Sermons

The Essence of Faith-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

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. 


Parables of the Kingdom-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: MAX STERNJACOB

SCRIPTURE READING

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

—Mark 4:1–20 ES

INTRO

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

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

Father,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Isaiah 6:9-10 ESV


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—1 Corinthians 3:3–9 ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Mark 4:14–15 ESV

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

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


The rocky ground, Mark 4:16 …

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

—Mark 4:16–17 ESV


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

And then, Jesus talks about the thorny ground … 

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

—Mark 4:18–19 ESV

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

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

Lastly, Jesus gets to the good soil … 

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

—Mark 4:20 ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Isaiah 55:10–13 ESV

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

Father,

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


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


The Wonder of Resurrection-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to blog.

PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.”

—Luke 24:1–12 ESV


INTRO
Well, good morning again. My name is Forrest, and I’m one of the pastors, and it is good to be with you on this Easter Sunday. If you’re a guest with us, we want to give you a special welcome this morning. We’re grateful you’ve chosen to be with us, and I believe you’ve landed at a really good place. God is at work in the midst of Emmaus. There are a lot of good churches throughout the Inland Empire and in Redlands. We are by no means the only one. But, you have landed at a good place. God is at work, he’s doing some really good things in the life of this body. And, we just want you to know we don’t want anything from you this morning, we only want something for you, that you would know the resurrection life of Jesus Christ.

So, I recently read a scene from a book that captured my attention. The scene was from a memoir called H is for Hawk, by an author named Helen Macdonald. And, it’s her story, essentially, of loss and grief and a kind of resurrection that comes out of that loss and grief. It details the account of her father’s death, and oddly enough, her attempt to deal with that grief to some degree by purchasing a hawk, and teaching this hawk to fly and hunt. She just thought … this will be a good way to channel my energy in this season of grief.

The scene that caught my attention is of her and a friend in a field in an English countryside, attempting to teach this hawk to fly by command, and to return by command. And, it doesn’t go well. It doesn’t go well at all. I’ve never tried it, by I assume teaching a hawk to fly and return is probably pretty difficult. I just have two really disobedient dogs. So, I’m imagine trying to do that with a hawk would go even worse. So, that’s what happens. It doesn’t go well in the midst of this field, and after much time and effort, they can’t get the hawk to fly at all. So, with much frustration and disappointment, they begin to walk back through the field to the car, and as they’re walking, the weight of her circumstances begin to weigh upon her. She begins to, sort of, inwardly cave under the weight of the loss of her father, the attempt to deal with this grief by putting her energy and her thoughts into this hawk, and that’s not working either. It’s all going terribly, nothing is working, and it seems to her as if death and its effects are winning.

In the midst of this walk back to the car where all of this is happening internally, her friend suddenly stops dead in his tracks and with amazement in his voice, he tells her to look down, and this is what she writes …

“Then I see it. The bare field we’d flown the hawk upon his covered in gossamer, millions of shining threads combed downwind across every inch of soil, lit by the sinking sun, the quivering silk runs like light on the water, all the way to my feet. It is a think of unearthly beauty, the work of a million tiny spiders, searching for new homes, each had spun a charged, silken thread out into the air to pull it from its hatch place, ascending like an intrepid hot air balloonist, to drift and disperse and fall. I stare at the field for a long time.”

See, in that moment, her eyes are opened to a reality that she has been living unaware of. While standing in the field in the midst of grief and the futility of trying to will this hawk to fly, her world felt cold and it felt hostile. But, with a few words, she was reoriented to the beauty of the world around her. How easy it is in the midst of life and a fallen world, and a broken world, to believe that death and disappointment, and frustration will win out in the end. But, this morning, we gather around a word of life. This morning we gather around a word of resurrection, a word that tells us to stop, to look, to see the beauty of the resurrection life. It tells us to look and see death and all its effects may be real, but they are not final. God is at work, bringing life from death, and this life is meant for you, and it’s meant for me. This is the word of resurrection life we have before us this morning.

And so, we’re going to look at our text that I believe the story I just told illustrates well, in three movements. A counterintuitive word we see in verses 1-7, and then we see a contrary belief that comes to the surface in light of this counterintuitive word in verse 11, and then we see this beauty of a concrete hope, the concrete hope of the resurrected life that the empty tomb ensures for all his people. So, before we jump in, let’s pray.

Jesus, we are grateful this morning that you are risen. Lord, that we do not have to seek the living among the dead. You are not there, you are risen. Jesus, we ask this morning that the resurrection life, this word of of resurrection that is an offer to us, your people. Lord, we pray that it would fall upon the good soil of hearts this morning, hearts that are prepared by your Spirit to receive this word of life. Lord, we’re grateful for this truth, and Lord may our eyes be opened to the beauty of resurrection life all around us through the work of Christ. We ask in Jesus’ name, amen.

  1. A COUNTERINTUITIVE WORD (vv.1-7)

So, first, a counterintuitive word. We saw in the first several verses there, verses 1-7, that the story begins where we expect it to. The story begins with Jesus of Nazareth, who is much beloved by his followers. All their hopes, all their dreams are in the person of Jesus Christ. They have walked with him and followed him for three years, and here he is now, crucified, lying in a tomb, or so they think. The women, then, come to the tomb where they saw the body of Jesus being laid earlier - we are told that in the previous verses - so, they go to this tomb, and naturally they come assuming that he remains dead. They come assuming to find the body. And, as was customary, they bring spices to anoint the body, in that time, they would bring spices to honor the body, and put it around and upon the body.

And, as they come bringing these spices as a sign of honor and respect, they get to the tomb and they find the stone rolled away, and no body of Jesus. He isn’t present. Now, notice, their immediate response is not rejoicing. Jesus, we’re told there, has already told them this is going to happen. But, even at the sight of the empty tomb, their first response is not rejoice, it’s not dance, it’s not look, he’s done what he said he would do … in verse 3, it says that they were perplexed. And, if we’re honest, rightly so, right? We understanding that. Dead people don’t become undead, unless you believe in zombies, which I think some of you guys do. Dead people do not become undead. Dead is a permanent state, or so we think.

The best you can do, in the face of death, then, is honor those who have succumbed to it. So, as we read this account this morning, perhaps we might feel the same thing. Death is death, which means from this point, we can honor the life of Jesus, it means we can honor his great teaching and his compassionate healing, and his moral fiber, but he’s dead. The best we can do is hallow his memory by speaking well of his legacy, just as the women imagined themselves called to honor his dead body. In the face of death, that is the most we can do, perhaps we would say this morning, and that’s enough. But, that belief is arrested by a question.

We see this started at verse 4-6 … While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel … It’s fitting for Easter, right? Some of you guys in your dazzling apparel this morning … actually, Matt dropped that joke off to me earlier, I stole it … And, as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”  

Do we get how this question arrests them and us? Everything we think we know about death is challenged in this question. All other explanations for the absent body of Jesus that would fit what we believe about death, his body stolen, Jesus swooned on the cross, didn’t actually die … all of those potential beliefs are taken off the table with this question. All other explanations for the absent body of Jesus that would fit what we believe about death are no longer value in light of this question. Everything we think we know about death.

The explanation for the missing body is simply this … Jesus has risen. He has risen. But, they do not see the risen Jesus in front of them, right? What they have is a word of resurrection. Now, this brings the reality of Easter, perhaps, uncomfortably close to us this morning. Because, what do we have in front of us? We have only a word of resurrection. We would think God might work differently here, right? We would think that perhaps it would just be much easier of Jesus would have walked out into the light of the new day right in front of these women, in all of his glory, it would be fixed. And, we might think this morning it would be much easier if Jesus would appear in dazzling glory right before us this Easter morning, all of these questions could just be settled. But, what scripture tells us is that actually, even for some if he were to appear before them, they would not believe.

What I think we’ll see, is that the resurrection isn’t forcefully obvious, but resurrection and resurrection life is clearly visible. And, I believe it’s clearly visible, at work in the midst of his people, in this particular body, which is why I say you’ve arrived at a good place on Easter morning, because the resurrection life is at work in this body in ways that no man can take credit for, only God can. In the second gathering today, we’re baptizing nine people, from death to life in Christ. Nobody can resurrect people, other than the resurrected Christ. And, he is doing that work in the midst of this body.

Our situation is precisely the situation of the women on that Easter morning. We are given a word of resurrection that seems to counter everything we know to be true about death. Nevertheless, we are given the word, which brings us to the next aspect we see in the text, a contrary belief.

  1. A CONTRARY BELIEF (v11)

So, let’s keep reading here, up through verse 11, starting at verse 8 … And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles … Look at verse 11 ... but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them …

A contrary belief … but these words seemed to be an idle tale, and they did not believe them … Now, again, this seems a logical response, right? It seems logical. The Easter message is that Jesus lives, but our experience teaches us that death is final. It’s the end of the story, and when these contradictory truths collide, it is no surprise that they and we respond as thinking people, and regularly respond with unbelief. Now, here’s the thing about unbelief. Contrary to what we might think, unbelief does not mean we believe nothing, it means that we believe something else more fervently. It doesn’t mean that we believe nothing, all of us, we are believing creatures. We all deeply believe in some narrative of life that gets us up in the morning, and brings us from one day to the next. We all believe something deeply.

So, it means that when we are met with this word of resurrection that counters everything we know to be true about death, it’s not that we just don’t believe that he is resurrected, it is that we believe more fervently in the reality of death and all its effects. And, life teaches us that death is so powerful that even the strongest will be overcome by it.

Many years ago, my grandmother - who was a big influence in my life - my grandmother died. And, I was in California, and she was in Louisiana, and we got news that she was coming into the last few days of her life, and we flew out there to be with her, and be with our family. And, we went to visit her at the nursing home that she was in, and we surrounded her for a couple days, and she wasn’t able to speak, but she was able to hear and understand and she could give facial expressions and smiles and blinks to let us know she was listening. And, what we started to do the second day was, we had different family members, and we’d just clear the room and we’d have time with her one on one, just to speak to her.

And, I knew it would be the last time I would see her, and I knew that these were the last moments I had to express what I wanted to express to her. And, what I felt in that moment was a desperation rising up inside of me, a desperation welling up in me to express to her how valuable her life was. And, that’s a good thing, right? I mean, my grandmother was a character. She loved the Cincinnati Reds, she loved driving really fast in this 1969 Nova that she had. I mean, all the way in to her 80’s, she was cruising in that thing. She loved Days of Our Lives, the soap opera, and she loved cheesecake. That was, like, her world … oh, I forgot, the fifth one was beer. She loved Michelob Light. So, I partook, as a kid, in all of that - except for the Michelob Light.

But, she was a huge impact in my life, a strong believer in Christ. And, I began to tell her what a great grandmother she had been, and I began to recount specific instances and memories I had with her, and I began to tell her about how she did a great job with her family, and how greatly she’ll be missed, but what an impact and a legacy she left. And, that’s a good thing, to just let someone know the impact they had in life. What, as I contemplated after I left - and I knew it was the last time I would see her, I knew she would go to be with Christ - what struck me was this desperation that was welling up inside of me to somehow get across to her that her life mattered. And, I realized that there was something that I was believing about death that was not entirely true, that somehow that this death was going to snatch any meaning from her life, that it was the end of it.

What was underneath it, was this welling up of this desire to help her know that her life mattered, was a belief that death was about to win. And, the reality is for those in Christ, we’re going to see here in a bit, that death has lost its sting. And, she was about to be absent from the body, and present with the Lord in the face of her savior and know joy she had never known in her life. But, I wasn’t living in light of that, and I think many of us, we have to ask that question. Do we believe more fervently that death wins than we do that resurrection life has taken the sting out of death? Do we live and operate with that?

Now, this may be helpful as well. It’s important for us to understand that we have to broaden our view death, then, to more than just the physical loss of life. It is that, but what we see, biblically, is that death has a thousand faces. Vandalism, broken relationships, sickness, abuse, stealing, mental illness, the list could go on and on. These are all faces of death, these are all ripple effects and aspects of death coming into the world. And, no one in this room this morning sits untouched by that reality. None of us. And, as life continues, it becomes easy for death and the thousand faces of death to begin to weigh heavily on us, doesn’t it? As life goes on, it is sure that we will experience the reality of death, and the effects of death in myriad ways.

Some of you, this morning, have experienced it in very deep, and honestly brutal ways, in your life. Some of you have experienced it very recently in the loss of loved ones, and the grief that accompanies that. But, see, when we believe more deeply in death than in resurrection, we begin to inhabit the world differently. We begin to move about and think about and see the world differently when we believe that death wins. See, there begins to be a resistance to anything that feels transcendent or supernatural or resurrection-like. Perhaps when we hear that, it’s just met with cynicism.

Author Charles Taylor had a word for this way of inhabiting the world. He called it disenchantment. And, if you think about it, enchanted is to be filled with delight. And, what Charles Taylor says is, when we begin to inhabit the world in this way, is that we lose the delight of the world. For Taylor, a disenchanted world is a world that has been drained of its awe and wonder, a world where supernatural working and transcendence, and the idea of God are met with skepticism or indifference. And, it’s not in this disenchanted world that there is no room at all for God, or no room at all for the miraculous in this world, it’s just that it ultimately doesn't matter. Believe what you want, but trust what you can see and objectively verify. That is the real world, that is how when we begin to believe that death and its effects are the realest thing in this world, and will ultimately slowly overtake everything, we begin to inhabit the world in this way.

G.K. Chesterton said, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not want of wonders.” This is life in a disenchanted world. It’s a world without wonder, it’s a world without an eye for resurrection life. And, in a world without resurrection, it can feel cold and hostile at times, it can leave us numb and believing that life is a slow surrender to death. We go to work and we’re numb to the reality that God is actually at work in the midst of our doing. We assume it’s for nothing, but this is Easter, so we’re coming out of the grave, right? And, the final point is a concrete hope.

  1. A CONCRETE HOPE (v12)

In verse 12, let’s read 11 and 12 … but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened …

He went home marveling. The Easter message calls us, then, from our old belief, fervent belief in death, to a new belief in resurrection life. It says, open your eyes and see the tomb is empty. And, even though the apostles were convinced that this message was nothing more than an idle tale that death was surely death, for one of the apostles there was a nagging question in the midst of their grief. What if? What if it really is true? What if what he said he was going to do he actually did? What if, in the midst of our grief, in the midst of our loss, in the midst of the reality of death, in all its effects, what if it’s true?

It would be Peter, right? Peter’s always the guy, whether for good or for bad. What if it’s true? If it’s true, it changes everything. That is true for us this morning. If it’s true, it changes everything. See, here we are again, another Easter, grateful for it, again, joining with millions of people around the globe who celebrate the reality of the resurrection. See, we can’t get away from it. With all of the things we talk about with Christianity, with all the things that are thrown at Christianity and its failings, and you can talk about, you know, crusades and Spanish Inquisitions, and you can talk about financial impropriety and scandals in the church, here we are again. I think it’s because we have that same question. What if? What if it’s true?

Those of us who gather here on Easter Sunday follow in the footsteps of Peter. We’ve heard the word that Jesus is alive, and we come to hear and see if it’s really true. And, what if maybe death is real, but not final? What if Jesus is not just past, but present, here in our midst? What if Jesus were to meet us here? So, the question, then, is, how do we experience this resurrection life? If this is true, how do we experience it? How do we step into the reality of the beauty of this resurrection life that this word of resurrection says, stop and look. In the midst of cold, and hostile, broken, fallen world, stop and look and see. There’s an invitation in the gospel. How do we marvel with Peter?

Paul gives us some insight. In 1 Corinthians 15:55-57, which is a long chapter on resurrection, it’s a beautiful, deep, rich chapter on resurrection. Towards the end of it, he says this - and many of us will know this …

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

—1 Corinthians 15:55-57 ESV

See, throughout scripture, sin and death are bed fellows. They’re close. Sin and death, you don’t have one without the other. And, what we see - notice he says specifically - the sting of death is sin, which means, it’s like a bee. When you take the stinger out of a bee, it’s dead. How is this sting taken out? We’re going to see, as one person said, the death of death, in the death of Christ, that takes care, that deals fully with our sin.

See, sin is not a word that we use in everyday language, I get that. But, it is a deeply biblical word. We might, at best, in our normal language, perhaps look at a dessert menu and call one of the decadent desserts sinful. But, other than that, we don’t really use that language in our culture, right? So, it means that often times, if someone uses that word seriously … they’re looked at as sort of a religious fanatic, right? Oh … you’re using sin, not mistake, or whatever word we would want to substitute. But, it’s important that we use this word, because this word has meaning, and it comes with some weight that’s important for us to understand if we’re going to step into and live out resurrection life from day to day.

See, in truth, sin is the oldest and deepest human problem. It’s all of our problems. It’s our deepest problem. So, how are we to understand sin? One theologian says, sin is the vandalism of shalom. Now, I know, you’re going … that does not help, Pastor. I don’t even know what that means. Let’s unpack it really quick.

The English word for shalom is peace, but it’s a deeper, richer, fuller - and the Jewish understanding was this beautiful picture of peace that goes far beyond just sort of the absence of difficulty in life. Cornelius Plantinga Jr. - if your named that, you have to be a theologian, and he is - here’s what he says about shalom …

“In the Bible shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as the creator and savior opens doors and speaks welcome to the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things are supposed to be.”

—Cornelius Plantinga Jr.

This is resurrection life. See, this was life in the garden, and then the fall comes, sin enters in, the wages of sin is death, death enters in, and sin and death become bedfellows throughout our lives. But, the resurrection says that through Christ, we are going to restore what has been lost in the fall. Shalom is coming again in this new heaven, in this new earth, in this new Jerusalem. That’s where we’re headed. That is, truly, resurrection life. So, to say that sin is the vandalism of shalom, it means that sin is anything that breaks peace, that violates peace, that interferes with the way things are supposed to be.

See, the reality is, death is foreign to us. There is a reason why Hebrews essentially says, we live life in fear of death. It’s because it’s this thing that was not meant for us. Yet, when the reality comes, it disrupts shalom, death and all of its thousand faces that we death with. See, the sting of death is sin, which means we have to get to sin to enter into resurrection life. So, here’s what scripture says. We are all sinned against. Everyone in this room has been sinned against, some of you in terrible ways that cause you to believe more fervently in death than you do in resurrection life. In light of the way you’ve been sinned against, you cannot imagine there is another way to live, that there is resurrection life for you. And, I’m here to tell you that there is. There is resurrection life for you.

But, the hard truth is that even though we have all been sinned against, we are all, also, sinful. We have all, also, contributed to the vandalism of shalom. None of us are victims only. We have also contributed to the violation of this peace, and this beauty, and this resurrection life, which is ultimately sin against the creator God.

So, here’s what this means. We cannot enter into resurrection life apart from humility. We cannot enter into resurrection life apart from the bold and courageous recognition, and admitting that we are fully sinners. We have contributed to the violation of shalom. See, here’s the truth, resurrection life begins at the end of ourselves. This is good news this morning. Humility is the best thing for God’s people, because it brings us into this reality. Resurrection life begins at the end of ourselves, because it is there that we trust Christ, who took our sin upon himself. Where does our victory come? … But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ …

And, let me tell you why this should bring so much life and peace to us. Aren’t you tired? Aren’t you tired of trying to resurrect yourself? Aren’t you tired of trying to put yourself out there in a way that makes everyone think that you’re living in the midst of resurrection life? Aren’t you tired of that? It’s exhausting. And, resurrection life says, rest. Resurrection life says, you can’t do it. See, resurrection goes through the grave. We cannot live before we die to ourselves. When we die to ourselves, we come alive to Christ. This is resurrection life.

I come from generations of brokenness in my family. You can trace it all the way back, my grandfather did this work, and it’s, like, divorce, divorce, divorce, even divorce, remarry, divorce, remarry the same people … that’s in my family, too. At this point in my life, I’ve been married 26 years, my kids know Christ, I’m in the midst of a body that God is at work in. How does that happen? I’m a numskull. How does that happen? It happens because of grace, because of the resurrection life of Christ. And, I’m telling you from experience that that resurrection life can be yours. So, the question for us this morning, is will we humble ourselves and transfer our trust from ourselves to Christ? Because, it is here that you will experience the marvel and the wonder of resurrection life. It can be yours. Let’s pray.

Jesus, we are grateful, Lord, so grateful for the life we have in you. God, we do not deserve any of it, but Lord you are good, and you are gracious. And, Lord, while death and all of its effects feels so real to us in this world, and they are, Lord, they do not have the final word. Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, He has risen. Jesus, we are grateful for the beauty and the life we find in our Savior, who conquered sin and death so that we can boldly say death is swallowed up in victory, oh death, where is your victory, o death, where is your sting?

This morning, I pray for those who may be laboring under a fervent belief in death. Lord, may you open our eyes to the beauty of the resurrection, may you open our eyes to the need to humble ourselves in light of our own sin, and our own disruption of shalom, our own sin against you. Lord, may we stop striving and earning. This morning on this Easter Sunday, and in light of this good resurrection word, may we transfer trust from ourselves to you, the resurrected savior. We are grateful that you have offered us resurrection life, that whosoever would come to you, would find it. May we find life in you again this morning. We ask in Jesus’ name, amen.


Guarded in Christ-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to blog

EMMAUS REDLANDS SERMON TRANSCRIPTION

PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS

SCRIPTURE READING

PHILIPPIANS 4:2-9

2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

INTRO

Well, good morning. It’s good to be with you. My name is Matt, and I am the pastor for Equipping here at Emmaus, and we are continuing our series in Philippians, and we are in this final section of Philippians, where we are looking at, what does it look like to experience life in Jesus Christ? And, if you were here last week, we were looking at the previous section here in Philippians, especially verses 20-21 of chapter 3, and we saw that part of finding this life in Christ, is living as citizens of heaven, and being transformed into the image of Christ. And, we went and we actually read straight through Revelation 4-5, and we looked at this future picture that is already ours in Christ. And, we celebrated these things, and we looked at how Paul is bringing the Philippian church to this kind of mountaintop reality, and experience of what they already possess in Jesus Christ. And, the fact that one day heaven will descend to earth, and all things will be made new.

And now, today, he brings us back down to earth. And, he goes immediately into this conflict, as he comes back down to earth in verse 2. And, you may be wondering as you read it, man, why is Paul such a downer, man? Like, he gets up there, and then he brings us right back to this conflict. What is going on? Well, one way we can put this, is that Paul has been focusing the Philippians on this … what… this reality that is true because of what Jesus Christ has accomplished. This transformation, this reality that Jesus is making all things new, this what… he says, focus your eyes there.

But then, he says, the number one that that will thwart experiencing that what… the number one thing that will cripple the church, and take their eyes off of that reality, is our conflicts over the how. The how of how we live out that reign of Jesus, the how of our different ideas, of what it looks like to follow Jesus, instead of focusing and uniting over what is true, because Jesus reigns, we often divide over how to live out Jesus’ reign. And, Paul says, Satan loves to use that diversion of our focus to steal our hope, and to completely zap us of all of our passion for the gospel. Channeling it, instead, into seething anger at one another, and a life riddled with anxiety.

So, today, we’re going to look at that. We’re going to look at how we keep our focus on what Jesus has done in order to guard us from simply just beginning to fight over the how’s, forgetting the messiah, and focusing, instead, on – you could say – the methodology. And so, we’ll look at why the how so often takes over the what.And then, we’ll look at two habits that will guard us from going that way. Before we do, let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the realities that are in this text that Paul is pointing us to. The fact is, that what Jesus has accomplished on our behalf is really beyond our full comprehension. And, so often, instead of turning to you and looking to Christ, we turn, instead, making him an idea, and turning instead to just the practical ways that we can try to live that out. And so, Father, we ask today that you would help us to see Jesus clearly, and what you have accomplished in Christ, and so that, Father, we would cherish him. And that, from that, the how’s would take care of themselves. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

I. WHY THE HOW TAKES OVER THE WHAT (vv2-3)

Well, why the how takes over the what.Now, what’s interesting in this, in verse 2, Paul addresses these two women in the church. And, he’s telling them to agree in the Lord, because there’s some kind of conflict that has arisen between them. Now, at the same time, what’s interesting is, Paul doesn’t tell us exactly what these leaders – these women were leaders in the church, influential in the church – what exactly they were fighting over. But, we do know that, in some ways, we could say the issue we know isn’t some, like, horrible moral issue. Because, Paul tells them to agree in the Lord. In other words, one of them is probably not having an affair with the other one’s husband, right? We can probably rule that out, because Paul probably wouldn’t just say … agree in the Lord, right? We also know it probably isn’t because of how Paul has addressed wrong thinking, bad theology, heresy in the church. Paul will directly address that. And so, most likely, this isn’t some issue of heresy in the church either, because Paul, again, would not just say … agree in the Lord, because they wouldn’t understand who the Lord is.

And so, this is something else. And, what it seems like – because, the details here seem to be about their previous ministry together – it seems that these two leaders are fighting over how the church should go about being the church. Different ideas, different methodology, different approaches. This is why, again, the only detail we have is that they’ve labored side by side in the gospel. So, while in the past the what that Jesus has accomplished bonded them, they had their eyes on Jesus, they saw, as Paul says, that their names are written in the book of life, they saw that Revelation 4-5 vision. And, that’s what bonded them, that’s what gave them passion, that’s what united them in mission, and in ministry together. But, now they are fighting between themselves over the how, over the methodology, over where they put their energy and focus. And, Paul knows soon, the problem is that it will not only divide them, but it will divide the church, and it will ruin the church’s witness to the gospel.

Now, these women, again, were important leaders in the church. Their example mattered to those in the church. As the African proverb says, “When elephants fight, it is the grass the suffers.” It’s helpful, huh? And so, you can imagine as they’re fighting, it’s only trampling those around them, and Paul knows it. And so, their actions are beginning to take the church’s focus off of what Christ has accomplished. The gift of salvation that is theirs, what unites them as sisters in Christ, and they’re quibbling over how, and of different opinions on how to proceed.

And, I think it goes without saying that this wasn’t just a problem in Paul’s day. It is a threat in our day, as well. Throughout church history, this has been an issue. And, one of the things, is that it’s kind of counter intuitive, because I think this happens, actually, in a way that we don’t expect it. We assume this only happens – if you think about it, if I said, a church is going to end up quibbling and dividing over, kind of, the methodology and the how’s, you would probably immediately assume that, I don’t know, it’s an unhealthy church, you know, they have bad theology, they have poor structure in their church, they have all kinds of those problems.

But, actually, this tends to happen in churches with very strong theology, very high biblical convictions, just like the church at Philippi. It goes something like this … God raises up a group of people, who take hold of what Jesus has done, who live as citizens of heaven with strong convictions about the word of God, strong convictions about what it means to follow Christ, and that our lives should be given to God, we should be walking in obedience to Christ. These are all good things. In churches like this, things go well, very well, especially for a season, until a subtle shift begins to happen. And, this is a shift that’s seen throughout church history, this dynamic. As solely God’s way, we have these high convictions, this is God’s way, I see it here, some principles here in scripture. And then, we kind of figure out a way to live that out practically.

But then, God’s way becomes our way. And then, our way slowly becomes the way, and the only way. Our modes of worship, our methodology, our way of doing ministry, our way, becomes the way to worship. Our methodology becomes the methodology. Our approach, becomes the approach. Instead of it being a way, it becomes the way, and we begin to judge when this takes hold, all other groups with an air of spiritual pride, and begin to look down on others.

And see, the problem is, when that happens – and, again, this only can happen where there’s a high conviction – it’s a counterintuitive reality, which is, then, if you think about it, this is how Satan can make an inroad. You get all your thinking lined up, and you get it straight. And, it’s at that point that it has to filter through your heart, and move into your hands, that Satan seizes that opportunity, and he makes sure that he just takes it a little bit off course, in the trajectory, and spiritual pride enters in. And, what happens, is – see, in a healthy church, what happens is, discipleship happens, and discipleship is just a term that comes out of the Bible, that means that you’re going to be formed as you follow a specific way. You’re going to be changed, and you’re going to become like who you follow.

And, in healthy churches, what happens is as we have someone we follow, who disciples us – we follow Jesus, ultimately – and, eventually, we become more and more like Jesus. We become more, and more mature, like those mature disciplers that we’re following. But, in a church like this, what happens is this poison is discipled into us. And, what happens is, Paul knows this, that slowly, it makes its way, not just our way, but it becomes my way. And, my way, becomes the way, over and against your way. And, what Paul knows, is that Philippi starts with a high conviction around the gospel. And, in these two leaders, as time as gone on, what has happened, is it has become our way, which is the way. And, somewhere along the way, it became my way against your way, and it’s tearing the church apart.

It threatens to tear the church apart. Over and over throughout church history, this is why great tragedy of church history is that rival is almost always followed by schism, and by divisions. The church at Philippi had experienced renewal, because they took hold of what Jesus had done for them. But, as so often happens in at least these two leaders, it was leading to a schism, to division. Why? It’s simple, but it’s profound. Because, they lost their focus on the what and they began focusing on the how.

And, this could easily happen to us as well. Our hearts become cold towards what Jesus has done, and while burning with white hot intensity over opinions over what we should be doing. And, there’s nothing wrong with having a white hot intensity, just to hear me clearly, with about what it means to follow Jesus, how we should follow Jesus. The problem is, is when that takes the place of a love for Jesus, and a passion for Christ.

Now, I want to spend – because I think Paul jumps in right here – to two practical habits that help guard us as a people, each of us individually, and as a church from ever going down this road. But, first, I just want to make two quick clarifications, and the first one is this: this isn’t just a problem for leaders. This is not just a problem for leaders. This is a heart issue for everyone in the church to guard against, because we are all called to lead, to lead and serve the church forward with the gifts that God has given us. And so, this applies to all of us. Because, all of us are going to be called to take the what that Jesus has done, and work that out, in some way, in a local body of Christ.

And so, this applies to all of us. This is why, right after addressing Euodia and Syntyche – say that 10 times fast, right? Paul says, in verse 3, essentially, church, help them to focus on Jesus. He says, my true companions, help them to focus on Jesus. In the Greek, sometimes they translate yolk fellows. He’s saying, those of you who are bound together, who are yolked together in Christ, understand that this applies to you as well. You are one with them. And so, I’m not just saying this to publicly humiliate them, to kind of brow beat them so that they’ll just stop their bad behavior. But, I’m saying this because I want you to see it, and I want you all to see that this is something that lurks right under the surface in all of our hearts. Because, there is a lion who prowls around looking for someone to devour.

So, this applies to every single one of us. He’s saying, you know this when you see it. You know it’s ugly, you know it’s graceless, and it doesn’t look like Jesus, does it? We all know this, yet he’s saying, before you only look across the aisle or you look across the lobby, and you think about that person, I hope they’re listening right now, take a moment to look in the mirror. Take a moment to look in the mirror and ask yourself, are there places where now, I am more passionate about my opinion about how the initiatives the church should take, how the church should operate, more so than Jesus?

So, the first clarification, again, is that this applies to all of us, not just leaders. The second, is this: that Paul is not saying, how we live, how we do ministry, our methodology as a church, isn’t important. I just need to pause and say that. It is very, very important. In fact, I should actually say here, my title is Pastor for Equipping, and largely what I do, my role at Emmaus, is thinking how we navigate our changing cultural times with theological fidelity and whatnot. A lot of the strategy and the practical thinking is something I do every single day. And, I love doing it. It is vastly important that we think about this. The issue becomes when it becomes the main thing.

You see, as a church, we must keep in focus what Jesus has done. That should be our main focus, that should be our driving passion, that should be what draws us together, and what unites us, not just some kind of methodology or practical way of going about things, but the fact that we are all brothers and sisters, as Paul says, who have our name written in the eternal book of life. And, that’s not a threat. All of our names are in there, and that’s not a threat to us, because one day we will be united forever in God’s presence, and that is the source of our joy. And, none of us, when we get to heaven, are going to go … this isn’t how I would do it, right? So, you don’t want to be that guy. You don’t want to be the guy who gets there and goes … I have a suggestion … that I think you’re wrong.

And so, the issue is – and in fact, think about it – if we lose focus, if we leave Jesus behind, what is the point of being a church? What is all of this? What are these buildings? What are the things that we’re doing? What are the songs that we’re singing? What are the things that we’re tithing towards, that we’re investing in, we’re giving our time and our talent and our treasure to, if it is not Jesus? If it is not the gospel? And so, Paul says, always keep that front and center, or else, if it happens that you just orient around just methodology, then what happens is the church has nothing to witness to, except a bunch of strong willed, opinionated people. And, the church … well, I’m not going to say it … the church doesn’t need any more of that, okay? I said it. I said it, I said it, to he who has ears let him hear. And, if that’s the case, then the issue is, that what we began in the flesh, we will have to continue in the flesh. Because, the growth that will happen, will only be around what man is able to do, and it won’t be rooted in the beauty, the eternal reality, the divine power, entering into this world, in Jesus Christ.

And so, again, Paul is not saying that how we do things is not important, it is. But, Paul has summed this up elsewhere, very well. He says this – you probably know this passage from 1 Corinthians 13. He says …

… If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing …

The things he lists there, that is a very robust ministry resume, very robust. Prophetic gifting, good teachings, strong faith, sacrificial living. All good things, but he says they’re nothing, nothing if it’s not filled with the love of Christ, if what is more important is not what Jesus … the what that Jesus has accomplished on our behalf. Because, Jesus is more of our ideas about him, Jesus is more than a methodology. Jesus is the messiah who lives and breathes in us, and among us. And, if I want to know him, if we want to know him, we have to be a people with habits that soak our hearts in what Christ has accomplished on our behalf.

And so, Paul is going to give us two habits. Now, I wanted to say something. These two habits are going to sound simple, and they are simple. Yet, at the same time, the results, if we have these habits in our life, are profound. Profound. And, if we fail to do them, the results will be profoundly disastrous. If we practice them, the results will be profoundly redemptive.

I remember, just as a way to give a little bit more of a push on this, I remember when I started seminary – so that’s, like, where they send pastors to become really arrogant … No, I’m just kidding, sorry. No, where they train pastors to learn, you know. Anyways, when I want to seminary – that’s the problem seminary can become. When I first entered seminary, there was a first class that I had, and I just got married a month earlier. And, it was a class called family and ministry, and the professor walked in that day, and he said, listen. This is a class about how to practically be thriving parents, and having a thriving marriage in ministry, and how your family kind of joins you in ministry. And he said, listen, if you can get into grad school, you should have no problem getting an A in this class. It’s going to be really simple. He said, but if you don’t take what we learn here and actually apply it to your life, he said, you’ll be calling me in 10 years, asking me, where did my family go?

Sometimes, the most simple truths are the most important and profound, yet so hard to apply. And so, again, these are going to sound simple, but at the same time, they are profoundly redemptive when they are at work in our life.

II. HABIT #1 | THANKSGIVING BEFORE THE FATHER (vv.4-7)

So, here’s habit #1: thanksgiving before the Father. Paul says … rejoice in the Lord, always, I say, rejoice …in verse 4. Now, in all the complexity, Paul says, in all the pressures and all the concerns and all the conflicts of life, Paul says, rejoice. Now, you might be wondering to yourself, how can Paul say that? I mean, if you think about it, life throws a lot of stuff at us that doesn’t exactly prompt rejoicing, right? But, Paul says, in everything and always– later he’s going to say everything, here he says always rejoice, later he’s going to say, in everything, be thankful.

And so, you may be asking, really? In everything? When I get into an argument with my spouse or my boss, really? And, Paul would say, is that, does that fall under the banner of always and everything? And you would say … yeah. And, he’d say, yeah, yeah, rejoice. Right? He said, always to rejoice.

Now, the question is, how can Paul say that? In all seriousness, how can Paul say that, as a blanket statement, to always rejoice? Paul can say rejoice always, because of what Jesus has done. Paul can say rejoice always, because of what Jesus has done. He has reconciled us to our Heavenly Father. This is why, if you read, then, in verse 6, this is why he says …

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be known to God …

See, Paul doesn’t just say, you know, kind of, when you have a problem, kind of let it be known to the universe, or just kind of think happy thoughts, or just maybe go and kind of have a cathartic moment on social media and rant about it, or just kind of talk about it, talk it out amongst yourselves. This isn’t just, kind of, sentimental, kind of flippant advice. But, Paul is rooting this in Jesus, what he’s just said is true in Jesus. And what he’s saying is, no, no matter what it is, we can go to someone. You can always rejoice, because you can always go to someone who is there, and someone who is able to do something about whatever it is in your life. And, as Paul says in verse 7, there is no greater peace in the universe than that. There’s no greater peace than to know that the God of the universe is there, and because of what Christ has accomplished, we now can enter into his presence.

Before this morning, we were praying for those of us who are in the band and whatnot up here, and we were praying, and just the reality was weighing down on me, and I think on the room, that we are about ready to walk into the presence of a holy God, and how dare we. We can, and we rejoice because Jesus has granted us access, and he’s gone before us. And, that is always true. Nothing can take that away.

At the same time, let me illustrate this, cause I think this is kind of hard for us to live. My daughter, she’s 5 now, she does something that I used to do as a child. Do you ever have that, if you have children, and you’re like … oh, jeeze, there I am, right? And, when I was a kid, I was very intense, and any time I would try to do something, I would be like … grrrr … and I would just, like, break things. Like, I can’t blow up this basketball so I’ll just, you know … stab a sharp stick into it. That should solve my problems.

My daughter has the same intensity, and so she’ll especially be, like, let’s say building a Lego castle or something. And, she’ll try to actually build these really elaborate designs. I’m like, that’s pretty impressive, honey, I can’t do that and I’m 34 .. But, she’ll get so far into it, and she gets stuck, and you’ll just hear from the other room … aarrrghh ... and she gets really frustrated. And so, we’ve trained her, my wife will kind of give me that, like … this is where you understand her, and I don’t understand what’s going on, right? Cause, it’s you. She’s your child. And so, I go in there, and say, honey, we’ve tried to teach her, you know, you can call out to us and ask for help. Like, when you hit these roadblocks, like, come to us, we love you. We want to help you, we want to help you get to that next level. I want to help you figure out the Lego thing, and go to the next level up ones. But, we love you, we’re here to help you, you can call out to us. And of course, with some coaching, when she hits a wall, now she comes to us. So we’ll hear the … aaarrghhh … and then you’ll hear … Papa? Mama? And, we come in … I love you, I want to help, I’m here.

And, of course, over time, as we’ve seen this, there’s just this peace, more and more as she hits these walls, we see this more and more, just this peace, because she knows she’s not alone. She knows that we’re disposed to help her, we’re predisposed to that, that we love her. In fact, the other day, I had, like, this plumbing thing. It was, like, a weak or so ago, and I was grumbling about it. And she goes by, and she goes, Papa, you should ask Mama for help. I was like … thank you, child. She’s become the teacher.

Yet, while it’s simple, how often do we live lives riddled with anxiety? How often does that look like us? Whatever area of life it might be, that instead, we’re alone, we think that we’re just alone in a room, alone in the car, alone in whatever situation it is, and we catch ourselves, it looks just like that … aaarrghh … right? Just, crying out to the universe as if no one is there, or grumbling to others, because they seem more tangible than our Heavenly Father. But, in our crying out, here’s the thing to consider … in our crying out, what do we really want? What do we really want in our crying out? What do we really want in the midst of our anxiety, in the midst of our worry? We want our Father’s presence. It’s not always that we just want a solution, it’s not always that we just want a quick fix, but often, it’s just that we want our Heavenly Father to draw near. You know, often, when I go in to my daughter, by the time we get done making the Lego castle or whatever, she almost doesn’t even care about the Lego castle. She cares that I’m near. She cares that I’m with her. And, how often do we miss our Father’s presence, and enjoy his nearness. In everything, we can cry out with thanksgiving, because one thing is certain: because of what Jesus has done in everything, our Heavenly Father draws near to us as his beloved children. And, in that, we can always be thankful, Paul says. He is always near. You can cry out to him.

Now, we should consider why Paul is saying this. Because, if we make it a habit of not going to our Father, and enjoying what Christ has given us, then our lives will be full of anxiety. They’ll be full of fear, they’ll be full of worry. And, here’s the thing: we’ll begin running to one another, we’ll begin expecting the church, we’ll expect the things that should point us to Christ, that should point us to our Heavenly Father, we’ll expect them to figure out the how’s. How to solve those things, how to remedy life, in other words, to do what only God can do, and to subtly and slowly replace him. And, the expectations for one another skyrocket, and all of our energy will flow to fighting over who has the better, the slicker how, rather than simply enjoying what Jesus has given us: reconciliation to a Father who is present, and listening.

So, Paul says, make thanksgiving a habit. Make thanksgiving, of going before your Heavenly Father, a habit. Again, simple, yet profound. You know, one of the ways you might be thinking, how do I really get going with this? Well, here’s a little tip I learned in undergrad. I did a lot of writing, that was what my undergrad degree was in, Creative Writing. And, I had a professor who told me when I would get stuck, he’d say, here’s how you break it: just start writing about what makes you angry, and try it, okay? If you’re stuck, you’re like, God what do I … I’m trying to think … just think, talk to God about what makes you angry, and write. And, you’ll become Hemingway, or Stephen King, like, within seconds, okay?

So, it just starts flowing, because you’re like, wow, I’ve become verbose. I have ideas. And so, when you go before the Lord, bring the things that are right there in front of you. As you go throughout your day, it’s like you see life through this windshield that is all these worries and anxieties and complexities. Well, just, right away when you get up, take those before your Heavenly Father, and say, Father, this is what I see. This is what’s in front of me, and bring it before him, and then just pause every now and then and insert – but Father, I am thankful for ____ . I am thankful that you brought me into this life, because I know even though I don’t know the way out of it, I know you’re sovereign, and you’re going to show me a way through, and you’re going to be with me. Or, I just, I know you’ll be with me.

But, bring them before the Father, and then bring your strife with one another – because it happens – bring the relationships before God, and then remind yourself of this reality Paul’s reminding them of, which is Father, I’m struggling, my heart is cold towards them. Warm it by reminding me that both of our lives are in the book of life. And, just start there. But, ask God to change your view of them.

Thanksgiving, a habit. If you make it a habit, God will guard your hearts and your minds with the peace of Christ, and what he has provided.

III. HABIT #2 | HOSPITALITY TOWARD OTHERS (vv8-9)

The second simple yet profound habit, is hospitality towards others. Finally, Paul says in verse 9, practice the what. Literally, you have to train, Paul says. Literally, you have to practice, literally, you have to rehearse the what of Jesus’ kingdom. Did you catch that? We are called here by Paul, and in several of his other letters – you can look in 1 and 2 Timothy he does this, he says, you need to train yourself for these realities. Why does Paul say that? Because, here’s the thing, all day long, whether you realize it or not, you are training and equipping yourself, going through the motions and going through the exercises of what the world says is true, just, pure, noble. We spend every day of our lives going through the motions of what the world does. And, in fact, we are strengthening those muscles. And, what Paul says you need to do, is focus on what Christ has done, and strengthen those muscles. And, you need habits in your lives to do that.

Now, Paul says, in verse 8, to think about what Christ has done. But then, in verse 9, he says, and practice what Christ has done. Now, as I was looking at this, I was like, are those two separate things? Do I think something, or do I practice something? How do I … do I think it, do I practice … and I think they’re the same thing, two aspects of it. And, there’s actually a quote from Aristotle, that I think actually captures the dynamic that Paul is going for here, which says this, “The soul never thinks without a picture.” Paul is saying, in order to be a people who keep our eyes on what Jesus has done, to think right things with our minds eye, and to see Jesus correctly, we need practices, that picture for us, what is true in Christ. And, to think right thoughts, we need practices in our lives that picture the truth of Jesus, to take it from our head down to our hearts. It’s serious business that that happens.

Probably a quote that stuck with me the most, it’s one of those youth pastor things someone threw out there, but I can never get it out of my mind. They said, you know what the distance from heaven to hell is? It’s the distance from your head to your heart. He says, we need practices that take it from our head, and just assenting intellectually, down into our hearts so that we live it. Practices that help us think with a picture of what is true … of whatever is honorable… Paul says … of whatever is just, of whatever is pure, of whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable … we need practices in our lives that help us, and there is no greater practice that helps us picture these things, than the practice of hospitality.

Hospitality, simply put, is welcoming others, having practice, a habit in our lives of welcoming others, as Christ has welcomed us. This is from the Lent devotional, which, by the way, is available on the app, you’ve probably seen some slides for it today. But, you can get it on the app, you can get it through our email, you can find it online on the website. But, every week we’ve been walking through a different discipline, and this week the discipline is hospitality. And, this is how it’s defined: Hospitality creates a space, a grace filled space, where a friend or stranger can enter and experience the welcoming Spirit of Christ in another.

Hospitality is a way of expressing love for others as God has shown us love in Jesus Christ, while we were yet sinners. Biblical hospitality, when rightly practiced, challenges our assumptions of others, and surfaces unhealthy biases towards others, reminding us of the welcoming grace we’ve received in Christ. Hospitality is welcoming others into our lives, our personal space, our bio-families, our bachelor pads, our bachelorette pads, meeting someone at a coffee shop, making space in our lives for others as God has welcomed us into his family through the work of Christ.

Here’s the thing, so often we live busy, disconnected, isolated lives, amen? Busy, disconnected, isolated lives, and our lives seem more driven by the chaotic swirl that we call life, right? But, that’s not what life is made out of. Life is not made out of the swirly, chaotic cocktail of our daily schedules, of our coming and going, of all of our actions and our getting two things and doing things because we are human beings, not human doings. We are created for deep relationship with God, and with others. And, nothing pulls us out of the chaos of our daily lives, and slows us down to focus on what we have in Christ like a habit of hospitality. Of making room in our schedules, of literally carving out space with time, and space with space, space with our meal plan, space for others to come into our life, just to merely say, I want to welcome you in, because I’ve been welcomed in to something really great. And, that’s just overflowing out of me, and I want you to know it.

This helps us to rightly think about our welcome in Christ, by picturing it so well. One of the things, as a pastor, as I, I do get to think a lot about the Bible. Think about it, I get to fill my head with a lot of thoughts, a lot of thinking, a lot of theology. But nothing, I don’t think, over the years, has helped me actually grasp some of the more profound theological concepts that we throw out there, like candy a Memorial Day, like reconciliation. Like having my home open in a habit of hospitality. Nothing helps me grasp that, like seeing someone else welcomed into my life, life sacrificing time for others, making room for others.

This, especially, hit home for me, and I just want to paint a picture for how having a habit of hospitality in your life will profoundly change your heart. It’ll profoundly change especially how understand and relate to God, and how you relate to others. So, this really hit me in a way it hadn’t before this last Friday, just, what, two days ago? When, many of you know we’ve been in the process to adopt … I’m going to get emotional, man …

… We’ve been in a process for two and a half years of adopting Calvin into our home. And, finally, Friday, it was finalized before a judge. And, it was a pretty crazy moment, cause the judge, I was like, either she’s going to hit that gavel and be like, surprise! You’re going to jail for 30 years. Or, she was going to do what she did, which was, she declared from now on, his name is Calvin Michael Dennings, and he’s in your family. It’s a beautiful picture. And, at that point, there was a stack of paperwork in front of her that had his previous identity, kind of like the stack of paperwork we’ve been working through for two and a half years, and they took that, and they’re going to seal that, and it goes somewhere in a basement. And, there was a new stack of paperwork that says, this is now his identity, and they took that stack of paperwork, and right now it’s being processed, and becoming new birth certificates, and this new identity, and this new reality.

And, it took everything in me not to start weeping in that courtroom. So, I’ll just do it now, right? Not to week in that courtroom, because I realized, I fully realized what I hadn’t before, as he sat in my lap, that you’re now my son. And, this is now your forever home. You’re now my son, and this is now your forever home. Now, yesterday, that hit me and I was able to hold back the tears, but yesterday as I sat in my little writing shed in my backyard, it just hit me. It hit me like a ton of bricks, and, I mean, I ugly cried, as this hit me. But, it wasn’t just that it hit me … that beautiful moment of realizing this with Calvin, and realizing that now he’s our son and that we no longer have to worry about someone showing up and just removing him.

But, it hit me because there’s a beautiful reality that is underneath that beautiful moment. And, it’s that it’s true of me. That I have a Heavenly Father, who says, you are my son, and this is your forever home.

Now, I won’t pretend for a moment that I’ve never struggled with the adoption process. If anyone gets the credit, it’s my wife. She helped me process a lot at the beginning. This means I have to sacrifice my time, my schedule, my space, the last waffle french fry in the Chick Fil A meal … he always gets it. I had to wrestle with those realities. But, as we put into practice the simple act of hospitality, of making room for Cal, my heart changed. Because, it unlocked a deeper reality, by painting a picture of what it means to be adopted as a son of our Heavenly Father, in a way that I can never think myself there, in a way that I could never read myself there. My soul couldn’t really grasp, or think of the beauty of adoption, until I had a picture in that courtroom.

Now, while most likely you won’t be called to something like adoption. Some of you will, some of you won’t. But, we are all called to sacrificially welcome others into our lives as Christ as welcomed us into his. Because, when we make room for others through the practice of hospitality, God gives us a picture that helps us think with full hearts of the forever home that we have with him, that we are adopted into his family, and that keeps us focused on the whatand the how’s begin to just take care of themselves.

So, I encourage you to begin the practice of hospitality. You can begin, one, by downloading the Lent guide. There’s instructions, there’s scriptural readings, there’s questions to help you reflect. And then, also, on the sermon notes on the Emmaus app, you can download it, the Emmaus app through the app store, is out there, and the sermon notes that are in there. There is also a link to a great article on hospitality that has more biblical unpacking, or explanation of it, and then also some practical tips on how to get started.

But, either way, I would encourage you to develop creative ways with your family, with your roommates, with whoever it is in your life, develop creative ways to welcome others into your life as Christ as welcomed you, and to his. It will help your heart cherish Christ in a way unlike any other habit God has gifted us, by providing a living picture of what Christ as done.

So, let’s recap. We must guard against, one, the timeless problem of the how overtaking the what. Jesus is more than methodology, he is our Messiah. To guard against this, Paul gives us two simple, yet profoundly impactful habits to begin practicing today. Habit #1, thanksgiving before the Father. Because, it is God’s means of guarding our hearts and minds with peace through what Christ has provided. Habit #2, hospitality. Because, it provides a refreshing picture of the welcome, the what, that we’ve received in Jesus Christ.

So, Emmaus, as Paul says, practice these things. Practice the what that Jesus has provided. And, I promise, if we are saturated with the what, as a church,the how’s will take care of themselves, because we’ll be able to agree in the Lord that the God of peace is with us. Let’s pray.

Lord God, we thank you for what we have in Christ. Father, guard our hearts from forgetting the basics, and turning our life with you into an endless list of how’s. Keep us focused on our first love, and keep us at peace with one another. Spirit of Christ, give us wisdom in beginning the habits of thanksgiving and hospitality, so we live saturated in what Christ has provided together. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.