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PASTOR: FORREST SHORT
“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.”
—Mark 1:35–45 ESV
Well, good morning. Good to see you all, good to be with you. My name’s Forrest, and I’m one of the pastors here at Emmaus. And, what we want to do this morning is pray right off the bat, and then we’re going to jump into our text and continue in our series in the book of Mark. So, let’s pray.
We are grateful this morning for your goodness towards us. Lord, we recognize that we are weak, needful people, and that you are an all-sufficient God who meets us in our weakness. Lord, we’re grateful for that truth this morning, we’re grateful for the power and the strength of your word that comes to bear in the hearts of your people by your Spirit. And, I pray this morning that that work would be happening in each of our hearts. Lord, we ask for those this morning that may not know you as savior, Lord, we ask that you would draw them to yourself. For those of that do, Lord, we pray the same prayer. Draw us to yourself again. We ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Well, again, it’s good to see you this morning. As I was studying this week, I read a modern day parable that I think sets our text up pretty well. It’s pretty short, but here’s what it says …
There once was a man who cared so much about trees that he traveled constantly on their behalf. But, while he educated everywhere and tended personally to infected arbors far and wide, storms and swarms came through the man’s hometown from time to time. Gusts blew down the pine and oak in his own neighborhood. Their local roots, it turns out, had hollowed and weakened with weakened with rot. While he was busy and respected dispensing wisdom for bark and leaf, trees were falling in the man’s own yard. No one was there to tend them.
I think this sets our text up well. It’s easy for us to live like the arborist, isn’t it? It’s easy for us to live in the midst of the busyness and the pacing of life, to the degree that the roots in our heart and home are weakened with rot. And, what we see in the life of Jesus this morning, is that he gives us another way. And, we are in the midst of a world and culture that - quite honestly - has never been busier, has never been more inundated with requests to serve, with requests to get busy, to get about work. And, with technology today, it’s very hard to get away from those things. So, what we see with Jesus, I think, is very lifegiving. And, I think it actually is foundational to the life of believers in the modern day 21st century in the West.
So, we’re going to look at three things here in the text. Surprise, surprise. There’s always three things in the text. Isn’t it amazing how God set up scripture so there was three point sermons throughout it? So, first … being before doing. And then, secondly … being before doing … produces word and deed living … and third … which results in holistic healing.
This is a way of life, and the way we want to look at this text this morning, is this is a new kind of day. It’s a new way to go about your day so that our work produces fruit, and not just busyness. If you remember from last week, we talked about the difference between service and busyness. They’re two very different things. And so, this, I think, digs down a little bit more into how we do that in the midst of our lives.
I. BEING BEFORE DOING…(vv35-37)
So first, being before doing. Notice verses 35-37 … And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” … You ever feel like that? Everyone is looking … what are you doing in the desolate place? Everyone is looking for you! They need you! From last week’s text, we learned that because of his authority and the healing that resulted from his authority, everybody, it says, in Capernaum, desired an audience with Jesus. We see that in verse 33 … and the whole city was gathered together at the door … and Jesus, it seems, worked well early into the morning healing people, meeting the physical needs.
Remember last week? We said, matter matters. Jesus created it, and he cares about it, and so the physical world is being redeemed as well. But, we see that this dynamic continues into this week’s text, this dynamic of everyone desiring an audience with him. And, it says that everybody wants you, everyone desires you. Now, what’s interesting here, is Jesus has - in this moment - what many of us long for. Jesus has, in this moment, popularity, opportunity for greatness, opportunity for mass productivity. All of you administrators out there, you’re like, oh, I get to organize this mess into something. Right? All of this opportunity is right there before him. Opportunity that, quite honestly, few of us will ever get the chance to experience.
But, if we’re honest, isn’t it true that even when we begin to experience this, even in the smallest measure, the first thing that we lay aside is solitude, and prayer, and communion with the Father. Isn’t that often the first thing to go in the midst of busyness? In the midst of everyone desiring us, everyone needing us. But, what we see with Jesus, is that the busier he gets, the more intentional he is about prayer, the more intense he is about communion with the Father. In the midst of what seems like an incredible opportunity to capitalize on, Jesus goes out into a desolate place, into an eremos, is the word there in Greek. It’s the same word used earlier in verse 12, the same word used for wilderness in the book of Mark.
And, he most likely spent hours there, going out very early in the morning, and praying until Simon and the other disciples found him. We don’t know how long that was, but it probably wasn’t a 10 minute jaunt into the desert. He was probably out there for hours, while all of these people sought him, while he knew there were physical needs that he was not meeting. It doesn’t say that everyone was healed, it says that some were healed, so there were things left undone, and he was okay with it. In fact, essentially what he’s saying in his action is, my soul, my life depends on this communion with the Father, not on meeting needs.
So, we don’t know how long he was out there, but he was out there for a long time, and in the midst of this opportunity even to change history, communion with the Father was too vital for Jesus, for it to be squeezed out. And, listen, if the Son of God, completely and perfectly united with the Father, recognizes in the midst of the hairy pace of life, if he recognizes his need for communion with the Father, how much more do we, as weak and easily distracted people, need that communion with the Father?
Anyone else identify with weak and easily distracted? Alright, sweet, I’m in good company this morning. We are. We are weak and easily distracted people. Now, Mark doesn’t tell us the substance of Jesus’ prayer, but if you zoom out and look at Jesus’ prayer life and look at some specific instances, I think we begin to get ahold of the substance of the prayer life of Jesus. In Mark 14, when Jesus is in Gethsemane, you remember he’s facing the reality of the cross. And, it says … he began to be greatly distressed and troubled at the work that was before him … And, he begins his prayer in Mark 14:36 with … Abba Father …
Abba Father. When the disciples in Luke 11 ask Jesus to teach them to pray, do you remember how he starts? … Our Father … In studying this week, I read about a German scholar who was doing research in New Testament literature, and he discovered that in the entire history of Judaism, in all of these existing books of the Old Testament, and all the existing, extra-biblical Jewish writings dating from the beginning of Judaism until the 10th century A.D., there is not one single reference of a Jewish person addressing God directly in the first person as Father. Not one. The appropriate forms of address for the Jewish people were terms of respect, which is good. But, Jesus is the first Jewish rabbi to call God Father. The first in history. In fact, every recorded prayer of Jesus - except one - he calls God Father. Every single one.
What’s going on here? Do we see what this is? Do we see what prayer is, then, for Jesus, and therefore what prayer should be for us? Our prayer life is, then, reorientation around who we are, not what we do. This is everything. When we do not work out of this reality, when we do not work out of being, but we work out of doing, we completely get the cart before the horse, and it’s just a matter of time before things go badly. Our attitude, our relationships, the culture of the very place we’re trying to dig in and do work, our prayer life is reorientation around who we are, not what we do.
If you remember in the early part of chapter 1, in Jesus’ baptism, the Father spoke in verse 11 … you are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased … You know what prayer is? Prayer is coming back to that again, and again, and again, and reorienting our lives around this foundational truth. This is what Paul says in Galatians 4:6 … and because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of the Son into our hearts, crying “Abba, Father” … But, we cannot know this in our busyness, and hurry, and longing for the fast and for the famous, rather than the faithful and fruitful.
There’s a quote from Matthew Henry, you may be familiar with him. He’s a Puritan commentator, wrote a commentary set that’s probably one of the most popular out there. He said this …
We must study to be quiet…The most of men are ambitious of the honor of great business, and power and preferment; they covet it, they court it, they compass sea and land to obtain it; but the ambition of a Christian should be carried towards quietness.
To the degree that you and I know the unconditional, Fatherly love of God, is the degree that we do not need power, and comfort, and control, and approval. But, if we go to doing first, we will be operating out of one of those four source idols. Right? When we hear Jesus’ opportunity, the power and control in us says, man, what are you doing? The entire city of Capernaum is longing for you! But, we see Jesus operates out of something deeper. To the degree that you know the Fatherly love of God, is the degree that you do not need power, comfort, control, and approval, and we are not enslaved by them. We live out the freedom we have in Christ through prayer, through communion with the Father.
Let me ask you this … How many times this past week, did you begin your day with Abba, Father? How many times this past week did you and I - before the pressures and the pace of the day hit full force - begin the day with being, not doing? I can’t tell you how many mornings I wake up, and immediately - my wife will call me on this often - why is your hair on fire? Why can’t you take 10 minutes, slow down, eat a biscuit, and drink some coffee? But, I wake up, my eyes open, and I immediately think what I have to do, what I have to get done, and the amount of time in the week I have to get it, and there’s not enough time in the week to do it. And, it doesn’t drive me to the wilderness for communion with the Father, it drives me to doing before being. But, the call of Christ and the rest of Christ, is that we are called to Abba Father every day, before the pace of the day hits.
So, I want to challenge everyone of us here, this week, see if this week everyone of us can begin the day with Abba, Father. However that looks. I know our lives are crazy, I know some of you have 37 children, all under the age of 1 that you’re trying to wrangle in your house. I know how difficult it is. I hear you. I know you don’t even get bathroom time, but lock the door, five minutes, pretend like you have to go to the bathroom, and commune with the Father. Tie the kids, put them in the closet, whatever you have to do.
We have to fight for that in the midst of the harried pace of our lives. So, I’m going to challenge you this week, to see if you can do that. To, commit to every morning, I’m going to begin the day with Abba Father. Now, it may feel like detox, because we don’t do this, right? I actually listened to a podcast this week about this guy whose business actually goes into the most remote places he can find in the western United States, and he sets up a mic, and he records it. He just records whatever sounds he hears out there. He looks for the most silent place he can find. And, he says it’s actually very hard to find a place that’s far enough away from a highway, and not in the midst of a flight path, so that you don’t get airplane noise.
It was very telling, in that it’s really, really hard. He actually said there’s only 9 places in the U.S. he can find where he can literally get silence for a long period of time. And so, the reporter - or, the guy who was producing the podcast - went out with him, and they sat in this place for hours in complete silence. They set up a mic, and they recorded it all. And, when the guy came out - the guy that’s producing the podcast - he came out, and he said, I’m really emotional. He’s like, I began to think about a broken relationship I had. And, essentially what he was saying, is I’ve not been silent, so I never deal with those things. See, what silence does, what solitude does, is it forces what’s deeply in there, that we can’t see in the midst of the harried pace of life, it comes to the surface. And, in the midst of that, we can remind ourselves that we are the Father’s, that we belong to him. Right?
That’s why we are human beings, not human doings. We are beings, right? It’s about who we are, not about what we do. What we do flows out of that. But, that then sets the trajectory for your day. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have. That, in my life when I don’t start with that, when I don’t start with the communion with the Father, it sets the trajectory of my day, and frustration rises easily, trying to prove myself through my doing rises very easily in me. And, I like the term I heard someone use … gospel chill. He said, the older I get, the more gospel chill I have. He’s just experienced life, and he’s seen that God is good, and sovereign, and providential, and that he works in all these things, and it’s not about what I do at the end of the day, though he uses that. But, when it’s all said and done … deep breathe, Abba Father, I’m yours. Nothing can take that from me.
So, I would encourage you in that this week. See, this is one of the aspects of the fruitfulness of Jesus’ life. It’s the joy of his sonship, and it’s what gives him joy and purpose in the midst of his ministry, in the midst of doing. And so, we must begin there.
II. …PRODUCES WORD AND DEED LIVING…(vv38-39)
So, if we begin there, being before doing produces word and deed living. It’s not being without doing, it’s being before doing, right? The doing comes afterwards. So, it produces word and deed living.
What Jesus is facing, and the people looking for him, is given a little bit more teeth in the parallel in Luke 4. Luke adds … and they urged him not to leave … So, when he’s decided to leave to go preach, they tell him no, don’t do that. So, the totality of what Jesus is facing, is that he has a large throng of people who want him to stay put, and meet their needs through his miracles. But, notice what he says in verses 38 and 39 … And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons … Preaching. Jesus essentially says, I’m not just going to stay here and meet the physical needs that you know you have through miracles, but I’m going to meet he need underneath the physical needs that you don’t know you have.
Jesus says, I have to preach. Now, we know what he’s preaching. We’ve been told that in verse 15, if you remember from a couple weeks ago … the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel … this is what he was preaching. The call, here, is to repent, to turn from self, and to turn, ultimately, to God for ultimate healing. See, when we as God’s people meet physical needs, we are responding to the needs people know they have. But, people also have spiritual needs that they don’t see as readily, and Jesus is saying, it would be unloving of me not to also preach so that those spiritual needs are met. What they need is to be reconciled to God. It’s what we all need. It’s our greatest need.
This is the wholeness of kingdom living. Jesus calls the sinner to repent, to turn to himself, and he calls the righteous to serve. Now, believe it or not, there’s debate in the church about this. I know, it’s hard to believe that there’s debate in the church. But, there’s debate around word and deed. What do we do with that? Some people would say, hey, we just preach the gospel and that’s the most important thing, and that’s all that matters. And, as soon as you go into deeds, you’re going into works that undermine the gospel. And, there are those who would say, hey, the people have heard it, we don’t need to preach. Let’s just do it, let’s just do good things, right?
I think, on one side, you have sort of sectarian, by that we mean, set apart from the culture, sectarian fundamentalism. And, on the other side, you have what would be more syncretist, becoming one with the culture, liberalism. It’s less about doctrine, doesn’t matter that much, it’s more about embodying this reality in the midst of the culture. Fundamentalism, on one hand, is about heavy conversion, right? And, we’re all about conversion and people coming to Christ and being born again. But, fundamentalism says it wants heavy conversion, because they want to go there, but it has little emphasis on meeting people’s needs regardless of what they believe.
Because legalism does not produce compassion, but pride, that camp or that stream, or that ditch you can fall into, from there we end up saying, I’m good and that’s why God loves me, but those people out there, they’re not. Those people are evil. And, we see, in that, we’re missing the grace that’s been shown us as God’s people.
And then, on the other side, there’s syncretist liberalism. They meet all the needs they can, but there’s no call to repentance. There’s no call to coming to faith. And, I’ve talked with actually pastors that would fall more into that camp, and they’ve told me, yeah, we don’t call people to Jesus, we just let them respond however they see fit.
And so, you’ve got these two sides that we tend to lean towards, but here’s what happens. The true gospel, the fullness of the gospel, the whole gospel, produces people who don’t despise the world or reflect the world, but they are utterly different from the world. We, as God’s people, should be utterly different in that we are word and deed people. You cannot read the epistles and the book of James, and not arrive at that conclusion. We are word and deed people.. And so, we as a church are committed to that. We’re not going to debate that. We are about meeting physical needs in our community, and the surrounding communities, and we are about preaching the good news of the gospel, so that the need underneath the need can be met in Christ. We are about both of those things, and we’re not going to fudge on either one.
That’s why I’m super thankful for Raymond Moorhouse here. If you guys haven’t met him yet, he’s the outreach chaplain here at Emmaus, and he does a lot of work among the population of Redlands with homelessness, and meeting physical needs. And, he thinks really well about it, too. If you haven’t had a conversation with him, I would encourage you to do it. But also, the helping humans workshops that he does, it fleshes that out for us biblically, because we often don’t know what to do in the physical realm, right? It’s either bleeding heart, give people a sack lunch, or on the other hand, it’s like … it’s too messy, they want to be there, we’re not going to do anything, we’re going to leave them alone.
I think the gospel calls us to a third way. And so, we at Emmaus church are thinking through, praying through, getting input into how we flesh out for us, how we become a word and deed church, and continue to be a word and deed church.
So, this being before doing produces word and deed … finally … which results in holistic healing.
III. …WHICH RESULTS IN HOLISTIC HEALING (vv40-45)
Now, are you seeing the trajectory of your day? You begin with Abba Father, this is who I am, then as you go throughout your day, you’re going throughout it as word and deed people. And, ultimately, what we see, is by God’s grace, we’re joining God in his work, and it results in holistic healing. It results in a comprehensive salvation.
Look at verses 40-42 … And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. Leprosy had all of life implications. Leprosy was not just a physical issue, it was physical, social, and spiritual. It meant that if you had leprosy, you were an outcast, you were a social pariah. It meant that you had to stay in a desolate place without touch, and it meant that if a leper came near to an inhabited place, what they would hear is cries of people crying out … unclean! Unclean! They couldn’t be touched.
Imagine you, this afternoon, head over to Citrus Plaza, and as you’re walking through the food court, everyone starts crying out .... unclean! And, they part the way for you, and no one will touch you. Imagine the reality of that in life, everywhere you went. If someone who was not lepers came into contact with a leper, he or she was now unclean. In fact, there’s a rabinical writing of the time that says, if a leper stands under a tree and a clean person passes under the shadow of the tree, the clean is made unclean. And then, the person who passes under the shadow of the tree is now ceremonially unclean, and they have to go through a whole ritualistic ceremony to become clean again, so they can engage their community, and engage in worship.
And, of course, for the leper, it meant no temple worship. They couldn’t enter the temple as unclean people. See, what’s going on here is not just physical healing, but a comprehensive, holistic salvation. And, you and I are that leper. You and I need comprehensive, holistic salvation, and when we place our faith in Jesus and we find the spirit of sonship that cries Abba, Father in us, from there we join God in his work to proclaim this good news, this holistic salvation in word and in deed.
What may be lost on us, as well, as we read this text, is that the leper, here, has made a mad dash for life. The leper comes to Jesus in an inhabited place, it seems, and bows to Jesus, throws himself at the feet of Jesus. He breaks all the laws, all the societal norms that lepers were supposed to adhere to, and throws himself completely upon Jesus’ mercy. Notice he says … if you will … make me clean. If you will, make me clean. He doesn’t say, you have to make me clean, I’ve risked everything for you. Don’t you see what I’ve done? Don’t you see what I’ve risked to come into your presence in the midst of this inhabited place? I could be beaten, I could be killed for breaking all of these social taboos and laws. Here I am, at your feet, Jesus. Don’t you see what I’ve done? You have to heal me.
Notice there’s none of that in the language. He says, if you will. This is not a conditional appeal based upon his own work. He doesn’t say, look what I’ve done, look how I’ve risked for you. He drops all his conditions, and he says, if you are the authority - as we looked at last week, the author of life - if that is you, I give up all my rights, and place my life at your mercy, and I do it gladly, and I do it willingly.
See, if the leper were Greek or Roman, he would have said, if you will, you can make me well. But he doesn’t. He says, if you will, you can make me clean. Clean physically, clean to my community, clean before God. And, Jesus gives it to him. Verse 41 says he was … moved with pity … some versions say, moved with compassion. Now, this reality doesn’t happen if he is not living out of Abba, Father. Think about how inconvenient this is. And, how do we view people who have needs in our midst? In the midst of our busy days, are people simply an interruption? We can’t meet everyone’s need, that is true. But, we all have people that are right before us, in our spheres of work and our spheres of influence, in our neighborhoods. We have people right in front of us, that God says are placed there by him, Acts 17:26, are placed there by him to move towards God.
We can’t do everything, but we are called to be moved for compassion for those who are right in front of us, all of us. But, if we’re not living out of Abba, Father it’s simply an interruption to what is fast and famous. This is our call as God’s people. Our world, our community - and we know this ourselves - desperately needs holistic healing. See, this is why Jesus reaches out, and he touches him. Did you catch that? The untouchable is touched by the author of life. The untouched is touched. Did he have to do that to heal? No, we see that Jesus heals in many different ways. He can heal with a command, or he can heal with a thought at times. Jesus touches him, because his soul is starving for it, because he was made for God and deep community, and what he’s known is isolation and abandonment, and desolate places. Jesus is giving holistic salvation the leper needs, and that you and I need.
Finally, let’s look at the rest of the text, verses 43-45, to see clearly what’s happening … And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.” … Up to this point in history, whenever something unclean came in contact with something clean, what was clean was defiled. What was clean, was made unclean. But, here, Jesus tells the leper to go to the priest, so he can certify your healing and declare publicly what is now true of you, that you are clean.
For the first time in history, the clean touches the unclean, and the unclean is made clean. The unclean is made well. And, by Jesus not going to the priest for ceremonial washing after touching the leper, he’s declaring, I am cleanliness. I am what cleanses the defiled. I am savior. No matter what you’ve done, or what’s been done to you, if you come to me, and I touch you, you will be made clean. That is the kingdom that Jesus ushered in, in his incarnation, and what we see lived out in his ministry.
Now, Jesus tells the leper, don’t tell anyone what I did. But, the leper does exactly what Jesus says not to. He does the exact opposite. And, notice the result … the leper and Jesus have exchanged places. The leper who used to have to be in desolate places now goes into the city, and Jesus who was in the city among the inhabited, now goes into the desolate places, and this foreshadows for us how the uncleaner made clean. In Hebrews 13:12, we’re told that Jesus was crucified outside the gate. He was crucified in the desolate places, taken out of the place of the leper, he becomes unclean so that we can become forever clean, taken out to the place of the leper, he becomes unclean, so that we can become clean.
This foreshadows for us the ultimate work of the cross. See, and this is where this sort of transformational cycle happens, that at the foot of the cross, we receive the spirit of sonship that cries out Abba, Father. That reality leads us into word and deed living, where we join in God’s work to see holistic healing come, which brings us back, again, to the foot of the cross. This is kingdom living for the life of the believer.
Do you want this prayer, this communion with the Father, this word and deed life that the kingdom produces? Here, is where it begins, knowing that Jesus has substituted himself for you, and for me. See, when Peter tells Jesus, everyone is looking for you, this was far truer than he knew. One of the realities that we know as God’s people, is that whether people realize it or not, everyone is looking for him. And, this morning, we are invited, and every one of you here is invited to place your faith, whether it’s for the first time, or whether it’s to renew your faith and once again place your faith in the one who went to desolate places for you, so that we could be made clean. It begins there, again, and the Lord invites us to the foot of the cross. Let’s pray.
We are grateful for this beautiful reality. Lord, we are people who are unclean in and of our own deeds. Lord, we ask this morning that your Spirit would awaken us to our desperate need for you. Lord, that we would once again live into the reality of the sonship we have, and that our spirits would cry out Abba, Father, as we come, once again, to the table and remember and live into, and receive the grace of the cross of Jesus Christ. Lord, would you make Emmaus church, a people who are rooted in Abba, Father, who live out the word and deed reality of the kingdom, so that we can see holistic salvation, complete salvation come to the Inland Empire. Lord, it is far more work than we can do, but at the end of the day it is not our work, it is yours. And Lord, we rest in that truth and all the complexity that is this world, and the work of seeing your kingdom come to bear in this world, Lord, may we never lose sight of the cross of Christ, and our good Father, our Abba, Father, as we go about our work. We ask this, Lord, in Jesus’ name, Amen.