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Monday, February 27, 2006

Winging Their Way Here



This is Heather's sister Sharon (with a bun in the oven) and her daughter Victoria. They're going to be here on Friday. I'm not sure who's more excited--the cousins or the sisters! Posted by Picasa

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Racing Our Way



In less than a week, Heather's sister Sharon, niece Victoria, sister-in-law Yvonne and nephew Gideon are going to come for a 10 day visit. Hooray! This will be the first time we've got to see Gideon in person since he was born in August. This is a picture of Yvee and Gidee. We can hardly wait. Posted by Picasa

Matt Messages - Christ-Followers

“Christ-Followers”
February 26, 2006
Mark 9:14-10:31
Last week was a turning point in Mark’s introduction to Jesus Christ.

For the first time in the entire book, a human being “gets it” and actually says that Jesus is the Messiah–the Christ. Peter’s eyes were opened just a little bit and saw that Jesus was the Christ promised to Israel.

And then, Jesus taught them plainly what kind of a Christ He was going to be. He was going to be Cross-Centered Christ. A suffering Christ. A sacrificial Christ. Jesus must head to Jerusalem where He would suffer, be rejected, be killed and then after three days rise again. A Cross-Centered Christ.

And then, Jesus called us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him.

It was a call to discipleship–followership. To become “Christ-Followers.”

My friend, Byron Harvey, who pastors our church in Mercer Pennsylvania told me this week that he has stopped using the word “Christian” because it doesn’t mean very much these days–it could mean anything. Instead, he has begun to use the term “Christ-follower” for someone who is a believing disciple of Jesus Christ.

Christ-Follower.

In today’s passage, Mark 9:14 through 10:31, Jesus takes us deeper into the demands of discipleship, the call of Christ-following. This passage explains further what it means to follow Jesus in discipleship.

I want to read it and then I’ll try to point out six marks of discipleship that I see in this story. Six marks of a Christ-Follower.

Mark #1. CHRIST FOLLOWERS BELIEVE IN JESUS’ POWER AND MISSION.

Mark chapter 9, verse 14 follows right on the heals of the Transfiguration. Jesus is coming down the mountain from having been changed before Peter, James, and John’s eyes. V.14

“When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. ‘What are you arguing with them about?’ he asked.” Stop there.

Uh oh. Jesus’ other nine disciples have gotten themselves into a pickle. There’s a large crowd and some angry scribes. Jesus shows up and the people are awestruck–maybe He still has a bit of glory hanging about Him from the transfiguration–or maybe everybody is just glad to see Him because of the trouble they are in.

Jesus wants to know what the argument is about, but we never exactly find out because another person steps forward. V.17

“A man in the crowd answered, ‘Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.’”

Ah. There is a gruesome problem here. And Jesus’ disciples have been powerless to bring relief. And Jesus recognizes the problem here–unbelief. V.19

“‘O unbelieving generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.’ [Jesus sounds like an Old Testament prophet, doesn’t He? He’s pained by the unbelief all around him.] So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.”

Can you imagine the sight? How terrible. How scarey. How desperate the father must feel. V.21

“Jesus asked the boy's father, ‘How long has he been like this?’ ‘From childhood,’ he answered. ‘It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’”

Does this man have faith? He’s desperate. He wants like anything for his boy to be healed. But does he know who Jesus is? He says, “If you can do anything take pity on us and help us.”

Jesus challenges him. V.23

“‘'If you can'?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for him who believes.’ Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’”

Ahhh! What a great answer! What an honest answer! That’s just what Jesus is looking for. Not a great deal of faith just a small bit of genuine faith can move mountains and please the Savior and be richly rewarded. V.25

“When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. ‘You deaf and mute spirit,’ he said, ‘I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.’ The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, ‘He's dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.”

He did it!

He kicked out that demon. He did it! In response to the struggling faith of that father. He did it.

A Christ-Follower Believes in Jesus’ Ability.

Did you notice that the real question wasn’t “Could Jesus do it?” The real question was, “Did the boy’s father believe Jesus could do it?”

And he did. He struggled to believe, but he believed.

A Christ-Follower Believes in Jesus’ ability.

And “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Everything that Jesus wants to do in your life can be activated by mustard-seed sized faith.

So often, we doubt whether or not God can do something. We don’t doubt it intellectually, but we doubt it in our hearts. We don’t act as if we believe that Jesus can do it. We act as functional unbelievers.

But Christ-Followers Believe that Jesus Can Do It.

And they see the impossible happen.

Are you struggling to believe Jesus for His promises to you right now? Muster up all the faith you have and give it to Him with a prayer for more.

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” That’s a great prayer.

The disciples needed to learn something about prayer. V.28

“After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why couldn't we drive it out?’ He replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer.’”

Now, I’ve always wondered. What else were they doing?! If not praying?!

They were probably just trying to use their own authority to cast out the demon. Maybe the authority vested in them by Jesus in chapter 6.

But they need to learn about faith, as well. They needed to learn to trust and depend upon God in prayer for spiritual results. “This kind can come out only by [believing, trusting, dependent] prayer.”

A Christ-Follower Believes in Jesus’ Ability.

And prayer demonstrates that. A Christ-Follower Believes in Jesus’ Ability and His Mission. V.30

“They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.’ But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.”

This is the second time that Jesus has plainly predicted His passion. Jesus knows that He is marching towards the crucifixion. It’s His mission. But His disciples don’t understand yet and are afraid to even ask what He means.

On the other side of the Cross, however, all of Christ’s true followers understand what His mission was. He has Cross-Centered Mission.

And we need to believe in it.

#2. CHRIST-FOLLOWERS SERVE IN JESUS’ NAME. V.33

“They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.”

How ironic! Jesus was teaching about how He was going to die. And they were arguing about which of them was the greatest! They needed a lesson in “true greatness.” V.35

“Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.’”

True greatness comes from humble servanthood. He’s going to talk more about that in two weeks in chapter 10. Here he uses a child as an illustration. V.36

“He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’”

Did you get that? Jesus is holding this child–children were near the bottom rung of the social ladder in that culture–and He was saying that if you welcome (if you embrace, if you care for) a little helpless child IN JESUS’ NAME (that’s the most important factor here–in Jesus’ name) then you are welcoming Jesus. And if you are welcoming Jesus, you are welcoming God!

Jesus turns every expectation on its head. It’s not how you treat the king or the president that shows if you are a Christ-Follower. It’s how you treat the lowest of the low. The neediest of the needy. The children.

This has awesome implications for children’s ministry, doesn’t it? Nursery workers, children’s church leaders, Sunday School teachers. Whoever welcomes one of these little children in Jesus’ name welcomes Jesus and welcomes His Father!

Christ-Followers Serve in Jesus’ Name. The disciples needed to learn that. V.38

“‘Teacher,’ said John, ‘we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’ [He wasn’t following us. He wasn’t one of the Twelve. How about a pat on the back for that one?] ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said. ‘No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.”

Now, Jesus isn’t teaching that there are no false teachers out there that come in His name and do miracles. There are.

But He is teaching His twelve disciples that they don’t have the corner on ministry. Among genuine disciples of Jesus, among genuine Christ-Followers, there need not be any competition. In fact, competition is unseemly for Christ-Followers. We’re not against one another. If we are for Jesus (the real Jesus), then we are on the same team.

Christ-Followers Serve in Jesus’ Name. Did you notice the key phrase in v.37 and v.38 and v.39? “In my name.”

Nothing done in Jesus’ name is wasted. V.41

“I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.”

The smallest stuff does not go unnoticed by God. He sees. He remembers. He rewards all ministry done in Jesus’ name.

You don’t remember (hopefully!) all of the little things you have done in service to others in Jesus’ name. But there is someone Who does. And he will reward you.

Isn’t that a great incentive to get serving? We’re going to talk more about serving in two weeks, but isn’t it a great motivator to know that God sees everything we do in Jesus’ name and will reward it?

Everything we do in the nursery? Every diaper we change? That’s a cup of cold water. Every bulletin we hand out in the foyer. Every prayer offered in secret for another person. That’s a cup of cold water. And it will be rewarded.

Christ-Followers Serve in Jesus’ Name.

#3. CHRIST-FOLLOWERS TAKE SIN SERIOUSLY.

I think Jesus still has that child in His arms. V.42

“‘And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.”

When my wife was growing up every time there was a baby-dedication like we did today for Kevin, the pastor would quote this verse and warn the congregation to be careful in leading little ones towards God and not away. Because Christ-followers take sin seriously.

It’s better to drown than to deliberately lead a child into sin.

And we need to take drastic action with our own sin. V.43

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.' Everyone will be salted with fire. ‘Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.’”

Christ-Followers Take Sin Seriously.

Now, I don’t believe that Jesus was being literal here. He’s using hyperbole or extreme exaggeration to make His point.

If you cut off your hand, your foot, or your eye, you won’t keep from sinning. Jesus has taught us clearly in chapter 7 that our sin comes from within, from our hearts.

But His graphic word pictures are meant to shock us to see how dangerous sin is and how seriously we must treat it.

We can’t get cozy with sin. It’s a cancer. It’s a poison. It’s an enemy.

We have to take drastic action to cut it out.

Repentance and faith. Turning from sin and turning to the Savior is what is called for each and every day.

No excuses. No treaties with sin. No compromises. Discipleship is serious business.

Is there a sin that you have gotten cozy with? Jesus’ words are a wake-up call for us to take whatever radical action is necessary to root it out.

People who get completely cozy with sin are not headed to heaven. They will be “salted with fire.”

Christ-Followers Take Sin Seriously. They do something about it.

They put it to death day by day. They fight, they repent, they struggle, they fall (often, more often than we like to admit), but they get back up again and they fight some more. They fight for “saltiness” (godliness).

And they follow Christ by faith. Christ-Followers Take Sin Seriously.

And they take marriage seriously, too.

#4. CHRIST-FOLLOWERS TAKE MARRIAGE SERIOUSLY.

Chapter 10, verse 1.

“Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them. Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’”

Is this a question born of faith? No. They are testing Him.

How is this a test?

Where is Jesus right now? He’s crossed over the Jordan in to the region call Perea. Do you know who’s in power there? Who rules? Herod Antipas. Remember him?

Remember what happened to John the Baptist when he spoke out about divorce?

They think that Jesus can answer one of two ways. The two answers that were normally given to the question. Both could get him into trouble. One would be that you could divorce only in the case of adultery (some rabbis taught that (Shammai)). That would get you into trouble with Herod, like John did. The other would be that you could divorce for just about any reason–even if your wife burnt the toast (some rabbis taught that (Hillel)). If Jesus took that option then He would be disagreeing with John the Baptist. What’s He going to do?

He asks them a question. V.3

“‘What did Moses command you?’ he replied. They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.’”

That’s Deuteronomy 24, verses 1 through 4.

But Jesus wasn’t looking for what Moses permitted, but what Moses was saying was at the heart of what marriage was supposed to be. Jesus takes them back further than Deuteronomy 24. He takes them back to the first two chapters of Genesis. V.5

“‘It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,’ Jesus replied. [Because there is sin and human weakness, God permits divorce in certain circumstances. But that’s the not the point of marriage. Divorce is a violation of God’s intention for marriage. V.6] ‘But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. [God does that. Not just a man and woman. God does that! V.9] Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.’”

Marriage is serious business.

It doesn’t seem like it in our throw-away-commitment society. But God joins people in marriage. And Christ-followers are not to separate what God has joined.

Jesus makes it very plain to His disciples in v.10.

“When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her [his first wife]. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man [Herodias!], she commits adultery [too.]’”

Now, in Matthew’s account of this Jesus makes it plain that in cases of marital unfaithfulness [Greek Word: porneia] there is an exception to this rule (Matthew 19:9).

And Paul makes it clear that believing spouses that have been left by unbelieving spouses do not have to consider themselves bound either (1 Corinthians 7:5).

But those are the only two exceptions that the Scriptures allow (but never mandate!) for a divorce to be acceptable in God’s eyes. And Mark doesn’t even mention them.

Every other kind of divorce involves sin.

Christ-Followers Take Marriage Seriously:

“What God has joined together, let man not separate.”

Now, I know some of us here are divorced. And each is a unique case. The message here for those who got divorced in an unbiblical way, is to seek God’s forgiveness.

Divorce is not the unpardonable sin. It is forgivable under the Cross of Christ. There is mercy and grace because of Jesus’ sacrifice on your behalf. But don’t sugarcoat your divorce and pretend it was right if it was wrong on your part (and there are always two sides to every divorce).

And there is a message here for those of us who are married. Marriage is serious business.

“What God has joined together, let man not separate.”

For some of us, I know it hurts. The pain of a difficult marriage feels unbearable. And I’m not saying that there is no place for some separations, especially in the case of spousal abuse–this passage is not meant to teach that you need to submit yourself to physical or sexual abuse in the name of discipleship.

But it does mean that you need to take your marriage vows seriously. They are an expression of your discipleship before Jesus Christ.

I’ve counseled a number of people now over the years in difficult marriage situations.

Many of them, I think, were salvageable, but one or both of the parties were not really willing to follow Christ in this way.

“What God has joined together, let man not separate.”

Christ-Followers Take Marriage Seriously.

I think there’s a message here for young people and other singles, too. Take care in who you marry. My Dad likes to say that there are only two secrets to a good marriage. Marry the right person and keep your promises.

Don’t enter into marriage lightly because it is serious business. God is involved!

We tend to think that we can marry whoever we want whenever we want–it’s a free country after all! But God is involved.

Christ-Followers Take Marriage Seriously Because God is Involved.

And “What God has joined together, let man not separate.”

#5. CHRIST-FOLLOWERS TRUST JESUS LIKE LITTLE CHILDREN DO. V.13

“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. [No, no! Jesus is too busy. He’s got more important things to do. Shoo!] When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.”

Don’t you just love that mental picture of Jesus embracing the children and blessing them like we blessed Kevin Patrick this morning?

Jesus uses these children as an illustration again. This time of needy, trusting faith.

Children are sinner and need a Savior, just like the rest of us.

But they have an unique ability to trust. They are very needy and often know it. And they openly confess their need for help. They call for help.

And Jesus says that unless we receive the kingdom of God like a little child, we’ll never enter it. The key word is “receive.” We need to recognize our desperate need and receive the kingdom of God as a gift.

At home, we’ve been learning the Beatitudes in our kid’s catechism. Who knows what the first beatitude is?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.”

That’s what this is saying.

Christ-Followers are “poor in spirit.” They recognize their need for God and they openly admit it and trust Jesus like little children do.

Christ-Followers Trust Jesus Like Little Children Do.

And (one more), #6. CHRIST-FOLLOWERS LOVE JESUS MORE THAN ANYTHING. V.17

“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ [Notice that he thinks he can do something to get it. Jesus sends a question back. V.18] ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good–except God alone. [Are you thinking about Who I am?] You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'’ [Some of the 10 Commandments given at random. Which one did he leave out? Do not covet? Do not worship any other gods before me?] ‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’ [Now, you and I know that’s impossible. But I don’t think this young fellow was bragging. He just didn’t get it, how radically internalized the commandments were supposed to be. He had tried his best and had done pretty well outwardly. I love Jesus’ response to him. V.21] Jesus looked at him and loved him. [There’s great compassion there. He knows that this young fellow doesn’t get it. He’s not “poor in spirit” yet.] ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’”

Jesus puts His finger on this young man’s problem. He loves His money more than He loves Jesus.

Jesus knows (we all know) that selling all of your possessions isn’t what save you. It’s loving and trusting Jesus more than anything that saves you.

And so Jesus gave this young man a very simple assignment. Sell, give, and then follow.

And following is key here. Did he do it? Unfortunately not. V.22

“At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

Another way of saying it is that great wealth had him.

Christ-Followers Love Jesus More Than Anything. It’s bound up in what faith means that we love Jesus more than our stuff. V.23

“Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were amazed at his words. [They thought that riches were always a sign of God’s blessing and favor.] But Jesus said again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’”

A camel through a needle’s eye! That’s unthinkable. That’s impossible!

“The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, ‘Who then can be saved?’”

Ah. Finally, they are getting somewhere! That’s a good question.

It’s seems impossible. We can’t DO it on our own. We are needy. We are poor in spirit. V.27

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.’”

And what did we learn in our first story today? Chapter 9, verse 23?

“Everything is possible for him who believes.”

Are job is simply to believe. He does all the WORK.

That’s the answer to the Rich Young Ruler. You can’t DO anything to inherit eternal life. You have to receive it by faith.

A faith that trusts in what God has done in Jesus Christ.

A faith that trusts Him so much that He becomes worth more to you than anything and everything else.

Christ-Followers Love Jesus More Than Anything.

Peter wants a clarification on this point. Is it worth it? V.28

“Peter said to him, ‘We have left everything to follow you!’ ‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and [yes] with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.’”

It’s worth it! He’s worth it!

Christ-Followers Love Jesus More Than Anything Because They Know that Jesus Is Worth Everything!

Is there something that you need to confess to God that you have been loving more than Him?

We sing, How Great Is Our God but we act like something else is greater.

Discipleship means leaving some things behind. At least leaving our love for those things.

For me, recently, it’s been my love for food and feeling stuffed. And it’s been my love for information and feeling in control of the flow of information.

I’ve been working at giving it up in love for Jesus.

And it will be rewarded.

“No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and [yes] with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.”

Christ-Followers:
1. Believe in Jesus’ Ability and Mission
2. Serve in Jesus’ Name
3. Take Sin Seriously
4. Take Marriage Seriously / Stay Married
5. Trust Jesus Like Children Do
6. Love Jesus More Than Anything Because They Know that Jesus Is Worth Everything!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Ahoy, Isaac!




So, I'm supposed to think this is fun?

Matt Messages - Opening Eyes

“Opening Eyes”
February 19, 2006
Mark 7:31-9:13

We have reached the middle of Mark’s action-packed introduction to Jesus. The middle of the story, so to speak. In today’s passage, Jesus is going to leave Galilee and begin to head towards Jerusalem and His fate. And the key question, so far, that has been on nearly every character’s mind throughout the whole book is “Who Is Jesus?”

And we’ve learned that Mark tells us who Jesus is by what Jesus does.

And this morning, we’re going to see that some of Jesus’ disciples begin to see it. They begin to see Who Jesus is. Imperfectly to be sure! But it’s a start.

Their eyes begin to open to see Who Jesus really is.

In this passage, Jesus is opening eyes to Who Jesus really is and what it really means to follow Him.

Let’s pray and then try to see what they began to see.

[prayer]

Our story actually begins with opening ears. Verse 31.

“Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man. [Deaf and dumb. He can’t hear. He can hardly talk. V.33] After he took him aside, away from the crowd [there’s that crowd again. Jesus is getting away from the crowd to do this miracle], Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (which means, ‘Be opened!’). At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. ‘He has done everything well,’ they said. ‘He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’”

Now, I don’t know why Jesus dramatically stuck His fingers in the man’s ears or had him taste His spit. Perhaps it was just to communicate to the man what was going to happen and to increase his faith. Maybe it had to do with touch and Jesus’ total identification with those who are suffering. I don’t know.

But I do know that this man could now hear. This man could now talk. This man was healed by Jesus.

And it was astonishing to those who witnessed it. V.37 says they were, “overwhelmed with amazement. ‘He has done everything well,’ they said. ‘He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’”

People are trying to figure out Who Jesus is.

Isaiah prophesied about this very thing. Isaiah 35 says that when God comes (when God comes!) in His glory (v.5), “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.”

That’s what was happening. God has come. They just can’t see it yet.

Then there was the opening of the mouths. Chapter 8, verse 1.

“During those days another large crowd gathered. [Jesus sure attracts those crowds! This crowd listens to him for three days straight!] Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.’ [Now, He’s setting them up, isn’t He? V.4] His disciples answered, ‘But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?’ [They don’t get it yet, do they?] ‘How many loaves do you have?’ Jesus asked. ‘Seven,’ they replied. He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand men were present.”

They don’t see yet, do they?

Now, one thing that might easily be missed is the geography here.

According to Mark, Jesus is in Gentile territory here. This is somewhere near the Decapolis (or the 10 Cities full of Gentiles).

And Jesus is repeating a miracle that He did among the Jews. I think that one thing Jesus is doing is sending the message (again with His actions) that He is the bread of life, the provider of sustenance and satisfaction for Gentiles, too. Not just Jews.

And that’s good news for us Gentiles here in central PA.

The main thing He’s doing is opening eyes to Who He really is.

But His disciples’ eyes aren’t very opened yet.

Neither are the Pharisees. In fact theirs are closed shut. V.10.

“And having sent them away, he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.’”

Did these Pharisees come in good faith? No. They came with no faith. And they asked for a sign to verify that Jesus was from God.

Should they have needed a sign? As teachers of God’s Law, they should have known from the moment Jesus opened His mouth that He was the Messiah. But, no, they ask for a sign.

Jesus is exasperated with this kind of behavior and flat out refuses a sign.

What’s ironic, of course, is that there are lots of signs that come from Jesus. He just fed 4,000 men, for crying out loud! He tells everyone to keep quiet about His miracles, but no one does. There are lots of signs.

But none are given when the unbelieving Pharisees ask for them.

They won’t see. Even if someone was to rise from the dead.

They refuse to see. And that’s dangerous. It’s poison.

And Jesus warns His disciples about it. V.13

“Then he left them [the Pharisees], got back into the boat and crossed to the other side. The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. ‘Be careful,’ Jesus warned them. ‘Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.’

#1. JESUS IS OPENING EYES TO THE DANGER OF UNBELIEF.

He says, “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

Yeast is something small that spreads and grows.

And it’s a good thing if it’s good yeast in good bread.

But if it’s bad yeast, it makes the whole loaf bad.

What is the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod?

Well, the Pharisees and Herod didn’t have much in common, did they?

The Pharisees were so concerned about outer purity and holiness.

And Herod was married to his stolen sister-in-law and half-niece and followed his fleshly appetites wherever they led.

What did the Pharisees and Herod have in common? Unbelief.

One was a religious unbelief. The other was an irreligious unbelief.

Both were dangerous. And Jesus was saying, “Ephphatha! Be opened! See that unbelief is so dangerous!”
But Jesus’ followers didn’t get it. They really didn’t get it.

They thought because Jesus mentioned yeast that He must be concerned that they didn’t bring enough bread on the journey! V.16

“They discussed this with one another and said, ‘It is because we have no bread.’”

“Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: ‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don't you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ ‘Twelve,’ they replied. ‘And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ They answered, ‘Seven.’ He said to them, ‘Do you still not understand?’”

Don’t you get it? Can’t you see?

Clearly not. They needed to have their eyes opened.

Jesus was the Breadmaker! Jesus is the Provider. Jesus can satisfy the needs and desires of Jew and Gentile alike. Jesus is God! But they couldn’t see it yet.

And they couldn’t see how dangerous unbelief is.

This week, Jeff Schiefer and I had a couple of conversations about an interaction he was having with an anonymous unbeliever on the internet.

Mr (or Mrs) Anonymous (I assume Mr.) was full of venom about Christianity.

He said that the Bible was full of contradictions, Christianity is no different from militant Islam, and Christians are idiots. I read it myself online.

And Jeff did an excellent job of answering Mr. Anonymous’ objections with love and concern for his soul.

Because his soul is in jeopardy.

He is in danger. Because he is in unbelief. And he’s trying to spread it.

“Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

Do you have any of that yeast in you?

We all do. We all struggle with unbelief in some way or another.

We all need our eyes opened to danger of unbelief.

In verse 22, Jesus literally opens a man’s eyes. V.22

“They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man's eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, ‘Do you see anything?’ He looked up and said, ‘I see people; they look like trees walking around.’ Once more Jesus put his hands on the man's eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, ‘Don't go into the village.’”

Again, a dramatic healing. Again, the mysterious touch and spittle. Again, a sign that Jesus is the promised Messiah and God in the flesh.

And opened eyes.

But something different this time. Jesus opens this man’s eyes in two steps. Jesus takes two turns to heal this man. Why?

I’m not exactly sure. It’s certainly not because He was running on low batteries at the time! This is the Jesus who stops storms, walks on water, and orders around a Legion of demons with a word.

But here, he takes two turns to heal this man.

I’m not sure why Jesus did it that way, but I think that Mark may include it here because he’s talking about opening eyes and that it takes time and multiple touches of Jesus’ hand for people to truly see.

It’s like the man who says, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” I can see, but not clearly. Help me to see.

And the next story, which is the turning point of Mark’s whole gospel is another illustration of that truth. I can see but not clearly, help me to see. V.27

“Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, ‘Who do people say I am?’”

This is the BIG QUESTION. And now, Jesus quizzes the disciples on it.

“They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist [back from the dead, that was Herod’s answer]; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’”

Okay, that’s what the world says. At least, people are getting the point that Jesus is in line with those Old Testament, Old Covenant greats. Jesus is sent from God.

But they can’t see, can they? V.29

“‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ [That’s the question we all have to answer.] Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ.’”

A++! Way to go, Peter!

He can see.

He gets it. Right answer!

But Jesus knows that as right as that answer is. Peter doesn’t really see it yet. V.30

“Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.”

Not yet. Everyone who is looking for a Christ, a messiah, is looking for the wrong kind of Christ. Wait until you understand what it means to be Christ, and then you can tell people. V.31

“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”
#2. JESUS IS OPENING EYES TO WHO HE REALLY IS.

This is not what everyone expected in a Messiah.

Almost no one had categories for a suffering Christ.

Most of them thought of the Christ as a holy military ruler who would overthrow their oppressors.

That’s probably a lot of what Peter was thinking when he said that Jesus was the Christ.

But Jesus here begins to open Peter’s eyes even more to who He really is. A second touch of his healing hand. V.31

“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things [must. God has ordained it. It must happen. He must suffer many thing...] and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law [The Sanhedrin. The Jewish Religious Leadership], and that he must be killed [the Cross] and after three days rise again [the Resurrection].”

This is at the heart of Who Jesus Really Is.

Jesus is the Suffering, Dying/Rising, Cross-Centered Christ.

This is the first of three major predictions by Jesus of His own passion in the Gospel of Mark. We’re going to see the other two in the next few weeks.

Jesus knew what was coming. He had chosen it.

Jesus had chosen the Cross. He knew that He must go to it.

It defined Him. It was His mission.

Now, for the first time in Mark, the Cross looms large. And it will continue to loom large until it is accomplished.

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and after three days rise again.”

This was too much for Peter. V.32

“He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”

Yes, you read that right! Peter (who had been doing so good!) rebukes Jesus!

Not a good idea. Never rebuke Jesus.

But you have to understand. Peter loved Jesus. And he didn’t think that Jesus could be right on this one. That’s not what happens to a Christ! No! V.33

“But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’”

You’ve got it all wrong. You’re standing in the place of Satan. You’re talking devil- talk.

I must go to the Cross. And I will.

I don’t do things the way men do. I do things the way God does. Don’t try to tempt me.

This is Who I am to be.

Jesus is opening their eyes to see Who He really is.

He is the Suffering Savior.

Jesus is the Suffering, Dying/Rising, Cross-Centered Christ.

And He is Who we must believe in to be saved.

Do you believe in Jesus?

Do you believe that He had to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that he had to be killed and after three days rise again?

If you can see that, then your eyes are opened.

Put your trust in Him alone.

Many people, like Peter at this time, stumble over the Cross. They can’t envision why God would send Jesus to Calvary’s tortuous death.

And if you can’t see it, then you need your eyes opened to Who Jesus Really Is.

Because He’s not just a good person, a good teacher, a holy man.

Jesus is the Suffering Savior for all who believe.

He invites you to trust in Him today.

And then (#3) JESUS IS OPENING EYES TO WHAT IT REALLY MEANS TO FOLLOW HIM. V.34

“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels.’”

Here’s what it means to follow Jesus: we have to prepare to die.

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself.

That doesn’t mean just to deny something from ourselves in self-control.

It means, we have to die to ourself. We no longer are the center of our universe.

We no longer are the most important person to ourselves. We must deny ourselves.

And take up our cross.

That means, to prepare to die.

This was a shocking thing to say. Only criminals, runaway slaves, and rebels against the government carried crosses! Only those who were destined to die carried a crossbeam.

Jesus was saying that his followers needed to prepare to perish in following Him.

That’s the way He was going to go. And His followers could expect no less.

Now, will we all be crucified for our faith? Not like this.

But we all have to choose to follow Christ NO MATTER WHAT.

Not only if He leads us into nice, friendly territory.

This world is not friendly territory. In many ways, we are on enemy ground.

And Jesus calls us to choose sides.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Have you heeded this call? Are you a disciple? A follower by faith in Jesus?

It is something that we must choose.

No one carries this cross by accident.

And the stakes are high. V.35

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it [if you don’t deny yourself you’ll lose everything], but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels.’”

It’s either/or. It’s not both/and. It’s all or nothing.

We must choose.

This is the passage I preached to the graduates at the Baccalaureate last year.

And my title was, Don’t Waste Your Life.

You could gain the whole world–money, sex, power, popularity, family, all of your dreams–and lose your soul.

By not choosing to follow Jesus alone.

Are you a disciple?

Jesus is opening our eyes to see what it really means to follow Him.

It means everything.

Have you given Him everything?

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

And then, in this last story, the disciples’ eyes were opened to see Jesus as He really is. Chapter 9, verse 1.

“And he said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.’ [And they didn’t. V.2] After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. [Standing for the Law and the Prophets–the Old Testamenet!] Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters–one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ [Peter puts his foot in his mouth once again.] (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’ Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.”

This is an amazing story. It’s like a flash-forward into the Kingdom that Jesus inaugurates with His resurrection. It’s a taste of Who Jesus really Is in all of His glory.

We can’t really wrap our minds around what Peter, James, and John saw and heard.

Does this story remind you of anything?

I was struck this time around by how much it reminds me of Moses on Mount Sinai. A big mountain, a cloud, a voice, Moses himself is here, a little group goes up the mountain (like Moses, Aaron, and Joshua), a shining figure (like Moses’ shining face).

But it’s different, isn’t it? Here it is Jesus Himself that is shining from Himself.

And the voice says, “This is my Son whom I love. Listen to Him.”

Why did God open their eyes to see this transfiguration?

One reason was because it so hard to believe that the Christ was going to suffer and die.

God Himself has to come and say, “Listen to Him.” Peter, listen to Jesus. When He says that He has to suffer. When He says to deny yourself. When He says that you need to take up your Cross.

Listen to Him. V.9

“As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. [Here the command of silence finally has a timeline to it.] They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what ‘rising from the dead’ meant. [They still don’t see it fully. They won’t until after it happens!] And they asked him, ‘Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?’ [They’re grasping to understand what’s going on here and match it to biblical prophecy.] Jesus replied, ‘To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.’”

Jesus is still teaching them about what it means to follow Him.

It means to prepare for suffering.

If even John the Baptist (who fulfilled the role of Elijah in prophecy, if even John the Baptist) had to suffer...

If even the Christ had to suffer...

Shouldn’t we expect to have to take up our crosses, as well?

Listen to Him.

He is God’s own beloved Son.

“Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” Watch out for the danger of unbelief. Believe in Jesus.

Listen to Him and Believe.

The Son of Man had to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and had to be must be killed and after three days rise again.

Listen to Him and Believe.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Listen to Him and Follow.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Ahoy, Mateys!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Personal Prayer Retreat - A Report

Yesterday was my personal prayer retreat (8 hours of solitary prayer) for my Theology and Ministry of Prayer Class. I was to get alone (and for the bulk of the time) read and pray through a list of assigned scriptures. This is the report I wrote for the professor:

I was able to complete this assignment on February 14, 2006. A couple from our church was on vacation and loaned me the use of their home for the day. I set myself up in their basement and got busy praying.

I confess that I was pretty apprehensive about this assignment. The last time I tried a day-long personal retreat was a for similar seminary assignment nearly ten years ago. That time was excruciating–the “inner chaos,” lack of focus, and confusion about direction made the time very painful.

This time, however, was pretty different–happily, I think I’ve grown quite a bit since then. I began at 8:30am with a half-hour of praise (I’d brought along a set of worship albums) and entreaty, asking God to open my heart to Him and bless me with a sense of His presence. At 9:00am, I began reading aloud the assigned passages in scripture, praying during and after each reading along the lines of the themes in each passage. Music was a great aid this time for me, as I sang songs that seemed appropriate for nearly every reading, as well.

At 10:30am, I was in the middle of the Psalm section, and I began to feel a little worn out and was having a hard time concentrating, so I switched formats. I began to use my church directory for intercessory prayer for my flock. Beforehand, I had asked the families in my church to write out prayer requests for each of their families for this retreat, and I took that file of prayer requests and names to the Lord. This turned out to be a terrific way of strengthening my bond with my people, as many turned in prayer requests for things I previously knew nothing about as their shepherd! It was especially encouraging to me, as well, to hear what was on the hearts of my people and to see so many of them express their prayer requests in exact phrases from some of my sermons! I was also amazed at how my prayers for those who had not turned in a request regularly centered on a few similar themes: salvation, discipleship (with connection to community), and a healthier, biblical family-life.

After an hour of this intercession, I stopped to eat something. I was beginning to feel very tired and light-headed. This stuff is hard work! So, I took 10 minutes and ate a light snack to worship music and then headed right back into the Psalms and prayer. Praying Psalm 119 was especially rich, as I noted (and tried to express in my own prayers) the relational interplay between the psalmist, God, and the Law. If people or ideas for ministry came to mind, I would jot them down quickly and then get back to praying.

At 1:10pm, I had made it all the way to the New Testament epistles. I stopped for a short break and snack again, and then decided to pray through the rest of the church directory and family prayer requests. The second half of the directory went quicker than the first. By 2:00pm, I was back into the reading and praying of assigned scripture. This also went quickly and, by 2:30pm, I had finished all of the assigned scripture and prayed about the themes in it. This was disappointing to me, because the assignment called for 6 hours of this kind of scripture-centered prayer, and my time-management hadn’t stretched it out for that long (even though I had read it all out loud).

I decided to do a prayer-walk, put on my winter hat, gloves, and coat, and went for about a mile walk. During the walk, I praised God for His “unbelievable” attributes–especially His omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. It was a beautiful day, and I sensed God’s nearness.

I was surprised when I returned to the house to find out that it was only 3:15pm. I still had another hour and half to commit to prayer. This was the most difficult part of the day. While I felt great about what I had been able to accomplish in the first 6.5 hours, I felt lost with no plan for the rest. I tried conversational prayer and singing some songs, but I found it difficult to focus. So, I decided to write this report and then catch up on my daily scripture readings in hope of some more leading. I struggled greatly to focus. Then I read aloud a number of prayers from The Valley of Vision (my wife’s favorite source for aid in personal prayer). That seemed to help a good deal.

I finished my retreat at 4:30pm, and headed home to my family. Overall, I am pretty pleased with how the day went. I have never been able to focus myself for personal prayer for so long (even if I wasn’t able to stay focused the entire time), I was blessed to be able to pray all the way through our church family directory, and I had some sense that I had experienced God in worship, thanksgiving, confession of sin, and personal relationship.

More Canadian Humor

Book Review -- Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands

Leading the list of “Things I Wish I Had Learned Better in Seminary” is how to help people grow. That’s why Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands was such a welcome book to me. The subtitle says it all: “People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change.”

Instruments is a manual on “personal ministry”—training the reader to help others grow in Christlikeness. Paul Tripp artfully unpacks the doctrines of indwelling sin, progressive sanctification and the priesthood of all believers, bringing them into the kitchens, living rooms and mini-vans of everyday life.

He begins by painting the good news of the “big picture” in six inspiring chapters: The King has come and is restoring His people. And we, as His ambassadors, have the high calling of representing Him in each other’s lives.

In the last eight chapters, Tripp unfolds his model of helping people move toward heart and life transformation with four key words: love, know, speak, do. Tripp teaches that we need to follow the “Wonderful Counselor” by incarnating His love and entering into the worlds of the people around us. Merely casual relationships will not do in the body of Christ. Tripp then trains us in the art of asking good questions to get to the heart of things. Lasting change will not happen, however, until the truth is spoken in love and people are led in authentic repentance.

Instruments does have its weaknesses. Readers can get lost pretty easily in its 350 pages. Though engaging, it feels a bit like an academic textbook. And many of the colorful illustrations are drawn from the author’s intense counseling ministry, leaving some readers overwhelmed with the severity of the problems being addressed. If more of the illustrations were taken from kitchens and mini-vans, his argument would be even stronger.

All in all, however, I strongly commend this book to church leaders. Every page is saturated with Scripture and biblical principles that can be immediately put to work. For deeper study, Instruments has been adapted into a church-based discipleship curriculum: “Helping Others Change,” and is available with an array of similarly excellent materials from Changing Lives Ministries (ccef.org).

[Reprinted with permission from EFCA Today, Winter 2005, published by the Evangelical Free Church of America. You can read the first chapter of this book at the CCEF site.]

Book Review -- Stop Dating the Church

Every church has them: people allergic to commitment. Christians with a casual, pick-and-choose relationship to the local church. Joshua Harris calls them “church daters” and issues a winsome call for them to cut it out.

In his previous books on dating and courtship, Harris warned against “directionless relationships that were romantic and physical but had no intention of moving toward commitment.” Here, Harris turns the spotlight on similar, half-hearted relationships that believers often have with the local church.

In Stop Dating the Church! Harris confronts the me-first, go-it-alone, extra-critical attitudes that characterize Christians who have not yet fallen in love with the family of God. The confrontation is easy to swallow, however, because the author starts with himself. Harris tells his own story of going from “church dater” to senior pastor and the theology that got him there.

In the first three chapters, Harris tell us why we need the local church. In easy-to-read, engaging prose, he draws out the biblical themes of the church as the bride of Christ, as God’s new covenant society, as the community where the Holy Spirit’s “sanctification project” is accomplished and the place where God uniquely dwells. He makes the church sound appealing without minimizing her faults. The basic message is that Jesus loves His bride (dare I say, “warts and all?”), and so should we.

Harris dishes out a practical ecclesiology in the next three chapters. With concrete, thought-provoking suggestions, he gives wisdom on what a God-pleasing commitment to the local church should look like, what to search for when choosing a church (10 good reminders to us who lead congregations!) and how to prepare to engage fully in worship on Sundays.

In the last chapter, “The Dearest Place on Earth,” Harris invites us to commit. Just as Jesus told Peter that if he loved his Lord he needed to feed His sheep (John 21), if we really love Jesus, we, too, are called to care deeply about His flock.

All of that, in only 129 “Jabez-sized” pages. This primer on church commitment is a resource book to give away and a perfect companion to this year’s EFCA Leadership Conference, “The Church in Real Time.” We’re going to buy a copy for every family in our church!

[Reprinted with permission from EFCA Today, Summer 2005, published by the Evangelical Free Church of America. Read more about this book at StopDatingtheChurch.com which includes resources for churches to use this book to its fullest potential.]

Monday, February 13, 2006

Book Review "Reprints"

I'm going to post some of my EFCA Today book reviews this week so that they can be included in the Diet of Bookworms. Kind of like "digital reprints."

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Update on Heather's Heart

Heather was in to see the cardiologist on Thursday again.

No real news. He doesn't know why she experienced the distress she did back in November. She appears to be very healthy. He wants her to start getting cardiovascular exercise, keep a little card sized heart monitor for awhile in case she gets another spell, and see him again in six months.

So we take that as good news and will just leave the mystery of it all in God's hands.

Thanks for praying for her.

Matt's Messages - Inside Out

“Inside Out”
February 12, 2006
Mark 7:1-37

Mark chapter 7, verse 1.

“The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were ‘unclean,’ that is, unwashed.”

Do you get the picture? Jesus is still in the north country near the Sea of Galilee, but his fame is spreading and there is a delegation of religious leaders sent from the Pharisee Headquarters in Jerusalem. And they have gathered around Jesus and are watching his disciples eat. And they are eating with “unclean” hands.

Now, Mark doesn’t expect us to know what that means. So he gives a little explanation. V.3

“(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)” Stop there.

Now, it’s important to understand that this tradition had nothing to do with hygiene. It’s not like Jesus’ disciple didn’t “wash-up” before dinner.

No, this was (v.3) “a ceremonial washing.”

It was probably scooping a little bit of water into the hand and letting it fall through the cracks in the hand in a ceremonial fashion.

This tradition was not in the Law of Moses. The Law merely said that the priests must wash before serving in the tabernacle. But the Pharisees and many others of hte Jews had said, “What’s good for the priests is good for all of us.” And they had laid the burden of doing these washings on everyone.

It’s hard for us to understand how important this was because we don’t live in a society that is governed by the ideas of clean and unclean. But the Law had established clean and unclean as important categories and the Jews wanted to be seen as clean, so they did what the elders had passed down for them to do. Wash. Wash. Wash.

Except for Jesus. Jesus obviously did not teach His disciples do this tradition. Jesus, who never broke the Law [Who actually fulfilled it!], broke this tradition and obviously taught His disciples to do the same. It was obvious, at least, to these Pharisees. V.5

“So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?’”

Now, don’t think that this was an honest question! These people didn’t want to find out why Jesus did what He did. They were shaming Jesus.

They are asking, “Why don’t your disciples know how to behave?!! What’s wrong with you?” There is no faith here.

And so, don’t be shocked when Jesus comes back with the same kind of force. V.6

“He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.’”

Those are strong words. Jesus calls the Pharisees, “hypocrites” or pretenders.

It would have been shocking for the people of the day because no one was more respected in religious circles than the Pharisees.

These were the “holy guys.”

But Jesus says that they were no holy. They were hypocrites.

“They honor God with their lips (or their washed hands), but their hearts are far from God. They worship God in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

I would hate to hear that my worship of God was in vain. Wouldn’t you?

How was it in vain? V.8

“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”

They are missing God’s point by following the rules the elders have set down.

Jesus says that this is normal practice for the Pharisees. V.9

“And he said to them: ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' [That’s God’s Law] But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban' ([Mark explains:] that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.’”

Wow. Strong words.

Jesus uses the example of Corban to show how the Pharisees were all about rules that looked religious but actually negated the intention of God’s Law.

Corban was a word that could be pronounced over some assets to dedicate them to God, to the temple, to the priesthood.

If something was declared, “Corban,” it was kind of like deferred giving. The person who owned the asset still maintain some control over it until he died. But after he died, it would go directly to the temple.

Out of sheer spite and greed, a man could devote his assets to God in a way that kept him from having to support his parents in their old age.

They were using Corban as a loophole to get around honoring their parents!

And the Pharisees were actually behind this loophole, encouraging people to do that.

Did it look religious on the outside? Definitely.

You were dedicating your money to “GOD.”

And your hands were clean because of your ceremonial washings.

But was it holy? Definitely not. Because it wasn’t holy on the inside. At the level of intention. At the level of motives. At the heart-level.

Point #1. IT’S NOT ABOUT THE OUTSIDE.

The Pharisees had things “inside-out.”

They were concerned merely with the externals of religion and didn’t have hearts for God.

They thought that if they were clean on the outside, that’s what counted.

And they made up all kinds of rules to maintain that outer purity.

Legalistic purity. C.J. Mahaney helpfully defines legalism as “seeking to achieve forgiveness from God and acceptance by God through obedience to God.” (The Cross Centered Life, pg. 25).

And it is inherently outward.

The Pharisees were about outward legalism.

Holiness, cleanness before God achieved through self-effort and outward conformity to the Law and a bunch of rules that they added to the Law.

But it’s not about the outside.

You can’t get holy by dressing a certain way.
You can’t get holy by wearing certain clothes or not wearing certain clothes.
You can’t get holy by following a list of do’s and don’ts.
You can’t get holy by simply adjusting your outside. Even by adjusting your behavior to some degree.

For those that are in or have taken the Changing Hearts/Changing Lives class, we’ve learned to call that “fruit-stapling.”

Like staple-gunning some nice looking fruit on an old dead tree. It might look good for a while, but it’s not real, and it’s not going to last.

Because it’s not about the outside.

That’s what Jesus says. V.14

“Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.'’”

“Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him.”

Not even alcohol.
Not even bad television.
Not even (believe it or not) pornography.

As evil as those things can be, it is not them going into us that make us unclean.

Because it’s not about the outside.

#2. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE INSIDE. V.15 again.

“Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.'”

It’s about what is already in there.

It’s about the heart.

Now, we hear the phrase, “It’s all about what’s inside, not what’s outside” and we might think that’s good news. But it’s really not good news (at first) because what we find out is that the inside is even worse than the outside!

Our hearts are sinful.

The Bible teaches that our hearts are sinful.

When my friend Russell Muilenburg preached on this passage, he said:

“Picture a river if you will. Every river has a starting point, a spring or a lake. And at the start of this particular river I want you to envision a big old ugly factory. Its windows are broken or boarded up. Its walls are cracked and crumbling. But it is still producing. Its black, sooty smokestacks are belching out noxious fumes. And at its base, running right into the source of our river, are a couple of tiles pumping out toxic green sludge. It’s foul, and it’s deadly. And from that point forward, all of the water that flows down our river is contaminated by it. That, Jesus is saying, is what our lives are like. Our lives are like that river. They are polluted right at the source. Right from our very hearts come these toxic, deadly and foul things.” [Sermon: “The Human Heart” February 14, 1999]

And the Pharisees had everything inside-out. Russell says, “...the Pharisees were like environmentalists who come to our river and try to clean it up by washing off every rock and resuscitating every fish. But they never get around to addressing the source of the problem, the factory that is pumping all the sludge into the water in the first place. They were trying to change human behavior, but they weren’t changing the human heart.”

It’s All About the Inside.

That’s what Jesus teaches when He gets his disciples indoors. V.17

“After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. ‘Are you so dull?’ he asked. ‘Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.’ ([Mark adds:] In saying this, Jesus declared all foods ‘clean.’ [That was lesson that took a long time for the church to really learn.]) He went on: ‘What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.'’”

It’s all about the inside. It’s all about our hearts.

And they can be really ugly.

Jeremiah says that “the heart is deceitfully wicked above all things.”

Jesus says, “from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.'’”

This means that we need to take personal responsibility for our sins.

We live in a culture of victimization.

No one is responsible for what they do.

“It’s in my DNA.”
“My parents messed me up.”
“He makes me so mad.”
“If you had had the schooling I had, you’d act like this, too.”
“That was the alcohol speaking.”
“That was my depression speaking, not really me.”
“It’s her fault.”
“It’s his fault.”

All of those things are powerful forces that have a shaping influence. But they don’t defile. They don’t make us unclean.
What comes out of us is what makes us unclean.

We need to take responsibility for our sinful hearts.

That’s the first step towards healing. Believing that we are the problem.

Our sin comes from our “causal core”–our hearts.

And we need more than just a little water splashed on our hands to solve this problem!

We need blood applied to our hearts. Righteous, perfect, godly blood!

We need our hearts washed with the “the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”

And we need new hearts.

That’s what Jesus died to purchase for us. New hearts.

The essence of the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood is a new heart. A heart that is responsive to God. A heart that is moldable and living, not cold and stoney and dead. A new heart.

It’s God’s work to put a new heart in you.
And He calls you to trust Him with it.

He calls you to trust in Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection to purchase new life for you.

If you have never trusted Christ as your Savior and your Lord, I invite you to put your faith in Him today.

Turn from trying to do it your way. Your way will only change the outside and will never last.

His way will give you a new heart and will last forever.

Put your trust in Jesus Christ.

Trust Him with all of your heart.

Because it’s all about the heart.

It’s All about the Inside.

And putting your faith Christ is just the beginning.

We need to all engage in a process of gradual heart-change by repentance and faith.

Every day.

Every day we need to turn from doing things our way and trust in God’s way.

Putting aside our legalistic attempts to follow some rules.

And turn to worship and trust and love God with our whole hearts.

Recently, I’ve taken another stab or two at gaining victory over some difficult temptations for me.

One of them is gluttony. And the other is compulsively reading various things online I should be doing something else.

These are both temptations that I struggle with. Both good things. Eating food. And reading good materials online.

It’s not like I’m eating rocks or looking at pictures I shouldn’t.

No, my trouble is more subtle. It is an inordinate desire for some good things.

Well, I’ve been fighting these temptations this month, and what do you think I’ve been trying to do to win the fight?

Rules.

I’ve been setting up rules for myself (disciplines) of what I can and cannot do. What I will and will not do as a way of keeping myself holy and free from temptation.

Now, these rules I have are good things. I don’t think they are, like the Pharisees here, traditions that I’ve set up to negate God’s command.

But they don’t have any power to actually clean my heart, either!

Because it’s not about the outside.
It’s all about the inside.

And I have to have my heart cleansed, or I won’t have any victory over my gluttony or my lust for information.

My heart needs to change. And only God can do that.

I need to give Him my heart. I need to repent at the heart level. And I need to trust Him at the heart level.

Because it’s all about the inside.

And #3. THE INSIDE ALWAYS COMES OUT.

Just because it’s “all about the inside,” don’t think that the outside isn’t important at all. It is, but as a fruit, not a root of the problem. And a fruit, not a root of the solution.

Because the inside always comes out.

Notice that Jesus says that in v.21. “From within, out of men’s hearts come...”

What is in the heart inevitably comes out.

And that is surprisingly illustrated in the next story. V.24

“Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. [There’s the crowd again!] In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.”

Now, stop a second.

Is this woman clean or unclean?

This is one unclean woman! At least, on the outside.

She is a Greek. A Gentile. That makes her unclean.
She is from Syrian Phoenician. In the Old Testament, that was a really bad area. Anyone from there would be considered an unclean pagan.
And her daughter has an unclean spirit!
She’s living with an unclean spirit right now.

This is one unclean woman!

On the outside.

But what is on the inside?

Jesus tests her to find out. He, basically, tells her, “No.” V.27

“‘First let the children eat all they want,’ he told her, ‘for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs.’”

He calls the woman a Gentile dog. And He says that He is here for the children of Israel.

And this amazing woman, rises to the bait! V.28

“‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.’”

Yes, I’m a dog. But your table, the table of the Messianic banquet, of the superabundance of your grace is so full of food that I’m sure that you have something for me, too, and not just Israel.

Wow. What a response! Jesus is impressed. V.29

“Then he told her, ‘For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.’ She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.”

Jesus was impressed. Jesus was pleased.

And what does it take to please Jesus?

Faith.

What was inside this woman’s heart?

Faith.

In Matthew’s account of this story Jesus says, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted” (Matthew 15:28).

This extraordinary woman looked unclean on the outside. But it’s not about the outside.

She had faith on the inside. And it’s all about the inside.

And the inside always comes out.

Can I ask...What is inside of you?

By nature, you (like me) have a cess-pool inside of you.

But Jesus Christ has shed His precious blood to cleanse your heart.

Put your faith and trust in Him.

And let Him begin to clean you up from the inside out.

Do you have some particular bit of dirt on your soul right now?

Confess it to God. And turn from it–on the heart-level. Not just legalistically in your own power. But from your heart, turn from that sin and trust the Savior.

Ask Him to give you strength to say “No” to that temptation this week and be filled with His Spirit instead.

Exercise faith in Jesus Christ. Like this woman.

On the inside, set apart Christ as Lord. Trust him on the inside.

And the inside will come out.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Life Mission

Recently, I’ve been ruminating on updating my “life mission statement” to reflect what I’ve learned about living in wisdom in the last few years (and to shorten it to something more memorable).

Here’s my current statement (circa 1999):

"Matt Mitchell exists to magnify God in all His excellence by pursuing Him with all passion while sharing His Word of truth and serving His people in love. At heart, I am a lover, a herald, a general, and a shepherd. With my life, God wants me to continually spark and fan to flame a movement of God-magnifying people who pursue Him with all fiery passion through a Word-based spirituality. God wants me to accomplish this vision by being a living example of a God-magnifying lover who reads, believes, lives, and teaches God's Word in all its fullness. This exampling will look like a God-ward life of one-syllable words: peace, joy, love, faith, and hope. My example must start and remain flaming at the personal level as it spreads to my family, to my church, to my community, to district, national, and international levels."

Canadian Humor

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Matt's Messages - Don't Be Afraid

“Don’t Be Afraid”
February 5, 2006
Mark 6:7-56

Last week, as we saw Jesus in action, responding to people in desperate situations, we heard him tell a man named Jairus whose daughter had just died, “Don’t be afraid, just believe.”

And I think that word from Jesus struck a chord in our church family that we needed to hear. “Don’t be afraid, just believe.” “Don’t Be Afraid.”

I heard from a number of you last week that that message was just what you needed to hear. And I’ve noticed over the last several years that our church family (and your pastor) struggle with various fears. We have a tendency to struggle with various fears.

For some it is mild anxieties. For others it is real phobias. Most of us are somewhere in between. We live in fear.

Now, if I were to ask you if you were a fearful person, you’d probably say, “No.”

But if I were to hit your “Fear Button”–the thing or things that you are fearful of–then it would be a different story.

Maybe it’s a fear of evangelism, a fear of witnessing, and sharing your faith.
Maybe it’s a fear of angering a family member or a co-worker, so you just let things go.
Maybe it’s a fear of stepping out in ministry or obedience to God’s will.
Maybe it’s a fear of your life “not working.” A fear of having a problem.
Maybe it’s a fear of the unknown.

What is your “Fear Button?” Press it and you are stopped in your tracks.

Well, as I was studying Mark chapter 6 this week, I was struck by how Mark 6 speaks to our fears, as well.

And what I want to bring out as we go through this chapter together today is Jesus’ call upon us to be fear-less. Don’t Be Afraid.

Let’s pray, and then we’ll jump into Mark 6 together.

[prayer]

Don’t Be Afraid. #1. TO DO MINISTRY FOR JESUS.

In chapter 6, verse 7, the disciples become apostles–that is, they are sent out on a ministry mission. V.7

“Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. These were his instructions: ‘Take nothing for the journey except a staff–no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.’ They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.” Stop there.

Jesus sends out six 2 person ministry teams, and He delegates enough of His own authority that they can drive out demons (like we saw last week), heal the sick (using some oil), and preach His message of repentance to life (a radical change of heart that leads to a radical change of life).

Now, here are a couple of Fear Button issues:

1. These disciples are not yet fully-trained. They don’t even know yet Who Jesus really is. We’re going to see that in our last story this morning. They don’t “get it” yet!

One of them, doesn’t ever get it! Judas Iscariot is sent out on this mission by Jesus! Do you feel like you aren’t ready to do ministry? These guys were not ready!

But they were sent.

I’ll bet you understand more than they did at this point about Who Jesus is.

What are you afraid of? He’ll provide on-the-job training!

Don’t Be Afraid to Do Ministry in Jesus’ Name.

Here’s the second Fear Button issue.

2. Jesus sends them without provisions.

They are allowed a staff, sandals, and one tunic. No bread, no bag, no money.

What’s up with that? Going on a trip with no food and no money?

That would hit my Fear Button!

It’s about faith, isn’t it?

These guys are going to have trust God for their lodging (and not move up whenever they find a better deal (v.10)), and trust God for their food, and trust God for their warmth. These guys are going to learn to trust God.

Are you afraid to do ministry because you don’t think that God has fully provided for you?

Can you trust Him to provide as you do it?

Here’s another Fear Button: Not only are they not fully trained and are not fully provided for as they are sent out, (3) but they are to expect opposition. V.11

“And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”

Jesus says, some people aren’t going to like what you have to say.
Send the message back that God doesn’t like how they are responding. Treat them like we treat the foreigners when we come back home, we shake the dust of their unbelieving nations off so as to not sully ourselves, as a testimony of God’s opposition to their opposition.

Are you ready to take a little heat for God? And boldly send a message back?

Now, I don’t believe that this passage is supposed to give us a list of how to do ministry now, either in how we prepare or in what exactly our ministry is supposed to be about this side of the Cross.

But I do think it says this: If you have been sent by Jesus to do ministry, don’t worry.

He knows what He’s doing.

Don’t Be Afraid.

Now, there was someone who got word of this apostolic mission, and was a little fearful himself. His name was Herod Antipas. He wasn’t really a King. His father, King Herod “The Great” (who tried to kill baby Jesus) was King over all of Israel under the Romans. But Herod’s kingdom had been divided into 4 parts, and Herod Antipas was tetrarch (ruler of a fourth) of the Galilean area.

And Antipas is beginning to be afraid of Jesus. V.14

“King Herod heard about this, for Jesus' name had become well known. [Remember, he’s becoming a big-time celebrity.] Some were saying, ‘John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’ Others said, ‘He is Elijah.’ And still others claimed, ‘He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.’ But when Herod heard this, he said, ‘John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!’”

Now, notice two things. First, everybody is trying to figure out Who Jesus is. That’s the big question in this Gospel: “Who Is Jesus?” And it’s the most important question for any of us to answer for our lives.

Second, notice who Herod Antipas thinks Jesus is: a resurrected John.

Why?

Because Antipas has a guilty conscience. He had put John to death for no good reason.

Now, up to this point, we haven’t been told [in Mark] that John has died. We knew he was put in prison in chapter 1 when Jesus began His public ministry. But now, we find out that John has been executed. And we hear the rest of the story. V.17

“For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.’”

Stop there for a second. Yes, Herod Antipas had stolen his brother’s wife. He had gone to visit his brother Philip, fell into lust with Philips’s wife and talked her into divorcing his brother and marrying him (so long as he would also divorce his own first wife, which he promptly did). What a soap opera! It gets worse. To top it off, Herodias was also the daughter of one of Herod the Great’s other sons. So, she was not only Antipas’ sister-in-law, but also his niece!

And John the Baptizer had told Antipas that he needed to repent of this.

So, Antipas had put him in prison. Got it? V.18

“So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man [best thing Herod ever did]. When Herod heard John [preaching], he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him. [This is one confused man.]”

“Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. [The top brass. A big banquet for powerful men. What do you think the entertainment was like? Herodias seizes the moment in a most disgraceful way. V.22]

“When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. [Yuck.] The king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for anything you want, and I'll give it to you.’ [That’s what lust does to a man.] And he promised her with an oath, ‘Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.’”

This is his grand-niece and step-daughter that has enflamed his lust to the point of making this stupid promise. Everyone in this story [except John!] is shameful. What do you think she asks for as a present on his birthday? V.24

“She went out and said to her mother, ‘What shall I ask for?’ ‘The head of John the Baptist,’ she answered. At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: ‘I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ [Serve it up, Big Guy!] The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. [Yuck!] On hearing of this, John's disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.”

Now, I want to draw two lessons from this part of the story. One from Herod Antipas, and the other from John the Baptist.

#2. DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE CROWD.

Herod Antipas a had chance to do what was right, didn’t he?

He could have taken back his rash oath and reigned himself and his appetites in and refused to execute John.

But he didn’t. Antipas was a slave of his desires. And a slave of his fear of the crowd. V.26 again.

“The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her.”

That’s what the Bible calls “the Fear of Man,” and so often it cripples us from doing what is right.

The world calls it “peer pressure.” But it doesn’t have to be a peer that tempts me to do what is wrong because I’m afraid of what “they” will do or say or think about me.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Crowd. This is where it leads.

The Fear of Man is the biggest barrier to evangelism.

What if I said that this next Saturday, we’re going to have an outreach on the plaza in Philipsburg? And we’re going to hand out tracts and try to start gospel conversations with people as they come and go with their shopping?

Does that hit your Fear Button?

How about doing it not with strangers but with family members or co-workers?

You know that you should say something, but you are afraid of the crowd.

It’s not just evangelism.

It’s all kinds of righteous living that gets stymied by our fear of the crowd. It’s a trap.

Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.”

Don’t be like Herod Antipas. Trust in God, and Don’t Be Afraid of the Crowd.

Normally, I wouldn’t moralize on a story like this, but it’s obviously here to show us what went so terribly wrong. And it’s contrasted with what went right with John.

John did not fear. He stood for what was right. And he died for it.

#3. DON’T BE AFRAID TO DIE FOR GOD.

Probably, John could have renounced his opposition to Herod and Herodias and walked out of that prison.

But he would have done wrong to do it.

And he had the courage to stand up for God and to die for His message of repentance and faith in the coming King and His Kingdom.

These two men are put side by side for us to see the contrast.

One fears the crowd and great evil comes from it.

The other dies in courage and great blessing comes from it, even to us today.

In the movie we watched last month, Beyond the Gates of Splendor, it came out (I never knew this before) that Jim Elliot and his 4 friends, even though they had weapons with them had decided in advance to not use them on the Waodoni (or Auca Indians). Why?

Because they said, “We are ready to die. They are not.” These men were prepared to die for the gospel to reach that tribe.

Are you and I ready to die for God’s gospel, for God’s glory, for God?

He’s worth it! Don’t Be Afraid.

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”

David said, “[I]n God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?”

Don’t be afraid to die for God and His glorious Gospel. He’s worth it.

Notice that here is where we get the report of how the apostles had made out in their mission.

This little flashback sequence about Herod and John was sandwiched in there to make a point about what it takes to follow God. It takes faith. Faith to follow into ministry and faith to stand up to unrighteousness even if it costs us our life. And faith is always rewarded. V.30

“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat [There’s that crowd again!], he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. [On retreat with Jesus.]”

Funny how those retreats with Jesus seem to always be interrupted by more ministry! V.33

“But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.”

Here again, we see the compassion, the care, the concern of Jesus. Notice, his first concern for them: shepherding, teaching, spiritual feeding. But not just spiritual food, either. V.35

“By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. ‘This is a remote place,’ they said, ‘and it's already very late. [Ah. Somebody’s Fear Button is getting pushed again.] Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.’ But he answered, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘That would take eight months of a man's wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?’ ‘How many loaves do you have?’ he asked. ‘Go and see.’ When they found out, they said, ‘Five–and two fish.’ Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.” Five thousand. Stop there.

Now, this story appears in all four gospels. It’s the only miracle aside from the resurrection that shows up in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

And there is a lot going on here.

For one thing, there is a lot of Old Testament language here that’s being picked up in this story. The remote place is like a desert. They sit down into grouping like the Israelites in Exodus 18. The bread reminds us of the manna from Heaven. There is twelve baskets to remind us of the twelve tribes.

I think that Jesus is intentionally doing this miracle in this way to draw parallels between Him and Moses. That’s more clear in John’s account of this in John 6.

Jesus is the new Moses to bring the Real Rescue to His people. And he provides for them in the desert.

But Moses didn’t do it this way, did he? Moses couldn’t multiply the bread and the fish all by himself.

But Jesus does. Jesus exercises Creation Power to make dinner for these 5,000 men and who knows how many others.

Jesus is the Creator.

Jesus is God.

But the disciples can’t see it yet.

It’s right there in front of their faces, but they can’t see it yet.

The gospel of John tells us that the crowd, full of men, wants to make Jesus into a military messiah to run off the Romans.

But Jesus won’t have that, and He won’t have his disciples thinking it either, so v.45...

“Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake[!]. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost [You would too!]. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid.’ Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.”

#4. [And last] DON’T BE AFRAID, BECAUSE JESUS IS GOD.

That’s what He’s showing them by walking on the water.

Who can walk on the water by Himself? Only God alone.

I’ve always wondered why Jesus was “about to pass them” (there in v.48). It never made sense to me before. Why pass them if He had been concerned for them and that’s why He had come.

But a couple of the scholars that I read to prepare for these messages drew my attention to Exodus 34 again.

Where God “passes by” Moses and shows him His glory.

Remember that? Moses’ was in the cleft of the rock.

And God passes by and lets him only see a glimpse of the trail of His glory which is more than anyone had ever seen.

I’m beginning to think that Jesus was pulling up next to them so that they could see that Jesus was God.

Here was God’s glory passing by!

“The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being...” [Hebrews 1:3]

Listen to Job chapter 9, as well. This is Job himself speaking:

“Indeed, I know that this is true. But how can a mortal be righteous before God? Though one wished to dispute with him, he could not answer him one time out of a thousand. His wisdom is profound, his power is vast. Who has resisted him and come out unscathed? He moves mountains without their knowing it and overturns them in his anger. He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble. He speaks to the sun and it does not shine; he seals off the light of the stars.

He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea. He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south. He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.

[Listen.] When he passes me, I cannot see him; when he goes by, I cannot perceive him. If he snatches away, who can stop him? Who can say to him, 'What are you doing?'”

Now, I don’t know if Job 9 was in Mark’s mind when he wrote out his account of this miracle in Mark 6, but the possibilities are interesting. God passing by. Unperceived.

Jesus says (in v.50), “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

The Greek behind, “It is I.” is “Ego eimi.” Which means, “I am.”

It’s the same Greek phrase that Jesus uses in the Gospel of John when He says, “Before Abraham was, I am.”

Don’t Be Afraid, Because Jesus Is God.

If you belong to Jesus, you belong to God.

What do you have to fear?

I believe that this is a message that our church family needs desperately to hear right now.

Don’t Be Afraid.

Because Jesus Is God.

The disciples couldn’t see it yet. V.51

“They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” Like Pharisees, and tetrarches, and other unbelievers! They couldn’t see it yet.

Can you see it?

Don’t Be Afraid! Jesus is God.

And it showed. Even if they couldn’t see it. It was busting out all over the place. V.53

“When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went–into villages, towns or countryside–they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.”

Jesus is God.

What do you and I have to fear?