We need to recognise that, before God, we’re not healthy or righteous. No matter how much better we are than others.

The new Israel, the kingdom Jesus is on about, it’s for people who RECOGNISE they’re sinful. For those who know they’re sick. Those who know they need a doctor.

For Jesus, it’s not externals that matter. He’s interested in A CHANGE OF HEART. This is the new way Jesus has brought.

Maybe that’s a new way for YOU. That YOU need to think through. That YOU need to accept.

The irony is, the ones who THOUGHT they were pleasing God, the ones who were passionate about making the right impression… they had no time at all for Jesus. Make sure that’s not how it is with you.

Mark 3:7-35: The Family Business

My Grandad was a Chemist. He ran the Chemist shop in Cairns. And my DAD trained to follow in his footsteps. Became a Chemist too. So he could take over the family business.

 

 

 

 

Lots of people do that, don’t they? In fact, in the OLD days, it was pretty normal. That’s where surnames came from. John TAYLOR was a tailor – like his dad. Bill SMITH was a blacksmith. And so on. Balzer is apparently German for bird catcher.

The funny thing is, Dad left being a chemist to go into Ministry. And I guess I’m following in HIS FOOTSTEPS, too!

Sometimes GOING INTO THE FAMILY BUSINESS carries HUGE BENEFITS. Like James Packer. Or Lachlan Murdoch. Imagine your Dad being Kerry Packer. Or Rupert. Billions of dollars – and you just walk into it right at the top. Because you’re part of the family.

Well, there’s a better family business to be involved in. And WE CAN BE PART OF IT. A better INHERITANCE than DOLLARS. An ETERNAL inheritance. And we’re invited to share in it. You can see it there at v33.

Jesus’ mum and his brothers have come to take him home. Because they think he’s CRAZY. Too focused on HELPING OTHERS, he won’t even stop TO EAT.

But when Jesus is told his mother and his brothers have come for him, he RE-DEFINES THINGS. About who’s REALLY part of his family. His REAL brothers. His REAL MOTHER. He re-draws family boundaries.

Read what he says. Verse 33. “Who are my mother and my brothers? And he looks at the people seated in the circle around him – the ones listening to every word – and he says, “HERE are my mother and my brothers. WHOEVER DOES GOD’S WILL is my brother, and my sister, and my mother.”

And it’s people like THIS / Jesus is calling to be part of the family business.

And he’s calling YOU to be part of it too. Are YOU willing to sit at Jesus’ feet? To LEARN from him? Learn to do God’s will? To learn ABOUT him? Because if you are, then you can join Jesus’ family business too.

  1. The God Squad: (13-19)

Let’s look at how Jesus goes about his work. He’s getting people to join the family. Verse 13. Out of all the crowds that are following, Jesus calls together a group of twelve… twelve to be AT THE CENTRE of what he’s doing.

And he gives them a name. APOSTLES. They’re more than just DISCIPLES – followers. He’s got HUNDREDS of THOSE. These are APOSTLES – “sent ones” – his representatives or agents. Because he’s going to SEND THEM OUT. And they’ll do what he’s been doing. To PREACH THE GOOD NEWS. And drive out demons. With HIS AUTHORITY.

They’re the familiar names. From v16. James. John. Andrew. Thomas. As well as a few names NOT so well-known. Bartholomew. And Thaddeus, who’s apparently also called Judas. But perhaps because there’s ANOTHER Judas, he gets called Thaddeus.

Then there’s Matthew. Which is another name for LEVI, the tax-collector from the last chapter. There are TWO Simons, so one gets called Peter – or THE ROCK. And the OTHER one gets called THE ZEALOT. And the two hot-headed brothers, James and John, are called SONS of THUNDER, which sounds like an outlaw bikie gang. And the list finishes, as always, with Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus.

The twelve apostles. The new Israel. The ones for the family business.

And along with them – anyone else who wants to REALLY DO GOD’S WILL, the NEW FAMILY OF JESUS. Who’ll sit at his feet and listen to every word.

But what’s UNEXPECTED is the people you’d EXPECT to do that – to understand him BEST- are the people who AREN’T.

Like his BIRTH family. His mum and his brothers. They’ve lived together for years, but they just don’t seem to understand him AT ALL.

And it’s the same with the PHARISEES and the TEACHERS OF THE LAW. They should be EXPECTING their Messiah. Experts on the Old Testament that promised he was coming.

Let’s look at how they get it wrong. His mum and his brothers say he’s MAD. And the Pharisees say he’s BAD.

  1. He’s mad:

Have a look at verse 20. Jesus comes to a house; and again there’s a crowd; so much happening that he and the disciples can’t even stop for a bite to eat.

And so verse 21, When HIS FAMILY hears about it, they go to take charge of him… because they say, “He’s out of his mind” So FANATICAL and DEVOTED, even FOOD doesn’t matter. They think he’s not looking after himself. He just needs a good home-cooked meal. A good lie down. His NATURAL family don’t understand what the FAMILY BUSINESS is about! They don’t see a KING who’s come to conquer Satan’s kingdom. They don’t see the MESSIAH come to preach good news. Or GOD’S SON doing God’s work.

They see the boy they grew up with. The boy with scars on his knees. Who’s obsessed and over-enthusiastic. He just needs some common sense advice. About getting TOO committed. And so they want to take him home. They miss the significance of what he’s doing. And so, verse 32, when they finally get to the door to try to take him home. As the message is passed through the crowd – YOUR MUM AND YOUR BROTHERS ARE HERE, Jesus says the words we saw earlier. About a new family. With new allegiances. A family of people who SEE THE REALITY of God’s kingdom.

Who’s my TRUE FAMILY? Those LISTENING to me. Those DOING GOD’S WILL. They’re my brother… and my sister… and my mother. While his NATURAL family are ON THE OUTSIDE.

Which is the way it is for lots of Christians who come from non-Christian families, or who are single. They’ve got deeper bonds, in some ways, with their CHURCH family, than they do with their NATURAL family. There’s genuine intimacy and connection and purpose and joy that comes from sitting at Jesus’ feet, with your brothers and sisters. We need to make sure church is LIKE a family. Especially for our singles, and those without other Christians in their family.

  1. He’s Bad:

But there’s ANOTHER group who get Jesus confused. Who misunderstand what he’s on about. And boy do they get it wrong! The TEACHERS OF THE LAW are convinced he’s EVIL.

Mark wants us to keep the two groups together. To look at BOTH of them to COMPARE. So he uses a technique I call the SANDWICH technique. The family are the two bits of bread. And the teachers are the filling. He gives us the FIRST part of the story about the family. And then he LEAVES them, tells us about the TEACHERS, then FINISHES with the FAMILY. Two WRONG ways of thinking about Jesus.

So let’s look at the teachers. They see the things he’s doing… driving out demons. He’s just been setting people free from evil spirits back in verse 11 and 12. Whenever evil spirits saw him, they’d fall down before him and cry out. He’s controlling the forces of evil!

And so the experts put two and two together and come up with … FIVE. Anyone with that sort of power over spirits had to be FROM THE DARK SIDE. “Demons BOW DOWN TO YOU, you must be THE PRINCE of demons!”

And so they accuse him. Verse 22. He’s possessed by BEELZEBUB. By THE PRINCE OF DEMONS he’s driving out demons.

His FAMILY thought he was MAD. The teachers of the law think he’s BAD. But it’s obvious, isn’t it. It’s not the DEVIL’S BUSINESS Jesus is on about. It’s his FATHER’S BUSINESS. He’s not setting people free because he’s from SATAN. He’s setting people free because he’s from GOD. And the demons aren’t BOWING to their MASTER. Their RUNNING AWAY from their ENEMY.

Jesus’ answer is in two parts. What his business ISN’T. And what it IS. First, Verse 23. What his business ISN’T. He’s not Satan driving out Satan? That’s NONSENSE. Verse 24. A kingdom divided against itself can’t stand. That’s not what’s happening.

Instead, Verse 27. What his business IS. He’s the ULTIMATE REMOVALIST. He’s RAIDING SATAN’s BANK VAULT… and carrying off his treasures. Setting people free from his power. And he says, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first TIES UP the strong man. THEN he can rob his house.

And that’s what Jesus has just been DOING. Verses 7-10. Healing, preaching and getting rid of demons. Raiding Satan’s pantry! A breakout from Satan’s jail! The STRONGER man who’s binding up the STRONG man. If they’d been paying attention they’d have REALISED what he was doing!

(In fact, over in chapter 5 we meet a demon-possessed man who’s been bound up with chains. But he breaks them. No one is strong enough to defeat the demons torturing him.)

The TEACHERS may not get it, but the funny thing is/ THE EVIL SPIRITS recognised what Jesus was doing. It’s a bit hard not to notice when you’re being invaded!

Verse 11. Whenever the evil spirits see him, THEY FALL DOWN BEFORE HIM, and cry out, “YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD”.

The ones who SHOULD HAVE worked Jesus out/ DIDN’T. (The Pharisees and his family) And the ones Jesus was raiding (the demons) DEFINITELY knew who was attacking!

  1. He’s God

You know, you can’t just IGNORE JESUS. You’ve got to make up your mind who he really is -he’s not just HARMLESS. Irrelevant. That’s not an option. The only three choices are HERE.

He’s either MAD. Deluded. THOUGHT he was something he WASN’T. That’s what his FAMILY reckoned. That’s one option.

Or else he’s BAD. Evil. Satan’s offsider. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Which was what the PHARISEES thought he was. That’s the second option.

Or else he’s GOD. That’s the third option. The evil spirits could see it! They knew who was ordering them around. The people sitting around Jesus knew it. They were listening intently to every word.

That’s your choice. Mad… Bad… or God. Or, as CS Lewis described the choice: Lord, Liar, or Lunatic. Who do YOU say he is? And does your LIFE REFLECT that?

But there’s ANOTHER group of people in this passage, isn’t there? The crowds. We don’t hear much about them today. But they’re always there. Always listening and watching. And they had the same choice to make. The choice YOU’VE got to make. Mad, bad, or God?

Some of them were just hanging around for a free feed. Some wanted to be healed. Some just followed for the free entertainment. But SOME were there for the RIGHT reasons. Some of them SAW SOMETHING SPECIAL in Jesus. More than just a meal ticket, or a freak show, or a quick fix. Something worth listening CLOSELY for. Looking CAREFULLY at.

Something worth pushing through the crowd. Cramming into a tiny one-room house. Squashing up on the floor, with their knees up around their chin. They did all of THAT so they could sit at Jesus’ feet. And listen to him. Why?

To find out what God wanted them to DO. To find out how to PLEASE him. How to do MORE than talk the talk. That’s what the Pharisees were good at. They needed to learn to walk the walk.

And what’s Jesus’ verdict? HERE are my mother and brothers. Here’s my true family. Is that where you are?

It’s like the crowds around us right now. All around there are thousands of people who’ve got an opinion about Jesus. Washing their cars, reading the papers. Mowing the lawn. Watching TV.And most of them have got the WRONG idea. Opinion based on IGNORANCE. Probably because no one’s ever told them what Jesus is really like. No one’s ever shown them what the Bible says about him.

And so they’ve got the wrong idea. They ignore him because they think JESUS IS IRRELEVANT. That Christianity is about Sundays and stained glass and singing.

Because Jesus is nothing like they think, is he? He’s no hypocrite. He was tough as nails on those who deserved it. He was as courageous as a warrior facing the enemies who hated him with a passion. He was a strong man against Satan – a house-breaker and a head-cracker.

But he was compassionate and gentle as a dove to the weak and children and outcasts. Deeply loving and accepting of the broken and down-trodden.

And he had a sharp wit, a magnetic personality, hands as tough as leather, shoulders as wide as the mountains, and the patience of a saint. The perfect image of God. The most complete human personality who ever lived.

THIS was the Jesus some of the crowd followed EVERYWHERE. They were his TRUE family. Who sat at his feet. And listened to every word. Because more than anything else, they recognised that he had FIRST-HAND KNOWLEDGE about GOD. He knew what PLEASED God.

You know, in the end, we all have to choose sides. When it comes to Jesus you can’t just SIT ON THE FENCE. You can’t just continue on living life as if Jesus is IRRELEVANT. There’s a choice to be made.

But there’s also a warning. So be warned. V28 The RELIGION EXPERTS choose exactly the WRONG SIDE of the fence to come down on. (He’s EVIL. He’s BAD. He’s possessed by the DEVIL). What a BLASPHEMY. And that’s what Jesus says to them. Verse 28. They thought God’s HOLY Spirit in Jesus /was an EVIL spirit. You can be forgiven for ANYTHING ELSE. But that’s ONE MISTAKE that there’s no coming back from. Get it THAT wrong about Jesus and you’re heading for an ETERNITY WITHOUT HIM.

You need to make sure that’s not YOU. That you know for CERTAIN who he is. He’s NOT mad. He’s NOT bad. He’s GOD. And he’s doing GOD’S BUSINESS. Building God’s family. And if you know THAT, then you’re part of that family. His true family. Who circle around him and listen. Keen to know the will of God. Keen to DO THE WILL OF GOD.

The warning’s there because the world’s full of people who think they’re on God’s side. But that’s an opinion based on IGNORANCE.

Because the only way to know what God wants/ is to listen to JESUS. Just like the group sitting at his feet. We need to LISTEN TO JESUS, and take what he says seriously.

So what sort of things does Jesus call us to do? What sort of things are God’s will? What IS the family business ABOUT? The FIRST step is to REPENT. That’s what Jesus has been saying from the START. “REPENT and BELIEVE the good news!” Turn over a new leaf. Stop living for YOURSELF. And start living FOR JESUS.

And when we do THAT. When we TRUST him, we’ll listen to what he SAYS. About what pleases God. Try these on for size. (Mat 5:21-22 NIV)  “”You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ {22} But I tell you that anyone who is ANGRY with his brother will be subject to judgment. Don’t be ANGRY.

(Mat 5:27-28 NIV)  “”You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ {28} But I tell you that anyone who LOOKS AT A WOMAN LUSTFULLY has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Watch LUST.

(Mat 5:38-40 NIV)  “”You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ {39} But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. {40} And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” (Mat 18:21-22 NIV)  “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” {22} Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Forgive and turn the other cheek. The Sheep and the goats

(Mat 25:43-45 NIV)  “I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ {44} “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ {45} “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'”

Care for those in need.

All sorts of things that make A REAL DIFFERENCE in what your life looks like. That show you’re sitting at Jesus’ feet. Listening to every word. That’s what it means to be in Jesus’ family business!

 

Mark 4:1-34: Secrets, Sowers, Seed & Soil

There’s nothing worse than a JOKE you’ve got to EXPLAIN. It falls FLATTER than a PANCAKE.

 

I.S. was telling me about when he preached at a church in Korea. During his talk, he told a short joke. He was hoping to get a CHUCKLE from the congregation. Just to break the ice. As he waited for the translator to finish. And as he waited for the laughter. He started to worry. Because the translator was spending a LONG TIME translating his joke. Eventually he finished. And immediately everyone ERUPTED in loud, raucous laughter.

 

Now my friend didn’t think the joke was that funny to begin with. So after the talk, he asked the translator why it took so long to translate, and why everyone laughed so hard. The translator was a bit coy and embarrassed, but after a little prodding said “It wasn’t funny, and they wouldn’t understand the joke, so I just said, ‘This man has tried to be funny. Please be polite and laugh very hard when I finish this sentence’”.

 

If you’re in the know, you’ll understand. If you’re not, it loses something in the translation. And the more you try to explain it, the less funny it becomes.

 

And it’s the same with the parables Jesus tells. Stories with a POINT. If you’re in the know, you’ll get the point. You’ll see the connections Jesus is trying to make. But if you don’t, no amount of explaining will help.

 

The BEST parable is the one where THOSE IN THE KNOW work it out without explanation. It’s at its SHARPEST at the first telling. When it provokes the biggest response. It only gets duller and less effective the more you explain it.

 

So Verse 9. Jesus warns everyone to listen up. Put your ears on. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

 

Because there’s a secret to be revealed. And a mystery to be unravelled. And it all depends on how you LISTEN.

 

There are those with their ears on. And there are those who DON’T. And Jesus warns EVERYONE to make sure that they’re listening. ESPECIALLY for this FIRST parable.

 

Because this first parable is the KEY to the rest. The SOLUTION to the rest of the puzzles.

 

Because the whole PROCESS of teaching, and telling parables, is described in the FIRST parable. So if you miss this one, you’ve already missed the boat. And that’s why Mark puts it FIRST.

 

Listen to what Jesus says about this parable. Verse 13. “Don’t you understand THIS parable? How are you EVER going to understand THE REST?

 

Seeding the seed:

So let’s look at this parable together. Verse 1. Just like the last chapter, Jesus is teaching huge crowds. So many, he’s getting shoved into the lake. So he sits in a boat to teach the mob as they line out along the shore.

 

And there’s LOTS of things he teaches them. LOTS of parables. But here’s the crucial one.

 

Verse 3. Jesus begins. “Listen! Put your ears on!” A farmer’s sowing seed. And the seed gets thrown on ALL sorts of ground. Same seed, different ground. And each type of ground accepts the seed differently.

 

Verse 4. The PATH was so HARD the seed just sat on the top until the birds pecked it up.

 

Verse 5. The ROCKY GROUND had SOME soil. But when the seed germinated there, the roots couldn’t grow down very far, and the plants shrivelled up.

 

Verse 7. Plants that started to grow in the WEEDS got choked by all the competition.

 

And finally verse 8. GOOD soil. Where the seed grew and produced a great crop.

 

Jesus finishes. Verse 9. “If you’re ears are on, make sure you hear!” But obviously the message DOESN’T get home. Because a bit later they ask him what’s going on. Verse 10.

 

Now it’s not the CROWDS who ask. That’s what you’d expect. It’s the TWELVE and the others around him. The ones who’re SUPPOSED to be listening. THEY don’t even get it! “Stop playing games with us. Tell us straight. What’s with all these stories?

 

And how does Jesus answer? In v 11, he says it’s a matter of seeing the secret. (Mark 4:11 NIV)  “He told them, “The SECRET of the kingdom of God has been given to you. ..”

 

What’s this secret Jesus is talking about? Is it something that’s to be HIDDEN from lots of people? Something you pass on quietly? That’s what WE think “a secret” is.

 

The Nature of a mystery 10-13

Secret’s probably not the best translation. The word is the one we get our word MYSTERY from. In fact the good old King James says, “The MYSTERY of the Kingdom of God has been given to you”.

 

In the bible, MYSTERY refers to something that’s BEEN REVEALED. In the past, people haven’t known about it. But now it’s there for everyone to see. Like the curtain going up on the stage to finally reveal the show. Something hidden, that’s now been revealed.

 

So it’s not really a SECRET. Well, at least not a secret ANYMORE.

 

And Jesus says, “The mystery’s finally here. It’s arrived. The message about THE KINGDOM OF GOD!” It’s not some particular set of words, or some sermon of Jesus about the future. It’s to do with the Kingdom of God.

 

And what do we know about that? Well, back in Chapter 1:15. Jesus’ first words about HIMSELF. The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near. I’M here!

 

Jesus had arrived, and the kingdom was on its way.

 

It’s JESUS who’s the mystery. HE’S the secret of the kingdom. He’s been hidden in the past. And now he’s been REVEALED … to those who are LISTENING.

 

But it’s not a secret that everyone’s in on. Jesus goes on to say that the PARABLES are for those who DON’T listen. ONLY parables. For those in the dark, they never get PAST the parables. They’re just nice amusing stories. There’s no meaning or depth in them. Like a joke you don’t get.

 

And in v12 Jesus says it’s just like in the old days. In Isaiah’s time. People didn’t listen to ISAIAH when he told them what God wanted. And people don’t listen to JESUS. And so he quotes what ISAIAH said about his hearers.

(Mark 4: 12 NIV)  “.. ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'””

 

When people misunderstand the parables, it reflects something about THEM. Not about the trickiness of the parables. It’s SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS AND DEAFNESS which is on show. Not how understandable the PARABLES are.

 

It’s what the parable of the sower is all about. Sowing is the whole process of speaking in parables. The complete ministry and teaching of Jesus is like scattering seed.

 

That’s why Jesus says that if they miss this one, they haven’t got a hope with the others. Verse 13. “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” You can hear his frustration. Having to explain the joke.

 

The Nature of a Lamp (21-25)

You see, the whole point about a MYSTERY is that it’s meant to be UNDERSTOOD. There’s no use having a SECRET if you don’t TELL someone. And that’s what Jesus says in v21. The nature of a MYSTERY is to be REVEALED, And the nature of a LAMP is to GIVE LIGHT.

(Mark 4:21-23 NIV)  “He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? {22} For whatever is HIDDEN is MEANT to be disclosed, and whatever is CONCEALED is MEANT to be brought out into the open.  {23} If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.””

 

JESUS is the lamp who’s come to give light. It’s against his nature to be under a bowl. He’s the SECRET of the Kingdom of God who’s been given to those who listen. Once he was HIDDEN, but his whole job now is to make himself CLEAR. Visible. Because the nature of a lamp is to shed light.

 

That’s how he answers the question right back in v10. When they asked him about the parables. The purpose of the parables isn’t to keep people in the DARK. The whole idea is to ENLIGHTEN people.

 

By thinking them through, you get a new understanding about things. And that’s what Jesus means when he says he’s the lamp that gets put on a stand.

 

How’re ya growin’? (14-20)

But even though they don’t get it. Even though they’re the ones who’re supposed to have their ears on, but can’t hear him, he explains it anyway.

 

He explains it because his nature as a lamp is to shed light on things. To help people see.

 

Better to have a joke EXPLAINED to you and to be in on the secret, than to miss out all together. Better to have this IMPORTANT one under your belt, so the rest might become a little easier. So verse 14, he explains it.

 

And as he does, he’s making a comment about everyone who hears his message. Then AND now. As they listened to Jesus. As they followed him around. Or as others rejected and ignored him. He’s describing THEM.

 

As WE read about Jesus, we hear Jesus warning us, too. “Put your ears on. Make sure you’re listening. Because I’m talking about you. You’re a soil. HOW’RE YA GROWING?”

 

Jesus says, I’m the farmer, who sows the word. Preaching is what Jesus came to do. And the different reactions he gets from people are like the different soils.

 

Growing hard (15)

Verse 15. Some people are hard as nails. The message rolls off them like water off a duck’s back.

 

Just like the Pharisees and teachers in the last chapter. They thought Jesus was the Prince of demons. Wouldn’t have a bar of him. And Jesus warns them that doing THAT/ is unforgivable.

 

Growing hard to the gospel. Are you HARD to the gospel? Perhaps you’ve sat in church for YEARS. And just learned to SWITCH OFF. Whenever you’re challenged to DO something about God’s offer of salvation/ you think about something ELSE instead? Or fool yourself that you MUST be a Christian/ because you’ve been around Christians for so long?

 

Have you ever actually confessed your sin? Have you ever accepted the gift of friendship and eternal life that God’s offering you? Thanked him, and resolved to spend your life following Jesus/ in obedience and love? Have you actually DONE IT?

 

Or are you HARD to the message?

 

Or perhaps you ARE a Christian, but you’re attitude has BECOME hard? Are you taking God’s forgiveness for granted? Just going through the motions? Saying empty words?

 

Does the grace of God for you in Jesus still move you to tears? For YOU? He’s chosen YOU!

 

Does your own sinfulness fill you with sorrow? Do you want to become more like Jesus?

 

How have you changed in the last year? Think about what you were like this time last year. How have your attitudes changed? What do you think differently about? What people are you finding it EASIER to love than this time last year?

 

Perhaps if there’s NO CHANGE anymore, you might be growing HARD to the message. How’re ya growin’? Don’t be rock hard to the gospel. Don’t let that be you. Put your ears on.

 

 

Growing shallow (16-17)

But there are others who seem to LOVE the message. Verse 16. They accept it gladly. And they seem to be growing really well. But there’s no DEPTH to them. Maybe that’s Jesus’ family in the last chapter. They didn’t understand Jesus deeply.

 

Perhaps these plants didn’t really know what they were getting into. That seeds can’t grow by themselves for very long. Drawing on their internal energy reserves. Pretty soon they have to get their energy from the sun.

 

As long as things are easy, they’re fine. But as soon as any small bump comes along, they’re hit for a six. And they wither and die. Because they go searching for their energy reserves inside them. They didn’t put their roots deep into the soil. Into God, and the strength he gives. Rocky soil’s like that – there’s no DEPTH to it.

 

Putting down deep roots is about growing to KNOW JESUS. To trust him. Letting him be the Lord of your decisions, and your actions, and your friends, and your job, and your marriage.

 

Trying to keep all of this rolling along in your own strength is like a plant trying to grow without roots. And you fall away. It’s a Christian who’s grown shallow. Don’t let that be you. How’re ya growin’? Put your ears on.

 

Growing unfruitful (18-19)

And the next type of soil. Verse 18. The seed starts to grow well. But pretty soon the stresses of modern life start to choke. The PRESSURE of that work deadline. The PRESSURE of meeting the mortgage payment each month. The PRESSURE of trying to be LIKED by everyone. The PRESSURE of keeping up appearances. Conforming to the materialistic expectations of your friends and neighbours.

 

The PRESSURE from the kids who bombard you with questions and noise and demands as soon as you walk in the door. The PRESSURE from your wife, who’s expectations you never seem to be able to live up to. The PRESSURE from your husband who always needs to be reassured like a child, and who refuses to acknowledge that you’ve got a life too.

 

It’s pressure that could kill a plant. Choke the life out of it. Maybe that’s the crowds in the last chapter who followed Jesus around. Healing and full stomachs and entertainment were more important than strong growth.

 

But notice what happens to this plant. It DOESN’T die. It doesn’t shrivel up, or fall away. All the pressures make it UNFRUITFUL. It’s like a sick peach tree that doesn’t produce any fruit year after year. It’s not pruned. It’s not fertilised, or cared for. It SURVIVES, but it’s a SECOND-BEST TYPE OF EXISTENCE. A life-time of coming second.

 

Is that what your Christian life seems like at the moment? A second-best type of existence?

 

How’re ya growin’? Don’t be a Christian who’s choked into being unfruitful. Don’t let that be you. Put your ears on!

 

 

So what’s the secret to keeping your Christian garden weeded? How can you keep the thorns at bay so you can be fruitful? Where do you buy THE SPIRITUAL ROUNDUP?

 

Maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe it’s not the WEEDS that’re the problem, but the way you ALLOW them to AFFECT you. Because the weeds are always going to be there. Life will ALWAYS have the same pressures to deal with.

 

The funny thing is, it’s these SAME WEEDS that OTHER Christians seem to cope fine with. The same sorts of pressures that can choke some people, don’t affect others.

 

So the question becomes, how can you DEAL with the weeds, and STILL be FRUITFUL?

 

Growing fruitful (20)

And that’s the fourth type of soil. They don’t have problems with weeds choking them. Or shallow soil stopping deep roots. And they PRODUCE FRUIT. They live life RICHLY. In a close, deep relationship with Jesus. It’s those who sat at Jesus’ feet in the last chapter. Who got to know Jesus, and what he wanted. And who grew their roots deep into him.

 

For the fruitful plant, the weeds which can choke, are put into PERSPECTIVE. Jesus is Lord of EVERYTHING. The Kingdom of God reigns over EVERY OTHER kingdom.

 

For the fruitful plant, every decision and attitude is seen from under the umbrella of God’s purposes in Christ. Purposes where everything happens to make me more like Jesus. An opportunity in which Jesus can be glorified.

 

And surely that’s what WE want to be, isn’t it – FRUITFUL? As individuals AND as a church? Producing FRUIT. Personal godliness. Friends and neighbours coming under the influence of the gospel. Coming to know Jesus as Saviour.

 

Have you noticed the LOGO we use for church here? ONE of the things it represents is a FRUITFUL TREE. That’s what God wants US to be.

 

Isn’t that our WHOLE PURPOSE in LIVING? TO bring glory to God by BEARING FRUIT. Living a LIFE of SIGNIFICANCE. That makes a DIFFERENCE in the lives of people. A difference for eternity. That’s FRUIT.

 

The nature of a seed

it grows naturally (26-29)

And the key to this sort of living is found in the next two parables. If you keep in mind what he’s teaching HERE, you’re well on the way to growing your roots deep. To killing off the choking weeds. To living a fruitful life.

 

Because in these next two parables, Jesus describes what the KINGDOM is like. What life under the rule of God is really about.

 

The first parable is about a farmer who sows a crop, and then it grows. No matter what he does with his time, the crop still grows. Whether he sleeps or wakes. Is lazy or works hard. He doesn’t know how. He can’t make it grow any faster by worrying. And he can’t make the sun shine any brighter. Or the rain fall any heavier.

 

And verse 28. All by itself the soil produces the grain. Step by step the crop grows. And when the time’s right, it’s the harvest.

 

Jesus is saying that the kingdom is about GROWTH. It’s growth which doesn’t depend on man. GOD’S KINGDOM GROWS BY GOD’S MEANS.

 

If you’ve been listening. If you’ve been thinking about what type of soil you’re like. If you recognise the shallowness of your roots. Or if you can feel the strangling fingers of the worries of the world. Then listen to what Jesus says about growth. About YOUR growth. He’s speaking to YOU.

 

1. God’s growth in you is SLOW AND STEADY. Sometimes we’re hard pressed to see change from one week to the next. But if we look at how we’ve changed from one YEAR to the next, mostly we can see growth. So be encouraged.

 

2. God’s growth in you is CONSTANT. God doesn’t run out of steam. He sticks at his task. He doesn’t give up. Others might throw in the towel, but not God. So be encouraged.

 

3. God’s growth in you is INEVITABLE. “He who started a good work in you WILL carry it onto completion”. A tree might grow slowly, but it can rip a concrete driveway, or pipeline to pieces. Your weakness is no barrier to God doing his work in you.

 

Growth is sure. So stop doubting about whether you’ll ever get there. It’s God’s job to put the fuel in the tank. You’re just along for the ride. So be encouraged.

 

4. God’s growth in you HAS A GOAL. He’s getting you ready for harvest.

 

When Jesus comes back to judge the world, he’ll look at you. He’ll see every stumble. Every doubt. Every silly word you’ve ever said, and foolish decision you’ve ever made. Every selfish action you’ve ever done, and evil motivation you’ve ever had.

 

But God’s growth has moved you forward to THIS DAY. HARVEST. And Jesus will look at you, and say, “WELL DONE, good and faithful servant! I’m so pleased to see you’ve finally got a full head of grain. It was hard work. But it was worth it. You look so fruitful! Welcome home!”

 

So be patient. It’s not exam day yet. You’ve still got time to study. It’s not how ready you are NOW that counts, but how ready you’ll be on that final exam day. Be PATIENT.

 

And because God’s getting you ready for that day, live TODAY with HOPE. Don’t focus on where you are NOW. Keep one eye on where you’ll END UP. Because you’ll have grown much more by then. So be encouraged.

 

God’s growth is slow and steady, constant, inevitable, and has a goal.

 

Perhaps you can’t see that far ahead. You’re too short-sighted. Spiritual myopia.

 

You’re discouraged at how TINY you seem now. At how INSIGNIFICANT this little group of God’s people seems. How powerless Christianity seems in the midst of multicultural, pluralistic, hedonistic, post-modern Australia, where nearly everyone else couldn’t give a stuff about God.

 

it starts small and finishes big (30-36)

Then the parable of the mustard seed is for you.

 

Verse 30. Jesus says that the Kingdom of God starts small but will finish big. Like the tiny mustard seed that grows into the biggest plant in the veggie garden.

 

It’s not how you START the race that’s important. But how you FINISH.

 

And God’s kingdom started pretty small in Jesus and a ragged bunch of twelve misfits. And perhaps it even seems pretty small and insignificant now. But Jesus promises that it’s growing into a huge kingdom. And we can be SURE of it.

 

It’s a perspective like THIS that helps us “shallow-rooted plants”. As we learn to live this attitude out, we grow our roots into Jesus. In trusting him to lead us where he knows best. To make us more like him. Because his kingdom is growing.

 

And the same perspective helps us “weed-choked plants”. Because the weeds that USED to seem so important, don’t SEEM to be anymore. And God’s kingdom which perhaps seemed little, we can now see as growing bigger. Slowly but surely.

 

God’s working on you, and in you. He’s working to grow you. To make you fruitful.

 

How’re ya growin’? Put your ears on. Are you listening?