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The Essence of Faith-Full Sermon Transcript

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MARK 5:21 - 5:43

PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

Jesus Heals a Woman and Jairus’s Daughter 

And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” And he went with him.

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

—Mark 5:21-43 ESV

INTRO

Well, good morning. How is everyone? Good. Mark’s great, anyway. Good to see you guys. My name’s Forrest, I’m one of the pastors here at Emmaus. And, this morning we’re going to be looking at this text, and we’re going to be basically answering the question, what does it mean, or what does it look like, to live a life of faith? 

There’s a lot of ambiguity around the idea of faith. There’s a lot, honestly, of really bad teaching around what faith actually is. You may have experienced some of that, that faith is somehow opposed to the mind, that it’s somehow opposed to logical thinking, or that somehow if you have enough faith, you can get whatever you want from God. Sometimes known as, “name it, claim it”, or, “blab it and grab it.” We’ve heard these teachings, that if we just have enough faith, we can have whatever we want, or that if we truly believe Christ, if we truly have faith in him, then we don’t need to plan, we don’t need to think about the future, we just trust him day by day. And, it’s a very reductionistic, and quite honestly, oftentimes just a flat out wrong understanding of biblical faith. 

So, what does it look like to have a life of faith? This morning, we’re looking at the essence of faith. What is the essence of faith, or the life of faith? We’re going to walk through three aspects of faith that I think flesh out for us what the essence of faith is. First, we see desperation. Next, we see delay. Now, you might wonder, what does that have to do with faith? It actually has a lot to do with faith. And, finally, dependency. What does it look like to live dependent upon Christ? So, let’s pray and then we’re going to go right into the text. It’s rich and it’s full this morning, so I’m excited to jump in. 

Lord, thank you for your goodness. Thank you that even faith is a gift from you, because every good and perfect gift comes from the father, the father of lights, in whom there is no shadow of change, no turning. Lord, we are grateful this morning that your spirit is at work in and through your people, in and through your Word. We ask that your Spirit would open our eyes to the beauty, to the truth of this scripture, and that your Spirit would drop these truths deeply into our hearts, and into our minds that they may bear fruit. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen. 

I. DESPERATE FOR JESUS (How we come to Him)

So, first we see a desperation for Jesus. That’s our first point. A life of faith looks like being desperate for Jesus. Or, desperate for Jesus, how we come to him. So, what we see in our story is that Jesus is approached by a man named Jairus, who was one of the rulers of the synagogue, it says in verse 22, which means that he would have been responsible for the general oversight of the synagogue. He was a layperson, he wasn’t a full time person that was paid, per se, but he would decide who would do the readings on the Sabbath, what readings there would be, the particulars of the readings, and he would decide who would teach and explain the Torah. So, general oversight. This means, also, because this synagogue was the hub of Jewish culture, this means that he would have been a prominent public figure, highly respected, normally upright, most likely very wealthy. 

But, it’s interesting, here, that culturally, the behavior that we see in the text does not demonstrate his standing. In fact, he does something in this text he probably has never done in his life. In verse 22, he comes to Jesus, and he falls at his feet. This man of wealth, this man of power, this man of prominence and position, in the midst of a crowd of people, he comes and falls at the feed of Jesus. He’s desperate. And, he’s desperate for a good reason. He’s desperate because, unless Jesus heals his daughter, her death is certain. Jesus is the hope for one of the people he loves most in the world. It’s not hard for us to understand where he’s coming from. All of us, to some degree or another, have experienced death. We’ve experienced people that we know, and people that we’ve loved, dying. And so, we get this desperation.

Now, it’s interesting here, as well, that Jesus hasn’t had the best relationships with the synagogues. Jesus tended to get into some trouble at times in the synagogue, because he was a threat to the religious status quo. He came in with these incredible claims of being the fulfillment of scripture, and on a practical level, what this meant for Jairus, is that it would have been best for his position, it would have been wise for him to stay out of entanglements with Jesus, at the very least, to remain neutral. Because, this meant that his position would have been scrutinized. He was coming to Jesus and falling at his feet, this man that caused so much chaos in the synagogues. 

So, he doesn’t stay out of this entanglement, though. His desperation overrides his personal concerns for position, and his personal concerns for safety. And, that’s what desperation does. Let’s look at verses 23 and 24. So, he comes, he sees Jesus, he falls at his feet, and it says … and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her so that she may be made well and live,” and he went with him … Jesus, notice, responds to this desperate plea. Jesus responds. See, there’s no questioning, there’s simply … and he goes with him. Jesus responds and the crowd follows at it continues in verse 24 … and a great crowd followed him and thronged about him … They wanted to see this miracle. They knew that he was a miracle worker, so they were following, because they wanted to see another one. 

Now, imagine for a moment the mix of emotions Jairus must have had at this point. Imagine the mix of nervousness and excitement. The mix of anxiety, and hope. This may actually happen, he said yes, he’s coming with me! Maybe there is hope for my daughter. And, you can picture Jairus sort of leading Jesus, or at least I can picture myself leading Jesus with these fast paced steps on the way to get to his daughter, and then occasionally looking back over his shoulder to see if Jesus was still coming, if the hope was still there, and picture that. This mix of anxiety and hope. 

And, in one moment, he looks back over his shoulder, and Jesus isn’t there. Jairus looks over his shoulder, and Jesus has stopped, and he’s scanning the crowd. It seems to be he’s looking for something. He stopped. Look at verses 25-30 … And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” … This is why he stopped. This is why, in the march to the deathbed, he stops, and he turns, and he scans the crowd. A woman has touched the hem of his garment, and this woman, here, is inserted into this story because she is the antithesis of Jairus. 

She was a complete and total outcast, socially. Leviticus 15 gives us details about what this woman would have been enduring. Because, it tells us that a woman during her menstrual flow is unclean for seven days, but that if it’s an ongoing blood flow, that she was unclean as long as the blood flowed. Do you remember how long the blood flowed for this woman? 12 years. 12 years of being unclean. Now, clean versus unclean is alien to us today. We’ve touched on it, some, in the book of Mark. But, we need to understand that she was untouchable. We need to understand that when she went into public, even though she was not supposed to go in the midst of crowds, if she did meander into the midst of a crowd, there would be cries of “unclean!” that would go before her, so that the sea of people would part and give her a wide space. She was untouchable. Could you imagine going, today, to Citrus Plaza, and as you walk into Citrus Plaza, people begin to cry out, “unclean!”? Could you imagine what that would do to your soul, to your mind, to your sense of worth? Could you imagine how that would shrivel you inwardly?

She was cut off from society, and she was cut off from the temple. She was cut off from worship. She had suffered much, it says, under physicians, and had spent everything she has. And, it says that she was actually worse off for it. Now, physicians during that time were - as you read about their specific practices - they were more like magicians, than anything. The Talmud, which is a Jewish commentary on the law and the prophets, gives us some of the cures for this type of ailment. And, undoubtedly, some of the cures that this woman would have tried. I’ll give you a few of them, here. One of them is to take a kind of resin - which you get from a tree, a kind of gum - and, you mix it with wine, and you drink it. Another, is to boil some onions, and mix it with wine, and as they drink it, say, “Arise from thy flux.” It sounds like Harry Potter stuff, right? Another one is you go to an intersection of roads, where you have to decide to go one way or another, and, again with a cup of wine in your right hand - obviously, wine was the go-to medicine of the day - with a cup of wine in your right hand, have someone come up behind the person and scare them, and again, you say, “Arise from thy flux.” It’s a miracle she wasn’t healed, right? 

This is the kind of stuff that, apparently, she spent all her money on, in a desperate attempt to go from unclean to clean. And, she is left worse off than she was. It says that she suffered. The word, suffered, there, really is most akin to the word torment. This woman has been tormented. She is suffering as much from the cures as she is from the disease. And, so, she is desperate. She is desperate, and she throws herself at his feet, as well. So, we get in this two people, in desperate situations, coming to Jesus. 

What does a life of faith look like? It looks like being desperate for Jesus. Thomas Watson, who was a 17th century pastor, he said … Faith can make use of the waters of affliction, to swim faster to Christ … Do you find yourself in the midst of affliction this morning? In the midst of sin, in the midst of suffering? The imagine of Psalm 130, is of drowning in the depths of suffering and sinfulness, and I want to read that this morning … 

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!

 O Lord, hear my voice!

Let your ears be attentive

    to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,

    O Lord, who could stand?

But with you there is forgiveness,

    that you may be feared.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,

    and in his word I hope;

my soul waits for the Lord

    more than watchmen for the morning,

    more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!

    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,

    and with him is plentiful redemption.

And he will redeem Israel

    from all his iniquities.

  • Psalm 130, ESV

 

In the midst of drowning in our sin and our suffering, the Psalmist says, we don’t look in, we look up. We look up desperately, cause there’s only one who rescues us in the midst of that. This morning, do we see our need for him? And, it’s not just sin and suffering that drive us to Christ. It is meant that, even in the good times, that we should be driven to Christ. If we’re honest, if the testimony that we see from scripture is true, that it often takes affliction to help us see our desperate need for Christ. It’s in the midst of that, that we recognize that we can’t fix it ourselves, that our hope must be in another. We don’t look in, we look up. But, you may find yourself, not in the midst of this deep kind of affliction. Even in the midst of that, our prayer should be, Lord, make me desperate for you.

It’s one of the great challenges, I think, of the church in the west, is, in the midst of our prosperity, in the midst of how much we have to thank God for it, it can lull us to sleep. It can make us less than desperate for God. So, a life of faith means a life of desperation for God. We don’t look in, we look up. Are you desperate this morning? If not, ask the Lord, Lord, make me desperate for you. Help me to see my need for you, whether I’m in the midst of good times or difficult affliction. Lord, help me to see my need for you. This is how we come to Christ.

 

II. DELAYED BY JESUS (How we grow to trust Him)

See, without desperation, we never come to him. And, we’re called to come to him again, and again, and again. Are we desperate for him? And from there, as we come to him desperately, what can be difficult is in the midst of our desperation, Lord, we come to you, we experience delay. Any of you guys ever experienced that with the Lord? You go to him, you’re praying, you’re wondering, how long is this going to take? What is the deal with this delay, I don’t understand it. We see that, deeply, in our text. Delayed by Jesus. Delay is how we grow to trust him. So, we come to him desperately, and as we come to him, no doubt in the midst of it, his timeline will be different than ours.

So, as we come, what we see is that there is a problem here from the lady that she’s bringing to Jesus, that is chronic. The issue of blood has been going on for 12 years, and then there’s a problem that is acute. There is this young girl, 12 years old, who has a fever and she is on the verge of death. So, we have this chronic problem, and we have this acute problem that could lead to death. And, notice what Jesus does. Jesus chooses to stop and deal with what seems to be the less urgent of the two problems. Think about it in this way. Think about a doctor’s office. If two people show up at the same time, and they go see the doctor, and one has a chronic issue that’s been going on for a number of years, and one has an acute issue that could result in death, there’s no question about which one you go see first, right? I heard one person say that Jesus would have had a malpractice lawsuit, right? You don’t do that. It doesn’t make sense to us. What’s he doing here? What is this delay about?

The great physician, here, chooses to give his attention to the chronic issue, the one that doesn’t seem pressing. Now, again, can you imagine Jairus at this point? Quickly walking, Jesus is following, looking over his shoulder, he’s stopped, and he sees exactly what he’s dealing with, what Jesus has stopped for. Not a woman who seems to be on the verge of death, but a woman who is unclean, a woman who is not welcome in his synagogue, a woman he would never be around. Jesus has stopped for her. Can you imagine the frustration and angst? Doesn't Jesus know that this is urgent? Doesn’t Jesus know that time is of the essence? What is he doing? He’s clearly not thinking well. Does he recognize what’s happening?

And then, it intensifies. Jairus’ worst fear is realized. Look at verse 35 … While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” … We’ve just gone to a whole other level. Now this delay has resulted in the death of my daughter, the very reason I desperately came to you. It’s easy, very easy to get Jairus’ perspective on this. Because, it’s easy for us to believe we know what the best move is in a given situation, don’t we? We think we know Jesus well enough to be able to discern what his next move is going to be. Certainly, he’s going to do this, because it’s obvious. Obviously, this is the right move, Jesus, just listen to me. I’ll point you in the right direction, Jesus, just listen to me.

And then, in the midst of that, in the midst of our desperation, in the midst of praying, in the midst of going to Christ, he does something that makes no sense at all. He does something that frustrates us, that angers us. Some of us are dealing with that this morning. We’re in the midst of that. We’ve prayed, we’ve asked, we’ve gone to Christ desperately, yet it doesn’t seem to be going the way we think it should. Some of us are struggling with the synecism in the face of that reality.

I think one thing that’s important for us to grasp as we, in the midst of our desperation, seek to live a life of faith, and for our faith to grow, our trust to grow in Christ, is that the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, the opposite of faith is control. The opposite of faith is, “I know what needs to be done,” and that whether we give voice to it or not, whether we articulate it or not, we expect God to somehow be subservient to that. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s control. And, precisely because in the delay Jesus is bringing about our good, precisely for that reason, he will not be controlled by what we think he should do. He loves us too much. He cares for us too much.

And so, what we see in this, is that with Jesus, delayed does not mean denied. Delayed, for your situation, does not mean denied. It may not becoming like you expect or as quickly as you expect, but because of who Jesus is, remember last week we looked at Jesus was both good and powerful, and we have to believe both of those. If we don’t, we will live a very angsty Christian life. He is good and powerful, he is both of those things. And, if we believe that, we have to trust that if we are experiencing a delay, it’s because there’s something at play in the situation that God knows, and we don’t. And, man, that’s hard for us. Isn’t it? It’s hard for us. It’s hard for us, people who love calendars and scheduling and planning, and we love to be able to look at everything and go, that fits there, and that fits there, and then we look at our week, and we go, oh, yes. I’m in control. And then, we go to God and he blows it all up. Yes. it’s because, if he is good and powerful, there’s something at play in the delay that God knows, and we don’t. 

I know when I look back at the frustrating delays of my life, and I’m just speaking of me, I’m sure this isn’t you, I see a level of arrogance and control, that I know better than God knows. Listen, if God would have let me and my wife leave the church we were at, plant Emmaus Church, all this awesome stuff that’s happening now wouldn’t have happened in 11 years, it would have happened the first year. Right? If it was up to me, it all would have been happening like this, but that’s not the way God works, and in the midst of Emmaus Church being planted, the gospel was being planted in me, and it was being planted in you, and it was not my timeline. I mean, if I could go back and show you the initial timeline of, this is what Emmaus Church was going to be in three years, it would be hilarious. You’d go, wow, I don’t know if it was faith or if you were just a naive knucklehead.

And, it’s true. I was. One of the things, the older I get, as I look back on my life, it becomes more and more clear that there is one God, and I am not him. He knows better than me. The stuff he worked in me over this long period, and my wife, and my family, I’m so grateful for it, which brings us to the good news about delays. We saw last week that his grace, and his love are compatible with storms, with the anti-kingdom that comes against us, and in this week’s text we see that his grace and his love are compatible with delays.

See, the delays of God are bringing about our good. I don’t tell you that based upon my own experience, I tell you that based upon the powerful and good God that is revealed in scripture, and the purposes that he has for his people. The delays of God are bringing about our good. In fact, listen to this, the delays of God mean that we will sacrifice more than we thought, and we will gain more than we hoped. This is clear in the next. The woman with the issue of blood comes to Jesus in faith, at great risk to herself, she’s not supposed to be in the midst of this crowd of people, she pushes through the crowd, touches the hem of Jesus’ garment, a woman who is unclean touching a rabbi, major no-no. And, immediately receives the healing. And, when she receives it, she goes right back into the crowd. She wants this healing, she is desperate for Jesus, but she wants it incognito. She wants it without anyone knowing. 

But, notice what Jesus does. He calls her out in front of the crowd. Again, you might question his wisdom, hey, who knows, they could stone this lady, they could beat her, no telling what they could do. It doesn’t seem wise to us, but Jesus has her good in mind. He calls her out in front of the crowd, he forces her to go public. See, the desperate faith that brought her to Jesus is now requiring more of her than she thought. But, look at what happens in verse 33 … But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth … Jesus, it was me that touched you, she’s saying. I know I shouldn’t have, it was me, she’s fearful. And, he said to her … “Daughter, … this term of endearment … your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” …

Go in peace. We’ve talked about that word before, that word shalom, it’s this idea of perfect harmony with God. It’s not just physical healing, this is a deep restoration of harmony with God, which results in restoration of relationship with self, and with creation, and with others. This is this holistic, beautiful healing. She comes to Jesus to do a touch and run, and Jesus doesn’t let her. He says, not so fast. We’re going to make this thing public, and you’re going to get a far greater healing than you came for. That’s the redemption of Christ. She comes to Jesus to touch and run, and Jesus asks more of her than she thought, and he gives her more than she came for. That is at work in the delays. That is at work, but we have to trust that that is at work, and we have to have faith, believe, because he is powerful and good, that that is at work.

See, what Jairus can’t see in the delay, what he cannot see, is that Jesus takes a woman with an almost superstitious faith, it seems, who came for a bodily healing, and makes her a transformed disciple for all eternity, and he says, Jesus is saying, that has to be acted upon now. I have to do that now. The opportunity is now. So, your delay is this woman’s eternal security, this woman’s holistic healing. It’s the same for Jairus, though. He comes to Jesus, and Jesus asks more of him. He comes to Jesus to cure a fever, and when it’s over with, he gets a resurrection. Jesus asks him to believe. Look at what Jairus upon the news that his daughter has died, in verse 36 … While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” … 

Now, Jairus comes to Jesus trusting only that Jesus would come with him so that his daughter might be healed. And now, he’s being asked to trust Jesus in the midst of his daughter’s death. It’s more than he asked for. But, what we see is that he also gets more than he hoped. He comes to Jesus to cure a fever, and he gets a resurrection. See, Jesus tells him in the midst of that news, he says, believe in me, trust me. And, when Jesus asks Jairus to trust him, I sort of get this picture of him looking around Jairus, straight at me, and telling me the same thing. Believe me. Trust me. In the midst of affliction, in the midst of your desperation, in the midst of the delay, trust me. 

See, the delays force us with our weak faith, to trust in a great Christ. We’re asked to believe based upon the character of Christ, and that’s what it means to be dependent. A life of faith means that we come to him desperately, that in the midst of the delay, our faith grows, we continue to believe in him, even though his timeline is not the same as ours, even though he’s working in a way that we don’t believe is perhaps the best, we believe, we trust, our faith grows in the midst of that, so that we become people we are dependent upon him, in every season of life.

III. DEPENDENT UPON JESUS (How we remain in Him)

The final point, how we remain in him. So, a life of faith means we see our need for Jesus, we come to him desperately, but we also must see something of his character, right? We only depend upon that which we find dependable. And so, if we are not consistently depending upon Christ, then it means there’s something we’re not seeing about the character and nature of Christ, who he truly is. And so, there are three things, real quick, I want to hit that we see. 

One, what we need to see to live dependent upon him is that his grace is for you. His grace is for you, unqualified you … whoever would come to me … his grace is for you. We see this in the juxtaposition, which we mention, of Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood. Jairus is a male. In that culture, with all the power. She’s a female with no power. He’s a synagogue ruler, she’s ceremonially unclean, can’t enter the synagogue. He’s wealthy, she spent all of her money to try to get well. He’s at the top of the social hierarchy, she’s at the bottom. Yet, in the midst of that, Jesus turns to the woman and gives her his full attention, treating her as if there is nothing else in the world happening here, but you. In the midst of this crowd of people, when he asks, who touched me? Remember the disciples? What did they say? What do you mean who touched you? Everybody’s touching you! This is a crazy scene, but in the midst of that, he looks at her as if she is the only person in the world, his grace is for you. He turns to a woman with zero status and power, and makes a religious leader wait in the moment of his greatest need. His grace is for you.

This isn’t unusual for Jesus to do. We see it over and over in the gospels. You have an insider and an outsider, and Jesus turns quickly to the outsider. Right? You have someone who’s really messed up, you have someone who is an outcast, and they’re drawn in by Jesus again and again. See, the kingdom of God reverses the values of the world. Jesus doesn’t come to people on the basis of pedigree, on the basis of status, on the basis of anything else. He comes to them because of his grace. And, he comes to us because of his grace.

Listen, this morning it doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done. Jesus’ grace is for you. Paul tells us he’s chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, so that no one could boast in his presence. We have nothing to bring before him to boast of, and that’s how we can know his grace is for us. So, we have this juxtaposition, this interweaving of these two stories from two radically different places. It’s meant to tell us the greatest to the least and everything in between, his grace is for you. 

Secondly, his power is for you. Again, we saw that last week. But, at this point, the plot has thickened. The report is that the girl is dead, but Jesus says he’s going anyway. And, Jesus shows up, and everybody’s wailing, and actually during that time, at funerals they would hire professional mourners, and they would come, and there would be loud weeping, and there would be dirt on head, and there would be torn clothes, and it would have been a very chaotic scene that Jesus would have walked into. And so, what we’ve seen leading up to this, last week, we’ve seen Jesus’ power over creation, in the storm. We’ve seen Jesus’ power over the anti-kingdom, and the daemoniac. Now, we see his kingdom over our greatest enemy, death. 

When we talk about sin, sin and death are bed fellows, right? And, they have a lot of friends, and we experience all of those. We all experience some aspect of the fallenness of this world, the sin and death of this world. And so, what we’re seeing is that Jesus, in his power that is for us, that it conquers our greatest enemy, death. It’s confusing, though, that Jesus says, she’s just sleeping. Did you catch that? What does he mean there? Many people have questioned, so is this a resuscitation or a resurrection? Was she just sleeping? But, when we look at the other accounts, Luke 8:22, which treats this narrative, he says her spirit returned to her. She was dead. That’s biblical language for she had died. Everyone knew she was dead. So why does he say this? I think, in one sense, in light of Christ’s power, it’s because death, for the believer, is like waking up after a good sleep. And, you might go, what? What are you talking about? But, look at the language. I think it unpacks it a little more.

He goes in to see this little girl, 12 years old, and it says he takes her by the hand, and he says … talitha … meaning, little girl, or perhaps, a deeper meaning might be little lady, or one translator said it could mean, today, it would have been an expression like honey. This is a deep term of endearment for this little girl, and it’s a name a parent would use for their little girl. And he says, talitha koum, koum means wake up, honey, daughter, wake up. See, Jesus, here, is facing a greater foe than a hurricane or demons that we’ve looked at in previous weeks. He’s facing death, a most feared enemy of the human race. And, Jesus, the creator, the same hands that scattered the stars and formed the mountains, grabs this little girl by the hand, and he raises her up through death as if it’s nothing to him. That’s the power of Christ, and that power is for you. 

Jesus says, essentially, if i have you by the hand, death is nothing more than a good night’s sleep. It’s like a good night’s sleep when you’re a kid, and you wake up and you realize you’re going to Disneyland. That’s what death is. Do you remember feelings like that? Maybe it was something else, maybe Disneyland wasn’t your thing. But, when your mom or your dad would wake you up, and you’d realize, oh, today’s the day. That’s death for the believer. Wake up, today’s the day. I get to be with him. He gently lifts her through it. That is his power. And, how does that power come to bear in our life? 

Finally, he became weak for you. It’s interesting that he notices power goes out from him when the woman with the issue of blood touches the hem of his garment. Because, that doesn’t happen, you notice, when he speaks to the hurricane on the sea. He speaks as if it’s a little child. There’s no sense of power going out from him, that’s not mentioned. But, here, it’s almost in his humanity, we see a weakness. We see this power goes out from him, so she might receive shalom true peace. And, I think it’s foreshadowing the cross of Christ. 

How can he hold us by hand, despite our weakness, despite our evil? The answer is, because he became weak for us. 2 Corinthians 13:4 speaks about this … For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For, we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you, we will live with him by the power of God … Crucified in weakness, that we could live in God’s power. Crucified in weakness, that we could live a life of faith. 

See, Jesus, in a sense, lost his Father’s hand on the cross, so that we could take hold of his hand, and went into the tomb so that we could be raised out of it, and he went and was crucified, cast out, outside the camp he became unclean so that we could be brought in and made clean. This is the Christ that we desperately long for. This is the Christ, because of his power and goodness, because his grace is for you and his power is for you, and he became weak for you, no matter your station in life, you can live a life of faith knowing that though it will cost you more than you imagine, you will receive more than you hoped. Let’s pray. 

Jesus, 

We are grateful this morning for this truth, for this beautiful reality that because of the work of Jesus Christ, because of the incarnation of Christ, because of the gift of Christ becoming weak for us, we can live lives of faith. People that are desperate for Christ, that recognize we have no hope apart from him, and yet at the same time, Lord, we are people who in the midst of delay, recognize that God’s good is at work in our lives, even if we can’t understand it. And, Lord, that leads us to being a dependent people, because God, you are dependable. Lord, as we come to the table this morning, may we come as people who are transferring trust from ourselves, to you. Lord, I know there are people here in the midst of serious sin and suffering and difficulty and the fallenness of this world. God, I pray that in the midst of the delay they may be experiencing, that you would bring to their heart and mind in this meal your goodness, that your grace is for them, your power is for them, that you became weak for them, that they might live in the resurrection power. God, may we live into that reality this morning. We ask in Jesus’ name, amen. 


Parables of the Kingdom Part 2-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: MAX STERNJACOB 

SCRIPTURE READING

A Lamp Under a Basket

And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

The Parable of the Seed Growing

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

—Mark 4:21-34 ESV

INTRO

Good morning, Emmaus. My name is Max, I am one of the pastors here at Emmaus, and I am excited to bring you round two of the parables of the kingdom. If you’ve been with us, we’ve been working our way through the gospel of Mark, as we were just talking about, get those journals, get your guide, and follow along with us. But, all up through chapter 4, Mark has been giving us glimpses and little insights here and there, that the message of Jesus, in a nutshell, could be described as saying that the kingdom of God has come, the kingdom of God is near. However, there hasn’t been much discussion about explaining what that kingdom is, until we get to chapter 4, where Jesus starts telling parables. 

And, when he does start speaking in parables, we see in the previous parable, the parable of the soils, that in the explanation of that parable, Jesus actually quotes Isaiah 6, which on the surface kind of sounds like Jesus is saying he’s purposefully trying to make it difficult for people to actually hear him and understand him. But, as we should do always, we should let scripture interpret scripture, and the parable that’s right after the parable of the soils, he starts by talking about light, by talking about a light that’s set on a stand, and not hidden. And, just as it would be silly for someone to take a lamp and hide it under a bed, or a basket, or a bowl, Jesus is saying that, no, the kingdom is actually on display, and it’s supposed to be revealed, and it’s supposed to be known, and experienced. And so, I hope this morning, what we can accomplish by looking at this smattering of various parables in the latter half of chapter 4, is to start to see what Jesus’ big themes are about the kingdom, what is it like, what is it like for us to experience it, and how can we know if it’s actually here. So, would you pray with me, and let’s jump into Mark chapter 4. 

Father, 

We recognize that the beauty of your word is that we can study it our whole lives and never come to its depths. And so, we ask, today, that you would allow us just one more step in better understanding who you are, and better understanding who we are, and better understanding your kingdom. Would you use Jesus’ words here to cut through to our soul, and to help us to see your kingdom, and to live in your kingdom in a more profound way than when we came. God, help me to explain your words accurately and faithfully. I need your help, would you please give it, and would you help my friends and my family in this room to help us to hear, as Jesus says, to have ears to hear. In Jesus’ good name, amen. 

So, we’re going to be jumping through these parables together, and I think there’s just three straightforward themes that permeate all three of these parables that Jesus uses here, and that is these - that the light of Jesus will not be hidden, that God will see to it that His Kingdom grows, and that God’s kingdom starts small, and grows large.

Mark 4:21 … And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” … 

See, before we jump into these series of parables, we want to remember the parable of the soils that came right before it. If you were with us last week, we talked about the fact that God’s miraculous yield in that parable is kind of the point. The point that Jesus is trying to make, is that 25% of the seed that goes out produces a yield of 100 fold, which is just, in that day, no one ever had that kind of return. And now, Jesus is saying, the light that is coming is having an effect, but it’s having an effect similar to the parable we just talked about in the parable of the soils, is that what happens is the light comes, but there’s not an immediate effect. There’s not an immediate result. If you were with us last week, we talked about that the roots grow first, and the roots grow in a way that’s unseen. See, the patience and slowness, and the steadiness of the kingdom is coming, because that is the healthiest kind of growth. 

And, I think as I was reading and studying Mark, one of the things that came up, is there’s a man named William Carey. Have you guys heard of William Carey before? He’s actually known as the father of modern missions. He was a missionary to India. In fact, if you’re interested, I got most of this information from a biography, that we actually have in our lending library, and it just goes through his whole life. And, one of the things about William Carey, is that he actually repeatedly, in his life, came back to this passage in Mark, and the similar cross references that we have in Matthew and Luke, of this parable of the light that’s on display. And, it was one of those things that fed his entire life and ministry. He’s constantly talking about that his job was to put God’s light on display for the world.

And, his life was kind of interesting. As he was preparing to become ordained, he actually failed twice. He went through all of the steps and went to school, and then he had to go preach a sermon, and he preached a sermon, and they cut him. They said, nope, come back later. And, after years of studying, he finally got ordained, and then he decided … I’m going to go to India. And, as he goes to India, he served as a missionary faithfully for seven years before he had his first conversion. Seven years of faithful work before he saw any fruit. And, William Carey used this passage of the gospels to fuel his life and ministry, to say, that is exactly what we’re doing. We put Jesus Christs’ light on display, we sow seeds faithfully, and the growth is up to God. 

I. THE LIGHT OF JESUS WILL NOT BE HIDDEN (Mark 4:21-25)

See, what Jesus is about to get into, here, is to talk about subverting our expectations about what kingdoms are like, and especially what God’s kingdom is like. And, he does that by saying, first and foremost, a parable of the light. And, Jesus says, Jesus’ light will not be hidden. Now, the first point, there, that Jesus makes is that if you hide the light, you misuse it. If you hide it, you misuse it. Verse 21 …  “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” …  Now, remember, in that day, the light was fire, right? It wasn’t just a battery operated flashlight that you could turn on and off. So, you can imagine that for him to say, if you brought in a lamp and put it under your bed … what’s going to happen? What happens if you put it under a basket? What were baskets made out of? Both their beds and their baskets were flammable, right? So, he says, if you take the light and try to hide it, you’re misusing it. And, not only are you misusing it, because the light was brought in so that you could see, but if you misuse it, it’s going to go bad for you, right? You’re going to cause damage. You’re going to burn something down. 


Jesus is saying that if you hide it, you misuse it. See, in those days when you did not have electricity, and you did not have flashlights, and all you had was fire, flame, to light and illumine things at night, you start to see real quickly how light and darkness became a very vivid metaphor for Jesus to use, because if you did not have any sort of flame, and you were inside a house, you were literally in utter darkness, right? You had nothing to see by. Light is necessary for life, not just so that you can move around, but, you know, I was reading in some of the books that my kids enjoy reading about the nature, and the food chain, and it has this chart, and it shows the food chain, and at the bottom of the food chain is phytoplankton. It’s the smallest little tiny microscopic creatures that little tiny fish eat, and then bigger fish eat those fish, right? But, actually, what’s not on that chart, I was realizing, is the sun. Right? Because, the only reason why the phytoplankton at the base of the food chain can exist is cause there’s light that fuels them. Light fuels creation. Our whole creation is dependent on light. It creates the seasons, it has power, and Jesus is saying that, likewise, the light of the kingdom is necessary for light, and you misuse it when you hide it. 

See, and the purpose of light is not just to sustain creation, but you and me, we need light. We can’t see without light, and the purpose of light is to reveal things for us to be able to see. I don’t know if you’ve ever had this happen, but when I used to work for the county, we had to wear boots, and we also had to keep our boots looking shiny. And, I had bought a new pair of boots once, and I had shined them all up, ready to wear for the first time for my shift, and I also had a pair of brown boots for working around the house. And, I had to get up for my shift early in the morning, it was dark, and I didn’t like to turn on lights, and so I literally went, I was tired, and I forgot that I was supposed to be wearing my new boots. But, what ended up happening is that I grabbed the left brown boot, and then I grabbed the right black boot, I put them on, and then I went to work. And, when I got to the locker room to change, I look down, and I go … oh no. Right? I mean, and I didn’t have any other boots. So, that day I worked my shift with a brown boot and a black boot on, and I got many, many comments about that. 

But, without light, we can’t see. Without light, we make mistakes, we make mismatches, right? We can’t see without the light. So, Jesus is talking about a misuse of the light, and what light is for, and then he turns and he makes a statement here that is actually pretty significant. It’s actually scary. What does he say? Look at Mark 4:24 … And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” … 

Sounds like a warning to me. What is he warning us of? Well, I think what he’s trying to get at, here he’s warning us that you can misuse light, but if you misuse it, you will lose it. If you hide the light of Jesus - because Jesus says if you try to hide the light of his kingdom, Jesus says you will actually lose his kingdom altogether. If you hide it, you will lose it. See, the people of Israel, that were hearing Jesus, and the religious leaders who had already, clearly, up until Mark chapter 4, we’ve seen it again and again, their conflict with Jesus, the tension that he had with them, they had some light. They had some of the revelation of God about who he was, and what he was like, and what he was doing in the world. But, they use that light, they use that revelation about God’s kingdom to segregate themselves from the nations, to pit themselves against God’s creation, and to actually use it to prop themselves up instead of God. And, they also used it to reject God’s message in the prophets, and now they’re using that same volition that God had given them, to reject Jesus himself. Right? 

Right before this is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, right? And, they use the knowledge they had about God’s creation, about angels and demons, and they said, God is against Jesus, because Jesus is doing these miraculous things by the power of Satan. So, they actually use the revelation that God had given them about the way the world and the universe worked, not to actually receive the kingdom of God, but to actually condemn what God was doing. They hid it, and Jesus is saying, you’re on a trajectory to lose it. He says, to the one who has, more will be given. But, to the one who has not, even what you have will be taken away. He is telling his hearers that, though you may have some light, if you reject me, even what you have will be taken away. That’s a powerful thing, isn’t it? 

Jesus is saying something very substantial here, and we should not just gloss over it, and say, well, that was for them. Because, for us, we stand many years removed from this original talk, this original parable, and we have more revelation than they had, than the original hearers. And so, if we reject Jesus with even more of that light, how much more are we liable, how much more do we condemn ourselves for the rejection and the misuse of the light of Jesus and his kingdom?

See, Jesus says elsewhere in the gospels, something that is very important to hear. He elsewhere, in John chapter 8, says … I am the light of the world … and, in Matthew 5 … you are the light of the world … What is he talking about here? Well, I went to Biola University for my undergrad, and when I was there they were building a new library, which made it kind of fun because the old library wasn’t really in use, and the new library wasn’t in use, so they literally just had, like, a basement with books in it, and good luck trying to find things in there. But, it finally did open, and as their project completed, I remember the first time I walked into the building. I actually have a picture of it, and this is the front of the library. And, when you walked in, it says … I am the light of the world … And then, when you go in and you come back out, it says … You are the light of the world … And, I remember walking into that library, and that made an impression on me, that there’s something to be said, that when we come to Christ, we come to him because he is the light of the world, but then he sends us out, as light, and we hear that in John 8 and Matthew 5. 

And, when Jesus talks about himself, and says .... I am the light of the world … What he’s saying there is that, you have no other option than to live by what I say, because he’s the light. See, Jesus doesn’t just say, I’m pointing to the light. He’s saying, he is the way, he is the light itself. Come. And, if Jesus is not that, if when Jesus says, I am the light, we go … well, maybe that is a little bit of an overstatement … if Jesus is not actually the true light, then he is utter darkness, because he is lying, and that’s what darkness is. See, we’re faced here right away, after the parable of the sowers, Jesus jumps right in and says, there is no middle ground. Either you see me as the light that will illuminate God’s kingdom, and you receive it and use it the way it was meant to be used, or else you reject it, and you will lose even what you have. 

See, what does he mean, though, when he says, now you are the light of the world? Is he saying that now we all become little saviors to everybody? No. I think what he means, is that we take on Jesus’ character. We take on the revelatory character of Jesus, because Christians go into the world because they are a part of a new kingdom, and they start to reveal things. They start to shine the light of the kingdom in dark places. They start to point out the mismatches, right? They start to say, your shoes don’t match. That is not the right way to do that. Right? 

See, God uses us to bring the light of his kingdom, to bring the imperfections and the sin that exists in our world, to ultimately point people to the true light. That’s our job. But, as we know, have you ever tried to start a fire without matches? We know that fire has to have some kind of an external source, right? Things don’t just spontaneously combust. There has to be a flame, fire, or a heat from outside that causes things to light, and it’s the same with us, is it not? When Jesus says elsewhere in the gospels that you are the light of the world, he does not mean you need to go rub some sticks together. He says, I will make you the light. I will bring the fire, right? And we see that he does, right? In Acts. The Spirit of God comes with fire, and regenerates his people, and makes his church, and sends them out. 

See, God alone is the only one that can do that. And, we know that we’re on the right track in interpreting these parables, because that was the point of the parable of the sowers, that’s the point of the parable of the light, and now we see that not only has Jesus’ current teaching illuminated that, but the whole of the old testament also talks this way. If you really want to understand Mark, if you went to the Bible workshops with Pastor Matt, he did a great job of this, but you’ve got to understand the Old Testament, particularly, you’ve got to understand Isaiah. Because the book of Mark starts with saying that Jesus’ life and ministry is the fulfillment of everything that Isaiah talked about. And, Isaiah chapter 60, verse 1-5, it captures from the Old Testament, God’s plan for his kingdom. And, I want to read it to you because this is exactly the heritage that we have. And, the reason why you’re in this room right now is because Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Let me read it to you … 

Arise, shine, for your light has come, 

and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 

For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, 

and thick darkness the peoples; 

but the Lord will arise upon you, 

and his glory will be seen upon you. 

And nations shall come to your light, 

and kings to the brightness of your rising. 

Lift up your eyes all around, and see; 

they all gather together, they come to you; 

your sons shall come from afar, 

and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. 

Then you shall see and be radiant; 

your heart shall thrill and exult,[a] 

because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, 

the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

—Isaiah 60:1-5 ESV

See, all of the Old Testament is pointing to the fulfillment of what Jesus is doing right here. Jesus comes, and he says, God’s kingdom is now coming, and is near to you now, and everything that God promised that he would do for his people, he is doing. And, what’s the point of all of this in Isaiah 60? He says that I will make you bright, I will put my glory on you, and people will see your brightness, and what will happen? They will respond, and they will come and worship God because of you. They will come, the nations will come, and they’ll come bringing their treasures. They’ll come bringing their people. They will come into my kingdom because of the work that I am doing in you, by you being reflectors of my light. 

See, God’s kingdom is growing, right? See, creation, fall, redemption, restoration, right? God is doing something, and God sees to it that his kingdom will grow, and that’s our next theme here.

II. GOD WILL SEE TO IT THAT HIS KINGDOM GROWS (Mark 4:26-29)

Let’s read the next section here … 

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” …

See, Jesus here is saying that God is doing something, his kingdom is growing, and look at the reaction of the man. He doesn’t know how it’s happening. Right? We mentioned last week if you were with us, that all peoples in the ancient near east saw agriculture, saw growing things as some sort of divine action. And, everyone basically had a god that they would attribute that to. Jesus is saying that the true God, Yahweh, is the one who is behind that. We do not know how things grow. Sure, we might be able to have the steps, we know DNA is involved in there somewhere. But, really, when you think about it, the mystery of something that could start as a seed and grow into a giant, you know, redwood tree, it’s a miraculous thing, right? That, everything that that large 300 foot tree is, is in this. And, Jesus is saying that God will see to his growth, and it’s miraculous when it happens. We saw that in the parable of the sowers, we’re seeing that here, that the farmer goes out, sows the seed, and he knows not how. 

There’s a mystery to it. There’s a mystery of the growth of the kingdom. Something is happening. I don’t know if you’ve ever reseeded your lawn. You go out, and you roto till the dirt, and you fertilize the dirt, and you go out there and you throw all the seed, and then you water like crazy, and then you water like crazy, and you water more, and a day goes by, and a day goes by, and a day goes by, and then you go out there and you get down on your hands and knees and you’re like … uh … nothing. And then, you water some more, you go to sleep, you repeat, you repeat, you keep doing it, and all of a sudden you go out, and what happens? Between literally one day and the next day, all of a sudden there’s a slight tinge of green on the lawn. How did that happen?

See, something was happening, you just couldn’t see it. Then, all of a sudden we see it. We know that roots grow first, right? Then shoots, then trees, then forests. It’s the already and not yet of the kingdom, right? Jesus is saying here, there’s a parable, here, of a man that goes out and sows seed, and as sure as that seed will grow, there’s a certainty to it, there’s a mystery to it, it’s happening, it just hasn’t been seen yet. It just hasn’t come into its fullness yet, but it’s going to happen. The dominoes are falling. It’s only a matter of time.

See, the kingdom is here, Jesus says, the kingdom is here, but it’s not fully realized. It’s already here, but it’s not yet completed. We don’t know how God is going to use our obedience, we don’t know when it will fully be ushered in, but we keep working. We keep going. We keep watering. It’s our little acts of obedience. There’s a certainty to it, right? The man just assumes, I need to go out and water, because something is going to happen. And, what we see here, is there’s a routine, right? There’s a, I go to bed, and I get up, and I keep watering, I keep planting, I keep sowing, and all of a sudden it grows, and it when it grows, he doesn’t know how. So, even though there’s a mystery to it, even though there is something we don’t fully understand, there is a certainly to it, is there not? 

Elsewhere in scripture we read about this. In James chapter 5:7-8, he writes to his friends … 

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

—James 5:7-8 ESV

So, he says just like a farmer needs to be patient, you need to be patient. We know that God’s done something, we know that he is doing something, and we know that he will do something. But, for you, you need to be patient. And, we mentioned this passage last week in 1 Corinthians 3, where the church that Paul’s writing to in Corinth is struggling with conflicts, and one of the major conflicts is basically kind of a celebrity culture, if you will, where they’re all kind of saying, well I’m a disciple of Peter, and I’m a disciple of Paul, and I’m a disciple of Apollos, and Paul writes to them and says … don’t you understand that we’re all supposed to be disciples of Jesus? And, he says in 1 Corinthians 3:6-9 … 

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 3:6-9 ESV

See, Paul is reminding his hearers the same kind of tone and message that Jesus is giving here in the parable, is that you plant, you water, but God causes the growth. The fruit springs up, and we know not how. See, it’s slow.

And, one thing that struck me as I was reading this, is that it says he sleeps. I want to ask you something. How is it that he can sleep? Do you guys have trouble sleeping? He sleeps, because he has a confidence, right? He sleeps, because he knows that he doesn’t have to solve all the problems. Do you have trouble sleeping? Why do you have trouble sleeping? I would submit to you that you have trouble sleeping, because you think you have something more that you’re supposed to be doing, right? You can’t get a good night’s sleep because your conscience isn’t clear. You can’t sleep because you think you have God’s job, right? This parable says he plants, he takes care of it, and then he goes to sleep. He’s not up worrying about it, because he’s confident that God is going to do his work, that he does not need to take God’s job back from him and worry about it. 

See, what would it look like for you to actually go to bed tonight, and not worry that you have to somehow have God’s job on all the things that are affecting you? What would that look like? See, Jesus is getting at something here that we need to understand, that his light will not be hidden. There’s a warning about it being taken away. We need to see that God will see to it that his light and that his kingdom grows, but we also need to understand - which Jesus explains to us in the next parable - that though it may start small, it will grow large. Jesus’ kingdom starts small, and grows large. Look at Mark 4:30 … 

III. THE KINGDOM OF GOD STARTS SMALL AND GROWS LARGE (Mark 4:30-34)

And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

—Mark 4:30-32 ESV


See, Jesus compares the kingdom to a mustard seed, but more importantly, he doesn’t just say, it’s like a mustard seed. He’s comparing to what a mustard seed does. That’s the real parable. He’s not just saying that the kingdom is small, although there is part of that. Because, at this point, there’s only 12 of them, right? But, he says, it’s not just about the smallness, it’s about what happens to it. Well, it grows large, and it grows miraculously, just like the parable of the sowers. In fact, it grows so large that the birds of the air come to rest in it. In fact, it’s something interesting when you read Matthew 13 and Luke 13, they’re the same parable but there’s a little twist, and I want to read it to you, and I want you to see if you catch it … 

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

—Matthew 13:31 ESV

See, what Matthew and Luke both say here, a little bit different than Mark, but I think they’re getting at the heart of what Jesus is trying to say here, is that the miraculous growth of the kingdom is something that started out small, and grows large, but it’s not just that it grows large, it actually becomes something different. Mark points out here, that it’s one of the largest garden plants, or better translated here, maybe an herb. And, mustard plants do get large. They get about maybe 12 feet tall. But, Matthew and Luke say it actually becomes something different, it transforms from an herb to a tree. And, only God can take something in its nature and change it, right? He says it changes into a tree so that the birds of the tree come and make their nests in its branches. 

See, Jesus is trying to say something about the nature of the kingdom here. He’s saying, I’m telling you something about the kingdom, and I don’t want you to start trying to import all of your ideas about kingdoms into what I’m saying. Cause, people are saying, oh, he’s talking about the kingdom. I know what kingdoms are like. I’ve experienced them. I’m living in a kingdom right now. I know what that’s like. It’s just like all the other kingdoms. But, Jesus says, no, it’s not like that. It’s something completely different. And, he does that in a couple of ways, which I want to get to. But, first of all, let’s just contrast the description of Jesus’ kingdom to the contrast of the kingdom of their day.

The immediate context for at least the people who would have been the original hearers here, is that just a couple decades before, the Hellenisation happened, with the Greeks conquering all of the middle east. Alexander the Great comes in, his kingdom comes into town, and everybody knew he was there, because he came in like a hammer. He came in and just disposed people of their land, got rid of all the kings, got rid of all the leaders, took all their treasure, right? There were only two kinds of people in Alexander the Great’s kingdom … people who fought against him and died, and the people who were in his kingdom, the people who were left over. That’s what the knew kingdoms were like. That’s the kingdom they knew, is that a kingdom comes in, and it just changes everything, it comes in like a hammer, it just destroys everything, and then we prop up some new leader, and it just starts all over again.

But, Jesus is saying something different here. He’s saying the nature of my kingdom is different than that. The nature of my kingdom is not like a boulder, it’s like a seed. And, a seed comes in softly, it comes in quietly. A boulder comes in and just tears through the ground and leaves a trench in its path, but a seed comes in, and it does its work slowly, oftentimes unseen for quite a while. The seed comes in organically, gradually, and gently, the boulder comes in suddenly and coercively. The boulder breaks the ground, but the seed transforms the ground, right? The boulder doesn’t do much of anything to change the environment, but if a seed is left to itself, pretty soon deserts become forests. See, boulders come in with just sheer power, but the seed comes in and transforms it, because God’s kingdom is like a seed. It transforms things in their nature, it doesn’t just come through and scratch the surface. 

See, I have a picture for you that I want to show you. On the surface, you would think that boulder’s pretty strong. And, if you were to compare a big boulder like that and a tiny little seed, you’d probably say the boulder wins every time. But, left to itself, and over time, with faithful watering, look what happens. See, Jesus’ kingdom is like this. It doesn’t come in like Alexander the Great. It doesn’t come in and just dispose of everyone else. It comes in, and it radically transforms and breaks things down, that on the surface you would think could never be broken. Seeds, roots, shoots, trees, forests, fruit, seeds, roots, shoots, trees, forests … this is how God’s kingdom works, and that should be lifegiving to us. 

It should be lifegiving to us, because we don’t have to do all of God’s work all at once. See, that’s why you can’t go to sleep at night, because you think, I’ve got to get it all done right now. But, that’s not how God’s kingdom works. See, the other thing here that’s important to see, is that when he talks about the seed growing up into a large tree where the birds of the air come and make nests in his branches, something that the totality of all the gospels are getting at here, is that, again, there’s background, right? There’s the Old Testament background to this, and we can’t go through it all right here, but I’d encourage you to read Ezekiel 17, Ezekiel 30, Isaiah 60, go read it on your own, and even the previous parable is alluding to this, right? What happens in the parable? Where are the birds? They come in and they take the seed, and they fly away so that nothing can grow. 

But, see, now in this parable, the very same creatures, the birds that just took the seed, now have a place to rest because of the seed. The very birds that just stole the seed, are now benefiting from the seed. See, this is God’s upside down kingdom. In the background of Ezekiel and Isaiah, they talk about the nations being the birds of the air, that the nations would come and rest in the kingdom of God. They use this vivid imagery of all of the birds of the air migrating to God’s great kingdom, which is described as a tree, and some of that was in our liturgy this morning. They come and they find rest, come and find shalom, they come and find sabbath in God’s kingdom. And, this is the upside down nature of the kingdom, the very creatures that just one moment ago were stealing the seed, are now benefiting from the seed, making nests in the branches.

And, it’s this upside down kingdom that forces us to realize something, here, when read Jesus’ parable sand we hear them today, is that there is a necessity for us to let Jesus explain his kingdom. Because, we, just like the original hearers, we hear kingdom language and we import all of our cultural ideas about what kingdom is, so we have to stop and say, no, I’m going to let Jesus define and explain his kingdom, because everything that Jesus is describing here is upside down and backwards from the way that I understand, and the way that I would do it. I would come in hard and strong, I would come in and dig a hole, and bring in those boulders. But Jesus says, no, it comes in like a seed. You don’t understand. And, I’m going to come in with my anxiety, and I’m going to work my tail off at the end of the day, and I’m going to stay up all night worrying about it. No, it comes in differently than that. You can rest. You can sleep. 

So, there’s a necessity that we need to let Jesus define his kingdom, and we know that that’s necessary, because look at the response of the disciples. Why is he even teaching in parables over and over and over again in the first place? He’s doing it because his listeners don’t get it. He has to teach them, because it’s not like anything they’ve ever known. But, here’s my question … why didn’t Jesus just put the kingdom of God into a sentence or do some kind of venn diagram of flow chart or something? Why didn’t he just give us the numbers? Can’t you just give it to me in a sentence, Jesus? Why all the stories? 

See, what I think here, and what I want you to hear, my friends, is that Jesus is describing a real thing. The kingdom of God is not just an idea. It’s a real kingdom. And, if it’s a real thing, if it’s a real kingdom, then just simple propositions and assertions is not enough to capture the reality of that thing. We know this is true, because we do this all the time. If I was to ask you right now, if you’re married, describe your marriage. Describe to me that real thing you have. What would you do? Would you pull out your calendar and show me your schedule? There’s my marriage, on paper. Would you pull out your budget and show me all your bills? Would you show me your ring? What would you do to describe your marriage? Well, poets have been doing that for a long time, right? When people try to describe real things, what do they do? They describe it with analogies, they describe it with parables, they describe it with metaphors. Because it’s real, you can’t encapsulate it with just assertions. You have to describe it deeper than that, right? 

Do you guys know who Andrew Peterson, the musician, is? We listen to him a lot in our car, as we drive. He has a song called Dancing in the Mine Fields. Have you heard that song? That’s how he describes his marriage. It’s a good picture, right? He says, my marriage is like dancing in the mine fields, sailing in the storm. That’s what he calls it. When you go to describe something like marriage, you go to describe something that’s real, and tangible, and beautiful, you’re a force to try to use analogies and metaphors and parables to describe it, and that’s why Jesus is using these parables, because he’s saying it’s real, it’s here, and in order to experience it, you need to understand it, but in order to understand it, you have to dive deep. I can’t just list it out in a sentence or show you a chart.

See, C.S. Lewis said it this way … 

People...suppose that allegory is a disguise, a way of saying obscurely what could have been said more clearly. But in fact, all good allegory exists not to hide but to reveal; to make the inner world more palpable by giving it an (imagined) concrete embodiment.

—C.S. Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress

See, C.S. Lewis is getting at something that we all intuitively know, which is that if we’re trying to describe something real, we have to rely on metaphor and analogy. But, see, what we often will do is this, though. We’ll take those analogies, we’ll take those metaphors of Jesus, no less, and try to insert our preconceived notions to fit what we think God’s kingdom should be like. But, if Jesus is actually talking about a kingdom, friends, the question is, is he the king? Who’s the king of the kingdom? And, if you come to Jesus’ kingdom, if you come to God’s kingdom, and you think … I’m going to insert my expectations, I’m going to insert my understanding, I’m going to insert my desires into God’s kingdom, then who’s the king? You are, or at least you’re trying to be. See, Jesus taught in a way that turned everything upside down. And, we know we’re in good company, friends, because Jesus’ closest disciples did the same thing, which is why he had to say it over and over again. 

Later on in Mark, just a couple of chapters ahead, Mark 10:42, they’re all fighting about what the kingdom’s going to be like, and who’s going to be in charge, and Mark says in chapter 10 … Jesus calls to them and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rules of the Gentiles lorded over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them, but it shall not be so among you, for whoever will be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave. For, even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life for ransom for many.” 

See, Jesus’ own disciples didn’t understand the kingdom. They’re all still fighting, who’s going to be in charge, and Jesus says … you know what my kingdom’s like? My kingdom is the God of the universe, the God who made everything, maybe to put it another way … the largest and most powerful being became the smallest, like a seed, and came into the world, and was buried, so that something could grow. He didn’t come in swinging, he didn’t come in like a boulder, he didn’t come in like Alexander the Great, he came in like a seed.

Now, if you’re like me, I want Jesus to be my king. How do I do that? Jesus, help me. I want you to be my king, but I recognize in my life, over and over again, I still am fighting you because I want to be king, too. Well, there’s another place where a mustard seed is used to explain something about God’s kingdom. In Matthew 17, Jesus uses the mustard seed again, and he says this … that it’s the size of your faith, if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could tell the mountain to move here, and it would move, and nothing would be impossible. See, the disciples had gone out, and they were trying to basically usher in God’s kingdom, they were going out, Jesus sent them out and said, I want you to preach the gospel, I want you to heal people, I want you to exorcise demons, and then they encountered this situation they couldn’t fix. They encountered a demon they couldn’t exercise, and they fail, and they come back to Jesus, and they say, why couldn’t we do this? And he says, it’s because you didn’t have faith. And they’re like, well, I want faith. How much faith do I have to have? Jesus says, you have to have the faith of a mustard seed. What does that mean?

See, if you’re like me, we’re constantly fighting Jesus’ kingship in our lives. But, the good news is that all you need is mustard sized faith. What does that mean? It means that it’s not the size of your faith, it’s the object of your faith that matters. See, I’m indebted to Timothy Keller who uses this analogy, he says, a strong faith in a weak object will kill you, but a weak faith in a strong object will save your life, right? If you’re falling off a cliff and you reach out for a strong root to hold you up, all you need is a little faith for that root to hold you, cause it’s the object that matters, it’s not the amount of faith I’m putting in it, right? But, I can have a lot of faith and reach out and grab a weak object, and what happens? I fall. 

See, when we’re faced with God’s kingdom, when we’re faced with the light of the kingdom coming into the world, we’re faced with the reality that, by ourselves, we cannot receive the light, by ourselves we cannot be the light, and by ourselves we can grow God’s kingdom. So, what are we left with? We’re left with faith the size of a mustard seed. 

And, that’s why every week when we gather as a church, we gather around Jesus’ table. That’s why we do that, because it’s a demonstration of us coming to the table with a mustard sized faith of saying, my only hope is to receive from Jesus what he needs to give me. I’m not coming to it bringing my own meal - I hope you didn’t pack your lunch and try to bring it with you for communion. We come and we receive Jesus’ meal. We come to Jesus’ kingdom, and we have to stop and say, will I let Jesus actually be the king? Will I let him define what the kingdom is? See, that’s what communion is, is that we come, and we say, the one who made the universe came and condescended, and became small like a seed for us, for our good. 

Let’s read this one last passage as we prepare for communion. John 12:24-26 …

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him … 

Let’s pray. Father, as we prepare to come to your table, will you help us today to see, maybe for the first time - and I’m sure for many of us in here - to see for the thousandth time - that our only hope is that you would be the king, that our only hope is that we would rest and trust that you came like a seed to be buried in the earth to die, so that a mighty tree might grow, and that mighty nations might fall, and that your people would come and find rest in you. God, would you help us to see the kingdom the way your son sees it, and would you help us to live as if you are actually in charge. So, as we come to the table, would you help us, God. In Jesus’ name, amen. 


Slaves Set Free-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

MARK 3:7-35 

DEACON OF BENEVOLENCE: RAYMOND MOREHOUSE 

SCRIPTURE READING

“Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.

And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Jesus' Mother and Brothers

And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” 

—Mark 2:13–3:6 ESV

INTRO

Good morning. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Raymond. I’m a deacon here, and I also do outreach work as a chaplain. It is my pleasure to be able to fill in today, and talk about a pretty interesting and complicated and kind of confusing passage. So, before we get to all of that, let’s pray. 

Father, we thank you that we can gather, that we can worship, that we can rehearse through our worship and our liturgy, the truths that we have been liberated, set free, that our citizenship, our allegiances have been transferred. These are profound ideas, God, that may be new to some, challenging to all. And so, God, as we study this text this morning, I pray that you would give us ears to hear from your spirit, minds to understand deep truths, God, and perhaps more than anything, the courage to have imaginations enriched, and enchanted by the truth that you reveal to us. We pray these things in your name, Jesus, amen. 

So, I want to start us off with a big idea, to sort of hold in our minds as we get into the text, and that’s this:


Jesus is Israel’s long awaited Messiah, God’s anointed one. This means that he came not only take care of the individual’s sin problem, or moral problem, but also to liberate everyone from captivity to the dark powers that enslave the world. That is, the problem to which Jesus is the only solution is not just the wickedness that is found in the hearts of all of us but also the wickedness that drives the kingdoms of this world on their hell-bent course of rebellion against God.

Jesus did not just come to forgive you; he wants to set you free.

There is a lot to unpack in that summary statement. The idea that we are not just sinners apart from Christ but also slaves may be just as confusing and offensive to us now as it was to the first people to encounter Jesus two thousand years ago. We might think something like this: 

Of course on reflection I am imperfect, and of course taking care of my personal issues is of concern to God. I want to be a better person, and it’s reasonable that a good God would share that desire. Fine and good. So a personal savior who forgives and affirms me is somewhat humbling but I can take that in stride. That being said, let’s not get too superstitious or dramatic. We’ve done a pretty good job - I’ve done a pretty good job - of building a society that mitigates the worst in us and gives us some truly basic and wonderful goods: we have our rights, we have our freedoms. Do not insult me by telling me that I am a slave.

This line of thinking is not too far off of how some Jewish people regarded themselves in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Imperfect? Of course. Sinners? Perhaps. Slaves? Never. As some Pharisees responded to Jesus in John’s gospel, “We have never been slaves of anyone!” (John 8.33) So when Jesus begins talking of the arrival of God’s Kingdom, as if it isn’t already present, and starts casting out demons as if they are, he immediately encounters residence. The Children of Abraham, the nation of Israel, are the chosen people of God. They are not subject to the demonic corruption and uncleanness like their pagan neighbors. Right?! But Jesus seems to indicate otherwise and it makes some people extremely, extremely angry. Angry enough to kill.

To give this some teeth, it is as if someone walked up to a proud and patriotic modern citizen and insisted their land was not, in fact, the “Land of the Free” but is actually a kingdom enslaved to the same dark powers that rule the rest of the world. 

It is the tension of a claim like this that - which I won’t go in to more - that has been bubbling and boiling as Mark’s narrative unfolds.

THE GROWING CONTROVERSY

Last week we heard about the growing controversy between Jesus and the reigning social and religious norms of his day. As Mark goes on we find that the tension only increases, the friction intensifies, and the pressure rises. Now, in Mark 3, we find nearly all of the major players of this gospel gathered together:[1]Jesus is of course central. Having declared himself capable of forgiving sins and being Lord of the Sabbath, he then comes into direct conflict with the Pharisees and the representatives of the Herodian dynasty. They are the ruling powers, they think, and they think they have been ruling well.They go from questioning Jesus to seeking his destruction, and will remain his enemies for the rest of the gospel. 

Mark then describes the gathering crowds, and once again Jesus displays his authority to them by healing the sick and subduing demons. In Mark 3.13-19 we also meet the inner circle of 12 disciples. Twelve, the number here is significant: Israel had 12 tribes, though most are now lost in exile, could it be that Israel’s Messiah is reconstituting the nation? But in this reformation Jesus does not represent one of the twelve, but is rather is the authority above them that sends them out to be a blessing. 

In the midst of this, in verse 21, we meet Jesus’ biological family, “his people.” They think he is nuts and make a plan to take him home, by force if necessary. While this plan is unfolding we also finally meet representatives of the Jerusalem elite, the religious scribes that have come down from the holy mountain to see what the fuss is all about. 

We should not underestimate the importance of Jerusalem in the political and spiritual world of first century Judea. Politically, it was the center of what remained of Israel’s power; spiritually, with its Temple to Yahweh, ancient Jews called it the “navel of the world,” the point at which heaven and earth came together. They have divine mandate to think this way: Jerusalem had been the place where the Holy Spirit of God - and that will be critically important as the text unfolds - dwelt in the midst of his people, though at the time of Jesus this presence has been conspicuously absent for a long, long time, and it had never been witnessed in the temple that had been built by Herod the Great.

So, with all these players in mind, now gathered together in Mark 3, we also find again the powers operating under the surface, the dark powers whom Jesus has already been systematically conquering. Thus far Mark has made a point of highlighting Jesus’ authority over these powers, identified as either “unclean spirits” or “demons.” For modern readers like ourselves these beings come across as rather abstract concepts. But in this chapter we find that the Jerusalem scribes get very specific. They do not suggest that Jesus is not actually accomplishing the alleged miracles. Rather, they accuse him of being possessed by “Beelzebul.” He has derived his authority from “The Ruler of Demons.”  

With this accusation the pressure-cooker of Mark’s gospel has come to a boil. But to understand what exactly is happening here, and what exactly Jesus means by his warning about “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” we need to be aware of some important biblical and historical context. That is, we need to know what is going on up to this point in the big story of what God is doing in the world, and how people during this time would have written and thought about what Jesus was doing among them.

There are a number of places to start or themes to focus on but I think the most important is not the geo-political surface but rather the emerging conflict between the “Holy Spirit” and the demonic forces of Beelzebul. Understanding this conflict in light of Israel’s prophetic scriptures is critical for understanding the central warning of this text: “Whatever you do,” Jesus seems to say, “do not blaspheme the Holy Spirit!” 

THE HOLY SPIRIT IN PROPHETIC CONTEXT

So beginning there, this is not the first reference to the Holy Spirit in Mark. From the first verse of the gospel Mark has carefully shaped his narrative around Israel’s prophecies of the coming Messiah, particularly using the Old Testament book of Isaiah who spoke of the day that God’s Messiah would arrive and with the Him the presence of God would once again be found in the midst of his people. 

Isaiah had to look forward to this day because in his present, centuries before Jesus would be born, the people of Israel had turned against their God and turned to idols and falsehoods. They had become enslaved to their own passions, their own depravities, enslaved to the wicked and hostile world around them, the world of malicious intelligences greater than themselves. They have become enslaved to their own self-destruction. 

Isaiah prophetically describes this fall from grace, 

The Lord’s Mercy Remembered 

                7 I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord,

the praises of the Lord, 

                according to all that the Lordhas granted us, 

and the great goodness to the house of Israel 

                that he has granted them according to his compassion, 

according to the abundance of his steadfast love. 

                8 For he said, “Surely they are my people, 

childrenwho will not deal falsely.” 

And he became their Savior. 

                9 In all their affliction he was afflicted, 

and the angel of his presence saved them; 

                in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; 

he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. 

                10 But they rebelled 

and grieved his Holy Spirit

                therefore he turned to be their enemy, 

and himself fought against them. 

            —Isaiah 63:7-10 ESV

So the great tragedy of Israel was that when they were God’s covenant family they chose instead to rebel, grieve, insult, and fight against God’s Holy Spirit which was in their midst. They polluted their own land and the Jerusalem Temple itself with idols, physical representations of the dark powers that ruled the pagan nations around them. The result of this self-determined slavery is that God himself, the enemy of any that would destroy his good creation, becomes their enemy as well.

But God did not determine to fight against his rebellious people forever. As Isaiah’s prophecy continues,

         11 Then he remembered the days of old, 

of Moses and his people. 

         Where is he who brought them up out of the sea 

with the shepherds of his flock? 

         Where is he who put in the midst of them 

his Holy Spirit

         12 who caused his glorious arm 

to go at the right hand of Moses, 

         who divided the waters before them 

to make for himself an everlasting name, 

         13 who led them through the depths? 

         Like a horse in the desert, 

they did not stumble. 

         14 Like livestock that go down into the valley, 

the Spirit of the Lordgave them rest. 

         So you led your people, 

to make for yourself a glorious name. 

 —Isaiah 63:11-14 ESV

Isaiah prophesied that a new Exodus would someday be led directly by God’s Spirit itself. The beginning of the New Exodus is exactly what the “Good News,” the “Gospel” is all about: God returning again to dwell with his people. Most importantly for our passage in Mark, the Spirit would be present in the Messiah would do all of this by the power of God. Isaiah describes it this way,

 

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, 

and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 

                2 And the Spiritof the Lordshall rest upon him, 

theSpiritof wisdom and understanding, 

theSpiritof counsel and might, 

theSpiritof knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 

                3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

                He shall not judge by what his eyes see, 

or decide disputes by what his ears hear, 

                4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, 

and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; 

                and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, 

and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 

—Isaiah 11:1-14 ESV

            

This Messiah would forgive the sins of the people, free them from demonic bondage. Isaiah’s prophecy contains echoes of Psalm 2,

2 Why do the nations rage 

and the peoples plot in vain? 

                2 The kings of the earth set themselves, 

and the rulers take counsel together, 

against the Lordand against his Anointed, saying, 

                3 “Let us burst their bonds apart 

and cast away their cords from us.” 

                4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; 

the Lord holds them in derision. 

                5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, 

and terrify them in his fury, saying, 

                6 “As for me, I have set my King 

on Zion, my holy hill.” 

                7 I will tell of the decree: 

                TheLordsaid to me, “You are my Son; 

today I have begotten you. 

                8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, 

and the ends of the earth your possession. 

                9 You shall break them with a rod of iron 

and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 

                10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; 

be warned, O rulers of the earth. 

                11 Serve the Lordwith fear, 

and rejoice with trembling. 

                12 Kiss the Son, 

lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, 

for his wrath is quickly kindled. 

                Blessed are all who take refuge in him. 

 —Psalm 2 ESV

            Returning back to Isaiah, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ speaks again,

61 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, 

because the Lordhas anointed me 

                to bring good news to the poor; 

he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, 

                to proclaim liberty to the captives, 

and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 

                2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, 

  —Isaiah 61:1-2 ESV. 

            Mark does not record Jesus quoting this scripture, but Luke does


THE HOLY SPIRIT IN MARK, JESUS THE ANOINTED ONE, AND THE DARK POWERS

Nevertheless, it is no accident that Mark introduces Jesus as the Christ, the anointed, who announces the good news. It is not accidental that John the Baptist knows that he is the one preparing the way for this, and that the Anointed Messiah would be the one who would baptize God’s wayward people with his Holy Spirit, once again sealing them as his covenant family. In Mark, it is the Holy Spirit that descends upon Jesus and marks him out as God’s beloved Son, just as we read from Psalm 2. It is God’s Holy Spirit who then sends Jesus out into the wilderness to overcome the temptations of the Devil, thus prepared to return to God’s enemies in order to set them free from their slavery. 

Jesus forgives sins and casts out demons, and because all of the people have fallen from the Glory of God even the worst of sinners can be called to follow Him forward in hope, to live in grace and freedom. Jesus does not call tax collectors and sinners to show that there is nothing wrong with them, much less to show the snooty, judgmental Pharisees that collaboration with Pagan slave masters is perfectly acceptable to God. It is not, and this is the point: Jesus calls the worst and vilest enemies of God to follow him because if God’s restorative grace is not for sinners like these then it is for no one. 

What the religious elites, the Pharisees and scribes and Herodians have missed, is that it is not just the paganized rebels and outlaws who must submit to the authority of the Messiah: God will install his king on Zion, and he will rule the Holy Mountain of Jerusalem. The one anointed with the Spirit of God walks with Yahweh’s authority, the authority to smash and cast down allrivals. So when Mark tells us that elites have come down from Jerusalem to face off with Jesus the Christ this is a confrontation of cosmic proportions. 

The scribes of Jerusalem, seeing the building evidence of Jesus’ authority make a calculated accusation: his authority comes from Beelzebul. This term is a title as much as a name that can be translated either “Lord of the Flies” or “Lord of the House.” In ancient thought, both of these titles are related to the practices of pagan worship. Zeus the King of the gods, was sometimes titled the “lord of flies” because it was thought that he protected pagan animal sacrifices from the polluting influence of swarms of flies.[2]Alternatively, “Lord of the House” may be a reference to the many temples, houses of the gods, found everywhere in the ancient world. 

According to some 1stcentury Jews, Beelzebul is the ruler and protector of all demonic power. This is what the scribes claim to be true of Jesus. In the Testament of Solomon, a Jewish text not found in the Bible, but which likely dates from the first century, Beelzebul is questioned by King Solomon,

“Beelzeboul, what is thy employment?” And he answered me: 

“I destroy kings. I ally myself with foreign tyrants. And my own demons I set on to men, in order that they may believe in them and be lost. 

And the chosen servants of God, priests and faithful men, I excite unto desires for wicked sins, and evil heresies, and lawless deeds; and they obey me, and I bear them on to destruction. 

And I inspire men with envy, and desire for murder, and for wars and sodomy, and other evil things. And I will destroy the world.”[3]

So when the scribes of Jerusalem make their accusation we should not be confused about the terrible gravity of their claim. Jesus is not Yahweh’s anointed, he is the ruler of demons.

 

Slide 13: Daemons

The Greek word “daemon” is taken over by Jewish writers from Greco-Roman thought. Daemons in this rival worldview are not the Halloween caricatures that we are used to. They are the gods of pagan pantheism. When Hebrew writers worked to translate their scriptures into Greek they used this word to represent a whole host of biblical figures. Biblical scholar Dale Martin observes,

“Ancient Jews thus used [“daemon”] to translate five or six different Hebrew words. In the original Near Eastern context, those words referred to different kinds of beings: goat-man gods; superhuman beings that either are or cause diseases; abstract qualities or goods that may also be seen as gods, such as Fortune or Fate. What they have in common, nonetheless, is that they all were thought of as gods – in fact, as the gods other people falsely worship: the gods of the nations.”[4]

The most straight-forward biblical example of this is the Greek translation of Psalm 96.5 (95.5 LXX), “All the gods of the nations are demons.” 

Far from being the malicious, hateful, frightening beings we are used to seeing in art and fantasy, daemons were for the ancient Greeks much more complicated. There were evil spirits, the cacodaemons, but more important for worship and service were those beings that were overwhelmingly beneficial. “Fortune,” “Peace,” “Happiness” or “Wealth” could be represented as daemons. 

Slide 14: Daemon at Herculaneum Fresco

            Here is a depiction of a daemon from Herculaneum, the town destroyed with Pompeii in 79 AD, not long after Mark would have been written. 

Slide 15: Euphrosyne and Acratus

In this slide we see Euphrosyne, Good Cheer, and Acratus, Ease, depicted as daemons. 

Slide 16: Erotes

And here are depictions of the daemons Erotes who were thought to insight lovers to erotic delights. We should pay careful attention to the fact that these frescos and mosaics were not just found in hidden, secretive, and sacred contexts. They were on full display in the entry ways and living areas of people’s homes. Their appeal is obvious. Further, those devoted to these figures were not what we normally think of as “demon possessed.” Of course we have in scripture descriptions of the demoniac lunatic confined to the outskirts of society. But what would an individual devoted to Good Cheer, Fortune, or Fury look like in society? The jovial socialite, the prosperous businesswoman, or the accomplished soldier? We are so used to thinking about demons in terms of horror movie tropes that we can remain ignorant that in the crucial historical context of the Bible demonic devotion paid rich dividends.

In Roman texts, the Latin term for “daemon” was “genius” and worship of the geni-i of rich, powerful, benevolent figures was common. 

Slide 17: Genius of Augustus

The genius of Caesar Augustus, here depicted in marble, was widely venerated. We should remember that while statues like these would have stood in temples and been worshipped, what was really being worshipped and served was the power and benevolence of the Roman state. Such devotion might seem completely foreign to us, but once we have the eyes to see what the biblical texts actually describes we should realize that even a privileged, modern society can host such idols. 

Slide 18: The Magnanimous Powers

But as beneficial as these daemons were thought to be they were not to be trifled with. In one of Xenophon’s Socratic dialogues, Socrates warns an impertinent student who reasons that if he can’t see demons why should he bother with them. Somewhat sarcastically he says “Really Socrates  I don’t despise daemons, but I believe they too magnanimous to need my service.” Socrates replies, ominously, “The greater the power that benefits you, the greater the service it will demand from you.”[5]

But remembering the lens that Isaiah has given us to view Israel’s current state, it is these gods represented by idols, these daemons, that the Israelites chose over the one true God. It is these gods that stand behind the human slave-masters of Israel.

As another biblical text, Deuteronomy 32:15-18 reads,

                15 “But Israel grew fat, and kicked; 

you grew fat, stout, and sleek; 

                then he forsook God who made him 

and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation. 

                16 They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; 

with abominations they provoked him to anger. 

                17 They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, 

to gods they had never known, 

                to new gods that had come recently, 

whom your fathers had never feared. 

                18 You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, 

and you forgot the God who gave you birth. 

 —Deuteronomy 32:15-18 ESV

 

 When the false gods of wealth, power, happiness, and the state are venerated the cost and consequences are slavery. It is precisely these false gods, these demons, that would be overcome by the coming Anointed one, just as Moses, by the power of God, overcame the gods of the Egyptians during the Exodus. It is for this reason that the many exorcisms described in the Gospels are not just proofs or magic tricks. The people of Israel are seeing their deliverance enacted before their very eyes. 

And the elites of Jerusalem reject it.

JESUS’ REBUTTAL

In Mark 3.23, Jesus begins his rebuttal. Rather than merely a flat denial, Jesus leans into their logic and turns it against them. They are correct: there are indeed two rival Kingdoms. He drops name Beelzebul in favor of another, Satan. This too is a title and can simply mean “the adversary.” Satan can be a single identity, or the Satan may stand for the seething mass of enemies that lie inside of his power and authority.

If Satan casts itself out of the people he rules, Jesus reasons, then one Kingdom has turned on itself. This is not just civil war, but certain destruction. Likewise, a “house,” perhaps an allusion to Beelzebul as the “Lord of the House,” which turns on itself will also fall. The dynasty of the devil would fall to pieces. The assumption underlying this logic is that the Satan has already gained control of the house of Israel. The prophetic indictment is true: long ago Israel turned from the one, true God and is now in bondage. If this is the case then why would the enemy which has already been victorious turn upon itself and undo its victory? Obviously, this would be absurd. 

What is in fact happening, as Jesus goes on to explain, is that the house of the strong man is being plundered. His possessions will become the spoils of another. “The Ruler of the House” is being bound. By using this illustration Jesus once again alludes to the prophecies of Isaiah. 

The emancipation of Israel is described in Isaiah 49.24-26 in graphic terms,

24 Can the prey be taken from the mighty, 

or the captives of a tyrant be rescued? 

25 But thus says the Lord: 

Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken, 

and the prey of the tyrant be rescued; 

for I will contend with those who contend with you, 

and I will save your children. 

26 I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh,

and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine. 

Then all flesh shall know 

that I am the Lordyour Savior, 

and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. 

 —Isaiah 49: 24-26 ESV

            God himself will contend with the mighty tyrant, the strong man, and plunder his house of all that he has taken. The tyrant will so completely overcome that “all flesh,” that is, “all humankind” will know that God is the Savior and Redeemer of Israel. He, rather than the Satan, is the “Mighty One.” 

            The many exorcisms are not just morality plays about individual deliverance: these mighty works are evidence of cosmic upheaval. Once again Jesus has identified himself using the language of Isaiah’s prophecies, this time casting himself in the role of Mighty One, the breaker and binder and despoiler of tyrants, God himself. With each confrontation Jesus demonstrates that the Dark Kingdom behind the kingdoms of this world is being overthrown and its tyrant is being cast down and plundered. Liberation from the self-inflicted wounds of idolatry and spiritual adultery is at hand and is unfolding before the watching crowds. That is to say, as Jesus has already declared, the Kingdom of God has come into their midst.

BLASPHEMY AGAINST THE HOLY SPIRIT

It is at this point and flowing out of this rich, manifold context of Israel’s prophetic scriptures and Mark’s descriptions of the messianic revolution that we find the famous warning in Mark 3:28-29  … Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin … What does Jesus mean? 

Pulling all of the pieces together, just this: By leveling their horrible insult the Jerusalem scribes have attributed the saving work, power, and mission of God’s chosen Messiah to the one who seeks to “destroy the world.” Jesus is not, according to them, the one foretold by Isaiah as the one anointed with God’s Holy Spirit. He is not the Mighty One plundering the house of their demonic overseers. He is not the one announcing the good news of liberation and forgiveness. By making this claim they are not just speaking against Jesus, but are actually blaspheming the very Spirit of God.

By rejecting the liberation and forgiveness that Jesus offers they are throwing away liberation itself and forgiveness itself, and it is for this reason that such blasphemy cannot be forgiven. Such rejection must resonate into eternity: it will last forever. Those that persistently assert that whatever Kingdom Jesus represents will never be one that they will join must permanently live outside of its bounds. Refusing to submit to the will of God they will, like their forefathers, remain forever enslaved. Rejecting the Kingdom of God, they will forever take up residence in the Kingdom of another. 

All this talk of exorcisms and demonic beings might have made us uncomfortable, but are we so certain that we privileged moderns have discovered how, without God’s help, to resist the enticements of luck, fortune, wealth, national identity, and power. Even if we shrug off the suggestion that there are actual malevolent intelligences behind these temptations it would be hard to argue that they do not come to dominate our lives. 

There is one more Greek word for us to consider, not found in this passage, but one which is of profound importance: apocalypsis, unveiling revelation. When the people of God were beset by their enemies it took a prophetic voice crying out that their eyes would be opened for them to see that they were walking in an enchanted creation. What they saw was horrifying and beautiful, a world haunted by devils but also infused with the presence of God.

The Satan, the seething, many-headed, many-formed adversary would love nothing more than to convince us that none of this revelation is true. He would love nothing more than to convince us that we are truly alone, or at least that God remains in his distant heaven and devils only exist in the fantasies of lunatics or superstitious fools. We must allow the Spirit of God to once again capture our imaginations so that we, with unveiled eyes, might see the horror and beauty of the world-that-truly-is. We must not forget the world that we actually live in.

If your time, talent, and treasure are devoted to these things can you be so sure that you are not in fact possessed by these things? If you are not only willing to live for them but also die and even kill for them what does that tell you? An ancient observer may well be forgiven the judgment that our noble pluralism is just as pagan a system as their own. They might even warn us with Socrates’ words to his skeptical student, “The greater the power that benefits you, the greater the service it will demand from you.”

How then are we to escape?  

            This challenge resonates into our present. It is a call that has come to all of us. We, like the crowds, the sinners, the tax-collectors, the disciples, and the scribes are faced with a decision: what will we do with Jesus? In a passage like Mark 3, He leaves us with few options. 

C.S. Lewis famously describes these options as a trilemma,

“[There is a] the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”[6]

We see two of these approaches in Mark 3. The Jerusalem scribes regarded Jesus as the devil of hell. They are turned away with a terrifying rebuke. In passage we also meet the biological family of Jesus. They, at this point in the narrative, regard him as the lunatic and attempt to take him in hand. They too are rejected. 

But why can’t Jesus just be a great moral teacher? For those that are self-conscious enough to recognize their own sin, and this is nearly everyone, this is an attractive option. It does not take much humility to admit to imperfection and to look for moral instruction from great teachers. The gentle-Jesus-meek-and-mild who forgives sins and teaches us to love each other is therefore basically attractive to basically everyone. What this caricature ignores is what Lewis points towards: the absolute and exclusive loyalty to God that Jesus demands of his followers. Those that follow him must submit themselves to the authority of God, that is, they must repent, and they must join themselves to His Kingdom. 

Nevertheless, it is remarkably common to claim that Jesus, like all good moral teachers, simply taught that the “Golden Rule” is sufficient. But this allegedly “golden rule” is then presented as the command to love others as we love ourselves. It does not seem to occur to those who make this claim that this is not at all what Jesus actually said. He is clear, the first and foremost commandment is to love the LORD your God will all that you have. This is the “great commandment.” 

But this commandment goes far beyond a do-gooding approach to moral life which followed the alleged “golden rule.” Jesus primary call and command is about absolute allegiances. 

Who is your God? 

Who will Lord over your life and whose Kingdom will you build? 

To put it another way, whose house will you live in and who will be your Father? 

We must now go back to the idea we started with: Of course Jesus came to forgive our sins, this is fundamental, but Jesus did not come to merely dismiss our minor imperfections or show us a better, more moral way of life. He came to liberate us from spiritual slavery. As the Apostle Paul write’s, God has delivered us from the dominion of darkness into the Kingdom of his beloved son (Col. 1). 

The disciples, in the closing verses of Mark 3, are gathered around their Lord. After dismissing the pleas of his biological mother and brothers who wish to arrest a lunatic Jesus makes an amazing claim. Gesturing to those gathered with him he declares, “Behold my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Just as the ancient prophecies foretold, God’s Messiah would recreate the covenant family. The Children of God are not, as popular civic religion would have it, everyone. It is only those who submit to God’s rule, who join themselves to him in covenant loyalty, who submit to his will, only these are born anew, adopted, into His divine family. They have left the house of the strong tyrant because they have followed the Mighty One into his victory. They were once slaves, now they have now been fellow heirs of a dynasty that will last forever. 

CONCLUSION

With this we return to the big idea we started out with:

 Jesus came not only take care of our individual sin problem but also to liberate us from captivity to the dark powers that enslave us and the whole world. That is, the problem to which Jesus is our only solution is not just the wickedness that is found in each of our hearts but also the wickedness that drives the kingdoms of this world on their hell-bent course of rebellion against God.

Jesus did not just come to forgive you; he wants to set you free.

 

Let’s pray. 

Father, 

We thank you for your word, we thank you for the way you challenge us. Thank you for liberating us, for setting us free. Father, I do pray, again, for a conversion of the imagination, for eyes to see an unveiling revelation of the world as it truly is. Lord, I pray that you would make us a church where that is true, where we live out the reality that we belong to you, are citizens of your kingdom, and have been set free to build and to grow and to thrive, and to bless. We pray these things in your name, amen. 

[1]Watts

[2]Pausanias 5.14.2; 8.26.7.

[3]Test. Sol. 6

[4]Dale Martin JBL 129, no 4. 2010. Pg 662.

[5]Xenophon, Memorabilia, 1.4.10.

[6]Mere Christianity