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Monday, January 30, 2006

Pastor Matt G.P.

Ever since I became a solo pastor in 1998, I have tried to define my philosophy of pastoral ministry in terms of my three primary biblical functions as a vocational elder in God’s church: Preach the Word, Equip the Saints, and Shepherd the Flock (2 Timothy 4:2, Ephesians 4:11, 1 Peter 5:2).

Those three functions often seem to be in conflict with one another. Preparation time to preach, coaching time to lead and equip, and people time to be a shepherd all vie for my attention. It seems like many of the books out there about how to be a “good pastor” give weight to one or another of those functions, and also make it seem like one of them is the be-all-and-end-all of what it means to be a pastor. I fight to try to keep the three in balance and to feed one another. Sometimes I feel pulled by various people to do one over the others. All too often, I am personally tempted towards one to the neglect of the others–often whichever is easiest to do at the time.

The metaphor I’ve been using recently to help me think about it is that of a family doctor who is a G.P. or “General Practitioner.” I do not get to be an expert–a podiatrist, a ophthalmologist, or even a cardiologist. I get the privilege of being a “jack of all trades and master of none” (except pastoring!). I need to know a little bit about everything but won’t ever have the time to master anything. Because that’s not what my flock needs! But they do need me to love them personally, teach them the Bible, and coach them into ministry.

Most of the time, I like being a G.P., though sometimes I long to focus on just one task. I enjoy having multiple irons in the fire and a finger in every pie (to change and mix up my metaphors). And (to employ yet another metaphor) what I really enjoy is when the three tasks begin to play together in harmony, and I get a sense that I’m really caring for the flock and the Chief Shepherd is pleased with the music.

Soli Deo Gloria! (To God Alone Be the Glory)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Matt's Messages - Desperate

“Desperate”
January 29, 2006
Mark 4:35-6:6

Last week, in our ongoing study of Mark’s introduction to Jesus, we listened to Jesus teach. Jesus taught in parables about seeds, soils, and secrets. The Word of the Kingdom planted in rich soil will bear amazing fruit.

This week, Jesus goes back into action. The Gospel of Mark is an action-packed biography. We learn who Jesus is by what Jesus does. And in the next several stories, Jesus does an awful lot!

Each of these following stories presents Jesus responding to people in desperate situations. “Desperate.”

I’d like to read these stories with you, slowly, noticing the details and then drawing a few practical conclusions at the end.

And as we see what Jesus does, we will see Who Jesus is.

Mark chapter 4, verse 35.

DESPERATE IN THE STORM. Verse 35.

‘That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.”

Stop there for a second. Remember, the escape boat that Jesus had turned into a pulpit while he preached his parables? Well, the day is done, and Jesus wants to escape in that boat. He needs a rest. He is very human and needs a rest. So they take off for the other side of the lake with a few other boats along. But Jesus’ nap gets interrupted. V.37

“A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.”

The Sea of Galilee is like that. It is shaped like a bowl and a big storm can form and sweep over it in a moment’s notice. It took these fishermen by surprise and made them “desperate.” But Jesus doesn’t seem to notice. He’s sleeping like a baby. V.38

“Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don't you care if we drown?’”

“Don’t you care? What do you think you’re doing? Don’t you care? How can you just sleep? We’re going to die! Don’t you care?” They are desperate...and foolish. V.39

“He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”

“He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’”

“They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’”

You get the picture that Jesus wakes up, yawns, speaks the wind, “Cut out that racket!”, rebukes his disciples, and goes back to sleep.

And the disciples just stare at Him. And whisper among themselves, “Who is this?”

“Who is this? Demons are one thing. Sickness is one thing. But this is something else! This is scarey!”

The disciples were much more scared of Jesus than they had been of the storm.

“Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him.”

Remember the disciples’ questions. “Don’t You Care?” and “Who is this?”

Chapter 5. DESPERATE WITH THE DEMONS. V.1.

“They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. [There is no crowd here, but there’s no rest here, either.] When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. [How bad was he? V.3] This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.”

This is one bad dude. And he is desperate, too. He is demonized and oppressed and unclean, has an unclean spirit, is undressed, lives in the graveyard and is a menace to himself and to society. He is in a desperate condition. And he knows it. V.6

“When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. [Notice how even the demons are subject to Jesus!] He shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!’ For Jesus had said to him, ‘Come out of this man, you evil spirit!’”

Jesus had commanded the spirit, but he had not left yet. He is trying to get around Jesus’ authority. He is saying, “Mind your own business, God’s Son.” But Jesus is not deterred. Nothing stops him. He has come to bind the strong man. V.9

“Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘My name is Legion,’ he replied, ‘for we are many.’”

The Roman legion had some 6,000 soldiers in it. The demoniac is saying that there is an “army of demons” inside of him. But that entire army must obey Jesus! And he knows it. V.10

“And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. [This story gets more unclean as we go on. An unclean man in an unclean place with unclean animals. The Jewish reader of Mark would be shuddering at the thought. V.12] The demons begged Jesus, ‘Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.’ [They want bodies, I guess.] He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.”

I don’t think they went to “hog-heaven.”

One preacher called this the first occasion in the world of “deviled ham.”

We make jokes, but can you imagine the sight?

Two thousand feverish squealing pigs rushing down the bank and drowning!

Pigs don’t have a “herd instinct.” But here they are committing mass suicide.

That’s what the demonic will do. Satan wants to steal, kill, and destroy. It was just a matter of time, until this would happen to this man, as well.

That’s how desperate his situation was. But not anymore. V.14

“Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. [The death of two thousand pigs was an economic disaster.] When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.”

They were afraid. Just like the disciples after the storm. Not about the pigs, but about the man! Jesus had calmed his inner storm, as well. And now he’s sitting there, dressed and in his right mind. The “strong man” had been bound and defeated. And the demonized man had been set free.

But he was the only one who was happy about it! V.16

“Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man–and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.”

They were scared. And they didn’t want to suffer any more loss of property like the pigs. So Jesus did leave. But He left someone behind to tell His story. V.18

“As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him [He probably didn’t need a Gentile disciple yet], but said, ‘Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ [Evangelism.] So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.”

“Does Jesus care? Who is this man?”

V.21. DESPERATE IN SICKNESS

“When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. [There’s that crowd again.] Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, ‘My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.’ So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him.” Stop there.

You can just about hear the pain in this community leader’s voice. “My little daughter is dying. Please some...” Jairus is desperate. And he hopes that Jesus can help. But there is an interruption. V.25

“And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years [as long as the dying child is old she has been bleeding. She is “unclean.”]. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. [She’s desperate. There’s not been much hope.] When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.’ Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering[!]. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ ‘You see the people crowding against you,’ his disciples answered, ‘and yet you can ask, 'Who touched me?'’ [Again, Jesus’ disciples rebuke him. Again he ignores their ignorance. V.32] But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.”

She is afraid of Jesus, too. Because He healed her! She trembles at this man who could heal her through her own touch. But Jesus is gentle with her. V.34

“He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.’”

“You faith has healed you. You trusted in me. And it was rewarded.” Wow! What a moment!

Think for a second now, about how Jairus must be feeling. The Miracle Worker was rushing with him to his daughter’s bedside. Then they got interrupted by this poor sick woman.

He is wealthy and important.
But this woman is poor and has no position in society. She has been perpetually unclean for twelve years.

Jairus might be feeling impatient. But then, he sees what Jesus can do and hope flickers up in him again. And then it gets dashed into a legion of pieces. V.35

“While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. ‘Your daughter is dead,’ they said. ‘Why bother the teacher any more?’ [There is no more hope.]”

Oh. How painful. Can you imagine what that must have felt like? “Your daughter is dead.” There is no more hope. You must be desperate with death.

DESPERATE WITH DEATH. Not Jesus! V.36.

“Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, ‘Don't be afraid; just believe.’ He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. [They were already desperate with the death.] He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.’ [I’m not sure why He says that. Perhaps He doesn’t want to attract attention to Himself as a resurrectionist, just as a healer. V.40] But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child's father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was.”

She’s lying there dead. No breath. No heartbeat. No brainwaves. No movement. Dead.

“He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’). Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.” She was hungry.

“Does Jesus care?” “Who is this that can raise the dead to life?!?”

One more story of desperation. Desperate in the worst kind–unbelief. Chapter 6, verse 1.

DESPERATE IN UNBELIEF

“Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. ‘Where did this man get these things?’ they asked. ‘What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, ‘Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.’ He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith. Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.”

Desperate In Unbelief.

These people couldn’t see past their history with Jesus to see Who He really was. They could only think of Jesus as a hometown boy. And they didn’t realize how desperate their condition was.

They took offense at Jesus. And He was amazed at their lack of faith.

So much so, that Jesus–Who stilled the sea, cast out an army of demons, stopped the flow of blood without a thought, and raised the dead–“could not do any miracles” in His hometown because of their lack of faith.

That doesn’t mean that He stopped being omnipotent. It means that He has, in His wisdom and goodness, decided that He will not, morally cannot do much in the way of miracles when there is no faith present.

And that leaves Nazareth in the most desperate condition of all of these five stories.

Now, let’s draw some conclusions about Jesus from the portrait of Jesus’ actions that Mark has been painting for us. I have three.

#1. JESUS CARES.

When they were desperate in the storm, the disciples asked Jesus if He cared if they perished.

Did He?

Well, aside from the fact that they shouldn’t have been afraid in the first place because the Son of God was asleep in their boat, He did care.

And He did care for the man who was harassed and oppressed by an army of demons.

And He did care for the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years.

And He did care for the family that had lost a pre-teen girl.

And He did care for his unbelieving hometown.

Jesus cares.

I don’t know if you are desperate right now.

But if you are, Jesus cares.

If you are facing a storm, a sickness, a death, or even a demon, Jesus cares right now about your situation. He cares about you. Jesus cares.

Jesus is not so busy running the universe that He is not attentive to your problems, your crisis, your suffering, your situation. Jesus cares.

And because He cares, you don’t need to worry. You don’t need to be afraid.

1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on [God] because he cares for you.”

You don’t need to worry. Jesus cares for you.

That doesn’t mean that He will still every storm for you, or heal every sickness, or raise the dead for you. But He will do what is best for you. He will take care of you. Because He cares for you.

You don’t have to worry.

Jesus cares.

What are you going through right now that has you all tied up in knots?

I’ve noticed that fear is a major temptation for people in our community.

What are you going through right now that you are wondering, “Does Jesus care?”

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

“Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

Alistair Begg preached at Moody once when Heather and I were students there. And he preached on that verse, 1 Peter 5:7. And he said the word for “cast” is “hurrrrl” and rolled his R’s for us. “Hurrrl.” And I’ve never forgotten it.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

Jesus cares.

#2. JESUS IS GOD ALMIGHTY.

In the boat, the disciples were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.”

What’s the answer that Mark gives? Chapter 1, verse 1.

“The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Jesus is God Almighty.

He does what only God Almighty can do.

We “Sing the Mighty Power of God.” And that power is resident in Jesus.

Listen to Psalm 107 which is a song about God. Verse 23.

“Others went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. They saw the works of the LORD, his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits' end. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men.”

God did that.

And Jesus did it, too.

“Who is this?” Jesus is God Almighty.

The demon knew it! He said, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”

And it was obvious from His miracles.

Casting out the demons, healing the woman, raising the girl.

Jesus is Almighty God.

Mark wants to introduce Jesus to the world as Almighty God come in the flesh.

And because He is God, He deserves our unending worship.

And He also deserves (and asks for) our faith.

#3. JESUS WANTS US TO BELIEVE IN HIM.

Jesus deserves our faith.

The disciples had two questions back in the boat: “Do you care?” and “Who is this?”

Jesus had two questions, too. “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Jesus wants us to believe in Him.

Faith was the issue with the Gerasene townspeople, as well. They didn’t want to trust Jesus, they just wanted Him to leave.

The man who had been besieged by a legion of demons believed. And He was sent to tell others so that they would believe, as well.

Faith was the key to the suffering woman, wasn’t it?

Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.”

Jesus wants us to believe in Him.

What did He then tell Jairus? Chapter 5, verse 36.

“Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

Jesus wants us to believe in Him.

In His power, in His person, in His promises.

“Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

Do you believe in Jesus? He is so worthy of our faith.

If you have never put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior, He is calling for you to do so today.

“Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

Jesus is God Almighty, and yet He cares about you. He died on the Cross as the sacrifice for the sin of all who believe.

And He invites you, calls you, to place your trust in Him today as Savior and Lord, Rescuer and King.

“Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

All of us are prone to unbelief even after we have initially trusted Christ.

But Jesus is worthy of our trust.
Jesus is worthy of our faith.
Jesus is worthy of our belief.

Jesus wants us to believe in Him.

Are you trusting Jesus right now?

Not just for salvation. But for protection? For satisfaction? For provision? For being “enough” for you?

Are you trusting Jesus right now?

Or are you like the people Nazareth?

They were in the most desperate situation of all of these stories; they just didn’t know it.

They looked at Jesus and only saw “Mary’s son.”

And they went to Hell for it.

Jesus wants us to look to Him and see Almighty God and place our faith in Him alone.

“Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

Jesus cares. “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

“Cast your cares on him, because he cares for you.”

Jesus is Almighty God. “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

Jesus wants us to believe in Him. “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

Jesus is the answer for all of our desperate needs. Let us trust in Him.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The State of the Church

The Annual Pastoral Report
Pastor Matt Mitchell
Year in Review: 2005

Dear Church Family,

I am thankful to be your pastor! God has graciously given us a joyful partnership in His glorious gospel, and it is a joy (not a burden!) to serve Him in serving you (Hebrews 13:17). I thank Him for you. I am thankful for your prayerful support (especially for the new Pastor Prayer Team), for your financial support (my family is well cared for by your generosity), and most of all, for your love of our Lord, His Gospel, and His church.

I am also thankful for the 2005 Leadership Board: Keith Folmar (chair), George Leathers, Wally Kephart, Blair Murray, Lloyd Riehl, Charlie Weaver, and Tom Hampton. These men have faithfully come alongside me in prayer, decision-making, vision-setting, accountability, and shared leadership.

Thanks are also in order for our 2005 ministry and support staff. Jessica Meyer ably served for the first four months as our Administrative Coordinator. Thankfully, when the Lord led Jessica on, He brought Donna Wolfmeyer right in to fill her shoes in a seamless transition! Donna has a genuine love for Jesus that shows through as she serves us in the office. Our custodian, Cindy Green, always has a pleasant word and a smile as she cleans up our messes! And I love working with Tom Fisch in ministry! Tom served us as our 2005 Summer Program Director and did a great job.

2005 in Retrospective

I am always overwhelmed when I look back through my calendar at the previous year to write this report. Too much went on to write it all out. It seems like too much went on to even summarize it adequately!

2005 was a year of growth and development for us. Our Lord was very gracious and poured out a number of blessings upon us. Probably the most visible blessing was the parking lot paving project, completed this July. Another very tangible blessing has been the addition of so many new families. We took on seven new members this year [Wilma Riehl, Brian & Holly Lockwood, Jeff & Becky Schiefer, and Pete & Donna Wolfmeyer], and many more new families joined us in worship attendance. Many other highlights from ministry can be found on every other page of this Annual Report! It’s been a big year.

2005 Vision Goals
Our Leadership Board set out 2005 to be a year of “intentional disciple-making” and set three goals for accomplishing it:

(1) Design a strategy, system, and process for intentionally discipling new believers and immature believers to maturity, unequipped believers for ministry, and leadership-gifted believers for leadership ministry.

(2) Engage all of our current leadership in active mentoring/discipling in this process.

(3) Provide opportunities for LEFC disciples to explore their giftedness and fit them into ministries at LEFC (and beyond) that fit their God-given gifts.

How did we do? We got a very good start on goal #1. We developed a “Description of a Disciple at LEFC” [attached at the end of this report]. This “snapshot” is a very helpful tool for us so that we know what a disciple “looks like” as we develop them. If you want to know what we want you to be, check out this description!

We also developed a strategy for launching Link Groups (quality small groups that are flexibly created and maintained) to foster disciple-making in biblical community. This initiative has seen a slow but promising start.

The big surprise in intentional disciplemaking has been the overwhelming success of the Basic Training program provided by our Men’s Ministry. About a dozen guys are intentionally developing as disciples of Jesus Christ through this program and we hope that its influence multiplies. However, a church-wide strategy that has the majority of people being discipled has not yet been achieved.

The second goal has also been elusive. We have a number of one-on-one mentoring discipleship relationships budding, but not all of our current leadership is involved.

The third goal was not a formal emphasis in 2005, though we have worked on various levels to help people connect with meaningful ministry for them.

2005 Pastoral Ministry
I like to define pastoral ministry in terms of my three primary pastoral activities:

Preach the Word

In 2005, we preached through the book of Exodus. What a rich time we had learning about our God in the story of the “Red Sea Rescue!” God’s providence, holiness, majesty, presence, redemption, election, preeminence, and holiness were all on awesome display. Hopefully, we will not soon forget it.

In the Fall, I preached two key theological series: The Local Church and FOREVER: Heaven, Hell, and Eternity. At the end of the year, we began studying the Gospel According to Mark. How gracious God is to reveal Himself in His Holy Word!

When I was away in 2005, the pulpit was ably filled by Matt Cox, Steve Miller, Tim McGill, Bruce Weatherly, and a group of our own board members on Fathers’s Day [Lloyd Riehl, Wally Kephart, Tom Hampton, and Blair Murray].

I had the privilege of representing you by preaching at the West Branch Baccalaureate Service this year. I titled my message “Don’t Waste Your Life” from Mark 8:36, and you gave each graduate a copy of the book by John Piper with the same name. I understand that this was the first time in almost 30 years that an LEFC pastor had this honor.

Equip the Saints
This is one of the biggest parts of my role, as your pastor, but one of the hardest to quantify and to report upon. I work hard to train your leaders to do the work of the ministry. I have taught in Sunday School, attended and led meetings of all kinds of committees and ministries, and tried to keep up with all of our leaders to produce the ministry that is reported on throughout the pages of this Annual Report. I continue to work at raising up and releasing leaders for ministry in Christ’s Church. I hope that I’m getting better at it.

Shepherd the Flock

It is a privilege to work with the Elders to shepherd the families within our church. 2005 was a rich year for relationships with people. Heather and I were both involved in a number of counseling encounters, I performed the wedding for the Hurleys, and attended the funerals of some of your beloved family members, including Jesse Benton and Esther Kolesar. One particular pleasure of mine is pastoral visitation. In 2005, I had opportunities to visit with many you in your homes, our home, in restaurants, in the hospital, and in nursing homes. While the circumstances are not always pleasant, I always appreciate the chance to share sweet fellowship with the flock under my care. I love you.

Blogging

One other significant thing that happened in 2005 was that I started a “blog.” A blog is short for “weblog” and is a online interactive journal that is regularly updated. My blog is called “Hot Orthodoxy” and is found at matt-mitchell.blogspot.com. I see it as an extension of my pastoral ministry. It’s a way of “broadcasting” my sermons, family news and pictures, and other things I feel like sharing. You are always invited to read it and post comments if you like. The point of the name is that Christianity calls for a passionate pursuit of the Truth. A cold orthodoxy (believing true things with no heart-passion) is dead. The opposite (content-less emotionalism) is just as bad. God calls us to love Him with both head and heart: Hot Orthodoxy. In 2006, we hope to refurbish our lansefree.org website and clearly connect it with my blog.

2006 in Prospective
More Disciple-Making

In the coming year, we must continue our present emphasis on Intentional Disciple-Making. We are called, as a church, to be disciples that make disciples that make disciples. We will continue to develop our ministries so that they are more effective at producing the kind of followers God wants us to be. The preaching ministry in the first quarter of 2006 will focus on discipleship in the Gospel of Mark. Our Link Group ministry will continue to be refined, and hopefully more groups launched as the year goes on. Basic Training will finish this round and hopefully both begin again and see some men go to the next level. We are hoping that 2006 will see the birth of a sustainable women’s ministry that is focused on making disciples of women. All of our ministries need to be reviewed in light of this core-mission of the church.

New Directions
In 2005, we began meetings with our sister church in State College to talk about the possibility of planting a church in the Philipsburg area. What could a healthy EFCA church that is committed to disciple-making, sound doctrine, life application, and loving outreach accomplish in our neighboring community? We need to pray that God would lead us in this area.

We also began to seriously discuss the need for additional ministry staff. We have developed a working job description for an Associate Pastor of Family Ministries [attached at the end of this report] who would serve us by equipping our family leaders to disciple our family members and our friends. We need to continue to pray for the development of this vision and the missing pieces things that are still needed to make it a reality.

Prayer Ministry

We’ve been learning about being a “Praying Church” for the last several years. This year, I will be attending a doctoral class on the Theology and Ministry of Prayer. I expect this will not only deepen my experience God, but broaden our ministry of prayer in 2006. I invite you to join me in reading The God Who Hears by Dr. Hunter and, more importantly, boldly approaching His throne.

2025 in Prospective!

When I came to LEFC in 1998, I set a goal of pastoring here for 10 years. That would beat Pastor Jack Kelly for the English-speaking-pastor-longevity-record (one of our Swedish Pastors was here for 11)! Last year, as I realized how close we were getting to that 10 year mark, I felt the need to recast my goals so that I could stay focused on a healthy pastoral ministry for LEFC for the years to come.

Heather and I talked about it and have set a goal of another 20 years, for a total goal of 27 if the Lord should lead and tarry so long. This is a goal, not a promise, but it is our current hope to see it fulfilled.

And I desire for the church to grow in quality, quantity, effectiveness, and influence because of that kind of pastoral longevity. I have tried to dream about what might be accomplished in the next 20 years, and this is my short-list of hopes:

- Church Planting
Philipsburg and Clearfield EFC?

- Several More Families and Singles Launched into World Missions
Who Will Follow the Forceys and the Weatherlys?

- New Leadership Structures
Biblical, Flexible, and Effective

- A Generation of New “Elders”
Developing of More Qualified and Competent Men to Lead the Church

- A Systematic Discipleship Curriculum for the Whole Church
Maybe Even the West Branch Bible Institute Someday?

- A Rich, Robust, Theological Community with a Good Feel for Relevant Application
Pervasive Sound & Healthy Doctrine, a Wisdom Community

- A Community-Blessing and Evangelistically Fruitful Church Family
West Branch People Coming to Know and Love the Lord

- God-centered Families Where Biblical Manhood, Womanhood, and Childhood Flourishes
A “Reformation” of the Family that Our Culture Desperately Needs

- New Healthy God-Centered, Bible-Saturated Ministries for All Ages/Life Cycles
What Might “Church” Look Like in 2025?

- A Biblical Counseling Center
So That We Are Seen in the Community as Possessing and Dispensing Wisdom

- Regional Pastors Mentored
So That No One Comes into a Church Out Here in Central PA and Has to Stand Alone (As I Sometimes Felt at First)

- A Wider Ministry Influence for Me
Perhaps Being Used Outside of Central PA in Preaching, Teaching, Missions, Mentoring, and Maybe Some Writing...But Not Leaving the Auspices, Authority, Accountability, and Centrality of the Local Church

Who knows the future? Only God does. Thankfully, we belong to Him through Jesus Christ. So we can expect good things from His gracious hand.

In His Grip,
Pastor Matt

Friday, January 27, 2006

Heather's Heart Update

The results of Heather's stress test came back, and everything looks good: no blockages or any other structural problems. She is still to use a monitor to record occasional heartblips, and we have an appointment on February 9th to see the doctor again to track down all of the possibilities. But so far, we're taking no news to be good news. Thanks for praying.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Worry Is Like a Rocking Chair

It will give you something to do, but it won't get you anywhere.

[Quoted in Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow, pg.116]

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Matt Messages - Seeds, Soils, and Secrets

“Seeds, Soils, and Secrets”
January 22, 2006
Mark 4:1-34

In the first three chapters of Mark’s introduction to Jesus, our Lord is presented as a Teacher. A teacher with his own authority, a teacher who is popular with the crowds, and a teacher who is teaching about the Kingdom of God [which He says is near].

Now in chapter 4, we are introduced to what and how Jesus taught. Jesus taught about the Kingdom in parables. You’ve probably been taught at some point that parables are earthly stories with heavenly meanings. And that’s true.

My friend Russell Muilenburg further defines a parable like this: “Parables are everyday, true to life stories that are easily understood but not always easily grasped.”

And what he means is that we can easily identify with the story in a parable, but the true meaning of the parable only comes through deeper thought about it and (in many cases) a receptivity to the Parable Teller Himself.

Chapter 4 of the Gospel of Mark is full of these parables, interpretations of the parables, and also an explanation of why Jesus uses parables. All of the parables in chapter 4 include seeds of some kind. Seeds are the “everyday, true to life” feature in each story. I’ve entitled this message: “Seeds, Soils, and Secrets.”

“Again Jesus began to teach by the lake [He is still in Galilee]. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water's edge.”

There’s that crowd again! Are crowds good or bad?

This one is so big that the “escape boat” that he had “at the ready” in chapter 3 is now put to use as a floating stage for his teaching. V.2

“He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: ‘Listen! [Key word: Listen!] A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.’ Then Jesus said, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’”

Jesus, the Master Teacher, tells this story, and it would have been immediately engaging for His audience. This was an agrarian society, and everybody would have immediately identified with the farmer’s story. They know all about scattering seeds, and different kinds of soils. This is a colorful story that they could have immediately identified with.

But then Jesus ended it with: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Oh. There’s some kind of a point to this story. What is it?

Everybody has ears on the sides of their heads. But not all have “ears to hear.” Not everyone is ready to receive this teaching.

Jesus is asking, “Are you listening? Do you hear?”

Later, when the crowd was gone, Jesus and his disciples talked this over. V.10

“When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, 'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'’”

That’s a quote from Isaiah 6 when the Lord gave Isaiah the role of being a prophet whose job was going to be very difficult by saying truth that actually drives people away.

Jesus is saying the parables have a role in both revealing and in concealing. They reveal truth to those who have ears to hear, but they conceal truth to those who are spiritually “outside.”

Jesus says, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you.” What’s that secret?

It is that Jesus is the King Who has come to bring in His kingdom. That was a secret. Now, it has been revealed. But it’s being revealed in a concealed way to those who are spiritually “outside.”

And then, Jesus interprets the parable for them. V.13

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? [This is foundational.] The farmer sows the word. [The seed is the word.] Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop–thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.’”

Now, let me ask you a question. Are you listening?

What was wrong with the seed that it didn’t produce a good crop in all four instances?

Nothing, right?

The seed is the Word of God. The Farmer is either God or one of His servants.

There is nothing wrong with the seed. What’s wrong with three of the results is the soil. The receptivity of the soil.

This is not a parable about a seed as much as it is a parable about 4 kinds of soils.

Four kinds of hearts.

#1. Hard Hearts. V.14

“The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.”

My friend Russell describes these kinds of hearts this way:

“It’s possible to be the kind of person who hears the Word of God preached, but to be so hardened that it doesn’t penetrate at all. It just bounces off. There’s no desire to respond to God’s Word, no willingness to admit failings or accept the help of a Savior. These are the kind of people Satan thrives on. He’s right there: like a hungry, hovering bird, ready to sweep in and snatch the message away again. These are people who simply don’t want to listen. Hard-hearted, stubborn, unrepentant people.”

The second kind of heart is a shallow heart.

#2. Shallow Hearts. V.16

“Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”

My friend Russell writes, “In Israel, there is a ledge of limestone rock that runs under the soil. In places, this limestone comes up just inches from the surface. Seed scattered here would quickly germinate and grow but as the roots descended they would soon hit limestone and have no place to go. To compensate, the plant would grow extensive foliage, and often the crops in this area would look much better than the others. But when the hot sun came out and the long dry summer began, these plants would be the first to die. In verse [17], Jesus interprets this soil as “the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.” In other words, some people will hear the Word and respond to it with an initial burst of enthusiasm. These people seem gung ho to follow God and put what they hear into action. But as soon as the time of testing comes—that is, as soon as things become difficult or changes are hard to make or persecution or opposition comes along—they whither away. These are people who appear to be listening, but they’re really not. They are shallow, not willing to take hold of all God says. They have a superficial faith.”

It’s not a real faith. It just looks real at the beginning.

We probably all know people like this. It seemed like they believe the gospel, but when the going first got rough, they dropped Jesus like a hot-rock.

The Bible gives no assurance of salvation to those who make some kind of a initial profession of faith but then deny Jesus when the trials begin. Shallow Hearts.

#3. Choked Hearts. V.18

“Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

Again, my friend Russell explains, “This soil is well tilled, there is no layer of rock underneath, and it looks as good as any other type of soil. But it contains something that the farmer can't see. As the seed lands there it begins to grow, but at the same time the hidden seeds of the thorns also begin to grow. And as every farmer knows, if you have two plants growing in the same piece of soil, one which you planted and one that got there on its own, the one that got there on its own will always win. Left unchecked, weeds win every time...Jesus interprets this soil as ‘those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.’

In other words, some people will hear the word, but at the same time continue listening to the messages of the rest of the world. Instead of nourishing the plant of faith, these people continue to be consumed with the cares of the world, the pursuit of riches, fame, a career, looks, property, pleasure, prestige. They may attend church, they may be involved in service and mission work. But in the end they bear no real fruit. They are just there for what prestige it will lend them. They fail to put Jesus first in their lives.

These folks also appear to be listening, but they’re really not. There are too many other voices that they are attending to and—as a result—the Word of God is choked out. They are distracted, worldly people.”

This is the one I am the most afraid for us. Choked Hearts full of the World instead of the Word. That is the temptation for American Christianity. For Central Pennsylvanian Christianity. For our Church. For your pastor.

Have you got what the key word is for this portion of scripture?

Hint: It is not seeds, soil, or secret! It is “hear” or “heard.” It is “listen.”

Each of these soils hears the Word. But do they have “ears to hear” the Word?

I am afraid that too often our ears are plugged up with the world.

Television. Internet. Blogs. Magazines. Unhealthy friendships. Movies. Newspapers. Radio. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

“The worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

Whom or what are you listening to? What is your focus? What is your center? What are you concentrating on?

Is your heart receptive to the Word? Or is it being choked?

God wants our hearts to be like the fourth soil.

#4. Receptive Hearts. The “good soil.” V.20

“Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop–thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.” A terrific harvest!

This describes a heart that is truly receptive. That listens to God’s word and is eager to hear it. Who takes the truth deeply to heart, who puts aside all distractions, and who lives a life of great fruitfulness for God’s kingdom.

Heeding the Word, not just Hearing the Word.

That’s why Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

And then, let him share it! V.21

“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? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. [All this hiding in parables is ultimately for the purpose of revealing!] If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.’

‘Consider carefully what you hear,’ he continued. ‘With the measure you use, it will be measured to you–and even more. [Be careful with what you do with what you hear!] Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.’”

Do you have a grasp on spiritual truth? Do you want more? There is more to come. You will be filled.

Do you spurn spiritual truth? Are you just casual about it? Do you even care? What little you have will be taken from you if you don’t value it.

“Consider carefully what you hear.” Be careful with what you do with what you hear.

It’s vitally important.

Jesus is penetrating to the point. The condition of our soils, of our hearts, is the most important factor in whether or not we are fruitful Christians.

What we do with what we hear is vitally important. Deathly important.

But sometimes, it seems like the Word of the Kingdom isn’t worth that much. Sometimes it is easy to discount what God says. Because it seems like it doesn’t matter much.

But the next two parables are designed to call out faith in us in spite of appearances. V.26

“He also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain–first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.’”

There is a lot in those four little verses. Here, the sower is now one of us. And the point is the automatic-ness of the soil producing the grain from the seed. The man doesn’t matter after he sows it. “Whether he sleeps or gets up,” it is going to come! The Kingdom is coming! It is certain. Even if it is hidden.

And the next parable is much like it. V.30

“Again he said, ‘What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.’

What is the kingdom of God like? It doesn’t look like much sometimes.

Sometimes, the kingdom looks like a tiny little seed. But don’t be fooled by appearances. The Kingdom is near. It is coming. And it is growing. And when it comes and is fully grown it will be spectacular!

Sometimes King Jesus appears insignificant. But don’t be fooled by appearances.

These are the things that Jesus is saying in parables of seeds, soils, and secrets. V.33

“With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand [or literally: HEAR]. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.”

Seeds, soils, and secrets.

Two points of application this morning.

#1. Hear the Word of the King with Receptive Hearts.

What kind of soil is your heart?

Hard?
Shallow?
Choked?
Good, Rich, Receptive, Obedient?

Are you doing what you can to eliminate distractions in your life from hearing the Word and heeding the Word?

Now, this “hearing” happens in all kinds of places. In your quiet times, in Link Groups, in Sunday School classes, in Bible Studies.

But one of the key places this happens is right here when we are in the Worship in the Word time in our Worship Celebration. When I’m preaching.

What are you doing to maximize your “hearing, listening” to the Word of God?

Can I recommend that we all return this week to Joshua Harris’ book Stop Dating the Church and remind ourselves of his chapter 6, “Rescuing Sunday: How to Get the Most Out of the Best Day of the Week?” He’s got really good suggestions on how to get ready for this moment when we open God’s Word together and how to be really receptive to its message.

He says this, “The real burden of responsibility on Sunday morning is not on the preacher to perform, but on the congregation to listen. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not justifying or encouraging sloppy or boring sermons. Pastors should strive to make their sermons easy to understand and to engage the attention of their listeners. But ultimately, it’s still the responsibility of the people hearing the sermon to listen carefully and apply the truth they hear. As my pastor C.J. Mahaney has taught me, I will be held accountable for what I have heard regardless of whether it moved me emotionally...If I have heard God’s truth, then I am called to obey it” (112-113).

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear. Consider carefully what you hear.”

I have noticed at times when I try to do some application in your lives, and ask you to write something down, many of you do not. Now, you may be doing it in your head. Some of you who write things down might be writing a shopping list. And others of you who look like you’re tuned out may be putting this stuff to work in your life. I can’t tell from here.

But I am concerned that we get serious about hearing and heeding the Word. Don’t bother coming to church to “play church.” It doesn’t impress anybody, especially God.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear. Consider carefully what you hear.”

My friend Russell, obviously, recently preached on this parable. And he gave his congregation a list of 8 suggestions for Saturdays and Sundays to have receptive hearts. [Russell’s list is adapted from John Piper’s longer list in the sermon Take Care How You Listen, Part 2.]

Here’s the list. I can give you a copy of the full thing if you want it.

1. First, pray that God would give you the noble and good heart described in [this parable].

Pray that God would help you to hear his voice as you come to church. The kind of hearing Jesus describes does not come naturally—He says it is something God gives—but we can ask God to give it. Pray on Saturday night, and then again on Sunday morning. Ask him to prepare your heart.

2. Second, meditate on the Word of God. Read portions of your Bible with a view to stirring up hunger for God.

The more you take in God’s Word, the more you will hunger for it. Plus, you can read ahead of time, and meditate on the text I’m going to preach.

3. Third, get a good night's rest on Saturday night.

It is hard to come into church on Sunday morning and focus on a 30 minute sermon if you were up late the night before. We need to get to bed in a timely manner and then get up on time so that it’s not such a rush to get to church. It’s especially important for parents to teach our children that Saturday night is not the night to be out late with friends. If there is a night for that, it should be Friday.

4. Fourth, we need to forebear with one another without grumbling and criticism.

Sunday morning seems to be a notorious time for getting into fights with spouse or children. I often hear about fights that occur in the car ride on the way to church. And that makes sense, because if Satan can find a way to distract us from what we are about to hear, he’s sure to take it. But we need to learn not to let grumbling and controversy distract us from worship. My advice is this: when there is something you are angry about or some conflict that you genuinely think needs to be talked about, forebear, and put if off till later on Sunday after worship. Don't dive in on Saturday night or Sunday morning.

5. Fifth, come in a spirit of meek teachability.

Come wanting to learn. If we come with a chip on our shoulder that there is nothing we can learn or no benefit that we can get, then that is exactly what will happen. But if we humble ourselves before the Word of God, we will hear and grow and bear fruit.
6. Sixth, when the worship service begins, think earnestly about what is sung and prayed and preached.

Remember, the prayers and songs are not just pre-game warm-up for the sermon. Engage from the get-go. Be listening for what God has to say. Be on the look out for Him.

7. Seventh, be an active listener, eagerly searching out God’s Word.

Keep your Bibles open during the sermon. Check what I’m saying against what you can read for yourselves. Ask questions in the back of your mind. There should be an internal dialogue taking place. Asking questions doesn’t mean you’re not being teachable. Just the opposite. It means you are plugged in and alert and hungry to learn. Some people find taking notes helps them to listen actively. Others find it distracting. Either way. But make sure you are engaged.
8. Then eighth, apply what you hear to your life.

As you leave the worship service, take the message with you. Talk about it with your family in the car or at the dinner table, and ask yourself what changes in your life you might need to make because of what you have heard. Allow the Word to take root in your heart so that it can grow and flourish and bear fruit.

Hear the Word of the King with Receptive Hearts.

And application point #2. Hope in the Coming Kingdom Despite Its Appearances.

It may be hidden. It may look small.

But the harvest is coming. And soon that which seems insignificant will be all significant for all the world.

The King has come. And He is coming again.

Hope in the Coming Kingdom Despite Its Appearances.

[I am greatly indebted for this message to Rev. Russell Muilenburg’s recently emailed sermon (01/08/05) “The Greatest Stories Ever Told: The Sower.” Unfortunately, Russell is not yet publishing his sermons on the Internet. We’ll just have to wait for the book!]

Thursday, January 19, 2006

What a Good Wife!



So, the other night as we are retiring for the evening, I ask Heather, "How does it feel to be married to your husband's biggest enemy?"

She just smiles.

Smart woman.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Gone on a Diet

You may have noticed a new "banner" on the side-bar.

Diet of Bookworms

The Diet of Bookworms is a website run by blogger Tim Challies. He writes this about the Diet:

"In short, this site is a collection of links to discerning reviews of Christian books. It is a resource for Christians to research books and authors. We collect reviews written by discerning readers and link to them from this site. Once our editors have reviewed the book, we generally provide a consensus view of the book.

So the next time a person says to you, "Have you heard of this book?" you can search for it in our database and find one or more discerning reviews of that book. Similarly, next time you are looking for a good book to read, you can visit this site and find a book that you know will prove edifying."

My review of Humility: True Greatness is now on the Diet site, and I hope to add others as time goes on. While I can't endorse everything every reviewer says (I haven't even read a fraction of the reviews!), I do recommend this site for help in deciding if a book is or is not worth reading.

Now, if I could just diet in other ways...

Monday, January 16, 2006

Matt's Messages - True Disciples

“True Disciples”
January 15, 2006
Mark 3:7-35

So far, we’ve seen week after week in the Gospel of Mark that Mark is dead-set on introducing Jesus to the world. Introducing Jesus’ startling authority and incredible person to the world.

That introduction is for a purpose. Mark is setting forth Jesus to gain followers for Jesus. True followers. “True Disciples.”

Mark wants to gain adherents, converts, students, learners, followers, true disciples of Jesus Christ. That’s why he’s writing this gospel.

And in Mark chapter 3, we encounter several stories which highlight what true discipleship looks like (and what it doesn’t look like). What true disciples do. (And what they don’t do.)

I’ve got three major things that I want to point out in today’s message.

Let’s pray, and then we’ll read the passage together, and I’ll show you what I see about true disciples.

[prayer]

Let’s read the first six verses. Starting in chapter 3, verse 7.

“Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. [The crowd again.] When they heard all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’ But he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was.” Stop there.

Does the name “Michael Jordan” still ring a bell?

I would assume that it would, but you don’t hear all that much about Michael Jordan anymore. However, I lived in Chicago during almost all 6 of his NBA championships. We heard a lot about Michael Jordan in those days. In fact, I used to drive by his “house” every day on my way to seminary at Trinity. There was this long drive with a big stone “23”on the gate.

I remember reading a book called Hang Time by Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene on conversations that he had had with Jordan. And it revealed to me what a superstar celebrity goes through. Jordan couldn’t go anywhere without attracting a crowd. If he stopped in the park to play a game of pick-up basketball, a crowd of several thousands [!] would form. He was, for a time, more recognizable than anyone else on Earth. Little African, Asian, and South American children could pick out his name and jersey and familiar face.

I can’t imagine the press of the crowd for Michael Jordan.

But Jesus knew exactly how Jordan felt. He was, in Mark 3, a mega-superstar himself.

He withdrew with his disciples whom He’s been gathering to the lake, away from town, but the crowd followed Him.

Remind me. Are crowds good or bad? It’s a trick question isn’t it? Good things and bad things can come out of crowds. But just because there are a lot of people, doesn’t mean that there are a lot of true followers, true disciples. In fact, a lot of the time, crowds are just plain problems.

Verse 8 says when the news spread of what Jesus was doing, the crowd got bigger! People came from 150 miles south in Jerusalem and Idumea and across the Jordan and 50 miles north from Tyre and Sidon. That’s a wide geography! Check it out on a map sometime in the back of your Bible. People were coming from all over the place to get a piece of Jesus.

It was so bad that Jesus had to have an escape boat ready so that the crowd did not crush Him. Because He was healing people. V.10

“For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him.”

This crowd doesn’t want to follow Him, they want Him to perform miracles. They are pushing forward, not even asking, just demanding.

And Jesus’ authority is very clear. V.11

“Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’ But he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was.”

It wasn’t time for that. And you don’t want demons doing your evangelism!

They knew Who He was. And they shuddered (James 2:19)! No faith there. They were not true disciples.

However, Jesus did call to Himself twelve.

Point #1. TRUE DISCIPLES ARE CALLED BY JESUS. V.13

“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve–designating them apostles–that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”

With the exception of the tragic last name, these men were true disciples.

And Jesus called them. Literally, He summoned them.

There was a group of disciples. And out of that group (after much prayer, the other gospels tell us that Jesus prayed all night about this decision), Jesus chose twelve to be His special representatives, His apostles. He commissioned them to share His message and to exorcize demons in His authority. To do ministry in Jesus’ name.

Notice, however, that they were not just chosen to do ministry but to be (v.14) “be with Him.”

Their ministry, as should ours, flowed out of their relationship with Jesus.

He wanted them, not just to do ministry in His name, but to be with Him in relationship.

Our ministry, as well, should flow out of our relationship with Jesus.

Jesus calls us to be “with Him” and to serve Him out of that relationship.

Now, of course, that being “with Him” is not always a warm-fuzzy thing! Being with Jesus meant homelessness and crowds and opposition from scribes and Pharisees, and watching Him die, and drinking the bitter cup, too.

Discipleship is serious business. But it is, fundamentally, relationship with Jesus.

True Disciples are called by Jesus to relationship and ministry.

Look at the names of these men. Some are familiar. Others are really not. V.16

“These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter) [Peter always comes first in these lists. He is the most famous disciple with a foot almost perpetually stuck in His mouth until the day of Pentecost!]; James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder) [Here are two hot-heads. One will lose his hot-head in service of Christ. The other will be known as the disciple of love.]; Andrew [Peter’s brother, famous for bringing people to Jesus], Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, [and] Thomas [four names that are less familiar with less in the Bible about them], James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, [and] Simon the Zealot [about whom we know almost nothing else!], and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”

These are the men that Jesus called to Himself. They are an unlikely bunch of followers. Simon the Zealot would have wanted to kill Matthew the tax-collector! They were natural enemies. But Jesus’ call overrides their natural aggression.

And Jesus’ call goes out today for us as well. Whether or not we are well known and up-front or unseen and unnamed backstage. Jesus is calling for true disciples.


Some look like true disciples, but turn out not to be. Judas Iscariot.

Jesus is calling true disciples.

Have you heard His call? Have you responded in faith?

Point #2. Illustrates what that faith looks like. It looks like believing the Holy Spirit.

True Disciples not only are called by Jesus, but TRUE DISCIPLES BELIEVE THE HOLY SPIRIT. V.20

“Then Jesus entered a house [perhaps Peter’s house again], and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. [Can you imagine? They are pressed in like sardines, one on top of another, and they can’t even put food to mouth.] When his family heard about this [his growing stardom], they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”

Notice what different ones think of Jesus! Demons think He’s the Son of God. Sick people think He’s a great super-star healer. His own family (including, it appears, his dear faithful mother) think He’s a crazy man! And what do the teachers of the law think? They think He’s satanic. V.22

“And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’”

Notice that they don’t deny the miracles. They just are re-defining the source of the miracles! Notice also, how miracles don’t produce faith. These people are seeing genuine miracles with their own eyes. And they attribute it to Satan!

So Jesus answers back. V.23

“So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables [comparisons, analogies]: ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.”

Jesus is saying that if He’s doing this from Satan, then Satan is working against his best interests, which Satan would never think of doing (no matter how often he really does!).

Jesus is saying that it’s not Satan’s power that is doing exorcisms! No. There is another power at work. More powerful than John the Baptist (1:7) and more powerful than Satan, too. V.27

“In fact, 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.”

Who is the “strong man?” Satan is. And someone has come to defeat the works of the devil. Jesus! The Mighty One.

He is binding the strong man in his own house and plundering his possessions!

What a mighty, mighty Savior we have!

And that has consistently been the message of the Holy Spirit.

If you don’t believe that. There is no hope for you. V.28

“I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.’ He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit.’”

This is what has been called “The Unpardonable Sin.”

Jesus says here that “all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them.” That is great news! There is a Savior Who has come that will forgive all kinds of sins and blasphemies (which are terrible slanders) that people do.

That is great news. But there is one kind of sin (and eternal sin). One kind of blasphemy that will never be forgiven. It’s called the “Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit.”

What is it?

It’s important to note what it is not.

It is not homosexuality. It is not murder. It is not genocide!

It is not abortion. It is not unbiblical divorce. It is not gossip. It is not sinful anger. It is not lust.

All of those are sins. And they should not be done. But they are all forgivable.

But there is one sin that will not, cannot, be forgiven.

Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit.

What is it?

According to this story, Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit is persistently disbelieving what the Holy Spirit says about Who Jesus is in such a way that Jesus is believed to be “of the devil.” V.29 again.

“[W]hoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.’ He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit.’”

The Holy Spirit says that Jesus is the Son of God come in the flesh. They were saying that Jesus had an evil spirit! If they persisted in believing that, there was no hope for them.

Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit is persistently disbelieving what the Holy Spirit says about Who Jesus is in such a way that Jesus is believed to be “of the devil.”

Now, if you are worried that you have committed the unpardonable sin, don’t worry.

If you are worried about it, that means that you never have!

Those who are committing this sin, are not worried. They are confident that Jesus is not Who the Holy Spirit is saying that He is.

That’s why true disciples believe the Holy Spirit.

True disciples believe that Jesus is the Mighty Mighty Savior Who is ransacking the house of the Strong Man and robbing Satan’s house.

True Disciples Believe the Holy Spirit.

Have you come to believe what Holy Spirit is saying about Who Jesus is?

You can become a Christian right now by professing your faith in Who Jesus is and what He has done on the Cross. You can put your trust in Jesus as your Mighty Savior defeating the devil in your life. Believe right now that Jesus is Who the Spirit says He is and you will be saved.

True disciples believe the Holy Spirit.

But those who blaspheme Him and attribute His work to Satan never will be forgiven.

True disciples believe the Holy Spirit.

And #3. TRUE DISCIPLES OBEY THE FATHER. V.31

“Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived [remember them?]. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’ ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother.’”

This was a radical thing to say in this family-centered culture.

Jesus’ family was trying to use their blood-relationship with Him to control Him.

But Jesus re-defined what was most important in relationship with Him. It wasn’t kinship, it was obedience.

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” This is not amnesia. This is a bold statement.

He looked at the circle of disciples that were submissive to His teaching. And He said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

The True Disciples (the true Family of God!) is not based on blood-relationship, family ties, or kinship. It is based on obedience to God’s will.

True Discipleship always includes obedience.

Following means obeying. It sounds obvious. But very often, we have said that obedience to God is not necessary for being a Christian.

Being a good person, praying a prayer, giving charity, going to church, having a godly grandmother–these things have all been seen as substitutes for faith-filled obedience to God.

But true disciples (true believers, true members of Jesus’ family) OBEY God’s will.

Jesus’ question call us to examine our lives, does it not?

Not, are we perfect, but are we truly followers of Christ?

Are we obeying?

Are we showing that we are truly Jesus’ family?

Eventually, Mary and some of Jesus’ family (at least His half-brother James) changed their minds about Jesus and began to do God’s will.

They were true disciples. Mary to the end of Jesus’ life and then her life. James wrote the book called James at the end of the Bible.

They turned out to be the family of Jesus that truly was the family of God.

How about you? How about me?

Have we decided to follow Jesus? No turning back, no turning back.

“Whoever does God’s will [and that’s by faith!] is my brother and sister and mother.”

True Disciples Are Called by Jesus To Relationship and Ministry

True Disciples Believe the Holy Spirit. They Believe that Jesus is the Mighty Mighty Savior that the Spirit Says He Is

And True Disciples Obey the Father. Showing the Family Likeness of the Son.

By God's Grace, Let's be True Disciples.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Heather's Heart Update

Heather got to meet the cardiologist today. It went well. He went over the results of her tests from November and ordered a fresh slate of tests to "do our homework" to find out anything there is to find out about her heart. He suspsects that she is pretty normal/healthy but ordered some bloodwork and a stress test to see what there is to see. He also gave her a little monitor to use to see if anything else turns up. Thank you to those who are praying for us. It was a good appointment with a good process coming out of it, and Heather is feeling well.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Matt's Messages - More, More About Jesus

“More, More About Jesus”
January 8, 2006
Mark 2:13-3:6

It is good to be back with you and good to be back in the Gospel of Mark with you. Who is the “Main Character” of the Gospel of Mark? It is Jesus. We saw in chapter 1 that this gospel is Mark’s attempt to introduce Jesus to those in the Roman world (and beyond) who do not yet know Him fully. Introducing Jesus.

And we’ve been watching as Jesus has been introduced as the culmination of history, as the fulfillment of prophecy, as the baptizer with the Holy Spirit, as God’s beloved and well-pleasing Son, as the King of the Kingdom of God, and as the One with authority to teach His own message, to order around demons, to heal the sick, to cleanse the unclean, and even, to forgive sins!

That’s Who Jesus has been presented to be in just the first chapter and a half!

And today, what do we have? “More, More About Jesus.”

More about Jesus would I know,
More of His grace to others show;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love Who died for me.

More, more about Jesus,
More, more about Jesus;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love Who died for me.
(Eliza E. Hewitt)

Mark wants us to see “More, More About Jesus.”

Mark is singularly focused on introducing us to Who Jesus really is and calling us to respond.

Today, we’re going to see three main things that Jesus says He is. These all come directly from the mouth of Jesus Himself in the Gospel of Mark. And all three require us to respond.

Let’s pray, and then I’ll share them with you.

[prayer]

Our passage for today begins in a familiar place in Mark’s Gospel–beside the sea of Galilee. Verse 13.

“Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them.” Verse 2.

“As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector's booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.”

Levi was probably the man who is also known as Matthew. And he was a tax collector. Which was a pretty unpopular job, to say the least! Historians tell us that “a Jew who collected taxes was disqualified as a judge or a witness in court [because you couldn’t trust them], expelled from the synagogue, and a cause of disgrace to his family. The touch of a tax collector rendered a house unclean. Jews were forbidden to receive money and even alms [charity] from tax collectors since revenue from taxes was deemed robbery.” And many rabbis believed that it was acceptable to lie to a tax collector, they were so bad [James Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, pg. 83]!

Tax collectors were a hated bunch considered turncoats, traitors, and sell-outs to the Roman oppressors. So, when Jesus runs into one...He asks Him to join His team!

In fact, He commands it. Jesus says, “Follow me.” like He did to James and John, Peter and Andrew in chapter 1. And, miracle of miracles, this greedy little grubber of a ripoff artist gets up and follows Jesus!

And more than that! He throws a party for Jesus and invites His riffraff friends! V.15

“While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.”

Isn’t that good news? Many of these people who were considered “low-lifes” are at this party with Jesus and many are choosing to become His followers.

Well, not everyone thought that this was good news. V.16

“When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the ‘sinners’ and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?’

You can just about hear the “Yech” sound in their voices as they say it!

“Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Ulch! V.17

“On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

More, More About Jesus #1. JESUS IS A DOCTOR FOR THE SIN SICK.

The Pharisees, who, in the gospels, pride themselves on being righteous, are aghast that Jesus would eat with, share a meal with, fellowship with, act as a friend with these “sinners.”

And Jesus says, “Who did you expect me to hang out with?”

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus is a doctor for the sin sick. He came “to seek and to save that which was lost.” Not “that which didn’t think it was very lost in the first place.”

Now, this has some pretty strong ramifications.

First, we need to go to the doctor. He is calling us. Go to the doctor! But to go to this doctor, you have to see yourself as sick.

Go to the Doctor for Your Sin-Sickness.

But if you think that you don’t need a doctor, you are in big trouble.

We need to see our bankruptcy and our desperate situation so that we go to Jesus with our sin-sickness. That’s why Jesus says that the poor-in-spirit are blessed. They realize that they are needy.

Have you come to the Doctor for your Sin-Sickness. Not for a little tune-up on “a pretty good person,” but for a life-saving rescue from a deadly sin-disease?

This is such good news! Because we don’t have to get cleaned up first before coming to Jesus for salvation. He calls us right where we are. Right where you are today. He calls us and says, “Follow Me.” And we don’t have to get cleaned up first. Like Levi, we just get up and follow Him. And instantly, we are His friends.

“Jesus, Friend of Sinners.”

We don’t have to be healthy first. That comes later. He has come for the sin-sick.

And if we realize we are, we can be healed.

Isn’t that good news?

It is good news for our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family, too.

And we need to share it. We need to Take the Doctor to the Sin-Sick.

Because all to often, we think that the people around us are too far from the Lord to hear about the Lord.

Have you ever (or maybe I should say, have you this week), counted somebody out from hearing about Jesus or being invited to Jesus’ church because they seem so far away from the Lord?

I know I have. I tend think that the “good people” in my circles might be interested, but that icky fellow that I’m acquainted with wouldn’t care to hear about Jesus.

When I’m thinking that way, I’m acting like the Pharisees.

You and I don’t have to get cleaned up first.
Neither do our friends.

We need to take the Doctor to the Sin-Sick. That’s why He came!

Take a second here near the beginning of 2006 and write down the names of some people in your life that need to know the Doctor. And commit right now to praying for and talking to these people.

Put down the names of people who seem unlikely to you. Not just the “good people.” “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor.”

The second story is about fasting and feasting. V.18

“Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. [The Pharisees fasted on Mondays and Thursdays. They fasted as mourning and grieving over Israel’s sin and oppressed position in the world. John’s disciples were probably fasting because John the Baptist was in prison.] Some people came and asked Jesus, ‘How is it that John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?’” Don’t you believe in fasting?

“Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. 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. 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.’”

More, More About Jesus #2. JESUS IS THE BRIDEGROOM FOR THE WEDDING GUESTS’ JOY.

These people want to know why Jesus’s disciples don’t fast.

Jesus says, “How could they? I’m here! And I’m something to celebrate!”

You need to know, in this culture, a wedding was at least a one week affair. And it was the biggest party of the young couple’s life. That’s why it was such a scandal in John 2 when that one wedding party ran out of wine.

A wedding was a big feast!

And Jesus uses their picture of a wedding to explain something about Himself.

He likens Himself to the groom. When the groom is at the wedding feast, there is no fasting! This is a time for celebrating! This is party-time! This is a time for joy!

Can you imagine going to a wedding and saying, “No thank you for the hors d’oeuvres, no thank you for the big dinner, no thank you for the wedding cake. I’ll have a TV dinner tomorrow. I’m fine. I’m fasting today because I’m sad.” What kind of a wedding would that be?

Well, Jesus says, He’s the bridegroom. And while He’s around, fasting doesn’t fit!

However (v.20), “But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.”

Jesus knows what’s coming. It’s probably two or three years away at this point, but He knows that it is coming. Imagine being at a wedding where just after the ceremony, the groom is taken away and locked up for a weekend. That would throw a damper on the festivities!

Jesus knows that–the Bridegroom–that He will be “taken away”–the Cross. “On that day they will fast.” On that day, there will be mourning and grieving.

But Jesus says, “Not this day! Today is a day for joy. Because I am the Bridegroom. And I am here.”

He attaches to short parables to add to this point. The first is the common knowledge fact that you don’t sew a new patch of unshrunk cloth on a old garment. When it does shrink, you’ll be worse off than at the first. The second is that you don’t put unfermented wine in old wineskins, because as it ferments, it will burst the skins. You put new wine in new wineskins.

Jesus is the new patch and the new wine. He brings a freshness, a newness, that bursts the categories of everything that everyone expects.

When the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament shadows appear, the shadows must pass. Business as usual will no longer do.

Because the bridegroom is now here.

He has broken in on the old system and brought newness of life and newness of joy!

Jesus Is the Bridegroom for the Wedding Guests’ New Joy.

Now, this too, calls for a response.

And it’s a response of joy!

Rejoice in the Bridegroom!

If we belong to Jesus, we have every reason for rejoicing all the time.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. And again I say rejoice!”

Rejoice in the Bridegroom!

We are a part of the new era introduced with the coming of Christ. The new patch, the new wine is here.

And we have every reason for joy.

Even when it doesn’t seem like it.

January is here in full force. And sometimes January can be a pretty bleak month. It’s dark in the morning and dark in the afternoon. And it cold.

And maybe things aren’t going your way. You are going through a trial. A difficulty. A hardship.

Those things are very real and very painful.

But, believer, the Bridegroom has come! And we are (already but not yet) part of a great Messianic wedding party.

And our joy has begun now. Because of Jesus, we have every reason to rejoice.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t fast.

We are living in a strange time when the Bridegroom has come (has been taken away at the Cross) and returned to us alive, yet is gone away again to prepare a place for us.

And so we wait. And we fast at times for various good and biblical reasons.

But we don’t fast like they did in anticipation of the Messiah’s first coming. That would be old wineskins.

We fast now in the knowledge and enjoyment of the Bridegroom and in joyful anticipation of His second coming! [John Piper says in A Hunger for God that “the new wine of his presences calls for new fasting.” Originally in a sermon titled When the Bridegroom is Taken Away.]

So, if we fast now, We Fast for and in Joy in the Bridegroom.

More, More About Jesus #3. JESUS IS THE LORD OF THE SABBATH.

You’ve probably noticed that Jesus is facing more and more opposition as people learn more and more about Jesus. The Pharisees especially are growing in their disapproval of Jesus. They are now going to be tipped over by the issue of the Sabbath. V.23

“One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’ He answered, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.’ Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’”

This is a confrontation.

Jesus’ disciples pick the heads of grain in a field–which was lawful–on Sabbath day–which was a no-no (at least to the Pharisees). This was seen as “harvesting” and therefore doing work on the Sabbath.

Remember, the Sabbath was a day of rest mandated for and donated to the people of Israel. The Jews had made a whole list of what was and was not considered “work” on the Sabbath. And some of that had gotten pretty confusing and difficult for people to keep.

And to the Pharisees, it looks like Jesus’ followers don’t even try. So they challenge him, “Look, why are they doing what is [a “no-no”] on the Sabbath?”

And notice Jesus’ answer. He brings up a precedent: King David broke the rules once and the Old Testament seems to support Him in doing it. And the point has never been to bind up people on the Sabbath but heal and help them by giving them rest.

What kind of an answer is that?

It’s an answer from authority! Authority is a big theme in the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus is saying that He is like King David. And if it was good enough for David to seemingly break the rules to take care of His followers, then someone greater than David is now here and it’s okay for Him to “break the rules” for His followers.

“How do I know? I know what the Sabbath was made for–people, not rules.

And how I do know that? That’s why I made the Sabbath.

I am the Son of Man. I am the Lord.

I am the Lord even of the Sabbath.” Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath.

That is quite a claim! We don’t think of it as much because we don’t have the Sabbath. But the Sabbath was a big deal for the Old Testament Jew.

And now, this person comes along in this one chapter and claims to forgive sins, claims to have come for sinners, claims to have brought new wine that rules out fasting, and now claims to rule over the Sabbath and what is done on it.

Jesus doesn’t apologize for his disciples’ behavior on the Sabbath! Jesus uses this as a chance to claim His authority over the Sabbath.

And these Pharisees, the “religious right” of the day, don’t like that one bit. They begin to look for an opportunity to accuse Jesus of wrongdoing. Chapter 3.

“Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 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. [This is a demonstration of His lordship over the Sabbath. V.3] Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, ‘Stand up in front of everyone.’ [He knows what’s going on.] Then Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful [that’s their word] on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ But they remained silent. [Seethingly silent, I think.] He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.”

The opposition reaches a new height.

The Pharisees are actually watching to see if Jesus would heal on the Sabbath so that they could say that it was bad!

You see, they taught that you couldn’t do any healing or doctoring on the Sabbath unless it was life-threatening. And of course, this wasn’t. And Jesus knows what’s in their thoughts. That’s why He makes a big deal of it. No secret here!

And He asks them with dripping irony, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or kill.” You’d think that the answer was obvious. But here were “good upstanding people” that had thoughts of killing on the Sabbath because someone was doing good on it! Scarey, huh?

So, in defiance of their hard hearts, the Lord of the Sabbath heals the man’s hand.

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath.

And that calls for a response.

It calls for a response of obedience to His authority.

We need to bend to Jesus Authority.

He is, once again, establishing, demanding that we recognize His rightful rule over all things.

He is Lord...even of the Sabbath. He is Lord!

And we need to bend to His authority.

The Pharisees were unwilling to recognize His authority. And many, many today are as well, including professing Christians.

What Jesus says, goes. Or at least it should.

Are you bending to Jesus’ authority? Does His Word have command over you life?

Are there any areas of your life that are not yet submitted to the Lordship of Christ?

Anything you are anxiously holding onto?

Anything you are saying, “My will be done!” ?

It is good near the beginning of 2006 to consciously bend our wills to the authority of Christ once again. And surrender all to His Lordship.

And when we do, we also need to Do Good in the Name of the Sabbath Lord.

This passage doesn’t tell us what we should or shouldn’t do on Sundays. Personally, I don’t believe that Sunday is the new Sabbath. I think that the Sabbath is now a Person, not a Day.

But I do think that this passage reminds us that God’s rules don’t exist for themselves. They exist for the good of the people to whom they are given.

And we need to knock ourselves out, not to follow the rules slavelishly, but to love other people and do them good like our Sabbath Lord did.

Do Good in the Name of Our Sabbath Lord.

Is there someone you can serve this week in the name of Christ?

You probably can’t heal their withered hand. But could you write a note, deliver a meal, give them a call, lend a listening ear?

The Pharisees were seething that a good deed had been done on the Sabbath.

Let’s be like our Savior and “do good, not evil, save life, not kill.”

Worship at the Lord’s Table

Because “kill” is what the Pharisees set out to do. Verse 6 again.

“Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.”

How they might kill the Doctor for the Sin-Sick.
How they might kill the Bridegroom for the Wedding Guests’ Joy. And take Him away.
How they might kill the Lord of the Sabbath.

That’s what they conspired to do.

And that’s what this table represents–the death of Jesus.

They conspired with their natural enemies, the Herodians, and eventually they got what they wanted–Jesus’ death.

But God knew what He was doing.

It was Jesus’ death–and His resurrection!–that enabled Him to be a doctor for the sin-sick.

It was Jesus’ death–and His resurrection!–that brought us into the celebration of the bridegroom and the anticipation of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb!

It was Jesus’ death–and His resurrection!–that caused God to exalt Jesus to the highest place that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord! Lord of the Sabbath. And Lord of everything!

They wanted to destroy Jesus. But because of His death and His resurrection, we will know more, more about Jesus for all eternity.

That’s what we celebrate when eat and drink this meal together.

If you are faith follower of Jesus Christ; if you have come, like Levi, to follow Jesus, you are invited to celebrate this meal with us today. Come and share in the celebration of anticipation of that great wedding feast. Come and share in the celebration of the Lord of Glory.

If you are not yet a believer in Jesus Christ, or you are not sure or you are not walking in fellowship with Jesus, we ask that you not eat and drink this meal with us.

Instead, use this time to think about your need of Him. Your own sin-sickness.

He invites you to come to follow Him, right now, by faith. Use this time to respond to His invitation.

More about Jesus would I know,
More of His grace to others show;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love Who died for me.

More, more about Jesus,
More, more about Jesus;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love Who died for me.

More about Jesus let me learn,
More of His holy will discern;
Spirit of God, my teacher be,
Showing the things of Christ to me.

More about Jesus; in His Word,
Holding communion with my Lord;
Hearing His voice in every line,
Making each faithful saying mine.

More about Jesus; on His throne,
Riches in glory all His own;
More of His kingdom’s sure increase;
More of His coming, Prince of Peace. (Eliza E. Hewitt)