Pastor Max Sternjacob

The Amazing Offensiveness of Jesus

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PASTOR: MAX STERNJACOB

SCRIPTURE READING

Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

6 He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief.

And he went about among the villages teaching.

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve Apostles

7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.[a]10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there.11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.


—Mark 6:1-13 ESV

INTRO

Good morning, Emmaus. My name is Max, I am one of the pastors, here, for discipleship and care, and that is something that I love doing. I get to spend a lot of time thinking about what it means for people to actually come to Jesus and also grow in their knowledge of Jesus, and their maturity in Christ. And, today, we’re going to be jumping right back into Mark as we’ve been doing. And, Mark 6 is going to tell us something about Jesus that I think every disciple needs to know, and that is that Jesus is both amazing, and offensive, and that’s okay, because he gets to send the agenda here. 

So, before we jump in, as I was reflecting on this passage, I thought this is the second time Jesus has come to his hometown, at least as recorded in the book of Mark, and now there is this tension that has been ever increasing in the book of Mark, and now there is this awkwardness. And, I was trying to think of the kind of awkwardness that exists here, as Jesus comes into his hometown, and this is the best that I could come up with. How many of you have been to a class reunion? It’s fun, right? See, if you’ve had the pleasure of having a class reunion, and you’ve had the pleasure of going, it’s an interesting dynamic, because you returned back to where you used to be after years have passed, and you take with you an assumption about the people you are going to meet, because when you had left, you had a picture in your mind of what they were like, right? And, now you come back and you’re all thrown in a room together, and you meet, you know, Joe Smith, who is now a neurosurgeon. And, you go … really? Because, we think that the person that they were is the person they will always be, and we can’t fathom them ever actually changing. And, if you’re like me, I went to a reunion, and I tell them … I’m a pastor. And, they say the same thing. They’re like … really? It’s hard for them to get that in their mind because of who I was. They think … that’s not how I remember you.

The difference between, maybe, our experience with class reunions, and this experience with Jesus, is that we know that at least with Jesus, he’s not something radically different than he was. He came back to his hometown, and his integrity, and his character was the same as it was when he was younger. And, we get little glimpses her and there in the other parts of the gospels, that even his own parents, and his siblings, and the religious leaders, even when Jesus was a young man, were astonished or amazed by him, or perplexed by him. And yet, when he comes back to his hometown now, in the height of his ministry, they’re still having that same kind of reunion awkwardness. 

So, we’re going to cover three things today. We’re going to see that Jesus is amazing, and we need to be amazed by him, we’re going to see that Jesus is also offensive, and that we need to be offended by him, and we’re going to learn that it is not good to be amazing to Jesus. If we’re going to be successful in that, we need to pray and ask God for his help, so would you pray with me?

Father,

We thank you for son, Jesus. We thank you for the way that you have orchestrated history, and the author to record for us the amazing person, who he was, and would you help us by your Spirit not to just leave here intrigued, but leave here submitted to your son, Jesus. Would you help me to do that, would you help everything that comes out of my mouth this morning, point us and direct us to, ultimately, submitting to your son. In Jesus’ good name, amen. 

I. WE NEED TO BE AMAZED BY JESUS

So, you need to be amazed by Jesus. If I was to just walk up to you and ask you, hey, do you think Jesus is amazing? Do you think Jesus is someone worth looking at? Most of us, you’re probably here on Sunday because you think, yeah, he’s worth our time, he’s worth carving out an hour and a half on a Sunday to learn a little bit about him, that’s why you’re here. But, let’s just be reminded, at least in the author of Mark, perspective is that we have good reason, up to this point in chapter 6, to be amazed by Jesus, because we have seen and recounted for us all the things that Jesus has said and done. And, I just want to give you a preview of that, but let’s just be reminded. 

I’m using the word amaze, but if you’re following along with us in the ESV, it says this, chapter 6 in Mark, verse 1 … He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished … they were astonished, they were amazed … saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him …

See, up until this point in Mark, we’ve already been shown, I’m just going to give you a quick summary here, that Jesus is amazing. And, how is he amazing? Well, right in chapter 1, Peter’s mother-in-law was healed by Jesus. And then, there right after that, many more in Capernaum, where Peter was from, were healed. And then, in Mark 1 at the end, it says that a leper was healed, and then a paralized man, the man that was lowered through the ceiling in Mark chapter 2. And then, right after that, a man with a deformed hand is healed by Jesus, and then we’re told that many more were healed by Jesus, and then the storm. Jesus calms the storm. The disciples are out on a boat, and this amazing hurricane comes up, and Jesus with a word stops it. And then, right after that storm, they land, and they are met by a demonized man, and he is healed by Jesus. And then, last week we, we saw that the woman who had bled for 12 years is healed by Jesus, and Jairus’s daughter, who was dead, is raised to life again, by Jesus.

So, when we get to this point in Mark, there is no question that Jesus is amazing. And, if you think about all of this that’s happening in a small community, in a small place, that the rumors that must have been spreading around Jesus, it indicates to us - which we’re going to find next week - is that there’s thousands of people who are literally going from place to place, trying to track Jesus down. And, next week we’re going to see that where Jesus feeds the 5,000, that there’s probably somewhere in the realm of 10 or 12,000 people who are held around Jesus, because they want to see him, get a glimpse of him, see more of these kinds of miracles that are happening. 

But, when he comes to his hometown, he’s met with questions. And, I think there’s five questions here, listed for us in chapter 6, and underneath those questions, it reveals some assumptions. And, I thought it would be helpful for us to kind of just unpack these questions real quick, to see, even though Jesus is amazing, the questions that come at him seem to be questioning whether or not Jesus really is amazing, whether or not the rumors that people have heard are congruent with the questions that they’re asking. So, let’s just dive into these questions. You see them there in verse 1-3. 

The first question, what is it? Where did this man get these things? See, behind that question, is a couple of things. One is, you have the cultural assumption that there was favored lines, families, positions, and offices operating in that ancient Greece world. That, if you were going to be special, you had to come from a special place, that you had to have the right office, the right family, the right position, the right influence. So, this question of, where did this man get these things, the question is getting underneath and saying, this man shouldn’t have these things. And, we know that because he’s in his hometown in Nazareth, and we know that that city was never mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament, it wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the Talmud, anywhere. It was a no-name city. It was the sticks, basically. It was a small town, maybe three or four hundred people. In fact, in John’s gospel, we hear from Nathaniel the view of that day about Nazareth was, he says, does anything good come out of Nazareth? It was kind of a running joke, right? That, Nazareth was no good for anything. 

So, there’s this assumption, they go, we know about ourselves, what our city’s like, and you have these things? Well, what things? And, if you catch that, they say, where did this man get these things, not … what are these things this man has? They are focused on the origin, not the content. They are not spending their time in their questions, asking, is what Jesus saying true, they’re asking the question, where did he get it from? Because, the assumption is, is that he must not have gotten it from himself. He had to have gotten it from somewhere else, right? They’re focused on the origin, not the content. 

So, what’s the next question? What is the wisdom given to him? See, we’ve already heard in Mark that the religious leaders and the people were astonished by Jesus’ teaching and authority. They said that they asked themselves, where does this man get this authority? And, even in the previous section with calming of the hurricane, the storm, the disciples say, what kind of human being is this, that he has authority over nature, over the winds the waves. Where does he get his authority from? Where does he get this wisdom from? Well, we’ve already seen that in his parables, even, that Jesus speaks, and he teaches, and people are just perplexed by his wisdom. And, the way that he deals with the religious leaders who are trying to goad him, or who are trying to catch him, who are trying to trap him. He speaks in such a way that he just slips right out of their traps, slips right through their assumptions. He comes to the religious leaders, and talks about forgiveness, and talks about authority in a way that they have no response. 

And, the other thing I want you to see, just culturally speaking, is that wisdom, at that time and place, was associated with divine blessing. So, for them, to see this kind of wisdom is a special anointing by God. Think King Solomon, right? Think that when God came to David’s son, Solomon, he says, I want to bless you. What do you want? And, Solomon says, I want wisdom. And, that divine wisdom is seen as a blessing and an anointing from God. So, they’re asking this question, how does he has this wisdom? He’s a nobody from Nazareth, and yet he has wisdom. And, wisdom, we know, comes from God. So, is God really with him? What’s going on with this guy? He doesn’t deserve to have this wisdom, he doesn’t have the credentials for it. 

And then, the third question, how are these miracles being performed by his hand? Right? He’s a carpenter! There’s an irony here, that he’s a man who works with his hands, and they’re saying, he’s not just a worker with his hands, he’s a miracle worker with his hands. How is he doing this? Well, we’ve already seen in Mark that the religious leaders, at least, are saying that the way that he’s able to do these miracles is not from God’s power, not God’s anointing, but Satan’s power. Underneath this, they’re saying, this person, the only logical conclusion to a person of this credentials, of this background, of this pedigree, is that he’s doing miracles because Satan is at work within him. They can’t even fathom the category that God might actually be using this no-name person from a no-name city to do these things. And, notice one thing, too, that they do not question the veracity of the miracles. They don’t say the miracles didn’t happen, they question the fact that this man does them by another power other than God. 

And then, the next question … isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Again, we’ve already talked, he was a carpenter. This is not a prestigious job. It’s better translated, a laborer. He was just someone who worked with his hands, he was a day laborer. He was the kind of guy you would just hire, like a handyman for the day. He’s not a rabbi. See, he’s not trafficking in the circles that the religious leaders trafficked in. Even though he shows up to his hometown and he’s got disciples in tow like a rabbi would, even though he comes with authority and a deep knowledge of the scriptures, and performing miracles, he’s not seen as a rabbi. They’re saying, he’s just a carpenter. He’s just a laborer. He’s not a rabbi like you or me.

And then, they say, maybe perhaps the most scandalous thing, is that he says, is this not the son of Mary? Now, for us, it doesn’t strike us immediately when we hear, he’s the son of Mary. Of course he’s the son of Mary, we know that. But, in that culture, to say that you were the son of your mom … when everyone else was always referred to as the son of your father. Why would they say that? They said that, because they knew who his mother was, but there was question about who his father was, right? They’re saying, is this not the illegitimate son of Mary? Yu would never refer to someone as the son of the mother. You always referred to them as the on of the father. It should be Jesus barr Joseph, right? Son of Joseph. I mean, it’s kind of a backhanded slap. And, we know there’s some implications there, because other places in the gospel, say John chapter 8, Jesus is running up against religious leaders again, and the accusation they make against Jesus, they say, we know who our father is! Right? That’s what they say to Jesus. We know who our father is, implying what? You don’t. And, Jesus comes back and says, if you knew who my father was, you would submit to me, you would follow me, because my father … is Yahweh. And, they go to kill him over that. 

And then, the last question, are not his sisters with us? I think it just kind of is a capstone on kind of everything that’s here. It might be a little bit of a reach, but I was thinking about it, and the idea that in that culture, as a woman, you would be married off, right? And, you would go be a part of another man’s family. And so, the fact that Jesus’ sisters are still with us, in their hometown with his family still, means that them, as a family, are not prestigious enough for their daughters to be desirable. There was no benefit for them. Because, marriages, then, were alliances between family. So, I think it’s not too far of a stretch to say that the fact that his sisters are still with his other family members, probably means that they have not been married. And, why wouldn’t they be married in that culture, where marriage was one of the highest institutions? It was because the family of Jesus had nothing to offer. They had no money. There was no benefit to align with that family, to share resources or to build out. Their sisters had been ignored. 

And, underneath all of these questions, is the assumption that the people of Nazareth knew who Jesus was, and more than that, they assumed that they knew how God was going to bring in his kingdom. They knew, in their minds, what the messiah would be like. It had a certain flavor, it had a certain shape, and it would come from a certain place, and it would look a certain way. And, Jesus, you do not fit any of it. His hometown did not deny any of the works and the teachings of Jesus, they don’t deny it, but they cannot bring themselves to change their beliefs or assumptions. See, Nazareth, as I’ve already said, is a small town. It’s probably, honestly, if you include our children, it’s probably about the size of Emmaus. So, you can imagine that out of a town that size, the rumors about Jesus … everyone knew who Jesus was, at some point. The rumors would start to spread quickly. And, just like a family reunion or a class reunion when someone comes back and has a position or a story about what’s taken place over those last 10, 15, 20 years of their life, if you’re like me, we hear it, and we go … yeah … prove it? Right? 

See, and the context here, is not just a conflict with his hometown. It’s not just a conflict with his family. It’s a conflict with the religious leaders, and we’ve already heard earlier on in Mark that the Herodians and the Pharisees who would represent both, kind of, the left and the right, the conservative, and the liberal sides of the religious leaders, both wanted him dead. They didn’t get along about anything. They hated each other, yet both the Herodians and the Pharisees agreed on one thing, and that was that Jesus had to go. So, how can these people be amazed by Jesus, yet still hate him? 

II. WE NEED TO BE OFFENDED BY JESUS

See, we need to be amazed by Jesus, but being amazed by Jesus, being astonished by Jesus, being intrigued by Jesus, being willing to sit down and read Jesus’ new book, is not enough for us. It’s not enough to just be amazed by Jesus. I would say that you have to actually be offended by Jesus. Look at Mark 6, we’re going to read it again, starting at the end of verse 3 … And they took offense at him. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief.

And he went about among the villages teaching … See, both the left and the right, his hometown, his family, they all were offended. They could not bear the claims of Jesus, because to them, Jesus was nothing more than an illegitimate bastard child. So, for him to come saying that the kingdom of God is near, the kingdom of God is at hand, I am the king of the kingdom, I am the messiah, they could not handle it. They were scandalized by it. That word offense, is scandal. It’s a scandal, and they took offense. 

Now, I think it’s important, here, to stop for a second and say, they took offense … does that mean that as followers of Jesus, we should be offensive? Well, I think it’s important to make a distinction, here, between taking offense, verses giving offense, alright? Let’s just stop for a second. It says … they took offense. There is a difference between someone who wants to be offended, who will find a reason to be offended, versus someone who is speaking truth, and using tact. There is a difference between someone who wants to take offense, versus someone purposefully making it hard for someone to hear. And, Jesus does not do that. We’ve seen Jesus’ miracles, and why we should be amazed by Jesus. But, if you go back and you read those accounts over and over again, people are astonished with the compassion of Jesus, with the wisdom of Jesus. He does not go after people and just rile them up for no reason. He does not goad them, he does not shame them. He speaks the truth with grace. And, the testimony, here, is that they hated him. They were offended by him, yet they all want to be around him. 

See, that should be the mark for us. We should not measure, as Christians, as followers of Jesus … our measure of success is not, do we offend people, how much we offend people. That’s not the measure of success. We should not go about our lives and say, well, I offended a lot of people today, I’m doing Jesus’ work. We should approach and come to our measure of success and saying, do I love people the way Jesus loved them? Do I have compassion like Jesus did? Do people not like what we say, but still want to be around us? That’s a good measurement. Do people know where we stand and know what we will say, and know what we will preach, but yet still want to be around us? Still can’t pull themselves away from us? That’s our measurement, is it not? 

 

See, Jesus did not give offense, but people took offense. And, we’re in good company, because Jesus said in John 15, that if the world hates you, know that they hated me first. They took offense, and they could not see that Jesus as actually giving and offering them exactly what they needed. Jesus did not go with the intention of pushing people away, or stirring them to anger. He had tact, he had wisdom, but yet Jesus is constantly evoking this reaction from the people. All of his teaching is met with hostility and offense, and if we claim to be his followers, to some extent, we will also receive that. We cannot control whether people will actually take offense, but we do not have the luxury of changing the message to make it less offensive. 

 

So, why did they take offense? What is it about Jesus’ message, about his gospel, that causes offense? See, I think that the questions that were just laid out there in Mark, indicate that the reason why they were taking offense, is that Jesus is just too ordinary. He’s too ordinary. It’s his ordinariness that trips them up. We know him. We know what the kingdom is supposed to be like. We know what the messiah is supposed to be like. You don’t fit. You’re too ordinary. See, we are in need of a kingdom that’s not out there, but that is a kingdom come near. And, that’s exactly what Jesus’ message is. He’s going around and telling people, the kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God is near, because what we need is not a kingdom out there, we need a kingdom that comes into our ordinariness, to our ordinary life. 

 

We need God to interject into our normal life. And, I think it’s the ordinariness of Jesus that trips those people up, and I think it does it in two ways. I think it’s the goal of salvation, and the cost of salvation that trips people up. I think it’s the ordinariness of Jesus in the goal of salvation - basically, like, the trajectory of salvation that he’s talking about, and the cost of salvation, the freeness of it. Let me tell you what I mean, here. I think it’s the goal, because, again, we often think that when we think about God making things right in the world, it means that the world needs to end, and we need to go there to escape, to make God’s plans come about, to make things right, we need to leave. But, the whole Bible and all of the new testament, and all of Jesus’ teachings, is that we don’t need to go there, God needs to come here. The Bible starts, saying that he will restore the earth, not remove it. He will redeem it.

 

The new heavens and the new earth are coming. The Bible starts with a garden, where God is close with his people, and walks with them, and it ends with a city that comes out from heaven, and makes its place with man on earth. It is not us going to God, it is God coming to us, and that does not land well with the people who hear Jesus teach. And, here’s the thing. If we need to be offended by Jesus, we need to be offended for the right reason. See, if Jesus is real, and if he is actually God incarnate, in the flesh, come from outside of our world, to our world, who actually lived, who actually taught, who actually died, then every single place, every single culture, every single association, mindset, nation, and person will - at some point - be offended by Jesus. Because, he is from outside. He’s coming to the inside, to the ordinary,  and he’s coming, saying, what you have needs to change. What you have, needs to be redeemed. What you have needs to be restored. So, if that’s who he is, if that’s his mission, than every single one of us is going to be offended by Jesus, at some point. 

 

See, for some cultures, Jesus teaching on family is radical. And, to others, its shameful. Right? We’ve already heard in Mark 3, who is my mother?  Who are my brothers? They come to Jesus, and they said, your mother and your brothers are outside! And, he says … who is my mother, who is my brother? It’s the one who does the will of God, that’s my mother, that’s my brother. See, in that culture, to turn your back on your family was shameful. We’ve heard in Mark 2, when Jesus talks about forgiveness with the paralyzed man, to most of those hearers, it was unthinkable to say that this man is going around, granting forgiveness to people. That’s not how you give forgiveness. That’s not what forgiveness is. And then, in other cultures, Jesus teaching on money … it cuts right to your heart. Later on in Mark 12, Jesus has the account of the widow and her penny, you remember? The two mites? And, he says, the woman who gave the little bit, gave way more than the man who gave all. And, in some cultures, that talk, that speech, that teaching of Jesus about money, it doesn’t land well with us. It offends us.

 

See, at every point, Jesus is going to offend us. And, let me stop and I want you to hear this. If you get nothing else this morning, I want you to hear this, that being a disciple of Jesus is about being uncomfortable. It’s about allowing Jesus to offend us. It’s allowing him to command us. The difference between being a disciple of Jesus, and simply a bystander, is that we stick around to obey him. Think about it. You’ve probably all seen it, a man on the corner who’s maybe a little bit, couple screws loose. He’s holding a sign, saying the end is near, you need to repent. Have you seen that ever? What’s the difference between him and Jesus? Their message is the same. The difference between a disciple of Jesus and just being a bystander, is that when we hear Jesus say the same thing, we say, he’s talking about us.  He’s talking about me. See, we can ignore the crazy guy on the corner who has the same message of Jesus, because we do the same thing the people in Nazareth did. They were like, I know what that guy’s about. I’ve seen him before. He doesn’t fit the type of person, he doesn’t have the credentials that I’ll listen to. 

 

We need to stop and realize that when we say that we’re a disciple of Jesus, to be a Christian means that we allow Jesus to offend us, but we don’t run away. See, Jesus says he’s the king, and if he is the king, that means that he has authority. And, if he has authority, it means that we have to surrender. We have to let him say, and do the things that offend us to our core. See, Jesus says that that sense of comfort that you seek with your possessions, you need to find me your ultimate rest. That lust you hide from your friends and your family, you need to see me as beautiful. That anger that you have towards your brother, you need to forgive like I forgive you. That nagging lack of forgiveness that you harbor, it’s because you feel superior, but I am the only righteous one. That hopeless fear of the future, I know the end from the beginning. That secret cutting corners at work, I am the true servant who came to redeem you. That abuse that you suffered from someone who should have protected you, I am the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. The manipulation of the numbers in your finances, I will give you all the resources that you need. The power and the control that you crave, I am your savior king. You cannot add one day to your life by worrying. And, the prominence and the influence that you desire, know that all of the scriptures, and all of creation, point to my goodness, and my preeminence. See, if Jesus is those things, he will offend you.

 

All of these things are offensive, they all strike us deeply. We want to ignore them, we want to justify ourselves, we want to run away. But, the grace of God, the Holy Spirit says, no, I’m going to plant you at the feet of Jesus, and you will listen. And, maybe you’re like me, and you’re like, I don’t know how to obey. Help me. Distil your grace in me, I need it. It reminds me of Lucy in the Chronicles of Narnia, when she first hears about Aslan, right? Do you remember the question she asks? Is Aslan safe? And, what does Mr. Beaver say? No he’s not safe. He’s not safe at all! But, he’s good. See, that’s the posture of a Christian. We don’t expect that when we become a Christian, that all of a sudden everything that Jesus says, somehow we agree with. When we become a Christian, we are set on a trajectory of the ordinary, where Jesus comes and he speaks truth up unto the ordinary places of our life, and points out where we are incongruent with his kingdom. 

 

And, that’s why we gather every week, right? We gather every week, because we believe that it is the ordinary means of grace. That is what we’re talking about, the ordinary means of grace, preaching the word, receiving communion, baptism, all three of those things are constantly pointing us to the ordinariness of Jesus, and how he brings about his gospel into life, and the lives of his people. They all point to it. We preach the word, because in them, we find life. We receive the table, because we say our only hope is to receive from Jesus, not bring something to Jesus, and we do baptism because we say it symbolizes that we are completely dead, and we have been made alive. We have nothing to offer. It is only by his grace that we are made alive, and that’s the ordinary means that Jesus uses, week in, and week out, to shape his people. 

 

So, what does he send his disciples out to do? He sends them out to preach the gospel … nope, actually it doesn’t say that. What does it say that they did? He sent them out to do what? To preach repentance. See, if Jesus is actually the king, then he goes out and sends his people out to preach repentance, which is basically saying, you need to repent in the areas where Jesus is not your king. You’re not living like Jesus is king. You need to turn. That’s what repentance is.

 

See, the second way that Jesus offends us is not just in the trajectory of salvation, the second way is the cost of salvation, and the freeness of it, the grace of it. See, Jesus’ gospel is so counterintuitive to us, because we know somewhere deep in our souls, that we believe that we need to escape this world in order for it to be saved. That, in order for us to be saved, we need to leave it. It’s too far gone. But, Jesus says, no. I’m coming to you, and my kingdom is coming near, and it’s here, and the world will be renewed, you will be renewed, and even if we can catch a glimpse of that reality, if you’re like me, my first reaction is … okay, it’s coming here … what do I need to do? The cost must be too large. There must be something significant I need to do for a salvation that’s fitting of that magnitude. But, Jesus says no, it’s grace. It’s not your work, it’s mine. It’s free. 

 

You know, just this week I was sitting with my youngest son, Elliot, in his bed. We just changed his bed, he’s not sleeping in a crib anymore, now he’s sleeping underneath a bunk bed, so he’s kind of adjusting to that, so we’ve been needing to kind of lay down with him to get him to get used to that. And, we’ve been listening to the Jesus Storybook Bible on CD, it’s great. I highly recommend it. But, it’s interesting because I was laying there with him, listening, and as with most children’s Bibles, they don’t go through the entire Bible. It’s one of the liabilities of children’s Bibles. But, the Jesus Storybook Bible hones in on one story that just struck me this week, that was kind of fitting this topic. It’s the story of Naman. And, why Sally Lloyd-Jones, the author of the Jesus Storybook Bible, decided to include that in the storybook, I don’t know. I would love to find out why she decided to include it. Because, it captures this ordinariness of salvation really well. 

 

If you don’t know the story of Naman, I’ll just try to summarize it for you. Naman, you can find this in 2 Kings 5, Naman is a Syrian Gentile general, and Elisha, one of the prophets of God, has been doing miracles, and preaching and proclaiming repentance to God’s people. And, these stories of miracles, much like Jesus, kind of come through the ear of Naman, and hears that Elisha can do mighty works, but Naman has leprosy, and in that day, leprosy was basically incurable, and he has it, apparently, pretty bad. And, Naman comes to Elisha and he’s met with - not Elisha - but with Elisha’s servant. And, Elisha’s servant says, Elisha’s not going to see you today, but Elisha knew that you were coming because Yahweh had talked to him and told him you were coming, and he’s telling you to go wash in the Jordan river. And, Naman is furious. And, I was listening to that story, again, and it reminded me … why was Naman so furious? Naman was mad about this, because Elisha didn’t come out to meet him. He thought, I’m a big, important guy, and I’m an important general. The least he could do is meet me in person, and now you’re telling me that the thing I have to do is just go wash in the Jordan river? I came expecting to pay you for this miracle, and now you’re telling me I’ve just got to go wash? It offended Naman, because he assumed that something was required of him, in order to receive salvation, in order to receive wholeness. But, Elisha is telling him … no. It’s faith, it’s trust. 

 

See, Naman had an expectation, that because he was important because he was a man of means, because he had status, that he needed to leverage that in order to get God to notice him. And, God says, no. That’s not what’s going to do it. Think about the story from just last week, the woman who was bleeding and Jairus. Jairus was a prominent man, this woman was a nobody, an outcast. And, what does Jesus do? He stops and gives his attention to the woman at the expense of Jairus, right? He sees people on the outside, and he gives attention to people on the outside and the prestigious the same, because it is not based on their excellence or their actions, it’s based on his compassion. See, Jesus offends us, but it’s exactly what we need. And, this is why Jesus sends people out to call them to repentance, because the irony here, is that the people who should have known Jesus the best, his hometown, failed to respond to him, even though they are amazed. And, what we see here is that Jesus is actually amazed by them. 

 

III. IT IS NOT GOOD TO BE AMAZING TO JESUS

It says that he’s astonished by their lack of trust. So, that’s the third thing, is we do not want to be amazing to Jesus. See, how is it possible for someone who knew Jesus that way, who would know him more intimately because they saw him grow up, and had heard of his miracles, and even saw him themselves, yet reject him. It comes down, I think, to the fact that these people had Jesus in their presence, but just as if being amazed is not enough, presence is not enough. And, it’s not just about proximity. It’s about our posture. See, Jesus, here, is known by these people, and it’s that very fact that he’s known that keeps them far from him. It is not the closest in proximity to Jesus, it’s about the posture of our hearts. 

And, I would say that - to play with this passage just a little bit - that Jesus being amazed by their lack of unbelief, is not something that we should aim for. Just like we should not aim to just offend people, to use that as the measure of our success, our fruitfulness, we should probably not use whether or not we’re an amazing church, as a measure of whether or not we are doing Jesus’ mission, right? See, Emmaus does not want to be an amazing church. I don’t know if you know that. We don’t want to be amazing. We want to be faithful, right? We want to be disciples. We want to be people who stay near Jesus, even when we’re challenged deeply, and offended by what he says, because we submit to him, because it’s his work. See, we want to be a faithful church through the ordinary means that Jesus prescribes. And, we’ve already heard in the parables of Jesus that that kingdom growth is slow, it’s often unseen, unnoticed, unremarkable, but steady. And, eventually, has the power to grow large, where all people, all nations find rest in it. 

See, being a faithful church means we do take seriously what Jesus teaches here, and I think he’s teaching something very important that we need to be reminded of, and I’ll just end on this, here, with you. That, unbelief is not simply a matter of a lack of information. What do I mean by that? What I mean, is that sin causes a rebellious heart that’s sick, and refuses to kneel, refuses to see. And, it is not the position of a human being to God that we just need a little bit more knowledge, we just need a couple more miracles, we need a couple more teachings of Jesus, and that’s all we need. We need a new heart. We need Jesus to seek us out. These passages should be familiar to you … Luke 19 … the son of man came to seek and save the lost … John 6:44 … no one can come to me unless the Father draws him … Romans 3 … none is righteous, no not one. Noone seeks after God, they have all turned aside … this passage should remind us that we do not just need more information, we need a new heart.

And, if Jesus is the king, then what is it we’re supposed to do? Well, this is where having gospel communities is helpful. Cause, this is where we go to do and think hard about this. What’s our job, then? Well, there’s two things I’ll just say here about the rest of this passage in chapter 6, and that is this. That, Jesus sends out his disciples to do the very same ministry, and have the very same message as Jesus. He sends them out, and he says, I want you to go preach repentance, he doesn’t tell you to preach something else, he says preach repentance, and they go, and they do the same miracles that we’ve already seen in chapters 1-5. The disciples go out, and they do the very works, and say the very message of Jesus, and that’s what we need to do as a church. We need to do nothing else besides that.

The other thing, is that I don’t know if you were reading this passage, if you didn’t read it in the scripture this morning, but in chapter 14, all of a sudden we’re talking about Jesus, and Nazareth, and all of these things, and all of a sudden it cuts to Jerusalem and we’re talking about John the Baptist. Why does it do that? It seems so out of place, it’s like a jump scene change. Isn’t it intriguing? Why is that what happens? Because, I think John the Baptist is an object lesson for what that looks like, because John the Baptist was a follower of Jesus, and he was uncompromising in his message, and what happened to him? He was killed. And, like Jesus, it said Herod enjoyed hearing John the Baptist preach, and yet he killed him. Why? See, Jesus says if you’re going to be sent out with my message, and do my works, this is how you’re going to be received. You’re going to be received the same way I am, where people might like you, but they don’t want anything to do with you. 

See, and here’s the thing I want to encourage you, lastly, with, is that John the Baptist - who Jesus says is the greatest man born of a woman, he’s one of us, because in Luke 7, we have an account of John the Baptist in prison, and John the Baptist sends some of his disciples to Jesus and says this … the disciples of John reported all of these things that Jesus was doing to him, and John called his disciples to him, and sent them to the Lord, saying, are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? When the men had come to him, they said, John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, are you the one who has come, or shall we look for another? … See, John the Baptist was like you and me. He was striving to be faithful to Jesus, but when he got put in prison, he started meeting resistance, and he started to become persecuted, he said, is Jesus really the one? He had doubts. Is Jesus really the king? Is he really the one who’s going to come, or should we wait for another? 

We’re in good company with John, because we know that this is what Jesus’ kingdom is like. We need to be offended by it. We need to be sent out with the same message of Jesus, and we know we’re going to both encounter resistance in our own souls, and we’re going to encounter resistance out there. And, as such, we’re about to come to the king’s table, and we come to the king’s table without cost to ourselves, but with infinite cost to him. We come to a small, ordinary meal to remind us that we need to allow Jesus to reign, and to speak deeply into our lives, even if it offends us, and even if it makes us what to run away, because as Peter rightly said to Jesus, to whom else will we go? Where else will we go? You have the words of eternal life. 

Let’s pray,

Father, 

We thank you for your kingdom, that it comes in an unassuming way, but that it comes with power. That it comes into the ordinary, and that you come with both grace, and truth, that you come with both love and offense. Thank you that that offense is exactly what we need. We need to hear that our only hope is you. So, as we come and prepare our hearts, to come to recieve your table, would you help us to have that in our minds, and we come to you offended. We come to you at war with ourselves, and you are our only hope, to make us whole, to make us citizens of your kingdom. We love you, we ask that you would be honored as we come as your family to share this meal. In Jesus’ good name, amen. 


Parables of the Kingdom-Full Sermon Transcript

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PASTOR: MAX STERNJACOB

SCRIPTURE READING

“Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that “‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.’” And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.””

—Mark 4:1–20 ES

INTRO

Good morning, Emmaus. My name’s Max, I’m one of the pastors here. I’m the pastor for discipleship and care, and I’m also the newest full time staff person here, and that means that I get, sometimes, in the position of kind of wondering, how did I end up here? Because, I have had many jobs in my life. This is, by far, my favorite one, so you can be rest assured I ain’t going anywhere for awhile. But, when we come to this passage, I’m in a unique position here, because you’ve probably heard this passage before, right? It’s one of the most common passages that the world even quotes. The world, who maybe want nothing to do with Jesus, they like what he teaches, and they will use the parables to Jesus to their own ends. And so, even if you’re not a Christian this morning, you’re probably familiar with this parable. 

But, the reason why this is unique is not just because it’s famous, but it’s also unique because it’s one of the only places where Jesus actually explains the parable. And, that makes my job hard. It makes it hard, because I don’t want to be the fool who gets up here and tries to make my word equal with Jesus’ word, and it also makes it hard because I don’t want to go beyond what Jesus has said here. So, my job this morning, I hope you’ll bear with me, and my job this morning is to hopefully take and make the most of what Jesus has said here, without going beyond it. My hope this morning is to pastorally help you to take this story that is probably very familiar to you, and helps us to apply it as a church, maybe see it fresh again. Because, usually as it is with things we’re familiar with, we tend to go yeah, yeah, I know the point, and so we don’t stop and think about it. So, with that in mind, we need God’s help, yes? I certainly do. Let’s pray and ask for his help this morning. 

Father,

I pray this morning that our familiarity with this story and this parable and your teaching would not cause us to not hear. There is a warning here that we can use our ears, but we can walk out of here not understanding. And, God, I know for myself that there are many things that I have experienced in my life that want to twist, to try to insert into this passage to make myself feel good about myself, or feel better about my past. But, God, would you this morning allow us to actually hear you, not me, not ourselves, but you. And, God, would you this morning do the very thing this parable is talking about. Would you take your word and scatter it among us, that it might bear fruit. By your Spirit, in Jesus’ good name, amen. 

If you were with us three weeks ago, our clerk of the clasis, our denomination, was actually here preaching, and he said something in passing that I thought was very insightful. He said that Mark is like the action movie gospel. It’s like scene after scene after scene of quick action, and Jesus is going from thing to thing, from teaching to teaching, from place to place, and it moves fast. But, just like an action movie, the scenes that come before it, influence the scene in the present, and what we have come from is this rising tension that has happened, here. And, there are three things that I want to take some time to look at when it comes to this parable, cause this is the first time, at least in the gospel of Mark, that parables are used by Jesus. The first one is that there’s a disturbance that this parable causes, we want to look at the details - the facts and figures - of the parable, and we want to look at the depth of the parable, the deep meaning and the application.

First, some context, cause context is king when we are trying to interpret. That rising tension I just mentioned is really surrounding not around the people, per se, but around the religious leaders. The religious leaders have their eyes on Jesus, and they don’t like what he is about. They don’t like what he’s saying, they don’t like what he’s doing. Jesus is going around healing people, freeing people from demonic oppression, forgiving people. But, the ministers of the day, the pastors of their day, the religious leaders, were not too keen on the subversion of their authority by Jesus. They didn’t like their influence being attacked. Because, the people in Mark talked about … we’ve never heard anybody teach like this. We’ve never heard anybody with this kind of authority. And, that cut right to the heart of the religious leaders, saying, well, wait a minute … I’ve been teaching for years, and no one's ever complimented me about my teaching. They’ve never talked about how I have authority, but yet this man from Galilee, this no name from Galilee, the people are following him, so much so that Mark says here that the crowds were so large that Jesus had to get on a boat and get away from land so that everyone could see and hear him when he spoke. 

See, this conflict was not just with the religious leaders, though, but with his own family. If you remember in prior weeks, we talked about that Jesus’ own family thought he was crazy, and they came just prior to this section of Jesus talking in parables here, they came to arrest him, to take him back into custody and say, we’ve got to take this guy home. So, this context we find ourselves in Mark, it’s been action scene after action scene after action scene, yet now we slow down, and Jesus starts telling stories, and Mark takes the time to say, not only am I going to tell you this story, but I’m going to tell you what Jesus said in explaining the story. And, what is going to happen here, is that Mark in his gospel is trying to slow down and tell us something important. He’s trying to show us, how is it that smart, learned, religious people who ought to know and expect a messiah, and how Jesus’ own family who have known him his whole life and have watched him grow and act, can reject him when he’s right in front of them?

Jesus tells this parable about the reality of rejection. How can this be true? How can people, in spite of the evidence that’s right in front of them, in spite of Jesus’ character, in spite of his miracles, in spite of his teaching and authority, in spite of everything he’s demonstrated, how can they reject him outright? See, when I first started interning, I started interning at a church out in Banning when I was 16 years old, and I wanted to pursue working in full time ministry at 16. Had I known then what I know how, I probably would have said … I should find a better job, easier job. But, see, one of the first things that was told to me - advice, if you will - as I started interning at church and working with, like, junior highers and high school students, was, when you’re going to talk or preach, you want to make it easy for people to understand you. You want to share lots of stories, so that people can follow. You want to be relevant. But, if you read with us this morning already, Jesus doesn’t do that. In fact, Jesus makes it harder to understand. 

Why does he do that? This passage seems to fly in the face of all the advice that I got as a young man. So, who’s right? My counselors, or Jesus? Jesus. Good. Someone’s listening, yes. This parable, I would suggest to you, is a parable about parables. Jesus uses this parable to talk about why he speaks in parables. And, the background here - if you notice in your Bibles, verse 12 of chapter 4, Jesus quotes something to them, from Isaiah 6 … 

Go, and say to this people: “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.” Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.

—Isaiah 6:9-10 ESV


And, in Mark 4, verse 10, right before he quote that passage from Isaiah, it says … And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that “‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand” … 

See, this parable is a parable about parables. In fact, later on in the next passage that we’re going to get into next week, Mark 4:34, it says that … from this point on, Jesus did not publicly teach without a parable … so, there is something that is happening in this parable that’s significant, and I think the key to unlocking what Jesus is talking about in his words here is starting at us right here. It’s from Isaiah, and if you go back to the beginning of Mark, what’s the first thing that happens in chapter 1? You can look there, it says … The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “I send my messenger before you, prepare the way, the voice of the one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight …” See, Mark explicitly, and in Matthew and Luke, implicitly, they are saying something about Jesus. They are saying that Jesus is fulfilling Isaiah’s words. And, if we go back to Isaiah and his commissioning by God, God tells Isaiah … go to your people, and they will hear but not understand, they will see and not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, make their ears heavy and blind their eyes lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed … That’s Isaiah 6. 

See, while all the gospels rendered this command as slightly different ways, it all captures the basic essence of Jesus’ words here in Isaiah’s prophecy. Isaiah sees a vision of the Lord and is charged to go preach to the nation. He spent his life proclaiming the impending judgement and the coming messiah, and the restoration of the remnant. But, God tells them right at the beginning of his ministry, that you’re preaching is not going to be received. In fact, the opposite result is going to take place. More people are going to be unresponsive. See, when Isaiah entered into his ministry, God told him that what you preach is going to stir faith in some, but most are going to be hardened. And, the Lord tells Isaiah in his ministry that is by design. In God’s mysterious plan, he is causing division between the repentant and the unrepentant. And, when Jesus comes onto the scene, especially in the gospel of Mark, Mark is saying that Jesus is taking up the same kind of ministry as Isaiah, it’s going to have the same result. 

So, what is Jesus doing in this parable? First, he’s identifying himself as a prophet, because he’s using Isaiah to talk about his ministry. But, what he is saying is that the culmination of Isaiah is being brought forth, it’s being brought in. The kingdom of God that was talked about in the Old Testament is now in their midst. And, when he does that, when he starts speaking the way he does with authority, and now speaking with parables, it causes hardness of heart, it causes a disturbance. So, let’s dig in here to the disturbance of this parable, yes?

I. THE DISTURBANCE OF THE PARABLE (Mark 4:10-13)

We know the context. What’s causing the disturbance? It’s in Mark 4:10-13, let’s just read it again … 

… And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that “‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.’” And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? …

See, Jesus is trying to weed out true and false disciples here. Now, here’s the question … Jesus often includes elements in his parables and teaching that were shocking. And, by shocking I mean that he speaks in a way that goes against the normal conventions of the day, the way people would expect things to work. Just off the top of my head, you know, the parable of the prodigal son, the reaction of the father and the actions of the son, it flies in the face of the cultural conventions of the day. Noone would go to their father and ask for their inheritance early. And, no father would run out and be quick to forgive someone who did that. The good Samaritan, right? The Samaritan is the one who has mercy, the people who are enemies of Israel, and the Levite and the priest who we would think of as pastors of their day, ignore the needs of the man who’d been robbed. The two debtors, the one who owed much and the one who owed little, and the weeds where Jesus tells the parable of the weeds that are amongst the wheat and the farmer tells his workers, don’t pull out the weeds, just let them grow. All of these things, when Jesus talks in parables - and this parable especially - every single time Jesus talks in parables, there’s always something in the parable that is shocking, that people go, that just doesn't make sense. That doesn’t sound right. That sounds like it’s the wrong thing to do. 

So, what is it in this parable that is shocking? What is it that flies in the face of our conventions, or at least the conventions of that day? What is it? Is there something miraculous going on here? I would submit to you that there is, and it’s the harvest. The fruitful yield, here, is the shocking result. See, the agricultural return here - now, how many of you guys are farmers? Do you count tomatoes as farming? Most of us don’t make our living by farming, and most of us get our food not from our backyard, but we go to the grocery store. So, we’re many years removed from this kind of lifestyle, and we’re many layers removed from this kind of living. And so, we forget how growing things work.

See, I think as modern western readers, we forget the shocking results that are talked about here from the sower and the seed. I have a picture here I just want to remind you of. This is wheat, you may not have seen it not in a loaf of bread, but this is where it comes from. And, I was doing some research on wheat and grains, and I don’t know if you can kind of see, he’s kind of holding two bunches here, but most of the time on a head of wheat like that, you would have 15 to 20 grains of wheat, little seeds. And, that means that when you go out to sow seed, one seed produced one grass, and one grass would produce 15-20 heads like that. Now, I couldn’t find records, but I did find this as I was researching, that in the middle ages, in the year 1250, in Britain, there were some parchment documents that talk about the yield and return on wheat and barley. And, what I found was that in the year 1250, farmers, on average, would get a 17 to 1 return. So, that means if they gathered their harvest and they would set aside some of the seed for the next sowing, they would get 17 back for each 1 bushel of barley, and that was considered good. 

Now, in the ancient near east, you would think that in 1250 years, farming technology had gotten better, and the return was probably a lot less, right? I mean, you have things like locust and mice and people walking by and just … I mean, Jesus just previous walked by and took some of the grains with his disciples, right? We just saw that. So, the return would be somewhere, let’s just say 12-15 to 1. So, when Jesus tells this parable, and he gets to the end of the parable and he says, the seed that fell on the good soil produced a return of 30, 60, and 100 … the original hearers would probably be saying … yeah, right. That is unbelievable. That never happens. See, and we know that Jesus is purposefully saying something shocking cause he’s trying to elicit a response from his readers. And, I think we’re on good ground to think that that is a major point that Jesus is trying to make, because the next parable after this that we’re going to be talking about next week in Mark 4:26, if you want to look at it, it says … the kingdom of God is if a man would scatter seed on the ground. He goes to bed and sleeps and rises night and day and the seed sprouts and grows, and he knows not how … See, in the next parable Jesus is going to highlight something to us about the reality of the fruitfulness of the harvest, and the farmer doesn’t know what causes it. 

See, in that day, everyone believed it was either God or the gods that were in charge of the harvest, right? They knew that. They assumed that there was something miraculous at play. They don’t know how things grow. So, for Jesus to talk about this kind of harvest was something significant, and he’s pointing to God’s providence, here, and he’s pointing to the fact that God is doing something miraculous. In 1 Corinthians 3:3-9, Paul later on reflecting on Jesus’ teaching, says this … 

“for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.”

—1 Corinthians 3:3–9 ESV

See, Jesus talked about the sowers and the seed and the soils, and Paul, reflecting on this later, uses that same kind of analogy and conflict of the church to say, don’t you recognize that you are God’s field? You are being grown, not by me, not by Paul, but by God. See, for Jesus’ audience, nothing is out of the ordinary of what he said here, until he gets to the end. And, Jesus, who’s making things harder to understand, and who is clearly talking about a miraculous return in yield on the fruit, that at this point, the people listening to Jesus would say, Jesus, you need to stick to your day job. You need to go back to being a carpenter, cause you clearly don’t know how to teach, and you clearly don’t understand how farming works. But, see, Jesus is trying to teach something, and he’s doing a really good job of it, and he’s teaching us about the nature of the kingdom. And, he’s doing it in a way that forces people either to stick around and be near to him, or doing it in such a way that they can write him off and ignore him, or maybe even worse, kill him. 

The parables of Jesus are dynamic stories that should draw us in to reflect. Jesus does not confine his teaching to just systematic propositions. He implicates the listener into the dynamic motion of the story, and just as Nathan in the Old Testament, arouses the moral imagination of David in calling out his adultery with Bathsheba, Jesus arouses the spiritual imagination of his hearers, that they might understand the nature of the kingdom. And, by choosing to speak to the multitudes in parables, Jesus reveals a deeper truth that we all really know about the teaching process, that if the content is made too easily accessible, we won’t actually learn it, because we were never forced to think deeply on it. Have you experienced that?

See, this is why in the age of Wikipedia and Google, and more access to information than we’ve ever had, are we smarter because of that? Are we wiser because of that? We live in an age where we can quickly and easily get access to any information and knowledge. But, why is it we’re not smarter or wiser? Why is it that we’re not more educated? Why are we not more adept at living? Why is it that we’re the dumbest age, right? Have you ever seen those man on the street things where people go out and they ask simple questions of, like, what’s the capital of the United States? And, people are like, I don’t know … Copenhagen, right? We have more access to information, yet we’re dumber than we’ve ever been. See, people don’t remember things if they know they can just go look it up. 

And, the parables of Jesus also remind us that learning does not always have an immediate result. That, acquiring knowledge, sometimes, is very slow. We build upon line upon line, precept upon precept. In fact, this is exactly what being a disciple is, right? Being a disciple is being a learner. And, sometimes the slow, cumbersome, and tedious work that learning is, is actually producing in us a greater return, because through difficulty, we grow. Because, the only thing that will sustain us when things are difficult, is the pure pleasure of the learning, itself, right? See, Jesus knows that it’s okay sometimes to leave someone behind, because he knows it’s not the end of the story.

Wisdom also involves keeping the long view in mind. Beauty takes time, fruitfulness takes time, eventually we know, if we read ahead in Mark, that the disciples did eventually get the aspects of the kingdom that Jesus wanted them to know. But, their knowledge was not immediately demonstrable, was it? We’re going to see here, in the future, that Jesus teaches things. In fact, we’re seeing that God actually divinely gives revelation to some of the disciples about who Jesus is, and in the next moment, they can’t take that knowledge and put it into practice when Jesus tells them, I’m going to die. So, there’s good news for us, yes? If you’re not learned, mature, wise yet, there’s time. As disciples, we make room for this long process that Jesus is about. 

See, I don’t know about you, but I have often gone back and thought about my parents, and teachers in my life who were trying to teach me something in the moment, and I missed it. And, it’s only years later, decades later, that I think back and I look, and I go … I see what they were trying to teach me. I get it, now. Thank you. Right? See, we should see a danger, here, which we’re going to get here in the details. We should see a danger, here, of getting it too quickly. Cause Jesus, in this parable, talks about growth that’s quick, and fast, but eventually dies out. So, let’s dig in to the details here.

II. THE DETAILS OF THE PARABLE (Mark 4:3-9,14-20)

We see that there’s a disturbance, and why does Jesus talk in parables? To cause this kind of disturbance in us, that we should want to stick around, to ask more questions. But, what are the details, here, of this parable? Look at Mark 4:3-9, and 14-20 … 

… Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” …

See, it’s important as we dive into the details of this parable, to try to make the most of what’s here, but not go beyond it. The first thing that popped into my head is what’s not here. Jesus does explain some things about the soil, but what does he not spend time explaining? Where does he not spend his time? He does not spend his time talking about the sower, his character, his heritage, how many years he’s been doing it, who his father was, where he got his land from. He doesn’t spend time talking about the technique, his casting method, his equipment. He doesn’t talk about the time of year, or the weather. He doesn’t talk about how the soil got that way. He just jumps in to talk about the soils. And, I think it’s wise for us to stop and say, how much of our time is spent talking about those things as a church? Our technique, the time of year, the weather, the equipment. He doesn’t spend any time talking about that, he talks about the soil. 

So, what do we see here in the soil? Let’s talk about it. The hard soil, right? Mark 4:14, what does it say in the explanation?

“The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.”

—Mark 4:14–15 ESV

It’s the path. It’s the hard soil. And, the idea, here, is that the seed - before it could even go into the soil, it’s on the hard path, and it’s stolen away. And, Jesus actually says it’s stolen away by Satan. And, as I thought about this, I would ask you to reflect with me the reality here that, I don’t know about you, but I have a strong conviction of protection of defending my stuff, and my family against threats that come and would threaten to take that away. But, do I have the same conviction and eagerness and passion when I know that God is sowing seed and that the enemy is taking that away, do I have the same zeal to prevent that from happening as I do with my own stuff? See, if the sower is sowing the word, is sowing the gospel in the lives of people, and there are things that are actively keeping that gospel from penetrating deep into the lives of people, there are things that are obstructing that, do I fight against those things just as much as I fight against the things that are my own? 

See, for us as a church, we have unity with one another, friends. We are all called to defend one another, to preach the gospel to one another, and to remove those obstructions from one another. Do we do that with the same zeal that we would do for our own family, as for others, for our own stuff, as for others? 


The rocky ground, Mark 4:16 …

“And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.”

—Mark 4:16–17 ESV


See, the rocky ground here, the idea is that there’s no root. It springs up, but the roots can’t go deep. It’s shallow. And, Jesus says here in the explanation of the details, that it’s the hardship, it’s the tribulation and persecution not on account of where they’re planted, but on account of the word. So, when they receive it with joy, we would expect that. There should be joy. But, when hardship comes, it leads to apathy and hostility, and they shrivel. See, we all can point to probably ourselves and other people that we know have grown chronologically, but they have not grown spiritually, right? They have no depth. Time ticks on, and we see growth, we see some green poking through, but eventually it fades, yes?

And then, Jesus talks about the thorny ground … 

“And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”

—Mark 4:18–19 ESV

See, everything else around them in this one has roots already, right? He says it’s thrown among the thorns, and the reason why it can’t go anywhere is because all these other things already have deep roots, so there’s nowhere for it to go. It does try, it grows up, but eventually it’s choked out. And, it’s interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus - what does he say is the cause here? - the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches. Woah, Jesus, don’t talk about money. Right? Of all the things that Jesus could point to as why things get choked out, why does he go to money? He says it’s not just money, the deceitfulness of money. It’s the way money lies to you. How does money lie to you? See, money and wealth, more than anything else, can actually functionally prolong your life. It can protect you. It can help you have control. Wealth, more than anything, can effectively replace our need for God, right? See, if you have money, you can actually have access to better health care, and better food, and better medicine. And, you can have a bigger, more safe house, and safer vehicle to drive, right? You can actually extend your life with money, to some extent, right? You know, more people die in the world from just lack of access to fresh water than anything else. So, with money, you can have that. You can have clean water. But, Jesus says it’s deceitful, the riches. Right? Because, we’re deceived about money. Because money actually can do those things, we think that’s enough. 

See, money actually produces two things in us. It can produce significance, and it can produce safety and security. And, people who get significance from their money, spend a lot of money, right? Because, they want to feel important. And, people who get their security from money actually don’t spend any money. They save it, because it’s their security. And, both of those are lies. Both of those are deceitful. You cannot extend your life with money. You cannot have true life with money, and you cannot be safe because of money. They are the ones who get choked out, because money has a deeper root than God. 

Lastly, Jesus gets to the good soil … 

“But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

—Mark 4:20 ESV

See, the good soil that the seed goes in, and it goes in deep, and roots can go deep, and that’s why there’s fruit. Let me ask you this … how many of the seeds grew? Three of them. Three of them actually grew, 75% of them. Want to know something else? 75% of them didn’t have fruit. So, those 75% of them actually grew, only 25% actually bore fruit, and this is the point of the parable, right? We should really read that last sentence before we read the rest of the parable, cause it informs everything else. That 25% of the seed produces a return of 100 fold? Are you kidding? See, if you’re hearing this, and like the listeners that first heard this, you’re immediate thought should be … that’s miraculous. That’s a miracle. How could that few of seed produce that kind of return? Only God could produce that kind of return. 

See, Jesus says here, by what he emphasizes, that it is not about our technique, or trying to change ourselves or the ground. He stops and says, it’s God’s providence that’s on display, here. So, this turns, now, to the depth of this parable, the meaning behind it, the application for us, the depth of the parable.

III. THE DEPTH OF THE PARABLE (Mark 4:14-20)

It’s the depth that is the determining factor. It’s the thing that unifies all of that. The reason why things grow up and die, or go nowhere at all, or actually produce fruit, is because of the depth. And, when we read the beginning of this parable, it says something that you probably would not know unless you’re reading from the Greek, but in verse 3 of chapter 4, it says, before he starts teaching this parable … listen, listen. It’s the world shama from the Old Testament. Do you know the shama? It’s … hear, oh Israel, listen, oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one … He’s using the same language from the Old Testament about hearing, and not just hearing. Because, again, the idea of listening or hearing, that shama word, is know, understand, live as if it is true, that God is our Lord, and he is one. 

And, Jesus uses that same language, here, to say, listen and hear this parable. Live as if it were true. All other activities of the church are subservient to the proclamation of the gospel, is it not? Everything we do should be to plant the gospel. This is why if, indeed, everything is subservient to preaching and planting the gospel, why we can celebrate things like Bible Camp. If you were with is for the week, you know. And, if you got to pop in, you know that on the surface it looks silly, what we’re doing, right? We’re playing games and reading stories with kids. Is that really going to go somewhere? Is that really going to produce fruit? Well, in God’s economy, yes. It will. This is why we can be celebratory of what was going on in San Bernardino. It was not a waste. Because, we see that we risk, we go and our job is to plant. Our job is not to determine the outcome. This is why we can be okay with paying for an empty building for a while. Right? Are we wasting money?

See, everything becomes subservient to planting and preaching the gospel. And so, from the outside, it can look silly, it can look wasteful, it can look risky, it can actually look like there’s nothing happening, but we plant on. Because, depth is the most important thing, let’s think about this. Let’s put our farmer hat on for a minute. What grows first? The roots. Do you see that? Do you see roots? You don’t see them. Roots grow first. What is unseen comes before what is seen. And, I would say to you, maybe you are here for the first time, that actually it is a miraculous work of God that you are just sitting here this morning. And, that’s all that we see. It is small, it is unassuming, but it’s something that God is doing, because we know that seeds produce roots, and roots produce shoots, and shoots produce trees, and trees produce forests. And, something small can have a return of 100 fold, because it is God who produces the growth.

Patience, slowness, steadiness, organic growth is slow growth, but it is also the healthiest and the most fruitful. Do we really believe, like Isaiah 55 tells us, and as this parable is teaching us, that all we have to do is scatter it? Do you believe that? See, for others of you, there’s a warning here. There's encouragement, right, that roots grow first. So, sometimes we don’t see growth, but God is at work. But, there’s also a warning here, that some of you might have been growing for a long time. There’s a lot of green, but there’s no fruit. 

See, the theology behind this parable is that the Lord’s sovereignty in salvation is puzzling, but ultimately glorifying. The seed of the gospel is freely and lovingly scattered to any and everyone, and it is a soil that matters. God, alone, is the one who prepares the soil to receive the seed, and this is very freeing, is it not? It is freeing for me. It ought to be freeing to you, because you are not in charge of the yield. Jesus is still the king, even though his kingdom does not grow as fast as we expect, as large as we would expect, or when we expect, or where we expect. We do not need to worry about the percentages, or the numbers, we do not need to worry about waste or risk. We do not need to let our technique trump anything. We are just called to sow.

That should be freeing to you, because for some of you, you think your job is to get all the rocks and the weeds out of the field. You’re unhappy because you have forgotten that you are not the gardener in this story, you are the soil. You’re sitting there with thorns and rocks in your life, and you’re just saying … I need to get better at pulling these out. But, that’s not your job. Your job is to shama, your job is to hear, to live as it if it is true, that the gardener, the ultimate gardener, is the one who produces the growth. And, I am calling you - Jesus is calling you - to recognize that you are not strong enough for that job. That, you need the gardener in your life. You need to go to him and to say, I have rocks and boulders in my life, I have thorns in my life. I have the deceitfulness of riches in my life. I actually believe that I can extend my life and make it secure without you. 

Have you received the gospel? Has God prepared your heart to receive it? The harvest is miraculous because it is only God at work in the life of someone who can urge them to stick around and ask questions about Jesus, right? Jesus is looking for people who not just hear, but understand, not just see and perceive. And, in a moment, we who have received are going to come to the table to remind us that it is all about receiving. Our liturgy from Isaiah 55 reminds us that God has prepared a banquet for us that we can come eat and drink without cost, and without money, without price. That’s the definition of receiving, isn’t it? But, to him, it costs him everything to bring his gospel into our life, and the hard soil of our hearts. Listen to the end of Isaiah 55 with me … 

““For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.””

—Isaiah 55:10–13 ESV

See, friends, why am I getting emotional? I am guilty of putting my own metric on things. And, I am guilty of also assuming that just because I see some green, that I can ignore that. And, I am calling you, and Jesus is calling you, that if you do not have the fruitfulness of the gospel in your life, either because you’ve never received it, or because you’ve received it with joy but you have no depth, and no fruit, that you need to respond. You need to receive, without cost, without price. So, in a moment, we’re going to come to God’s table and we’re going to receive. And, if you have not done that, that table is not for you. But, if you need to receive, then I would encourage you to stick around, like his disciples did, and ask questions. I’m here, Pastor Matt is here, we would love to talk to you more about what that means to receive the gospel. Will you pray with me?

Father,

Help us, by your Spirit, to hear and understand ourselves, where we lack the gospel going deep into our lives and hearts. Would you help those who may never have received your Word and your gospel, to do so now, and would you help us, as a church, to have the long, fruitful view of your kingdom the way Jesus did. Would you help us not to assume that our technique, our stuff, and our experience, and our character is what you’re after, but you are after new hearts, and we can trust and rest in knowing that your Word will go out and be scattered, and it will not return empty, because you are good, and you are producing a miraculous harvest. Help us, God. In Jesus’ name, amen. 


Gospel Community-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: MAX STERNJACOB

SCRIPTURE READING

“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

—Ephesians 2:11-22, ESV

INTRO

Good morning, Emmaus. I’m Max, I’m one of the pastors here at Emmaus, and it is good to be with you this morning. Just one thing I want to clarify, is that those Mark guides, they’re for everybody. You don’t have to be in a gospel community. Get one, I know Forrest wants everyone to be in a gospel community, I want you to be in a gospel community, but these are for everyone. So, go get one, get yours today, it’s going to be helpful as we jump into Mark next week.

So, we’re in our fifth week of our Vital series, where we’ve been talking about, what are the vital things, the gospel distinctives that make the church unique? We’ve gone through several things already over the last four weeks, and we’ve gone over, basically, the who, the what, the when, the why, the how, and now we’re on week five, the where. So, where we’ve come from is we’ve talked about conversion, the why the gospel is proclaimed - that we should be not just convinced that the gospel is true, but we’re converted into believing the gospel is true. We have come from renewal, what the gospel does, it makes us new, we’re being brought back into God’s intention. We’ve talked about identity, about who the gospel makes us, that our identity is being transformed into the identity that Christ gives us. And, we’ve talked about rhythms of how the gospel transforms us where we put the gospel into practice through the rhythms of study, serve, share, and seeking sabbath, seeking after God and his rest.

And so, now we’re on week five, and the question that comes to us is community. See, when we talk about being a gospel centered church, and the vital distinctives that make the church unique, the thing we have to understand is that all of those things can kind of be done alone, right? Conversion is about you, renewal is about you, identity is about you, rhythms and what you put your hands to. But, God does not leave us alone. When he brings us under his son, he gives us a community, and the community is where the gospel shapes us. It’s the where of the gospel.

This all takes place, here, in many ways. In the book of Ephesians, where we’re going to be camping out this morning, the structure of this book is really primarily concerned with two things. Paul wants to make sure that he understands that the Christians he’s writing to understand that the vertical dimension of who they are has been dealt with. And, therefore we’ve been made right with God, we can be made right with other people, and now he’s basically saying that if God has converted you and renewed you and given you a new identity, and has set you free to practice the healthy rhythms consistent with his character, now in Ephesians here, Paul is going to answer a question of, where does this take place?

Now, I am not a sports guy. I have never really been into competitive sports, following sports, watching sports. But, there is one thing that I have learned in my rigorous study of sports, and that is this … the most important thing about sports is not what happens in the locker room, right? It’s not what happens in the huddle that’s the most important. It’s what happens out on the field or on the court that matters. And, what Paul wants us to remember as we get into where does the gospel shape us, is that it does no good for the church to just be good at doing church. It does no good for the church to just be good at the hour and a half time that we huddle together in here, and to say, you know, I’m really good in the huddle. But, out in the field, out where it matters, I have no idea what I’m doing.

And, Paul is concerned with that, and he wants us to know that this new gospel community that we are called into, is something that, we’re in it whether we realize it or not. You’re in the game whether you realize it or not. The question is, are you going to be prepared to actually do what’s necessary to see success in God’s definition of success? And, I will tell you that that task is all of life. And, because it’s all of life, it’s huge, it’s big, it’s bigger than I can go into in the time this morning. So, we need God’s help to help direct us this morning. So, let’s go to him and ask him for help this morning as we dive in here.

Father,

We do realize that the church is your bride. It belongs to you, and we, out of our gratitude and our faithfulness, and our desire to be obedient, the desire that you’ve given us to be obedient, we want to be a church that’s healthy. But, God, more than that we don’t want to just be a healthy church for an hour a week. We want to be a healthy church out in the world where you’ve placed us. So, would you help us this morning to see your word, to see you, and to see how the gospel shapes us, and how it shapes our community. We ask these things in your Son’s good name, amen.

THE COMMAND TO REMEMBER

So, if the gospel is concerned with where we actually go out and practice it, if you’re like me, you start to think immediately … okay, the gospel matters, I want to know the gospel, I want to live out the gospel, so what do I need to do? Give me a list. Are you like that? Do you like lists? [Congregation member: No.] No? Good. Good. Because, what Paul gives us here is not a cosmic chore list to do. I don’t know if you caught it, but this whole section, there’s not one thing that we’re told to do. Did you catch that?

There kind of is a command to do it, but it’s not something that you can actually just, you know, pick up and manipulate. The command that we’re given, here, is to remember. That’s the only thing we’re told to do in this passage. The whole rest of this paragraph is just talking about Jesus. It’s just talking about who he is, and what he’s done, and who we are. So, the command we’re given is not this chore list of, like, you’ve been brought in by the gospel, now get busy. He says, you’ve been brought in to the gospel, so remember.

So, the gauge by which we should be measuring ourselves is, are we good at remembering? And, I would submit to you that everything we do in this huddle, when we gather as a church on Sunday, the whole thing is about remembering. That’s what we’re doing. That’s what’s behind everything. It’s behind the liturgy, it’s behind the songs, it’s behind our prayers, it’s behind the preaching of the word. We’re called to remember. We’re actually commanded to remember, in Ephesians 2:11-12. Did you catch it? … Therefore remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh … and then in verse 12 … remember that you were at one time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world … He says, you want to know what it means to live out the gospel in community, where he’s placed you? It starts with remembering. Not forgetting.

Now, this passage in chapter 2, verses 11-22 here, it starts with … Therefore. And, it’s always a good rule - you’ve heard it many times here if you’ve been with us at Emmaus, whenever you see the word therefore, what should you do? You’ve got to look at the section that came before, right? And, what came before it? Well, it was actually in our liturgy this morning. Look at Ephesians 2:4-10 the passage right before it. It says …

… But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them …

—Ephesians 2:4-10, ESV


So, when he says therefore, he’s saying, I want you to keep in mind what just came before. This reality, that we just read, is the thing that’s supposed to inform what we’re remembering, right? That’s what we need to remember. It is by grace you have been saved. See, often times we think that Christianity is about what we do. And, while there is good things that we should put our hands to, and good practices that we should have, and fruitful things of obedience that we should have parked out in our lives, the mature Christian is someone who is able to quickly and deeply remember who we were, and where we’re going, and who Christ is, and what he’s doing.

When we counsel people in community, when people come to you with their problems, the mature Christian is one that is quick to point them to remembering who Christ is. And, if you do that, many of the things on the peripheral, the things that seem huge or insurmountable, or the fires that seem they are going to consume you in the moment, they get put in their right perspective. It doesn’t look as bad. So, this morning we’re going to talk about three things that Paul here in Ephesians 2:11-22 tells us to remember. And, it’s these … remember that we’re designed for community, remember that there is distortions to community, and remember that we are redeemed to a new community.

I. REMEMBER: We are designed for community (Eph. 2:12,19)

So, I want you to recall and understand here that the way that he starts to illustrate this with us here is that he uses the conflict between Jews and Gentiles to illustrate here what the gospel in community looks like. And, I want you to remember, if you have studied your Bible for a while - and if you haven’t, let me bring you up to speed. The Jews and the Gentiles did not get along. Basically, if you were a Jewish person, you had two categories of people: Jews, and everyone else.

And so, this conflict that existed between the Jewish people and everyone else, is deeper, has gone on longer, and is more acute than any of those conflicts that we frequently see in our world, in our day. It’s bigger than North Korea vs South Korea, it’s bigger than Democrat vs Republican, it’s bigger than Easter vs West, Socialism vs Capitalism, it’s bigger than Black Lives Matter vs KKK. The conflicts that Paul is using to describe what it means when the gospel comes into a people and the community that comes out of the gospel, that conflict that’s been resolved is bigger than anything that we can understand today. It’s hard for us, because we’re not in that day. Most of us here don’t have that Jewish heritage that helps us fuel and understand what Paul is saying when he uses this as an example. But, I want you to see that this conflict is big.

So, how can Paul say that? If that conflict is as big as I’m claiming it is to you, how can he say, as he has earlier in this book of Ephesians, say that the church is a place where family relationships and gender relationships and economic and business, and all of the relationships we have, have actually been reoriented and recreated? How can he say that? How can God possibly bring together people who are that diverse?

Well, I think if I was to ask Paul that question, he would say this … that when we experience Christ, radical grace through repentance and through faith that he gives us, it becomes the foundational event in our lives. Now, all of those categories that I mentioned before about the conflicts we see in our day, they’re all stemming out of events that shape us, right? Conflicts that have existed in the past that shape the communities in the present. But, what happens is, I think Paul would say that when we come to Christ, that becomes the foundational event. Our history, our heritage, our language, our race is no longer the thing that identifies us. Now, when we meet someone from a different culture, a different class, a different race, who’s received that same grace from Jesus, we see someone who has experienced the same life and death event that we have experienced. And, therefore, we’re one. We have immediate commonality with them.

So, let’s get into this. Remember that you were designed for community. Look at verse 12 in chapter 2, and look at verse 19 with me … Remember that you were at one time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world … verse 19 … so then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

Now, if you just let that wash into your mind for a second, you realize that if he’s saying that you were separated from Christ and you were alienated, and now you longer are strangers, and no longer alienated, but are now members, what he’s implying here is that we’ve been alienated from someone, right? So, he’s implying here that you had a relationship, you were designed for a certain relationship, but something has happened that now you’re alienated. So, what’s happened? Paul has already answered this in the section before, right? That’s why we always to back when see the word therefore, in chapter 2 in the beginning. We did it in our liturgy. Remember that you are dead in your trespasses and sins. That’s what’s happened. You are actually dead.

You were, at one time, all humanity was connected with God, and because of sin, you are now alienated from God. And, it’s not that you’re just separated by distance, you are separated in the kind of category that’s the difference between life and death. See, human beings were created to be in community, specifically in the relationship between God who made them. And, if we go back to Genesis, we recognize that God - who himself is a community - a three in one community, made human beings to be like him and be made for community like he is in a community. And, we were made to be in relationship with him, but when we rebelled, we were alienated from that source of life.

But, the good news of the gospel that we preach is that the gospel we actually preach is God-shaped. To put it another way, the gospel is trinitarian shaped. What I mean by that, is the gospel we preach is shaped like the trinity, because it is all persons of the trinity at work in us, and for us. See, did you catch the trinitarian language in Ephesians 2:11-22? I want to read it again. We’re going to be reading a lot of Ephesians, but I want you to read it with me again, cause it’s just so good. It’s, like, woven in there like an intricate tapestry, and I want you to hear it. Read it again with me and I want you to listen for that trinitarian language. Listen for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit language in here …

… Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit …

—Ephesians 2:11-22, ESV

See, what Paul is getting at in this passage, is that the results of what he’s describing here, results in a human community that’s new, that’s trinitarian shaped. If the gospel comes from God who’s a trinity, and the gospel itself is the trinity at work, then the results of that would be a community that’s trinitarian shaped. It should look, and feel, and operate as the godhead does, that we are united but different, that we defer to one another, but there’s no hierarchy, that we love without fear of being rejected, that we serve people's needs without being motivated to be made sure that our needs our met.

If the gospel is trinitarian shaped, then what happens - just like what we do with the trinity - is we try to kind of reduce it down, to make it understandable. Right? I’ve served with the kids for a while, the tension when you come to things like the Trinity and try to explain that to kids, you’re like, well, I’ve got to make this make sense, so I’ve got to reduce it down. But, inevitably when they start to reduce it down, it gets distorted, right? So, what that means is that if we’re designed for community and the gospel is coming into that community, and he’s making a new community, and it’s coming from the trinitarian God, and it’s shaped like the trinity, and the community it makes is like the trinity, that’s a big idea.

And so, what we do sometimes in church, or in our lives, is we say … that’s too big to bite off. It’s too big to explain, so what I need to do is I need to reduce it down. And, what ends up happening is we end up distorting it.

II. REMEMBER: There are distortions in community (Eph 2:14-16)

So, the second thing we need to remember is that there are distortions to community. See, remember the conflict that Paul uses to illustrate this is the conflict between the Jews and the Gentiles. But, what the gospel comes to do in the world is not just to reconcile those two warring factions, the gospel comes into the world, and the cross comes to put away and to get rid of all of the warring factions in the world. Look at verse 14 with me … For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing the law and commands expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body, through the cross, thereby killing hostility …

See, we are designed for community, but the Bible calls that reconciling, that peace that he keeps talking about here in Ephesians 2, the Bible’s category for that is shalom. It’s a peace where all the broken bits are put back together, where alienation no longer exists. But, we all know - if you’re like me, we can say, yeah, that’s the reality, but I still fall back into my sinful habits. Do you? Just Mark, I guess. [Mark from congregation: every day.] Do you? I do. Why does that happen? Why does God’s peace, why does God’s shalom, that the gospel has been proclaimed to actually bring about, why is it not here yet? Why is not all fixed?

See, we continue to vandalize God’s shalom with our sin, and Christians do this. Christians fall right back into their distorted views. And, see, here’s the thing … it’s not always these overt warring factions like Jews and Gentiles that could distort community. It’s subtle things. It’s subtle substitutions, subtle emphases that take over, which is why we need to remember that distortions exist in community. If you remember that that’s a possibility, you can be a little bit on guard against it. So, let me share with you a couple distortions that come up.

And, an example of this from the Bible - just to help you feel a little bit better about yourself - is Peter. Peter’s the good friend of Jesus, right? Peter, in Galatians 2, is called out by Paul for a specific thing that he’s doing. Peter - who was a Jewish Christian himself - began to back away and remove himself from eating and meeting with Gentile Christians. And, Paul calls him out. And, Paul calls it out not just like, hey, that’s a bad idea. He says, it’s sin. And, the way that he describes it is this … He says, Peter was not instep with the gospel. See, Peter had good theology, right? We would all agree with that. He knew this stuff, but it did not prevent him from falling into a distorted community. It did not prevent him from falling back into his old ways. And so, if it happened to Peter, you can be darn sure it’s going to happen to us.

So, we need to be on guard for these things. There’s a great quote in Dietrich Bonhoffer’s book Life Together, which I highly recommend if you haven’t read it. It talks a lot about Christian community. He says this beautifully …

“Christian community is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate…He who loves his dream of community more than the community itself becomes the destroyer of the later, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

—Dietrich Bonhoffer in Life Together

Why is this distinction important? What does it look like when a community of Christ followers fall back into distorted views? See, at Emmaus, we believe gospel community is unique, and it’s important. It is grounded in theology, and it is worked out in our lives. But, we know that just like Peter, we can get our theology right, but we easily can bring in our assumptions about community to it. And, when we do, we distort community because it misses God’s fullest intention for his people. So, let me share with you just a couple things that might help bring this to the forefront for us.

Distortion #1: Christian Community as Connection

One of the distortions is that community is just connection. See, one of the things we can believe is that Christian community is just about connection. And, when we make it about connection, is that basically it becomes about networking, it becomes about social gatherings. It’s about being casual, offering lightweight assistance to one another when it’s appropriate, but it’s really about convenience. But, when things get difficult, what happens? What happens is, the difficulty becomes the sinner of why we’re gathering, why we’re a community. And, we forget, what is it that we’re actually surrounding ourselves around? What do we belong to? What actually unites us?

See, if our goal is just to have connection, that when any conflict comes up, then our whole foundation falls apart. And, the goal of good Christian community is transformation, and therefore we can’t have it if we’re only connected around something that connects us, say, like, a hobby, or homeschooling, or our job, or we’re all retired. Right? As soon as the thing that connects us, that thing that maybe we have in common with one another breaks down or comes under attack, then all the community is fractured.

Distortion #2: Christian Community as Therapy

The other distortion that can happen is community as therapy. Now, what happens here is that groups pursue, you know, being vulnerable and being honest, and actually calling out sin and attempting to help one another with the things we struggle with. And, that’s important, that should be something we pursue in community, but what happens is we become so focused on talking through and helping the issues we’re struggling with, that that becomes the thing that taints and flavors everything that we’re doing. We get together and all we do is talk about our problems, when we should be talking about Jesus.

Remember, what’s the command here? To remember our problems? To remember Christ. Right? Remember, remember, remember.

Distortion #3: Christian Community as Bible Study

One of the other distortions is that Christian community can become just a Bible study. Should we know our Bibles, should we study our Bibles? Obviously, right? But, what happens in these groups is that the distortion comes in when it becomes all about just transferring information, rather than being transformed ourselves. When we get together and all we talk about what the Bible says, or what the pastor says, verses letting the scriptures actually dive in and pierce our lives, and if we fail to connect God’s word to our lives, then what we’ve done is we’ve basically set aside that goal of transformation, the goal of this community that Paul’s talking about, for the sake of just gaining knowledge and facts.

Distortion #4: Christian Community as Clique

The last one I want to share with you is that Christian community can be distorted into community as a clique. And, this one I think is probably the most nefarious. And, I say that because we all desire to have deep relationships with people, do we not? Nobody’s really satisfied with just the casual, cursory pleasantness with one another. So, we desire deep relationships, but what we end up doing is, because we desire deep relationships, we start to exclude people who we don’t know yet. Right? When you’ve known someone for five, 10, 15, 25 years, someone new coming into that dynamic, there’s no place for them, right? Because, ti’s like, how can I catch you up to speed on 25 years of a friendship? So, we don’t do it overtly, we just slowly kind of … you know? We just … it’s not overt, it’s not a punch in the face and, you know, be on your way, it’s just, we turn away. Because, we gravitate towards the people who are like us. We gravitate to the people who we know, who know us.

But, what we just heard in Ephesians 2 here, is that he has removed alienation. He says, we are no longer strangers. So, if we are no longer strangers, what right do we have to make strangers of other people? We don’t. I would go so far to say, like Paul said to Peter, that you are in sin if you do that. You are out of step with the gospel.

See, all of these aspects of gospel community are important, right? We need to be connected, we need to study, we need to work through trauma, we need to work through sin, we need to go deep and be safe, right? You can’t have good Christian community without those things, but when those things overtake and substitute the radical unity that Paul’s talking about here, that comes from true access to the Father via the Son, by the work of the Holy Spirit, we fail to let God transform his people into the new man that he’s talking about here.


See, we are so desperately afraid of being on the outside, of not having access, that we will gladly substitute one of these things because it’s something. Because, it makes us feel good. Because, they seem better, or because it comes naturally to us. But, that is a substitute that God says, no. No. He says, you have been seated in the heavenly places. Why would you substitute a clique for that? Why? Because, it’s in front of us. See, he says, that reality is coming, and it’s hard sometimes to see that as the reality because it’s not right in front of us. That’s why he says, I’m commanding you to remember.

You fall into these distortions and substitutions when you forget. Dietrich Bonhoffer says this in that same book, Life Together …

“without Christ we…would not know our brother, nor could we come to know him. The way is blocked by our own ego.”

—Dietrich Bonhoffer in Life Together

See, apart from Christ, I’m not saying you can’t have relationships. I’m not even saying you can’t have good relationships. But, I think what Paul would say to us is that you can’t have those relationships that you are actually designed for. So, that leads us to the third thing we need to remember.

III. REMEMBER: We are redeemed to a new community (Eph. 2:14-22)

A new one. See, it’s not just a subsection of an old one. It’s a new one. Paul uses the language here of a new man out of the two. See, it’s important to remember that if it’s new, it means it’s not just the best parts of old ones cobbled together in a way that is peaceful. He’s saying, it’s actually a whole brand new thing that God is doing. I don’t know if you heard it, we’ve read it several times now, but Paul uses specific language. He uses specific language of dividing wall of hostility, and far off, and near, and strangers, and aliens, and the dwelling place of God, and, like, why is he using all of this language? He’s using it because he, Paul, as a Jewish Christian himself, has the whole Old Testament in his mind when he’s writing this letter to the Ephesians. And, he has that in mind because he’s using this as an example to bring and illustrate what he’s talking about.

We already mentioned shalom is peace, right? Shalom = peace. But what is this peace that he’s talking about? Well, this idea of dividing wall of hostility, I have a picture I want you to see. It’s a picture of the temple. You see those big walls? That was there to basically cordon of and section off, this is God’s temple, God’s dwelling place, and that was sacred, it was special. And, you had to get access into that space. But, there’s something that was actually inscribed on the outside of that temple and I want to show it to you. They actually found it. It’s the next picture.

How many of you guys read Greek? Let me translate it for you. Basically, it says that if you’re a gentile and you cross this wall, this boundary, you could be killed. It’s basically a warning. It’s an inscription saying that if you’re a Gentile and you cross over that wall into God’s house, God’s dwelling place, you’re putting your life in your own hands. Paul is referring here to the dividing wall of hostility as that wall that separated the Jews and the Gentiles. He’s saying, before Christ, if you tried to get access to him - to God, you would be killed. But, now Gentiles were not allowed in, but now they are. He has broken down the dividing wall of hostility. He has brought peace between those factions.

See, but the biggest problem that Paul is getting at here - and it’s subtle, but it’s important. He is highlighting something that he wants us to remember. It is not enough to just be brought near. We need to be brought in. I have another picture I want to just show you to just help illustrate this. You have God, and you have Israel, and you have the nations. And, Israel and the nations are separate, right? And, the language Paul uses here, is he says, he went and preached to those who were near, and those who were far.

Now, let me ask you. Why did he have to go preach to those who were near? Cause, they weren’t in! They were near, but not in. The nations and Israel are both in the same place, ultimately. They’re both not in. He came to preach to those who are near, and those who are far.

See, sin separates us from God, and it doesn’t matter how near you may be to God. If you’re not made right with God, you’re still out. And, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been near to God your whole life. This is especially true if you’ve had kids, right? My kids come with me to church every Sunday. They’re near to God. They’re near his people. Are they in? See, now you see my posture is different with them, isn’t it? The way I relate to my kids, the way I relate to others when I see that we’re all in this predicament changes. I don’t assume anything. I don’t assume that just because you might have been in church for 40 years, that you’re in. You could be near for 40 years and not in.

Do you see the distinction? See, sin separates us, but what we need is we need access. We need access. Where do we get access from? Well, the prophets in the Old Testament talked about this reality, talked about this dividing wall of hostility being torn down, talked about the day that God would bring all things to be made right. And, I want to read this text to you from Isaiah. We’re going to read Isaiah 57:14-21. This is the context that Paul has in his mind, the day that it’s being talked about, the day of Christ. I want to read it to you, listen for it …

… And it shall be said,

“Build up, build up, prepare the way,

   remove every obstruction from my people's way.”

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,

   who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:

“I dwell in the high and holy place,

   and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,

to revive the spirit of the lowly,

   and to revive the heart of the contrite.

For I will not contend forever,

   nor will I always be angry;

for the spirit would grow faint before me,

   and the breath of life that I made.

Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry,

   I struck him; I hid my face and was angry,

   but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart.

I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;

   I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners,

   creating the fruit of the lips.

Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the Lord,

   “and I will heal him.

But the wicked are like the tossing sea;

   for it cannot be quiet,

   and its waters toss up mire and dirt.

There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.” …


—Isaiah 57:14-21, ESV

See, there is no peace for those outside. And, Paul has this in his mind when he’s reading Ephesians. Peace, peace to the far and to the near. I want to read a quote to you, it sums it up very artfully, about the vision that the Old Testament prophets in Isaiah had in their mind …

“Isaiah and the other prophets in the Old Testament, “dreamed of a new age which human crookedness would be straightened out, rough places made smooth. The foolish would be made wise, where the powerful would be made humble. They dreamed of a time when the deserts would flower, the mountains would run deep with new wine, all weeping and grieving and striving would cease, and people would not go to sleep with weapons under their pillow. They called out and proclaimed to the world that God was bringing about a time where all injustice would be made right, abuses of power corrected, where people could work in peace and be fruitful in their labor. Where lambs lay down with lions. They told of a time when men and women from all nations would come to worship God rightly.”

—Cornelius Plantinga in Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be

See, Isaiah saw this coming time, and what I’m telling you this morning is that time has come. It’s come in Christ. Paul is describing here is that if we are in Christ, we get actual access to God. We are not just brought close, we are brought in. And, when you are brought in, you must be radically and utterly destroyed. However, we have an advocate. We have the one that Paul is telling us to remember, right?

How can we have that access? It says, through him, by one Spirit. Ephesians 2:18-19 … For through him we have access in one Spirit to the Father, so we are no longer strangers and aliens … How do we have access? It has to be through him, through Jesus. He has to introduce us. I will tell you, what would happen if the president came to town, and you decided … I want to meet that guy. And, you decided, I’m going to jump this barricade, and I’m going to run as fast as I can toward him, and I’m going to introduce myself. What would happen? You’d be tackled at best, maybe worse … right?

Paul says we need access. We need to stop and to remember that Jesus is our access into the happy land of the trinity. If we try to go by ourselves, we will be destroyed. Now, one last thing. How does this apply to us? Because, we could stop right now and say, yeah, we did a good job remembering. Now what? And, some of you - maybe one of two of you - might be thinking, we’re starting the book of Mark next week, summer is starting, and actually most of our gospel communities are taking a break. So, where do we put this into practice? How are we supposed to do this, Max?

Well, I will say, as Matt talked about last week. We have rhythms at Emmaus, right? We strive to have rhythms. And, one of those rhythms is sabbath. One of those rhythms is seeking after God. To take this remembering practice and put it into our lives. And, that’s what summer is for. So, I will encourage you, you heard a whole litany of things that are happening at the church. We don’t expect you to be a part of all of those. It would be impossible to do that. But, we do ask you to take this summer, get a Mark journal, start reading the book of Mark. Find people who are in a gospel community and get connected if you’re not. Enjoy your gospel community, have BBQ’s, go to the beach, go bowling, play miniature golf, go to the men’s retreat, go to the marriage conference, right?

Maybe God’s telling you you need to be a catalyst for this kind of gospel community. Maybe you’ve never been in a gospel community, maybe you need to lead a gospel community. Maybe you need to host a gospel community. Maybe God wants you to actually be the catalyst that brings this kind of community that Paul’s talking about, into reality. Whatever it is, whatever it is, use this season that’s coming upon us to engage deeply so that you can commit in the Fall to live out this kind of picture that God has for us in community.

And, I will say this. In the spirit of not being strangers and aliens anymore, I know that as we have grown as a church, you tell me if this is true of you, you see people you don’t recognize, and you’re afraid because you’re like, if I go introduce myself to them, and they’ve been a member for 8 years, I’m going to look like an idiot. But, if the dividing wall of hostility has been torn down, then you’ve got nothing to be afraid of. There is no offense there. If you don’t know somebody, walk across the room and introduce yourself. If we, through Christ, have been introduced to the actual life of the trinity, then you can walk across the room because we have the same experience, and start this pattern, start this reality of gospel community, where there is nothing that divides us. There is no stranger here. There is no alienation here. Engage deeply this summer, so that we might see a new fresh season of this gospel community this fall. Let’s pray.

Father,

We recognize that this community that you talk about is so big and so vast and so deep. We would do well to spend a majority of our time remembering and reflecting on it. But, we recognize that as finite human beings, we forget. We’re quick to forget, and we’re quick to substitute. So, would you help us today? Would you help us as a church. Would you help Emmaus be the kind of place that actually recognizes the access we have to you, and because of that can be radically hospitable, and radically connected and unified, not in a way that diminishes or distorts the differences between us, but that celebrates them and sees them all used for your glory, and for the preaching of the gospel of your son. We need your help. We cannot do this without you. Amen.