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The Power and Goodness of Christ-Full Sermon Transcript

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PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

Jesus Calms a Storm 

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Jesus Heals a Man with a Demon 

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

—Mark 4:35 - 5:20 ESV

INTRO

Good morning, I’m Forrest, I’m one of the pastors here, and as always, it is good to be with you. Do we have any Chronicles of Narnia fans out there? Alright, a lot. Yeah, at this point it’s kind of become a part of our pop culture with the movies popularizing it, and I think one of the most well known lines from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe encapsulates well what our text is bringing to us this morning.

If you remember in the story, we’ll kind of geek out for a second here, Mr. Beaver tells Susan that Aslan, the ruler of Narnia,is a lion. Do you remember this? And, Susan is surprised because she assumes that Aslan is a man, certainly a ruler is a man. She then tells Mr. Beaver, I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion. She asks Mr. Beaver then, subsequently, if Aslan is safe, to which Mr. Beaver replies … 

“Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King.”

—The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

This line encapsulates our two narratives this morning. Nothing with unmanageable power is safe. And, at the same time, not everything with unmanageable power is good. I wonder if this morning, we think of Jesus in that way. I wonder, do we believe him to be powerful, and good. See, we must believe him to be both, or we will end up living anemic Christian lives at best. In every season of life, do we believe that he is both powerful and good. And so, I think in our text, in the first narrative, we have a story of Christ’s power laced with his goodness. And, I think in the second story, of the Gerasene demoniac, we have a story of Christ’s goodness, laced with his power. So, this morning, the track we’re going to walk, there’s a lot of ground to cover here, there are many layers.

So, I’d encourage you to try to track with me this morning. We’re actually going to start in apocalyptic literature. That would be the point at which you may feel like hitting the eject button. Don’t do it, track with me, otherwise you may wake up in the middle of the sermon wondering where we are, feeling like maybe I just told you you were possessed with a demon, and I promise you, that’s not the point of the sermon this morning. So, track with me, I think there’s big payoff, a lot of layers. This week in studying God’s word, I was reminded of the richness of it, that it’s so rich, that we can spend our lives plumbing its depths and never exhaust it, yet at the same time it’s so simple that a kid can grasp it and respond to it with faith in Jesus Christ.

So, the task before us this morning, then, is to see, how do we see in our text that Jesus is both good, and powerful? So, let’s pray before we jump in.

Jesus,

we are thankful for this great truth. Lord, it is easy for one of those aspects of who you are to become undermined in our own hearts, and in our own minds. Lord, as we come to your text, we are thankful that it is powerful, and it is sharp as a two-edged sword, and it cuts deeply, and we are grateful for that. Lord, reveal to us our desperate need for you this morning, in whatever season of life we find ourselves. And, we thank you in Jesus’ name, amen. 

So, the book of Daniel is an apocalyptic, hyper-political book. You may actually, what you probably know of Daniel, is - at the very least - you know the story of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, which tends to be sort of the Sunday school story. But, the reality is, there’s a lot going on in the book of Daniel. It’s very apocalyptic, and it’s very political, and in the midst of it, Daniel sees a vision of four beasts coming up out of the sea, that were - it says later in verse 17 of chapter 7 of Daniel, they are identified as kings. These were kings, these were powers. And, I want to read that in Daniel … 

Daniel declared, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man, and the mind of a man was given to it. And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear. It was raised up on one side. It had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was told, ‘Arise, devour much flesh.’ After this I looked, and behold, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back. And the beast had four heads, and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.

—Daniel 7:2-7 ESV

So, this vision comes. It’s identified, again, in verse 17, that these are powers, kings, these are nations that Daniel is foreseeing through this vision, that are going to come to power, and devour the world. The first one, most scholars agree, is Babylon, the Babylonian Empire a few hundred years before Jesus. The second would be the Medo Persian Empire, the third would be the Greeks and Alexander the Great, and then the fourth was the Roman Empire, which was the final climax of these world powers. The book of Mark is written some 30 odd years after the life of Jesus. And, it’s written, it’s audience is citizens of Rome, who were facing persecution and death under the brutal rule of Caesar Nero.

Mark wants his readers to make this connection, a connection between these narratives of calming the storm, and the Gerasene demoniac being delivered, he wants them to make a connection between these narratives, and their current persecuted reality under the reign of the powerful Roman empire. He wants them to see his power and goodness in the midst of the powerful evil they find themselves in, and he wants us to see the same thing this morning. No matter where we are in life, he wants us to see his power, and his goodness, and that’s what we see in the first narrative, a great power. 

I. A GREAT POWER 


So, Jesus has been teaching in parables, and on the power of the kingdom of God. I should say, remember that sea motif, that these beasts rose up out of the sea, because that’s going to come up in both narratives. There’s some connections there. Jesus has been teaching in parables. If you remember last week, Max, the last two weeks, Max has walked us through those. He’s been teaching in parables on the power of the kingdom of God, how the kingdom of God continues, that it’s this unstoppable force, it begins as a seed, a small seed, but nothing can stop it.

And, when he’s finished with this teaching, he’s teaching from the boat, kind of using the water and the embankment as an amphitheater, we’re told in verses 35 and 36, that they essentially take up the anchor, and begin to cross the sea of Galilee to the other side. And, it tells us that other boats accompany them, so they’re not by themselves, and as they’re crossing the Sea of Galilee - which was a lake on the north side of the region of Galilee, it was a lake that was seven miles wide, it was 13 miles long, so it was a large lake, it was even on the border of a sea, this lake, this sea, was also 700 feet below sea level, with mountains on both sides - not small mountains, big mountains on both sides. You can see them even today. Particularly, the eastern mountains are exceedingly tall. The tallest one is Mount Hermon, and it’s 9,200 feet above sea level. So, this means that that reality, the lake 700 feet below sea level, the mountains around it max out at around 9,200 feet, so what you get, all of you meteorologists out there like me, is the warm air rises, right, the cold air descends, and when those two meet, crazy stuff can happen. Storms can whip up really quick, and that is exactly what happens as Jesus and the disciples cross the sea of Galilee.

It should be noted, too, that the Jewish people were not seafaring people, naturally. It wasn’t in their history to be seafaring people. Now, we know they’ve adapted to some degree, because as Mark begins, Jesus is calling fishermen, people who are fishing on the sea of Galilee. So, they’ve made some adjustments, but historically, they are not vikings by any stretch of the imagination. They were 12 tribes from the desert that God brought into a home in the mediteranean.

Now, in the ancient near east, the sea had a dark symbolism, and you see this, actually, throughout scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. It had this dark symbolism, it was one of evil and chaos and demonic powers that were raging against  the creator. We see this in a few spots, some scriptures that point this out … 

“And darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters”

—Genesis 1:2 ESV

So, you get darkness and waters put together there in that text … 

Psalm 93 says, “The floods were lifted up …” We know floods are not a good thing … “Oh Lord, the Floods had lifted up their voice, the floods lift up their roaring, mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the ways of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty …” 

And, what we just read …

“And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.”

—Daniel 7:3 ESV

And then finally, even at the end, even though this would not have been in view for the readers, then … 

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”

—Revelation 21:1 ESV

So, we get this picture throughout scripture. There are many, many more scriptures that if you were to just do kind of a biblical study of the word sea, you would see that it is fraught with chaos, and darkness. Suffice it to say, that when the Jewish people thought of the sea, they did not think of vacations, and drinks with umbrellas in them. What came to mind, was a clash of order and chaos, a place where God and evil rage against one another. Additionally, they were going to the other side, it says. They are heading into a Gentile region called Decapolis, which was basically a federation of 10 cities that was under Roman rule, and this means that they were leaving this place of covenant, this land of covenant, and coming into this - in the Jewish mind, what would have been this dark, evil place of Roman rule. 

So, you get the picture that this would have been a journey for the disciples of Jesus. And, as they’re crossing, the scripture there tells us … a  great windstorm arises … Now, we don’t know the exact boat they were in, but one of the most popular boats at the time was a 20 foot long boat, 7 feet wide, may or may not have had a sail, had oars. It could fit about 15 people. Most likely, they were traveling in something similar to that. What we need to get, is that it was not a ship, it was a boat, two very different things, especially when you’re in the midst of a hurricane. 

So, verse 37, we see that the waves begin crashing into the boat, and the boat begins to fill with water. Now, you can imagine at this moment, all of their fears are coming to be realized. The dark, ominous chaos of the water, the trip over not to the land of covenant, but the land of Roman rule, this dark place, and the darkness and the chaos comes to bear on them. And, in that moment, as their boat is filling with water and they are undoubtedly about to sink into the sea, into the chaos, in that moment they look to their teacher. They look for some comfort, for some assurance, because he’s the reason they’re out there.

Remember, they’re not  in the midst of the storm because they were disobedient. There are a lot of, actually, parallels, here, in the opposite direction, though, between Jonah and what’s happening here. A lot of scholars make that connection. But, what’s happening here is that they have followed Jesus. They haven’t run from him, they’ve followed Jesus, yet they find themselves in the midst of the storm. And, as they look to their great leader for comfort and assurance, they find him asleep on a cushion. Can you imagine that moment? Asleep on a cushion, because that’s what you do in the midst of a hurricane, when you’re in the sea. You just catch a little cat nap.

You can imagine that moment. And, often times, when we see the disciples’ interaction with Jesus, it’s easy for us in our arrogance to look at it and simply say, wow, they were really ignorant. Right? Sometimes - like an example - the sons of Zebedee go to Jesus and they’re like, Jesus, who’s going to be greatest in your kingdom? And, you’re reading it going, agh, really? You are such a knucklehead. Yet, we do it all the time, right? We do it in ways that we don’t even recognize. But, this is not one of those moments, where even in our arrogance we can look at it and go, why did they do that? 

I think this a perfectly reasonable question. Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? Jesus is asleep in the midst of the storm, he’s gotten them into this trouble, and yet he doesn’t even seem to be concerned. Verse 39 tells us what happens … And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm … Jesus wakes up and he immediately rebukes the wind. He speaks to it as if it were a child, and where there once was a great storm, there is now a great calm. And, the sense is that even the water is calm, which you see Jesus’ power in that reality, if you think about a bunch of kids in a swimming pool, and they’re playing around, and then all of a sudden they get out, the water doesn’t immediately go calm, right? It says chopping. But, Jesus in his power calms the wind and he calms the waves. 

This story, in many ways, is very straight forward. We know the reality of storms, don’t we? It takes one phone call, one e-mail, one text message, one moment, and a sudden storm hits. Life can be like that, right? Evil, chaos, hits us out of nowhere. And, if you’re like the rest of us, or, I should say, if you’re like me, the disciples, the pattern of the disciples here looks very familiar. What’s the first thing we do when the storm hits? We freak out. Right? That’s the only rational thing to do, is freak out when the storm hits. What’s happening? And then, we question whether God really cares for us. I’m following you, how can you put me in the midst of this storm?

But, the story climaxes in a question. And, it climaxes in a question that feels like a cliffhanger, but it’s not because the answer is embedded in the story. It’s what Mark wants us to walk away with. As they continue, verse 40, he said to them … Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” …


The opening line of Mark’s gospel reads … The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God … scholars call this a messianic secret motif. All it means, is you’re in on something from the very beginning, that the rest of the players other than Christ, in the story, are not in on. You know from the get-go that this is the son of God, the one that was prophesied about in the Old Testament, that has, specifically in Isaiah, that has now come in the flesh. And, we know that, but at this point, the disciples were unaware of this reality. See, they think he’s just a rabbi, a really good teacher with an extra measure of God’s power. But, now, this is starting to look a little peculiar. They know that in the Hebrew scriptures, that only God has power over the sea. They know Psalm 107, which says … some went out into the sea in ships, and when the storm hits they cry out to Yahweh, and by his power, and his power alone, the waves are hushed … They know this. 

And, it’s also peculiar that Jesus doesn’t conjure. In other words, Jesus doesn’t call on a higher power. Like every other legend of antiquity, when they’re faced with this unmanageable, uncontrollable power, they conjure a higher power, Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus speaks directly to the storm. See, he’s not calling on a higher power, because Mark wants us to see that he is the higher power. Remember, in the beginning in Genesis when darkness was over the face of the deep, and the spirit of God hovered over it, Jesus is saying, that was me, in the beginning, the creator. So, who then, is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him. And, the answer is, the creator of all things, with unmatched and unmanageable power, and the chaos of the sea is at my command. 

Point one … the great power. 

II. A GREAT COMPASSION

Next, we see, as we move to the next story - and then we’re going to bring these two together - is great compassion, or it might be said, a great good. Now, this next story, the Gerasene demoniac, takes place in decapolis, on the southeastern side of the sea. Again, it was a federation of 10 cities, first colonized by Alexander the Great, and during this particular time was conquered by the Roman empire. And, Jesus is unleashing the kingdom of God not just in Israel, but throughout the world. And, if you follow the trajectory of scripture, that is always the plan, that the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, which means that this gospel, this good news, this kingdom must go outside of Israel, it must go to the world, it must go to the Gentile nations. 

So, Jesus pushes through to bring his kingdom to the world, but there’s an anti-kingdom, there’s a dominion of darkness, and Jesus faces resistance from the moment he starts to go to the other side. First in the sea, and in the storm, and then in the demoniac. And, underneath this there’s a root of evil, a dark power that is at the source of this resistance. As Jesus enters into the Gentile territory, a man with an unclean spirit comes from the graveyard to meet him. Look at verses 2-6 … 

And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” …

It’s a pretty bleak picture of this man’s existence, isn’t it? Now, I feel like we have to take a moment to do a little bit of work, because it would be very easy for us in this western culture, in this particular time, to keep this story at distance, to keep this story at arm’s length, to simply say it’s a superstitious sort of phenomenon that belongs in antiquity, that belongs in another time. When, culturally, we function as if what is real is only what can be tested and poked and prodded in a laboratory. If we say we believe in a supernatural and personal, good God, then it is no leap at all to say we believe in a personal and supernatural evil. In fact, it follows.

In the biblical worldview, the fact is, the universe is teeming with activity that cannot necessarily be tested. Listen to what Paul says here in Ephesians, and I want you to remember, Paul has been talking in this letter about how to walk in love, how wives and husbands are to love one another and lay down their lives. He’s been talking about the new life in Christ, unity in the body, some very practical things here, loving one another. And then, as he gets to the end of this letter, he brings us to what might be a strange place to us. Look here at Ephesians 6:10-16 …

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances … [does that include your circumstance? Yes.] … take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”

—Ephesians 6:10-16 ESV

In all circumstances. Do you hear what Paul is saying? In the midst of a letter where he has been very practical, husbands, love your wives, church, you are one body, live into that reality. He’s saying, do not lose sight that there is a world, here, teeming with spiritual forces that have schemes that are seeking to disrupt. See, what scripture tells us is that inbetween the creator God, a being with no equal and the seven billion plus people on the earth, there is an invisible world filled with spiritual beings, with angels, with demons. Some of these are in league with the creator, working to usher in God’s kingdom, but others are at war with the creator, and wreaking havoc wherever they can. 

The biblical understanding of demons, though, is not a simple one or a superstitious one, or a naive one. Rather, it’s complex, and it’s multidimensional. I know we’ve seen Poltergeist and people’s head spinning, and we have things that come to mind when we hear this stuff, but if you look at the totality of scripture and how it reveals to us the reality of sin and our struggle, it is not reductionary at all. Certain worldviews tend to be reductionary, we tend to reduce our problems to one aspect, maybe it’s physical, you’re probably is just physical. I heard the phrase this week, I guess it’s a new thing, I need to do a geographical … and what that means is, like, where I live is not working out for me, so I need to move somewhere, right? So i’m going to do a geographical. The problem is, as one really wise person said, everywhere you go, there you are. So, you can do the geographical, but you’re still there. 

But, we tend to reduce things in that way. Physical, or mental, or moralistic, your problem is just guilt and shame, you need to deal with that, or spiritual, it’s only spiritual, and we see demons everywhere. True story, when my mother first came to Christ, neither one of us were believers, later in life she was trying to find churches, and she was in deep south Louisiana, and she went to a church, and they told her she had a chocolate demon, and they tried to cast it out of her. So, talk about reductionary. I’m like … I think i have one of those, if that’s a thing … I’m going to come see you guys … 

So, we tend to be reductionistic in our worldviews, but scripture is not this way. Scripture gives weight to each one of these realities, mental, moral, physical, spiritual, all of the above, they’re all interlocking. And, therefore, there’s no one template. But, I think in our culture, what we’re the quickest to dismiss, is this particular world, this world of principalities and powers, where Paul says, you’re not wrestling against what you think you’re wrestling against. 

See, if we reject personal spiritual evil, we will be blind to a significant power at work that stirs up our struggle, and stirs up our sin, and creates chaos. See, we see demon possessed, and we go, oh, I’m good. I’m cool. There is none of me in this guy. I mean, he’s … and, when you read the description, it’s easy to put distance between us and him. What’s interesting, is that the Greek words that describe this state never actually use the word possession. It’s essentially the word for demonize, over and over and over again. So, I know there’s been a lot of debate around categories and oppression and possession, but as I dig into the text, into scripture, and there’s definitely a place for those conversations, but what I see is there’s more this influence at work that we need to be awake to.

Don’t forget, though, what Paul is saying. Essentially, he gets to … so, if we’re proud, if we’re self centered, if we’re angry, and these things are taking root in us, and there’s bitterness in us, make no mistake that there is some aspect of influence going on there. See, our struggles - this will really unsettle us - our struggles are not so much different from the demoniac in kind, but in degree. His patterns even are probably familiar. I know they are for me.

When I tend to go in a difficult place, a dark place, what do we see in the demoniac’s life, the way he was living? We see isolation. Don’t we tend to want to be left alone? We don’t want anyone talking to us, I don’t want to hear your Jesus stuff, just leave me alone, let me binge on Netflix, or put my head under the covers, right? Just leave me alone. Or, we’re in bondage, right? Perhaps there’s sin that we’ve been struggling with for years, and we find ourselves not able to see that bondage broken. Even harming himself. Now, there is a very overt way, he’s cutting himself with stones. That happens in different ways today, but there are other ways we tend to do that, right? We tend to harm ourselves through things like binge eating, or things that we run to, that we know are not good for us, but we run to those things for comfort. Make no mistake, Paul is saying in every circumstance, be on guard. There are schemes at work. So, we are not as different from the demoniac as we might like to believe.

Now, how do we see the goodness of Jesus? We said this about compassion, and it is. The goodness of Jesus is demonstrated in that he goes to the worst of the worst. He goes to a man that feels so far gone, compared to perhaps where we are, and he does that with intention, he does that with purpose, he does that because he wants us to see that we have hope, that where we, and our station in life, whatever these schemes are that are at work, that we are not too far gone, that his goodness is not present with us in the midst of it, and that his power is not strong enough to rescue us. He comes to the worst of the worst, the most vile, the most detestable, the most unclean in a graveyard, the place that a Jewish person would never go. Jesus goes to the depth with this man so that you and I might have hope from our depths.

And, there’s another layer here that’s happening. Notice he asks in verse 9 … what is your name? … and the answer is … my name is Legion, for we are many … A legion was the largest Roman military unit. It would have been about 5 or 6,000 people at this time, and they were known for their brutality and their destruction. So, we begin to see allusions and connections that would have been made for those early readers, that perhaps are lost on us. They see, okay, we’re seeing power over Rome, we’re seeing goodness in the midst of it, coming to rescue, and we’re seeing power over it, even the strange reality of the pigs, right? I mean, this is a strange story, there’s no doubt. Look what happens … 

And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea … 

Do you see the connection? Do you see, in Daniel, he says this power is coming, and it is a great power, and it is going to engulf the world, and here we see Jesus coming in the midst of this power, in the midst of this legion, and he brings redemption, and he brings healing, and he brings restoration, and then he demonstrates his power. Even with the pigs, there was a Gerasen that the Roman legion had, where their actual mascot, essentially, was a wild boar, because the Jewish people called the Romans pigs, and so what they did to kind of get back at them, is they said fine, we’ll raise the flag, we’ll be your pigs. So, there’s some real connections here that would have been made that show Christ’s power over what seems to be the most unmanageable power in the world. 

And then, finally, I love towards the end the picture of the healing that happens in verse 15 … 

And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid … 

Could you imagine this man that far gone, no longer able to be subdued, living among the graves, cutting himself, he is sitting - not naked - but clothed, not completely gone mentally, but present in his right mind. This is the holistic, deep healing of Jesus. This is the goodness of God at work, and if there is hope for him, there’s hope for you, there’s hope for me wherever we find ourselves.

And, finally, the man wants to go with Jesus. And, it’s interesting, Jesus doesn’t let him. Isn’t Jesus the one who says, come follow me? Yet, he says, no, actually. Look what he tells him in verse 19 … 

… And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled … 

See, Jesus is not safe, but he is good. Remember, Jesus has been run out of town. 2,000 pigs were killed. That’s no small thing. That had serious economic consequences for the people of Decapolis, and they ran him out of town because of it, and Jesus says, no, you’re not coming with me, you’re going to stay in the midst of that and declare my goodness. He is not safe, but he is good. He says, tell what the Lord - Yahweh - has done for you, and notice in verse 20, he tells how much Jesus has done for him, the creator and Jesus are one and the same. See, we are back to the power and authority of Jesus, which leads us to the last point here … a great fear. 

III. A GREAT FEAR

If you notice, throughout both narratives, there is fear woven throughout it. Notice 4:38, there’s fear of the storm, in chapter 4:41, fear of Jesus’ power to calm the storm. It’s funny, before Jesus calms the storm, they’re scared, but after they’re more scared. Fear of the demoniac is not explicit, but no one had the strength to subdue him, it says, in 4:5. The demon’s fear of Jesus’ power over them, in verse 7 … do not torment me … fear of Jesus’ power to heal the demoniac, in 5:15. They don’t rejoice when they see this man in his right man and clothed, they fear. 

Why? Why is there fear throughout both of these stories when there should be, it seems, rejoicing? Because, fear rises when we find ourselves in the midst of a power we cannot control. The difference between the power of the storm, the power of the demoniac, and the power of Christ, is that only one of those loves you, is that only one of those cares for us. See, the storm, the principalities and powers are not good, and therefore don’t have your good in mind, but the one who has power over them does. He is good, and he has your good in mind. 

Notice in verse 40 of the narrative of calming the storm, Jesus has been questioned. Jesus, don’t you care about us? Don’t you see what’s happening? But, notice that the questioned becomes the questioner, and he asks them in verse 40 … Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? … And, here’s where the power and goodness of God come to bear in our lives. He’s saying, essentially, if you knew I loved you, and if you knew my infinite power, you could have been calm in the storm. He’s saying, I can still care for you and allow you to go through storms. The issue is, your premise is wrong. And, I would submit to you today, that oftentimes our premise is wrong. The premise is wrong. You don’t see me for truly who I am.

Our premise tends to be, if you love us, you wouldn’t let us go through storms. But, that’s a false premise. Jesus says, I’m God, and I know better than you, and I am not safe, but I am good. So, I think part of what comes to bear for us, is when we find ourselves in the middle of the storm, wake him, ask him if he cares for you, but don’t be surprised when the questioned becomes the questioner, when God questions us. See, Mark’s invitation for us is to turn from questioning God, to answering God’s question. In light of such authority and power, and care, why are you so afraid? Why do you still have no faith? Do you see how Jesus is demonstrating both his authority and his goodness?

See, in the Gerasene demoniac, Jesus goes to the worst of the worst, and when he was done, he was clothed and in his right mind. But, Jesus goes one step further, so that we might have an immovable reminder of his power and his goodness. When we get to the end of the book of Mark, we see that Jesus exchanges places with this man. Jesus, as he goes to the cross, is now naked. Jesus, as he goes to the cross, is now crying out and bleeding. Jesus is driven to the tomb. That’s how Jesus dealt with evil, that’s how Jesus deals with evil today, not with the sword, but by taking evil upon himself, so that he could wipe out evil without wiping out us.

In the cross of Christ, we have a fixed and perpetual reminder of his power and his goodness. See, if Jesus were not powerful, the cross would have no efficacy. It would have no effect in our lives. If he were not good, he never would have gone to the cross in the first place. And, here is where it all comes to bear for us, this morning, as God’s people in light of his word. See, if we believe he is powerful, but not good, we are driven away from him. If we believe he is good, but not powerful, we are driven to pity him. But, if we believe he is good and powerful, we are driven to trust him in any and every season of life, and that is the invitation of our text this morning, and that’s the thrust of the invitation as we come to the communion table. Let’s pray. 

Jesus,

We are grateful that in every season of life, we have a fixed and perpetual reminder of your goodness to us, of your power that is unmatched and unmanageable. Lord, I know there are many storms brewing in each of our lives today. Really, there’s never a season where there’s not some kind of storm, whether it’s a great one or a mild one, Lord, in the midst of this fallen world, sudden storms are normal. So, Lord, we ask this morning in the midst of our storms, Lord, we ask that we would see your great power, and your great goodness. Lord, may we never see our circumstances are more powerful than you, and may we never see our circumstances as undermining your goodness. Lord, we are grateful this morning for this beauty, we are grateful this morning for this truth. Lord, as we come to the table, Lord, may we come believing, trusting, renewing our faith by your Spirit, that you are good, and you are all powerful. I pray that every heart in this room would find rest in that truth. We ask in Jesus’ name, amen.


Parables of the Kingdom Part 2-Full Sermon Transcript

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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


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JULY 7, 2019 // MARK 2:13 - 3:6 // A NEW WAY OF RELATING

PASTOR: VINNIE HANKE

SCRIPTURE READING

“He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”

—Mark 2:13–3:6 ESV

INTRO

Good morning, church. As Forrest said, my name’s Vinnie Hanke. It’s a great pleasure to be with you this morning. It’s been an odd week, hasn’t it? We’ve had fireworks, earthquakes, Kawhi Leonard signed with the Clippers, it’s odd. But, ultimately, today is about Jesus, no matter what has gone on Monday through Saturday, amen? If this is your first time in church, or first time in a long time, we want you to relax, just take a deep breath. We don’t want anything from you today, but we do want something for you. We want you to know the peace and love that comes from acknowledging Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Amen, church?

We also want you to be sure that we believe two things about you today. Number one, we believe that if this is your first time here, or your first time in a long time, that you’re not here by accident. But, we believe in a sovereign God who is in control and desires to meet with you today, and he has chosen this place, and this time, and this passage, and these people all on purpose, in order that he might meet you right where you are.

As we make our way into the gospel of Mark today, something I always like to do whenever I preach in a new place or in a new book, for me, is kind of set the content and the context of where we’re at. So, real quickly, the content of the gospel of Mark. This is one of the three synoptic gospels. It’s partnered with Matthew and Luke, and they serve to teach and tell about the life, ministry, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as Savior. Each one has its own personality, they’re own points of emphasis, and yet all are equally inspired by God. Mark seeks to answer the question, who is Jesus? In fact, this question will become the central theme of the entire gospel. Who is Jesus of Nazareth, and what is the good news that is the gospel about him? That’s our content. 

Readers in Mark will see Jesus’ entrance into his ministry, his selection of the 12 disciples in chapters 1-3, they’re follow Jesus as he teaches and travels in chapters 4-8, they’ll watch as Jesus suffers, and sacrifices in chapters 9-15, and then they will ultimately rejoice as Jesus is resurrected and raised in glory in chapter 16.

Our context today is Mark chapter 2 verse 13 through chapter 3 verse 6, which we just heard read for us. Mark will provide a recounting of Jesus’ calling of Levi, continue to turn up the heat on Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees. Here’s my main idea. If you like to take notes inside your Mark journal or on your phone inside your fake Bible, Jesus has created a new way of relating to God that is free from religious try-hardism, and entirely built on his grace towards sinners. That’s where we’re headed today. WiIl you pray with me?

Father God, 

I thank you for this morning. I thank you for the people, God, and the purpose of Emmaus Church, to bring you glory, and to make disciples, and to love their community. I thank you, Father, and am humbled that you would allow me to open your Word with them. I pray, God, that you would forgive me of my sins, God, anything in the places where I’ve grown weak and weary, and you would allow me to deliver your Word carefully and clearly to your people God, that are here. God, we pray these things that by your Spirit, you would teach us what we know not, you would give to us what we have not, and you would form in our character what we are not. And, God, we ask these things at this time, ultimately, for your glory. We keep none for ourselves, and we ask this through Christ our Savior, amen. 

I. JESUS CALLS LEVI (vv2:13-2:14)

Amen, let’s begin. Beginning in Chapter 2, verse 13 … He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him …  If you were here last week, you know that Pastor Forrest delivered a message on Jesus’ ability to create a deeper healing, a soul healing and meet our greatest need. As we watch Jesus not only heal a paralytic man at the behest of his friends, but also forgive his sins. From there, Jesus continues his teaching and ministry, he again is going to press up against the sea as the crowds around Jesus are ultimately attracted to him. This is a guy who is teaching with authority, who is performing not only supernatural work, but is carrying with him an influence in his community. 

And, as he makes his way along with the crowd out toward the sea, he encounters a man sitting in a tax booth named Levi. And, Jesus looks at Levi and says two simple words … follow me. And, Levi responds with two simple actions … he gets up, and follows him. One of the things that’s interesting here, is Mark leaves out the content of what Jesus was teaching right now. He’s going to begin a section intended to describe the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day. As Jesus and the crowd are making their way out to the sea, he calls Levi the tax collector.

Now, we might miss this if we’re not first century Jews. Any first century Jews in here? Okay, I didn’t think so. What Jesus has just done is a social and religious taboo here, inviting a tax collector to become a disciple, to follow him. Tax collectors, in general, are not popular folk. No love songs are written about tax collectors. Now, a jewish tax collector working for Rome, an occupying nation, were extremely unpopular. Think about this. Think about this, if the nation of Canada invaded the United States. I know, it’s far fetched, but let’s just say our Canadian brothers and sisters decide that they’re going to invade our country. They ultimately overthrow the government, take over everything, and then they set up local tax houses, and then some of your fellow American citizens go to work at those tax houses. They would not be very popular folk, would they?

That’s who Levi is. He’s a Jewish man, working for the occupying nation of Rome. The tax collectors became equally, if not more, despised than the Romans. They were dishonest, they often used intimidation and even force, and had regular context with Gentiles. All of this would have made them ceremonially unclean according to Jewish religious law. Think of having a bad case of the religious cooties. Remember the cooties, right? Whereby contact with someone who had cooties then transferred the cooties to you? That’s, essentially, the ceremonial unclean law of the first century Jewish temple. Who knew second graders were such religious zealots? 

Jesus continues to break cultural and social bounds by inviting Levi to being a part of his company of disciples. Like Peter, Andrew, James, and John as we saw in chapter 1, Levi responded to the call by leaving his secular work and following Jesus, becoming a disciple. Tradition tells us that Levi will be renamed as the disciple Matthew. Levi follows Jesus, there is an immediacy to the response of Jesus’ call. And, no doubt, this is not just an external call, but Jesus was doing something in Levi’s soul in that moment, when he invited him to come and belong. This might beg us to investigate our own soul this morning and say, what might we need to leave behind to follow where Jesus calls? Is there a level of comfort, security, or identity that we continue to cling to despite Jesus’ ongoing call to follow him where he would lead?

II. JESUS SHARES A MEAL WITH SINNERS (vv. 2:15-2:17)

Verse 15 … And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him … So, what we do, is we shift from Jesus teaching along the seaside, calling Levi to now, probably later in the afternoon and evening, Jesus and his disciples and many from the crowd have made their way back to Levi’s house. If you’ll excuse me, I have a Bible nerd moment. The word disciple, here, in verse 15, appears … [AUDIO BREAK] … in Mark. It’s an indication of how important discipleship is in the gospel of Mark. The word disciple simply means to be a learner. But, the disciples of Jesus were meant to be more than just students. They were devoted not just to his teaching, but even more so to him as a person. Jesus intended them to become ministers to the needs of others.

As we examine this scene in Levi’s house, the doctor Luke, from his gospel, will tell us this little bit of information in Like 5:29 when he says … Levi made him [Jesus] a great feast in his house, and there as a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with him … Jesus calls Levi to become a disciple, and Levi immediately responds by following Jesus, and then having a party in which he invites friends over, so they too can meet Jesus. The love of Jesus, for all kinds of sinners, his initiative in going and seeking them out, giving them full acceptance, and his desire to have a close relationship with them, was a new and revolutionary element in religious and moral standards of his day. Jesus was turning outcasts into insiders. 

If this morning you feel, or have felt like an outcast, you are welcome here. For, you are in a room full of outcasts, that Jesus has welcomed in. Levi’s life is impacted by Jesus to such a degree that he immediately wants to see others impacted. 

I’ll give you a little math equation this morning. I didn’t create this, I’ve stolen it like every good pastor, but it reads this way … a gospeled life, plus relational proximity, times gospel clarity, equals missional impact. I’m ready for a seminary thesis. Let me break it down, here’s what I mean. What do I mean by a gospel life? A life transformed and changed by Jesus. If there are things that were true about you before Jesus that are no longer true, your life has been changed. If there were things that were untrue about your life before Jesus that are now true, your life has been changed. As you live that changed and transformed life out in the world amongst your family, and friends, and coworkers, and community, that’s relational proximity, the people around you. If you will be clear, that is, if you will use your words to describe why your life is different because of Jesus, you will see missional impact. That is, you will see more disciples made.

That’s what Levi’s doing here. His life has been changed and transformed by Jesus. All of a sudden, he’s left with this outcast position, and become an insider with Jesus and his disciples. And so, he immediately goes to those who he is relationally proximally close with, his friends, his neighbors, his fellow tax collectors, sinners, the fellow outcasts, and he says, hey, you’ve got to meet this guy. You’ve got to hear him teach, you’ve got to hear him talk bout … you’ve got to just be in his presence. So, I’m going to smoke a big pork butt, and we’re going to all get together, and we’re going to have a feast together. It probably wasn’t pork butt, because he’s a first century Jew. See? When you leave your notes, you just get into trouble. We’re going to have Jewish barbeque, and we’re going to have a good time, is what Levi said to his friends, and you’ve got to meet Jesus. And then, they’re going to be clear, Jesus is going to be clear about his message and mission with them, and that’s going to result in more disciples made. 

The same is true for us, living in Southern California in 2019. If we will live lives that have been transformed by Jesus, if we will remain in relational proximity for those who do not know Jeus, and we will be clear about why our lives are different and changed, we will see God use that to reach more people

Verse 16 …  And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  … This and the following two sections are going to deal with what Pharisees consider a religious deficiency in the eating habits of Jesus and his disciples. They are unsatisfied with his religious eating habits. How religious do you have to be to be concerned about the eating habits of another human being? The scribes and the Pharisees will quickly become today’s version of a social media troll. They will constantly search over Jesus’ timeline to point out mistakes, cast judgements, and ignite displeasure among the people over Jesus. Jesus and the early church were often criticized for associating with undesirable characters, and Mark is going to justify Jesus’ practice by showing how the changed lives of the people glorify God. 

By the way, this is the typical response of the religious to the grace and mercy of Jesus. They begin to cast stones. They don’t celebrate and join in at those who are outcast becoming insiders, no, they begin to throw stones. Why would you associate with that person? People are getting to know Jesus and hearing the truth, and the religious are only worried about what kind of people are in the room with Jesus. You see, the scribes and Pharisees prided themselves on living a life of complete religious obligations. Through their lens of interpretation, the law of Moses from the Old Testament contained 613 commandments, 248 positive actions, things they had to do, and 365 negative actions, things they were not to do. These laws were worn like a great, big merit badge by the Pharisees. There were laws for who, for how to, and from whom you could purchase food, and with whom it was safe to eat. 

Now, what’s the big deal with sharing a meal? Why would they become frustrated or curious why Jesus would do such a thing? Well, one of the reasons is the way that people ate might be different from the way you and I might eat today. You and I head into McDonalds, we both order our meals, we each get a separate tray, we sit down, you’ve got your food, I’ve got my food. Never the twain shall meet, unless you’re close to someone, and even then you’ve got to ask permission, right? You can’t just go be stealing fries, it’s just bad form. But, in Jesus’ day, everything was served family style, which meant if Jesus and his friends were going to go to McDonalds - again, probably not McDonalds because he’s a first century Jewish rabbi - but if they were going to sit at McDonalds, they don’t get a just 10 mcnugget box, they get a whole plate full of mcnuggets that they’re all going to share, and they don’t get a little individual sauce packet, they get a whole bowl of hot mustard sauce together, which means every time I’m going to eat, I’m going to take a chicken nugget from the communal bowl, and I’m going to dip it into the communal sauce bowl, which means my food is going to touch your food, our hands are going to be in the same bowl together. And, for the religious leaders, they could not abide by that, because if you were unclean and my mcnugget touched your mcnugget, now I would be unclean. 

So, they have an objection that Jesus would sit with such people, and potentially become ceremonially unclean. See, I like to call Mark the action movie gospel. Doubtless, if you’ve read through the first two chapters, you’ve seen the word immediately several times. Mark wants to use a swiftness of movement and action, and what he’s doing right now, is he’s slowly beginning to turn up the pressure cooker between Jesus and the Pharisees. And, right now at the beginning of our passage together, the concern with how Jesus is eating it, by the end of our passage together, they’re going to be ready to kill him. 

Verse 17 … And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” … Jesus responds to the question of the Pharisees, and his response is simple, it is beautiful, and it is devastating. Jesus is with those who are willing to acknowledge their need. Because, here’s the reality. What we know from the rest of the teaching of scripture, is that ultimately no one is righteous, but rather all are sinners in need of the grace and salvation and the call of Jesus. And, perhaps this is the greatest hurdle that we face in our coming to Jesus, is to understand our sinfulness in front of the eyes of a holy God. See, the gospel continues to save us as we are continuing to acknowledge our need for grace. 

Coming to the realization that you are sick, that you are broken, that you are a sinner, is not a one time thing where you said a prayer at a Sunday school 30 years ago, and now you’re good. It is a daily recognizing our need for Jesus. That, God, apart from your sin and mercy, I am broken and lost. That apart from your intervention through your son, Jesus Christ, I’m lost. I’m separated. There is no hope. When you come back daily to that need, you are immediately aware, once again, every morning of what the scripture tells us that God’s mercies are made knew every day. And, that’s what Jesus is getting at here that he has come not to call the righteous, for they have no need. But, to call the sinner, in the same way the doctor doesn’t spend a whole lot of time with not sick people, the gospel will continue to save us as we are continuing to acknowledge our need for grace. 

The structure of the next section as we continue to make our way, Mark’s going to do three things. He’s going to set the scene for us, he’s going to tell us what’s going on, there’s going to be an accusation or a question lobbed at Jesus, and then Jesus is going to respond. 

III. PHARISEES ACCUSE JESUS & JESUS RESPONDS (vv2:18-2:24)

Verse 18 … Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” … Essentially, Jesus, why aren’t you following the religious tradition that everybody else is doing? Well, why aren’t you continuing in the pattern that is socially and culturally acceptable? 

Verse 19 …  And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” … Jesus really has a way of making clear things muddy, doesn’t he? So the scene is set. John’s disciples and the Pharisee’s disciples, and the Pharisees themselves are all fasting. The question is made, hey Jesus, why aren’t you doing that thing? Why aren’t you and your disciples fasting? That is, why aren’t you refraining from food for a period of time, out of religious devotion?

Jesus answers the question of the people using three illustrations. A wedding guest on a diet, a bad seamstress, and a lazy bartender. The first illustration is a wedding guest on a diet. It would be odd and out of place, wouldn’t it? I mean, a wedding is a time of celebration. If you go to a good wedding, there’s going to be a good meal there. I’m talking about that rubbery chicken, I’m talking about steak or something hearty. And, it would be out of place at a moment of celebration for you to suddenly decide, you know what? I’m going to go on a diet, and I’m fine with these little mints on the table. No, you would partake in the celebration and in the meal. It would be an insult to the guests, and to the celebration around you, to refrain from enjoying the feast. As Jesus answers the people, it would be odd for my disciples to fast at this time for I am among them, celebration is now. As we’ve heard Pastor Forrest talk about last week, the kingdom of God is at hand. There will be a day - Jesus alludes to his death here - there will be a day when it will be appropriate for them to fast, when I depart from them. It’s a small illusion to what’s coming next. 

Jesus continues, he talks about a bad seamstress, someone who takes an unshrunk piece of cloth and tries to sew it on an old piece of cloth, that way it would lead to a greater tear. Again, something out of place. It doesn’t fit. And then, finally the lazy bartender who would put new wine into old wineskins, ultimately creating them to burst. What Jesus is alluding to here with each one of these, is that the kingdom of God is something new, that Jesus is doing a new thing, that he is bringing the reality and the revelation of what everything from before him has meant, and it’s to try to fit Jesus and the kingdom of God into the religious conception of what the Jewish Pharisees and religious leaders have made it out to be, would not fit. Essentially, the old religious structure will not hold the kingdom of God. It’s too big, it’s too great, it’s too magnificent, and it’s too beautiful. 

The legalism of religious obligation will not stand in the kingdom, rather it will be relational obedience. The way to God is not through religious practices, but through joyful faith and association with Jesus. The way to God that Jesus is creating is not through religious practices. The old way that the Pharisees related to God, by obedience to a law that they interpreted and created for themselves, would not be the way to God, but rather through joyful faith and association with Jesus. And, what was true of Jesus in the first century is true of today. Going to church will not get you to eternity. Writing a check will not get you to eternity. Conducting a Bible study will not get you to eternity. It is only through joyful faith and association with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that will get you to eternity. 

Verse 23 … One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain … So, think about this. You’re walking through a field of grain, and as the disciples are walking along, they’re just plucking a few heads of grain, okay? Just kind of walking along, same as if you were going on a hike and you saw some berries and you knew they were safe to eat, you might pluck a few, plop them in your mouth, and continue on your journey. 

Verse 24 … And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” … The last two sections of the five conflicts that Mark will describe for us, deal with the observance of the Sabbath. The scene is set. It’s the Sabbath day, and Jesus and the disciples are walking. An accusation is levied against the disciples, that they are actually working on the Sabbath. So, again, you’ve got to hear the ridiculousness and the accusation. These are men who are just walking through a field, plucking heads of grain, and the Pharisees accuse them of actually reaping, harvesting. In answer, Jesus recalls a time when David breaks ceremonial religious law to meet the needs of the men who were with him. Jesus closes with a statement that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath. We also hear Jesus’ statement that he, himself, is Lord even of the Sabbath. 

See, the religious leaders had taken the Sabbath and created a burden instead of a blessing. They had taken this thing that God had set aside for man to rest, and enjoy God, and creation, and rest from his work, and they turn it into a religious burden that these men, these people of their day, were to obey. So you’d become so freaked out that you didn’t want to violate Sabbath law, that you ended up doing nothing. It wasn’t a sense of freedom and joy around the Sabbath in this time, but a sense of religious obligation. And, what we see Jesus do here in his answer, he gives us this great truth, that Jesus set forth a basic principle, that human need should take precedence over ceremonial and religious laws. Alluding to the time, again, when David and his men invade the temple and eat the ceremonial bread which would have been reserved for priests, breaking all ceremonial and religious law.

This, too, begs the question, I might ask, where do we do this? Where might we be taking the blessing of God and making it a burden to others? Where might we be taking the get-to’s that God gives us, and making them have-to’s? That’s what the Pharisees and the scribes had done, here, with the sabbath. They turned that which was meant as a gift to man, and flipped it upside down, and created it as a religious obligation that man must serve. The Sabbath was designed by God in order to serve man, not the other way around.

IV. JESUS HEALS, AND THE PHARISEES PLOT TO KILL (vv3:1-3:6)

Our final section, Mark chapter 3, verses 1-6 … Again he entered the synagogue … This was his natural, regular pattern to teach and preach among the synagogues and the towns that he traveled to … and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him … You could see just in the few short verses, probably within a short amount of time, the Pharisees go from asking questions about Jesus’ behavior, hey why would he eat with such people? To, now just living with an attitude and a spirit of bitterness and accusation. They’re watching Jesus as he’s in the synagogue worshiping, and they’re watching the man with the withered hand, and they’re just waiting to call foul. They’re just waiting to lob an accusation. Is Jesus going to do something good? Is he going to heal that man? Is he going to change that person’s life forever? How dare he, is the heart of the Pharisee. 

Verse 3 … and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them … In this description in chapter 3, Mark flips the scenario. He sets the scene, Jesus is in the synagogue, there’s a man with the withered hand, but rather than the accusation or question coming at Jesus from others, now Jesus is going to lob his own question. 

Verse 4 … And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?”  It would seem like a simple answer, shouldn’t it? Like, of course we would say, the Sabbath, we must do good on the Sabbath, of course we should save a life on the Sabbath. But, the Pharisees had created such laws and such an entanglement of what morality and goodness look like on the Sabbath, the people might not even be sure what Jesus’ answer was. The Pharisees respond with simple silence at the end of verse 4. 

Verse 5 … And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart … I like the New English Bible version of this, Mark 3:5 … And Jesus, looking around at them with anger and sorrow at their obstinate stupidity … The Pharisee’s religious try-hardism had created not people who honored the holy God, but obstinate, stupid people who thought they could behave their way their into the good graces of God. And, I might submit to you today, this morning, church, that if you are stuck in religious try-hardism, that this is one of your two fates.

See, religious try-hardism, that is, when I create a list of do’s and don’t’s for my life that i think will earn me God’s favor, I am setting myself up for one of two ends. The first end is obstinate stupidity. That is, I will become so prideful, because I will begin to list my religious achievements, that I will begin to think that God owes me, that he’s lucky to have me, that I’m so special and so benefit my local church and so benefit the kingdom of God, because I am so righteous, because look at all the things that I’ve done. Look at the money I’ve given, look at the services I’ve attended, look at the mission trips I’ve gone on. I don’t know what’s on your religious to-do list, you fill in the blank. But, whatever it is you try to do to get God to like you, that’s religious try-hardism. And, one of the fates of that is this obstinate stupidity in which you become a prideful creature, thinking that the creator owes you something. And, if that is not your fate, the other one might be worse. Because, you will realize very soon that you can’t keep the list, that you can’t get it done. And so, what are you left with? Only to recognize that your own efforts could never get God to love you, to like you, so you are left with this broken guilt and shame, often abandoning faith altogether, because you realize you’re not worthy, because you couldn’t even obey your own rules. 

This is the fate of the Pharisee lifestyle - obstinate religious stupidity and pride, or a crushing weight of guilt and shame because you’ll never be good enough. But, what Jesus does is he gives us an entirely new way of relating to God. 

Verse 5 … and he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians … the Herodians from history are those Jews who were in favor of the Roman installed Jewish government, the political party. The Pharisees hold counsel with the Herodians against Jesus, and plotting ... how to destroy him … which begs the question, exactly what Sabbath law does that one honor? See, the Pharisees are faced with a choice now. Either Jesus is who he says he is, is he the Lord of the Sabbath, able to forgive sins, and produce supernatural healing, and if so they must leave their carefully religiously choreographed lives and follow him or worship him, or they have to get rid of him, cause he’s a threat. He’s a threat to the established order. He’s a threat to their religious choreographed life. 

And so, they being obstinate, stupid religious people, decide that they cannot have Jesus in the kingdom of God, because he will not fit their image, he will not fit their pattern, he will not fit their way. And so, they begin to plot with the Herodians, a political party they would normally have nothing to do with, but they become enemies of Jesus and begin a plot to kill him.

So, I would beg of you today, would you examine in your soul what are you are clinging to and allowing to get in the way between yourself and Jesus? For the Pharisees, it was their choreographed religious life, it was their religious try-hardism. They couldn’t get it out of the way, they couldn’t leave it. And so, what we end with here in this section, is Levi, a man who left the tax booth to follow Jesus immedaitely and wholeheartedly, and the Pharisees who leave Jesus and plot to murder him.

To be a disciple of Jesus this morning, you must believe two things, and do one thing. The first thing you must believe, is like the paralytic last week, and even Levi this week, we cannot work our way into the good graces of God. That, you cannot save yourself. That, you must admit that Jesus said that you are sick, spiritually, and that there is no cure. The second thing you must believe, is that Jesus is the good doctor, the physician who comes to heal and to provide hope, that he has the power and the ability to do that which you cannot do, and through his life, death, and resurrection, has made atonement for your sin, and would call you now to be his very own, and provide healing where you need it. If this morning you are ready to believe these two things, than the final thing you must do, the Bible describes it in a variety of different ways, but in each moment it is clear it is an indication, and we must choose to follow Jesus. It would be my greatest hope and earnest prayer that every soul in this room would believe these two things, and do this one thing, that you would follow Jesus. Let’s pray. 

Father God, 

I thank you for your Word this morning. God, i just admittedly and openly confess that there are places where I have allowed religious try-hardism to creep into my soul, and ask that you would forgive me for the places I’ve grown religiously prideful, and that I’ve allowed guilt and shame to create in me an overwhelming sense of sorrow. God, would you free me and free us from this room, from religious try-hardism. When we come back to your grace, when we admit our need that we are unable to do it, but we trust that you can. Father, thank you for the pastors, and elders, and deacons, for the staff, for the congregation, Father, for those serving in children’s ministry, to those who work behind the scenes to make this place a place that preaches the gospel. I pray that you be glorified by the efforts today, that you would continue to bless the community and mission of Emmaus Church, and that you would use it to glorify yourself. We thank you, Father, and ask that you would receive our worship now, through Christ our Savior, amen. 


A New Kind of Day-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.” 

—Mark 1:35–45 ESV

INTRO

Well, good morning. Good to see you all, good to be with you. My name’s Forrest, and I’m one of the pastors here at Emmaus. And, what we want to do this morning is pray right off the bat, and then we’re going to jump into our text and continue in our series in the book of Mark. So, let’s pray. 

Jesus,
We are grateful this morning for your goodness towards us. Lord, we recognize that we are weak, needful people, and that you are an all-sufficient God who meets us in our weakness. Lord, we’re grateful for that truth this morning, we’re grateful for the power and the strength of your word that comes to bear in the hearts of your people by your Spirit. And, I pray this morning that that work would be happening in each of our hearts. Lord, we ask for those this morning that may not know you as savior, Lord, we ask that you would draw them to yourself. For those of that do, Lord, we pray the same prayer. Draw us to yourself again. We ask in Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Well, again, it’s good to see you this morning. As I was studying this week, I read a modern day parable that I think sets our text up pretty well. It’s pretty short, but here’s what it says … 

There once was a man who cared so much about trees that he traveled constantly on their behalf. But, while he educated everywhere and tended personally to infected arbors far and wide, storms and swarms came through the man’s hometown from time to time. Gusts blew down the pine and oak in his own neighborhood. Their local roots, it turns out, had hollowed and weakened with weakened with rot. While he was busy and respected dispensing wisdom for bark and leaf, trees were falling in the man’s own yard. No one was there to tend them.

I think this sets our text up well. It’s easy for us to live like the arborist, isn’t it? It’s easy for us to live in the midst of the busyness and the pacing of life, to the degree that the roots in our heart and home are weakened with rot. And, what we see in the life of Jesus this morning, is that he gives us another way. And, we are in the midst of a world and culture that - quite honestly - has never been busier, has never been more inundated with requests to serve, with requests to get busy, to get about work. And, with technology today, it’s very hard to get away from those things. So, what we see with Jesus, I think, is very lifegiving. And, I think it actually is foundational to the life of believers in the modern day 21st century in the West. 

So, we’re going to look at three things here in the text. Surprise, surprise. There’s always three things in the text. Isn’t it amazing how God set up scripture so there was three point sermons throughout it? So, first … being before doing. And then, secondly … being before doing … produces word and deed living … and third … which results in holistic healing.

This is a way of life, and the way we want to look at this text this morning, is this is a new kind of day. It’s a new way to go about your day so that our work produces fruit, and not just busyness. If you remember from last week, we talked about the difference between service and busyness. They’re two very different things. And so, this, I think, digs down a little bit more into how we do that in the midst of our lives.

I. BEING BEFORE DOING…(vv35-37)

So first, being before doing. Notice verses 35-37 … And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” … You ever feel like that? Everyone is looking … what are you doing in the desolate place? Everyone is looking for you! They need you! From last week’s text, we learned that because of his authority and the healing that resulted from his authority, everybody, it says, in Capernaum, desired an audience with Jesus. We see that in verse 33 … and the whole city was gathered together at the door … and Jesus, it seems, worked well early into the morning healing people, meeting the physical needs.

Remember last week? We said, matter matters. Jesus created it, and he cares about it, and so the physical world is being redeemed as well. But, we see that this dynamic continues into this week’s text, this dynamic of everyone desiring an audience with him. And, it says that everybody wants you, everyone desires you. Now, what’s interesting here, is Jesus has - in this moment - what many of us long for. Jesus has, in this moment, popularity, opportunity for greatness, opportunity for mass productivity. All of you administrators out there, you’re like, oh, I get to organize this mess into something. Right? All of this opportunity is right there before him. Opportunity that, quite honestly, few of us will ever get the chance to experience. 

But, if we’re honest, isn’t it true that even when we begin to experience this, even in the smallest measure, the first thing that we lay aside is solitude, and prayer, and communion with the Father. Isn’t that often the first thing to go in the midst of busyness? In the midst of everyone desiring us, everyone needing us. But, what we see with Jesus, is that the busier he gets, the more intentional he is about prayer, the more intense he is about communion with the Father. In the midst of what seems like an incredible opportunity to capitalize on, Jesus goes out into a desolate place, into an eremos, is the word there in Greek. It’s the same word used earlier in verse 12, the same word used for wilderness in the book of Mark.

And, he most likely spent hours there, going out very early in the morning, and praying until Simon and the other disciples found him. We don’t know how long that was, but it probably wasn’t a 10 minute jaunt into the desert. He was probably out there for hours, while all of these people sought him, while he knew there were physical needs that he was not meeting. It doesn’t say that everyone was healed, it says that some were healed, so there were things left undone, and he was okay with it. In fact, essentially what he’s saying in his action is, my soul, my life depends on this communion with the Father, not on meeting needs. 

So, we don’t know how long he was out there, but he was out there for a long time, and in the midst of this opportunity even to change history, communion with the Father was too vital for Jesus, for it to be squeezed out. And, listen, if the Son of God, completely and perfectly united with the Father, recognizes in the midst of the hairy pace of life, if he recognizes his need for communion with the Father, how much more do we, as weak and easily distracted people, need that communion with the Father?

Anyone else identify with weak and easily distracted? Alright, sweet, I’m in good company this morning. We are. We are weak and easily distracted people. Now, Mark doesn’t tell us the substance of Jesus’ prayer, but if you zoom out and look at Jesus’ prayer life and look at some specific instances, I think we begin to get ahold of the substance of the prayer life of Jesus. In Mark 14, when Jesus is in Gethsemane, you remember he’s facing the reality of the cross. And, it says … he began to be greatly distressed and troubled at the work that was before him … And, he begins his prayer in Mark 14:36 with … Abba Father … 

Abba Father. When the disciples in Luke 11 ask Jesus to teach them to pray, do you remember how he starts? … Our Father … In studying this week, I read about a German scholar who was doing research in New Testament literature, and he discovered that in the entire history of Judaism, in all of these existing books of the Old Testament, and all the existing, extra-biblical Jewish writings dating from the beginning of Judaism until the 10th century A.D., there is not one single reference of a Jewish person addressing God directly in the first person as Father. Not one. The appropriate forms of address for the Jewish people were terms of respect, which is good. But, Jesus is the first Jewish rabbi to call God Father. The first in history. In fact, every recorded prayer of Jesus - except one - he calls God Father. Every single one. 

What’s going on here? Do we see what this is? Do we see what prayer is, then, for Jesus, and therefore what prayer should be for us? Our prayer life is, then, reorientation around who we are, not what we do. This is everything. When we do not work out of this reality, when we do not work out of being, but we work out of doing, we completely get the cart before the horse, and it’s just a matter of time before things go badly. Our attitude, our relationships, the culture of the very place we’re trying to dig in and do work, our prayer life is reorientation around who we are, not what we do.  

If you remember in the early part of chapter 1, in Jesus’ baptism, the Father spoke in verse 11 … you are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased … You know what prayer is? Prayer is coming back to that again, and again, and again, and reorienting our lives around this foundational truth. This is what Paul says in Galatians 4:6 … and because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of the Son into our hearts, crying “Abba, Father” … But, we cannot know this in our busyness, and hurry, and longing for the fast and for the famous, rather than the faithful and fruitful. 

There’s a quote from Matthew Henry, you may be familiar with him. He’s a Puritan commentator, wrote a commentary set that’s probably one of the most popular out there. He said this … 

We must study to be quiet…The most of men are ambitious of the honor of great business, and power and preferment; they covet it, they court it, they compass sea and land to obtain it; but the ambition of a Christian should be carried towards quietness. 

—Matthew Henry

To the degree that you and I know the unconditional, Fatherly love of God, is the degree that we do not need power, and comfort, and control, and approval. But, if we go to doing first, we will be operating out of one of those four source idols. Right? When we hear Jesus’ opportunity, the power and control in us says, man, what are you doing? The entire city of Capernaum is longing for you! But, we see Jesus operates out of something deeper. To the degree that you know the Fatherly love of God, is the degree that you do not need power, comfort, control, and approval, and we are not enslaved by them. We live out the freedom we have in Christ through prayer, through communion with the Father. 

Let me ask you this … How many times this past week, did you begin your day with Abba, Father? How many times this past week did you and I - before the pressures and the pace of the day hit full force - begin the day with being, not doing? I can’t tell you how many mornings I wake up, and immediately - my wife will call me on this often - why is your hair on fire? Why can’t you take 10 minutes, slow down, eat a biscuit, and drink some coffee? But, I wake up, my eyes open, and I immediately think what I have to do, what I have to get done, and the amount of time in the week I have to get it, and there’s not enough time in the week to do it. And, it doesn’t drive me to the wilderness for communion with the Father, it drives me to doing before being. But, the call of Christ and the rest of Christ, is that we are called to Abba Father every day, before the pace of the day hits.

So, I want to challenge everyone of us here, this week, see if this week everyone of us can begin the day with Abba, Father. However that looks. I know our lives are crazy, I know some of you have 37 children, all under the age of 1 that you’re trying to wrangle in your house. I know how difficult it is. I hear you. I know you don’t even get bathroom time, but lock the door, five minutes, pretend like you have to go to the bathroom, and commune with the Father. Tie the kids, put them in the closet, whatever you have to do. 

We have to fight for that in the midst of the harried pace of our lives. So, I’m going to challenge you this week, to see if you can do that. To, commit to every morning, I’m going to begin the day with Abba Father. Now, it may feel like detox, because we don’t do this, right? I actually listened to a podcast this week about this guy whose business actually goes into the most remote places he can find in the western United States, and he sets up a mic, and he records it. He just records whatever sounds he hears out there. He looks for the most silent place he can find. And, he says it’s actually very hard to find a place that’s far enough away from a highway, and not in the midst of a flight path, so that you don’t get airplane noise. 

It was very telling, in that it’s really, really hard. He actually said there’s only 9 places in the U.S. he can find where he can literally get silence for a long period of time. And so, the reporter - or, the guy who was producing the podcast - went out with him, and they sat in this place for hours in complete silence. They set up a mic, and they recorded it all. And, when the guy came out - the guy that’s producing the podcast - he came out, and he said, I’m really emotional. He’s like, I began to think about a broken relationship I had. And, essentially what he was saying, is I’ve not been silent, so I never deal with those things. See, what silence does, what solitude does, is it forces what’s deeply in there, that we can’t see in the midst of the harried pace of life, it comes to the surface. And, in the midst of that, we can remind ourselves that we are the Father’s, that we belong to him. Right?

That’s why we are human beings, not human doings. We are beings, right? It’s about who we are, not about what we do. What we do flows out of that. But, that then sets the trajectory for your day. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have. That, in my life when I don’t start with that, when I don’t start with the communion with the Father, it sets the trajectory of my day, and frustration rises easily, trying to prove myself through my doing rises very easily in me. And, I like the term I heard someone use … gospel chill. He said, the older I get, the more gospel chill I have. He’s just experienced life, and he’s seen that God is good, and sovereign, and providential, and that he works in all these things, and it’s not about what I do at the end of the day, though he uses that. But, when it’s all said and done … deep breathe, Abba Father, I’m yours. Nothing can take that from me. 

So, I would encourage you in that this week. See, this is one of the aspects of the fruitfulness of Jesus’ life. It’s the joy of his sonship, and it’s what gives him joy and purpose in the midst of his ministry, in the midst of doing. And so, we must begin there.

II. …PRODUCES WORD AND DEED LIVING…(vv38-39)

So, if we begin there, being before doing produces word and deed living. It’s not being without doing, it’s being before doing, right? The doing comes afterwards. So, it produces word and deed living.

What Jesus is facing, and the people looking for him, is given a little bit more teeth in the parallel in Luke 4. Luke adds … and they urged him not to leave … So, when he’s decided to leave to go preach, they tell him no, don’t do that. So, the totality of what Jesus is facing, is that he has a large throng of people who want him to stay put, and meet their needs through his miracles. But, notice what he says in verses 38 and 39 … And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons … Preaching. Jesus essentially says, I’m not just going to stay here and meet the physical needs that you know you have through miracles, but I’m going to meet he need underneath the physical needs that you don’t know you have. 

Jesus says, I have to preach. Now, we know what he’s preaching. We’ve been told that in verse 15, if you remember from a couple weeks ago … the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel … this is what he was preaching. The call, here, is to repent, to turn from self, and to turn, ultimately, to God for ultimate healing. See, when we as God’s people meet physical needs, we are responding to the needs people know they have. But, people also have spiritual needs that they don’t see as readily, and Jesus is saying, it would be unloving of me not to also preach so that those spiritual needs are met. What they need is to be reconciled to God. It’s what we all need. It’s our greatest need. 

This is the wholeness of kingdom living. Jesus calls the sinner to repent, to turn to himself, and he calls the righteous to serve. Now, believe it or not, there’s debate in the church about this. I know, it’s hard to believe that there’s debate in the church. But, there’s debate around word and deed. What do we do with that? Some people would say, hey, we just preach the gospel and that’s the most important thing, and that’s all that matters. And, as soon as you go into deeds, you’re going into works that undermine the gospel. And, there are those who would say, hey, the people have heard it, we don’t need to preach. Let’s just do it, let’s just do good things, right?

I think, on one side, you have sort of sectarian, by that we mean, set apart from the culture, sectarian fundamentalism. And, on the other side, you have what would be more syncretist, becoming one with the culture, liberalism. It’s less about doctrine, doesn’t matter that much, it’s more about embodying this reality in the midst of the culture. Fundamentalism, on one hand, is about heavy conversion, right? And, we’re all about conversion and people coming to Christ and being born again. But, fundamentalism says it wants heavy conversion, because they want to go there, but it has little emphasis on meeting people’s needs regardless of what they believe. 

Because legalism does not produce compassion, but pride, that camp or that stream, or that ditch you can fall into, from there we end up saying, I’m good and that’s why God loves me, but those people out there, they’re not. Those people are evil. And, we see, in that, we’re missing the grace that’s been shown us as God’s people.

And then, on the other side, there’s syncretist liberalism. They meet all the needs they can, but there’s no call to repentance. There’s no call to coming to faith. And, I’ve talked with actually pastors that would fall more into that camp, and they’ve told me, yeah, we don’t call people to Jesus, we just let them respond however they see fit.

And so, you’ve got these two sides that we tend to lean towards, but here’s what happens. The true gospel, the fullness of the gospel, the whole gospel, produces people who don’t despise the world or reflect the world, but they are utterly different from the world. We, as God’s people, should be utterly different in that we are word and deed people. You cannot read the epistles and the book of James, and not arrive at that conclusion. We are word and deed people.. And so, we as a church are committed to that. We’re not going to debate that. We are about meeting physical needs in our community, and the surrounding communities, and we are about preaching the good news of the gospel, so that the need underneath the need can be met in Christ. We are about both of those things, and we’re not going to fudge on either one. 

That’s why I’m super thankful for Raymond Moorhouse here. If you guys haven’t met him yet, he’s the outreach chaplain here at Emmaus, and he does a lot of work among the population of Redlands with homelessness, and meeting physical needs. And, he thinks really well about it, too. If you haven’t had a conversation with him, I would encourage you to do it. But also, the helping humans workshops that he does, it fleshes that out for us biblically, because we often don’t know what to do in the physical realm, right? It’s either bleeding heart, give people a sack lunch, or on the other hand, it’s like … it’s too messy, they want to be there, we’re not going to do anything, we’re going to leave them alone. 

I think the gospel calls us to a third way. And so, we at Emmaus church are thinking through, praying through, getting input into how we flesh out for us, how we become a word and deed church, and continue to be a word and deed church. 

So, this being before doing produces word and deed … finally … which results in holistic healing.

III. …WHICH RESULTS IN HOLISTIC HEALING (vv40-45)

 Now, are you seeing the trajectory of your day? You begin with Abba Father, this is who I am, then as you go throughout your day, you’re going throughout it as word and deed people. And, ultimately, what we see, is by God’s grace, we’re joining God in his work, and it results in holistic healing. It results in a comprehensive salvation. 

Look at verses 40-42 … And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. Leprosy had all of life implications. Leprosy was not just a physical issue, it was physical, social, and spiritual. It meant that if you had leprosy, you were an outcast, you were a social pariah. It meant that you had to stay in a desolate place without touch, and it meant that if a leper came near to an inhabited place, what they would hear is cries of people crying out … unclean! Unclean! They couldn’t be touched. 

Imagine you, this afternoon, head over to Citrus Plaza, and as you’re walking through the food court, everyone starts crying out .... unclean! And, they part the way for you, and no one will touch you. Imagine the reality of that in life, everywhere you went. If someone who was not lepers came into contact with a leper, he or she was now unclean. In fact, there’s a rabinical writing of the time that says, if a leper stands under a tree and a clean person passes under the shadow of the tree, the clean is made unclean. And then, the person who passes under the shadow of the tree is now ceremonially unclean, and they have to go through a whole ritualistic ceremony to become clean again, so they can engage their community, and engage in worship. 

And, of course, for the leper, it meant no temple worship. They couldn’t enter the temple as unclean people. See, what’s going on here is not just physical healing, but a comprehensive, holistic salvation. And, you and I are that leper. You and I need comprehensive, holistic salvation, and when we place our faith in Jesus and we find the spirit of sonship that cries Abba, Father in us, from there we join God in his work to proclaim this good news, this holistic salvation in word and in deed. 

What may be lost on us, as well, as we read this text, is that the leper, here, has made a mad dash for life. The leper comes to Jesus in an inhabited place, it seems, and bows to Jesus, throws himself at the feet of Jesus. He breaks all the laws, all the societal norms that lepers were supposed to adhere to, and throws himself completely upon Jesus’ mercy. Notice he says … if you will … make me clean. If you will, make me clean. He doesn’t say, you have to make me clean, I’ve risked everything for you. Don’t you see what I’ve done? Don’t you see what I’ve risked to come into your presence in the midst of this inhabited place? I could be beaten, I could be killed for breaking all of these social taboos and laws. Here I am, at your feet, Jesus. Don’t you see what I’ve done? You have to heal me. 

Notice there’s none of that in the language. He says, if you will. This is not a conditional appeal based upon his own work. He doesn’t say, look what I’ve done, look how I’ve risked for you. He drops all his conditions, and he says, if you are the authority - as we looked at last week, the author of life - if that is you, I give up all my rights, and place my life at your mercy, and I do it gladly, and I do it willingly. 

See, if the leper were Greek or Roman, he would have said, if you will, you can make me well. But he doesn’t. He says, if you will, you can make me clean. Clean physically, clean to my community, clean before God. And, Jesus gives it to him. Verse 41 says he was … moved with pity … some versions say, moved with compassion. Now, this reality doesn’t happen if he is not living out of Abba, Father. Think about how inconvenient this is. And, how do we view people who have needs in our midst? In the midst of our busy days, are people simply an interruption? We can’t meet everyone’s need, that is true. But, we all have people that are right before us, in our spheres of work and our spheres of influence, in our neighborhoods. We have people right in front of us, that God says are placed there by him, Acts 17:26, are placed there by him to move towards God. 

We can’t do everything, but we are called to be moved for compassion for those who are right in front of us, all of us. But, if we’re not living out of Abba, Father it’s simply an interruption to what is fast and famous.  This is our call as God’s people. Our world, our community - and we know this ourselves - desperately needs holistic healing. See, this is why Jesus reaches out, and he touches him. Did you catch that? The untouchable is touched by the author of life. The untouched is touched. Did he have to do that to heal? No, we see that Jesus heals in many different ways. He can heal with a command, or he can heal with a thought at times. Jesus touches him, because his soul is starving for it, because he was made for God and deep community, and what he’s known is isolation and abandonment, and desolate places. Jesus is giving holistic salvation the leper needs, and that you and I need.

Finally, let’s look at the rest of the text, verses 43-45, to see clearly what’s happening … And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.” … Up to this point in history, whenever something unclean came in contact with something clean, what was clean was defiled. What was clean, was made unclean. But, here, Jesus tells the leper to go to the priest, so he can certify your healing and declare publicly what is now true of you, that you are clean. 

For the first time in history, the clean touches the unclean, and the unclean is made clean. The unclean is made well. And, by Jesus not going to the priest for ceremonial washing after touching the leper, he’s declaring, I am cleanliness. I am what cleanses the defiled. I am savior. No matter what you’ve done, or what’s been done to you, if you come to me, and I touch you, you will be made clean. That is the kingdom that Jesus ushered in, in his incarnation, and what we see lived out in his ministry. 

Now, Jesus tells the leper, don’t tell anyone what I did. But, the leper does exactly what Jesus says not to. He does the exact opposite. And, notice the result … the leper and Jesus have exchanged places. The leper who used to have to be in desolate places now goes into the city, and Jesus who was in the city among the inhabited, now goes into the desolate places, and this foreshadows for us how the uncleaner made clean. In Hebrews 13:12, we’re told that Jesus was crucified outside the gate. He was crucified in the desolate places, taken out of the place of the leper, he becomes unclean so that we can become forever clean, taken out to the place of the leper, he becomes unclean, so that we can become clean.

This foreshadows for us the ultimate work of the cross. See, and this is where this sort of transformational cycle happens, that at the foot of the cross, we receive the spirit of sonship that cries out Abba, Father. That reality leads us into word and deed living, where we join in God’s work to see holistic healing come, which brings us back, again, to the foot of the cross. This is kingdom living for the life of the believer.

Do you want this prayer, this communion with the Father, this word and deed life that the kingdom produces? Here, is where it begins, knowing that Jesus has substituted himself for you, and for me. See, when Peter tells Jesus, everyone is looking for you, this was far truer than he knew. One of the realities that we know as God’s people, is that whether people realize it or not, everyone is looking for him. And, this morning, we are invited, and every one of you here is invited to place your faith, whether it’s for the first time, or whether it’s to renew your faith and once again place your faith in the one who went to desolate places for you, so that we could be made clean. It begins there, again, and the Lord invites us to the foot of the cross. Let’s pray.

Jesus, 

We are grateful for this beautiful reality. Lord, we are people who are unclean in and of our own deeds. Lord, we ask this morning that your Spirit would awaken us to our desperate need for you. Lord, that we would once again live into the reality of the sonship we have, and that our spirits would cry out Abba, Father, as we come, once again, to the table and remember and live into, and receive the grace of the cross of Jesus Christ. Lord, would you make Emmaus church, a people who are rooted in Abba, Father, who live out the word and deed reality of the kingdom, so that we can see holistic salvation, complete salvation come to the Inland Empire. Lord, it is far more work than we can do, but at the end of the day it is not our work, it is yours. And Lord, we rest in that truth and all the complexity that is this world, and the work of seeing your kingdom come to bear in this world, Lord, may we never lose sight of the cross of Christ, and our good Father, our Abba, Father, as we go about our work. We ask this, Lord, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Kingdom Authority-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

“And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee. And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.”

—Mark 1:21–34 ESV

INTRO (v21)

My name is Forrest, I’m one of the pastors here, and it is great to be with you on this Father’s Day. We are in our third week in a series on the book of Mark that we’ll be journeying in throughout the summer. And, last week we looked at the reality of the kingdom, that this kingdom is at hand, but that this kingdom is now, and not yet. That, it is here, it is within reach, and we get glimpses of it and tastes of it, and the reality of the kingdom breaks into our lives in different ways, but it is not yet. We have not yet experienced it in its fullness.

And so, from there, to this text this morning - starting at verse 21 - we see what that kingdom looks like. We see how that kingdom authority comes to bear in our lives, and how it’s fleshed out. So, we want to look first at the setting. This is a 24 hour period, actually from verse 21 through the end of the chapter. This is a 24 hour period, and we’re going to spend the next two weeks looking at this 24 hours, this day in the life of Jesus. But, there are four words in verse 21 that I think will give us our setting for the day, and our setting for our text this morning.

The first word is Capernaum. So, we see there in verse 21 … And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching … So, Capernaum was on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. All of this is taking place in the book of Mark all the way up to chapter 8, in this region of Galilee. And, Capernaum was a city of, it seems like, about 1500 people on the northwest shore of the sea of Galilee. Jesus grew up a few miles southwest of Galilee in a little town called Nazareth. But, Capernaum can be thought of as Jesus’ homebase during his few short years of ministry. In fact, in one point in the book of Mark, it says that Jesus went home there, was most likely the home of Simon Peter. But, it was essentially his base for the few years of public ministry that Jesus was engaged in.

And then, we see sabbath. He comes into Capernaum on the sabbath. Now,  sabbath was the Jewish day for rest and worship, as many of us know, that ran from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. And, this was central to Jewish life, the whole life of the Jewish people, God’s people, revolved around this sabbath day. And, he comes to Cappernaum on the sabbath, and he goes into a synagogue. Synagogue was the hub of Jewish life. During the week, children would be educated in the synagogue and they would learn the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. And, they would study it, and then on the sabbath the village would come together for, essentially, a time of worship and teaching during the first part of Saturday morning.

And, they would do this in four parts. There would be prayer, then there would be the reading of the Torah, then there would be the teaching, and then there would be some kind of blessing of benediction for God’s people. So, Jesus comes into the center of Jewish life, and it says that he comes into it and he is teaching. Now, the synagogue gathering was very teaching-focused. That took up the majority of the time of worship. And, there was a ruler, normally, in towns where there was a synagogue, there was a ruler who oversaw the synagogue, but it was volunteer, he wasn’t paid, and he may or may not be someone who taught in the synagogue. So, he wasn’t necessarily a teacher. So, what would happen, often, is that visiting rabbis would come through, and these visiting rabbis would teach in the synagogue.

So, this is what Jesus is doing. He’s coming to the center of God’s people, the hub of the life of God’s people to begin his public ministry. So, that’s the setting. And, what we’re going to see as it unfolds, as we see what happens in that setting, is authority is the umbrella under which the rest of this chapter unfolds. And, what we’re going to see first, is there is an undeniable authority.

I. AN UNDENIABLE AUTHORITY (vv22-28)

So, it comes into this setting, and in verse 22 it says … And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out … Now, as we look at that, something may pop out to you like it did to me. On one hand, you have teaching that is so powerful, that is so authoritative that they are - it says - astonished at what they’re hearing. They’re astonished at his teaching. On the other hand, we’re not told anything about what he actually teaches. Do you notice that? They don’t unpack the content of his teaching. They don’t tell us anything about how impressive it was, or brilliant, or eloquent, or persuasive. It’s not even mentioned. You would think if the teaching is that authoritative, well tell me what he’s teaching! Cause, I want that content.

Instead, the text moves on immediately to the man with the unclean spirit. Which, is an impressive event - no doubt - but, at first glance, it’s not clear how this has anything to do with his teaching. Please, unpack his teaching for me. But, they’re saying the authority - it’s not that his content was not authoritative - it was - it’s just that the authority was not located in the content itself. Notice it says he … had authority, and not as the scribes … and, this sort of juxtaposition of Christ’s teaching and the scribes, helps bring to the surface a little bit for us what’s going on here.

The scribes were scholars. They were experts in the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. I mean, they had the first five books memorized. They had spent decades studying. And, what they would do often, is their form of teaching would be to quote other rabbis as sort of the basis for their authority. So, in other words, they teach this content, and then they would say … Rabbi so-and-so, I learned this from them … or, quote another rabbi, to give their teaching some authority, some power. Which, to be honest, is usually a means of becoming an impressive teacher, right? If we’re going to be an impressive teacher, you teach from your area of expertise. Perhaps you point others to your years of study, your experience and how you came to expertise in this particular area. You might even point to … I studied under this particular person who was greatly influential and mentored me. Those are all good things. But, that’s the authority that the scribes had, and they’re saying … Jesus’ authority is different. This is not the same kind of authority that we usually hear, even from perhaps the best teachers that come through.

And, the difference is found in this word authority

Authority (exousia) = rule, power, dominion

In Greek, it’s the word exousia, and it’s not authority in an academic sense. It means rule, it means power, it means dominion. Notice the breadth of this authority. And, this is why, rather than expanding on these specifics of Jesus’ teaching, the narrative goes immediately to the man with the unclean spirit. Look at what happens starting in verse 23 … And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? … [again] … A new teaching with authority! [exousia] ... He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

Mark is demonstrating that this is someone with real power. Notice that commanding the demon wasn’t done with hocus-pocus, or, you know, Harry Potter-type stuff, however we think of exorcisms or someone coming and having power over a demon. None of those things are happening here. All that happens is Jesus simply speaks, be silent, and come out of him. And, the man is delivered. The unclean spirit obeys.

What kind of authority is this? This is authority those in the synagogue have never seen. This isn’t, like, the typical authority of the scribes. This is a different kind of authority. And, I think the idea even underneath this power and dominion is that he teaches out of the original. In other words, as an author teaches. Right? We can talk about - speaking of Harry Potter - we can talk about Harry Potter all day, but if you go to the author, they’re going to be able to speak on it with a kind of authority that you and I cannot. That’s what’s happening here. The author of all creation is speaking out of that kind of authority. There is nothing in this world that is not subjecting him. And, while they cannot articulate it, they’re experiencing that kind of authority.

Now, this is the authority of an author, the one who we go all the way back to creation, Christ is creating. So, what are the implications, then, of this new authority? What are the implications, if this is truly an authority? That’s great, that’s powerful, but how does that come to bear in our life? What does that mean for us on a day to day basis?

So, the first thing we see is an undeniable authority, which leads to a healing authority.

II. A HEALING AUTHORITY (vv29-34)
We see this in verses 29 through 34 … And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John … remember, he’s just called them earlier in the chapter … Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them … The fever left her. He lifted her up. This is healing authority.

So, this is not just a new and different teaching. The authority doesn’t just come because he’s bringing a different aspect of teaching, though he is doing that. This authority expresses itself in healing, and in mending, and in renewing. This is the reality of the kingdom come to bear in our lives, in the lives of those who are his people. It is an authority that brings healing. That is what happens as the kingdom is fleshed out, is that the brokenness, it is the balm for brokenness. And, this is not just spiritual, though it does - a little later, I think it’s in the next chapter where it says he has the same authority, power - exousia - to forgive sins. It also comes to bear in the physical. This is not just spiritual healing, it’s healing that comes into his creation, into what is being created, his good creation. It’s physical, as well.

And, we can find great hope in this. I think one of the ways Christianity distinguishes itself from all other religious systems, is that it says stuff matters. The physical matters, or as people have put it in the past, matter matters. The physical is not just something to be done away with. And, this thinking - which, honestly, the roots of it kind of go back to something called gnosticism, which was really the first real heresy to gain traction in the early church and challenge the doctrine of the early church. It essentially said that material stuff is evil, it’s not good, and so it’s to be done away with. And so, we gain this spiritual sort of gnosis, secret knowledge to overcome and do away with this evil. I’m reducing it quite a bit, but that’s the idea there. It said that physical stuff doesn’t matter.

And, somehow, this has crept its way into the thinking of the church. That, somehow, we believe - I’ve heard it said in the church, I’ve had people tell me - oh, it doesn’t matter, it’s all going to burn in the end. Well, guess what? It’s not. It’s not all going to burn in the end. That’s not what scripture teaches. I mean, the reality is, what we do day to day life in the physical, it matters. That, in some grand, mysterious, beautiful way, that the work we engage in now, to join God, and seeing this healing happen, that as we join him, that there is - in some sense - this carries over, in some way, into the new creation. We don’t have all the lines and boundaries of that, but we do know that God is redeeming all things, and as we join him in his work of doing the physical things, that it matters.

The idea that the world will be done away with, that we’ll somehow, one day, be left floating away into this disembodied spiritual reality, is just not in scripture. It’s just not biblical, which is why Jesus’ authority is not just limited to his teaching, but it comes to bear in the physical realm. It comes to bear in healing.

C.S. Lewis has a good quote on this …

There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: …He likes matter. He invented it.”

—C.S. Lewis

That’s great, isn’t it? He likes matter. He invented it. It’s good, it’s creation, and good. Yes, it’s been marred by the Fall and our sinfulness and the result of sin is brokenness that all of us experience. But, this matter matters. This is why there’s physical healing as he begins his ministry. He goes right to the physical. Matter is so important to God that his kingdom is marked, and his authority is marked by healing sick bodies. The death hear, the blind see, the lame walk, other gospels tell us very explicitly. We’re told in scripture to take care of the widow and the orphan, these very physical, broken realities that we’re to engage.

Sin has broken in to this world, though, and it’s left the world broken, right? And, we’re all touched by this. We know that. Author Zach Eswine includes these physical, broken realities that we experience, in something he calls inconsolable things. And, we all live with the measure, in the now and the not yet, or inconsolable things, and here’s what he says …

““Inconsolable things” are the sins and miseries that will not be eradicated until heaven comes home, the things that only Jesus, and no one of us, can overcome. We cannot expect to change what Jesus has left unfixed for the moment. The presence of inconsolable things does not mean the absence of Jesus’ power, however. Rather, it establishes the context for it. There in the midst of what is inconsolable to us, the true unique nature and quality of Jesus’s power shows itself to be unlike any other power we have seen.”

—Zack Eswine

That’s what they see in the synagogue. This authority, this healing authority. Who does this? We’ve never met anyone like him. And, it is true today. We can say the same thing, that Jesus, in the midst of the inconsolable things of life, has healing power that comes to bear in our lives. And, while not everything will be fixed here and now, it is coming one day. And, he is present with us here and now, in the midst of the inconsolable things.

So, is Jesus’ authority demonstrated in the midst of inconsolable things? We all have them, we can all name those things, can’t we? I’m 47, which for some of you, that’s really old. For my children, apparently, who call me an old man now, that’s like … dad has left, and old man has replaced him. I’m feeling my body do things it's never done. I’ve always been active, so I spent a half day, literally 6 months ago on a chain saw, and my shoulder is now just recovering, from four hours of a chain saw. I’ve run since I was in high school, and I’m having some crazy achilles tendonitis, that I’m limping for, like, three days every time I run. So, I’m not running anymore. So, I started riding a bike, but I kept lifting weights, and then last Friday I’m with my daughter lifting weights, and I’m doing deadlifts, and I went to pick it up, and my back went - pop! And, I went down to my knees and my daughter was like … what’s wrong with you!? I’m like, I can’t stand up, honey. Seriously. So, I walked out of the gym visibly injured, and the lady at the front door, she had the audacity to say ... I hope you had a good workout. Do you see me? No, I didn’t have a good workout. I want my $10 a month back.

This is the reality of inconsolable things. You know, I’ve probably played my last game of touch football in the park, because things start snapping and popping at my age when you try to go do that stuff. These things are true, and they’re not changing. I’m not going to go back to the physical way that I was at 25 years old - that’s not happening. That’s kind of a lighthearted thing, some of us have experienced inconsolable things and ways that, at times, feel unbearable.

So, how is Jesus’ authority demonstrated in the midst of inconsolable things? There’s a lot of debate in the church, oftentimes it’s between different camps. Like, if God’s kingdom is to come to bear now, then it’s God’s desire for everyone to be healed, 100% of the time. And so, it’s faith and sin are the only reasons that people aren’t healed. But, that has issues, because what do you do with … precious in the eyes of the Lord are the death of his saints … right? So, what we’re battling around is this reality of the now and the not yet.So, how does this healing authority come to bear in our lives, in the midst of inconsolable things?

First, there is a time coming - which goes back to the now and the not yet - when all sin will be done away with, and brokenness in every form will be healed. Where, everything that is wrong will be made right, and in some sense, all the wrongs of this world will be undone. I don’t know how, but Jesus in his healing authority will do that. So, it comes to bear in the now and not yet, that one day all things will be made right.

Second, his healing authority comes to bear in this … I think we should ask God for healing. And, I don’t just mean physical, bodily healing, though I do include that. We should ask God for healing, we should look for it. We should be grateful for it when he gives it, because I believe at times, in his authority and his wisdom, he gives it. So, let’s ask for it, and let’s be grateful when he gives it, because in doing so, we’re joining with Jesus and his prayer for the kingdom of God to come to earth, for it to be on earth as it is in heaven. And, we trust his wisdom in the midst of inconsolable things, as we ask for what seems best to us in the midst of it, informed by his word.

And, third, in the midst of inconsolable things, his healing power comes to bear in that the broken aspects of our lives are not defeats. Now, how do I turn to that? What do I turn to for the proof of that? Romans 8:35-39, and it’s all throughout scripture, but I think it really focuses on where our hope lines in the midst of things that feel like defeats …

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? … [listen to these inconsolable things] … Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

—Romans 8:35-39 ESV

That’s how his healing authority comes to bear. There is no power, no ruler that is greater, that can undermine his authority, and his healing power that comes to bear in your life, his love for you is unshakeable. And so, in the midst of inconsolable things, where we can’t fix them, the physical brokenness of this world is coming to bear, the sinfulness of our own hearts is coming to bear in our lives, and is having ripple effects that we cannot seem to fix. We’re reminded that even in these things, we are more than conquerors. That, his love for us in these things is unshakeable, and it is bringing about our good, whether we can see it, or not. See, there are things in life that we can neither change nor soothe, but Jesus can, and Jesus does. And, we can trust him because of his healing authority.

So, his healing authority comes to bear in our life, but also we see - I think - another aspect. There’s much overlap here, but we also see his resurrecting authority.

III. A RESURRECTING AUTHORITY (vv30-31)

Inverses 30 and 31 …  Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them … Now, we don’t know what happens to the demon-oppressed man, but we do know what happens to Simon’s mother-in-law. We see that she had this fever, and that Jesus literally lifted her up. Literally translated, he raised her. It means that he raised her. Everywhere in the book of Mark where someone is healed, this same word is used. In the next chapter, chapter 2, the paralytic is raised. In Mark chapter 5, Jairus’ daughter is raised. A boy with an unclean spirit is raised in Mark 9. Blind Bartimaeus, the beggar, in Mark 10. The same word is used in all of these instances, that they are raised. It’s the idea that they are going from death to life. The same word is used to describe Jesus being raised, his resurrection.

See, when Jesus demonstrates his undeniable authority of the kingdom, it doesn’t subjugate as our kingdoms of this world do. It doesn’t destroy as the kings of this world tend to do. It resurrects, it revives, it brings life. And, that’s what we see in Simon’s mother-in-law. Fever at that time was life threatening. It wasn’t like today, where you pop a couple pills and monitor it a little bit, and put a rag on your head. It was life threatening, it was no small thing. Notice what she does, though, what this resurrection looks like in the life of his people. When she is raised, when she is lifted up, it says at the end of verse 31 … and she began to serve them … Does that strike you?

We don’t know how sick she was, but it was bad enough that they told Jesus about it. She’s in bed, with fever, potentially deathbed. She goes from that, to immediately serving. Do you see the holistic reality of Jesus’ healing and resurrection life? It’s holistic. She didn’t just go about her own business. She didn’t just do what she wanted to do. She didn’t just think like I do when my back is out, about all the things that I could be doing, but I can’t because I can’t stand up straight. She didn’t go do those things. She immediately began to serve. She began to show hospitality, generosity. She began to serve the one with resurrecting authority in her midst, and in a sense, build this life-giving community right where she was.

When Jesus’ authority comes to bear in our lives, it gives us a new set of priorities. We’re drawn to hospitality, generosity, to meeting the needs of others before ourselves. These things are so unnatural to us, right? We, in life, tend to think life is about dominating. I use the example, oftentimes, of pro-sports. Our high school football coach used to say, when you score a touchdown, act like you’ve been there before. I think we’ve kind of lost that, right? Now we score a touchdown, and we’re flexing … I mean, I don’t score any touchdowns. They score a touchdown. They dunk on people - I still do that - not really, I don’t. They dunk on people, and what do they do? They stand over them and flex, right? They dominate. They want you to know that I have subjected you, that this life of Jesus, this rule of the kingdom is very different.

We get a new set of priorities, as Jesus raises us from death to life. We’re drawn to these things, and not because the resurrection has to be paid back. How do you pay back death to life? You can’t, you don’t. It’s not to pay anything back, it’s because it’s what we desire to do, because we have before us what our Savior has done for us. We begin to serve in the midst of inconsolable things because Christ has served us in the midst of our inconsolable things. And, that overflows into the life of one another, and the life of Emmaus church should be overflowing to the life of those that are outside of us. That’s the authority of the kingdom, and the resurrection of the kingdom.

But, here’s what’s crucial: In the midst of the inconsolable things of life, where Jesus has resurrected us, and we turn and we look, and we recognize the unbelievable amount of inconsolable things, we can begin to serve in ways that are less than God-honoring, and perhaps even less than effective. In the midst of the inconsolable things of life, we have to distinguish between busyness, and service. Because, busyness often masquerades as service. We can look like servants, we can look really busy, and actually not be serving the way we’re called to. I think immediately, of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42 …

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

—Luke 10:38-42 ESV

So, here is Martha, probably looking to all appearances, a gracious servant. But, Jesus discerned differently, and gives her a gentle rebuke in the midst of it. He saw that Martha’s apparent service was actually anxious busyness. Anyone else ever feel that? Man, how often do I trade true, Christ honoring service for anxious busyness. I’m guilty.

I recently read a description of a busy pastor, but I think it can be applied to busy Christians, in general. It said that, actually, those terms should not go with one another. Because, she said, a busy Christian is a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him. This anxious busyness is a blasphemous desire to do God’s work for him. And, to kind of dig down on this, we go about our busyness rather than service, I think, for a couple reasons.


Now, I have to give a nod, too. Sometimes we look around at the inconsolable things in the world, and we become apathetic, because there’s just so much, we don’t even know what to do. And, that undermines our service. But, to busyness, specifically, which I think - culturally - the more we grow in the ability to office wherever we are, and to have access to anything and everything all the time, I think we’re more prone to anxious busyness, rather than just apathy, though I think both of them come to bear.

We go about busyness rather than service, I think, because of two main reasons. One, we become busy in our vanity. And, it may be hidden from us. Unless we’re asking the Lord to search us, we just begin operating in this way. We live in a culture where overflowing schedules and frantic pacing communicates significance, right? We say, oh look at that person. Man, they’re so busy. They’re just overwhelmed, they just can’t get it done. And, what’s underneath that a lot of times is just a little bit of, kind of, admiration and awe, right? Man, they just work so hard. And, hard work is biblical. Don’t get me wrong, we should be hard workers, and if we’re going to serve well, it’s going to mean hard work. So, busyness and hard work are not synonyms, right? Busyness is this anxious busyness that does not honor the Lord.

So, when we go by a restaurant and we see a line outside, and we see the waiters and waitresses and chefs running around like chickens with their heads cut off, we go, man, that’s probably a good place to eat. Look at the line, right? When you go by Caroline’s Cafe, and everyone’ sitting outside at noon waiting for that gigantic cinnamon bun or whatever it is … coffee cake? Sorry. Man, I can’t be in Redlands and not know that. Coffee cake! Right? That’s, like, twice the size of my head. Everyone’s waiting for that. We assume, immediately, that’s a place of significance, because there’s activity. But, activity - props to the coffee cake - it doesn’t necessarily mean that what’s happening there is significant.


So, what we do if frantic pacing and overflowing schedules communicate importance, in my vanity, I’m tempted to follow suit, because it communicates, somehow, my significance. Our lives should be full, they should not be full of anxious busyness. They should be full of service. Or, secondly, we go about busyness rather than service because of two reasons. We become busy in our laziness. Eugene Peterson says this …

“By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us; then we find ourselves frantically, at the last minute, trying to satisfy a half dozen different demands on our time, none of which is essential to our vocation, to stave off the disaster of disappointing someone”

—Eugene Peterson


What he’s saying here, is that if we do not have a focus for our service in the midst of inconsolable things, if we are not planned out, if we do not have a goal and then work back from there on how we are going to hem in our service so that we can reach that, he’s saying, if you don’t plan your life, everyone else will plan it for you, and you will end up being an anxiously busy person rather than a servant-hearted person. See, true service is doing the right things for the right reasons, right? It’s this overflow of heart out of what Christ has done for us, out of his healing and resurrection, out of that we serve, and we work.

So, perhaps this morning, you hear that and you think … man, anxiously busy describes me. I would encourage you to dig down on what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it, and maybe ask yourself some questions. What do I desire to do? What do I really desire to do in the midst of life’s inconsolable things? What do I desire to do? What am I good at? What do I have an opportunity to do, and what do I have the character to do? That, I go in the midst of it, and it doesn’t destroy me, it doesn’t wreck me. Think about those things, and then we begin to get some banks for the river that is our life of service and response to what the Lord has done.

So, this word here for serve … it’s the word used for deacon. And, it’s used in the New Testament to describe a broad range of acts and service. It’s one of the marks of the family of God, that we are to be deaconing one another, we are to be serving one another, and this is a telltale sign of the authority of God’s kingdom coming to bear in the life of his people. That, each member serves one another cheerfully and sacrificially.

So, it’s a service that is sourced in, and an overflow of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. So, in that sense, we’re all called to be deacons. There’s the office that’s distinguished in scripture, but there is the reality of us being deacons in the midst of a world full of inconsolable things. It’s a service that’s sourced in and an overflow of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. In Matthew 20:28, Jesus said he came to serve, not to be served. Man, doesn’t that - the Jesus, the one with this authority, the author, he came to serve. He came to deacon us, to serve, not to be served.

There’s something that comes to the surface, the language of verse 26, as we bring this home … And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him … If you think about where else you’ve heard that, your mind would immediately go to the cross. Mark 15 describes the moment of the death of Jesus in almost the same words. In 15 verse 37, it says … and Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last … Literally means, there, breathed his last means his spirit was expelled. The only way Jesus would ever silence the demons and the inconsolable things of life was to be silenced, himself, for us. The way Jesus’ authority is experienced for us, is that Jesus gave up his authority. And, the authority of Christ means that those who are his can resist adding to the broken list of inconsolable things and resist hastily trying to do what only Jesus can, and instead join God in his work of healing and resurrection.

That’s the invitation for us, from this text this morning. Will we join God in this service, this deaconing of one another, overflowing to Redlands and the surrounding communities? That’s the invitation for us today, and so, we respond at Emmaus every week by coming to the table, to this very physical reality that the Lord has given us in his wisdom and his grace and his goodness, so that we can taste and touch and smell and experience this reality of the kingdom that comes to bear in the midst of matter, in the midst of this physical world.

And so, we come and as we receive it together, we experience grace. God meets us in this meal, and we once again - I would challenge us this morning - let’s come to the table, as we come once again, let’s coming saying, we gladly and willfully submit ourselves to your authority, that brings healing and resurrection. Let’s pray …

Jesus,

We are thankful for the body and blood of Christ. Lord, you came to serve. That is a mind boggling thing, that the one who created all would humble himself and take on flesh, come in the midst of this physical reality to bring healing and resurrection. Lord, to weave redemption throughout our work, God, what a beautiful thing that is. I prayed this morning for all of us who may be in the midst of anxious busyness rather than true service, centered upon you. Lord, would you remind us that there are things in this life that we cannot fix, that we cannot soothe. But, Lord, there is nothing like that in this world that you cannot fix, or you cannot sooth. Lord, I pray this morning we would once again come to you, and willfully and gladly submit ourselves to your authority, that you might raise us, again, to life so that the world may know that Christ has come, as we serve one another and serve the world around us. We thank you, in Jesus’ name, amen.


The Call to Follow-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.”

—Mark 1:14–20 ESV

INTRO
Well, good morning. My name’s Forrest, and I’m one of the pastors here, and as always, it’s good to be with you. Man, it’s been a good morning already, hasn’t it? The music team, I looked over on that third song they were doing - which is an incredible version. My wife’s crying, she’s like … what’s happening right now? This is incredible! They did a great job, didn’t they? Leading us in singing this morning. I’m grateful for that.

See if any of this sounds familiar to you. You have a really good friend that, perhaps, this friend is single and you value the relationship, and this friend comes to you and tells you, I’ve met someone. And, your first thought is not rejoicing, but your first thought is how it’s going to affect you. It’s going to affect how your relationship has played out. It’s going to affect the time that you have together. Or, let’s say you have a teacher, your kid’s in school, your child has a teacher that you love, and that teacher announces that they’re pregnant, and you immediately don’t think … oh, how great, a new life is coming into the home. You think … they better have thought through who the substitute is, cause we’re not going to suffer for this. Or, maybe you’ve invited some friends for an evening out, and just before you are headed out, you get a phone call, and one of them is sick and they’re not going to make it. And, rather than in the moment, really, feeling bad for them and perhaps praying for them, you immediately think … what are we going to do now? These people are lame. She couldn’t have thrown up some other time? Why does she have to do it now?

What this reveals to us, and I think we can all identify with this on a different level. In moments where, perhaps, we should be rejoicing at some good news that we’re receiving, we immediately think about how it’s going to affect us. It reveals to us something that I think our text is addressing. It reveals to us that we are all prone to a kingdom of self. We are all prone to think about self first, and think about self foremost, which is why we do that in the midst of good news. And, what we see here in the book of Mark - this is our second week in the book of Mark, which is our summer series - and, we come to the first words of Jesus in the book of Mark, the first words of Jesus there in verse 15 … the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel …

So, this is a summary that Mark is laying out for us, of the message of Christ. So, we’re going to spend some time unpacking that this morning, because just as this last week and the connections that were made to Isaiah sets up the rest of the book of Mark, so does this proclamation. We need to understand what’s being said here, because this is foundational to what we’re going to be digging into, into Mark, throughout the summer. So, we’re going to look this morning at kingdom contrast, then we’re going to look at kingdom entrance, and then we’re going to look at kingdom life. What is the life of the kingdom and how do we live in step, and in rhythm with the life of this kingdom? So, with that, let’s pray.

Jesus,

We are thankful for your word. Lord, we’re grateful for the grace that we experience as your people who gather under your word, and we ask that your Spirit would be at work in us. Lord, we ask that we would hear clearly the call of the gospel into the life of the kingdom. And, Lord, this morning that by your grace, we would dethrone self, so that we can come under the kingship of the true king, Jesus Christ, that we might live. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

I. KINGDOM CONTRAST (vv14-15)


So, kingdom contrast. Notice how this particular passage starts in verse 15 .. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God … After John was arrested  … it’s the kind of phrase that we just kind of skip over, but Mark is very intentional here. Mark is intentionally, for us, placing two kingdoms side by side, two kingdoms that are very different. One is the kingdom of this world, the kingdom which, ultimately if you keep reading Mark and you get to Mark chapter 6, you see that his arrest leads, ultimately, to his beheading. He is beheaded by Herod. And, piecing this story together from the story in Matthew 14 and Mark chapter 6 where we get the story of Herod and John the Baptist … John the Baptist was beheaded for challenging the validity of Herod’s marriage to Herodius, his wife, who was previously married to Herod’s brother, Phillip. Are you following that? It’s a lot of drama. Sin leads to a lot of drama, by the way, and we see that here. There is a lot of drama.

And, Herod, then, ultimately has John killed after his daughter in law is dancing for him - more drama - and he’s so mesmerized with her dancing that he basically says, ask whatever you want, and I’ll give it to you. Well, she goes to Herod’s wife - her mother, Herodius - and says, what should I ask for? And, Herodius said, asks for John’s head, cause, John has come against our marriage. Ask for his head. So, she does, and though Mark tells us that Herod was sorrowful to do it, he ultimately beheads John to - if you read between the lines - you see that there is something deeper at work. He does it to save his throne, because going back on his public promise would undermine his authority as a leader, as a ruler.

So, what we see, what Mark very intentionally wants us to see here, is the juxtaposition of these two kingdoms. He wants us to see that this kingdom - the one that had John the Baptist, the prophet, arrested - this kingdom is a broken kingdom. It’s a kingdom of self. And, there is no doubt that Mark intends us to make this connection. See, Herod was living for self, and in the midst of living for self, we tend to suck everyone else’s lives into the blackhole of self. Right? Everyone is there for us, to serve us, our best friends, the people we invite to dinner, our child’s teacher, they’re all there for us. That’s what the kingdom of self tells us, and that’s the way the kingdom of self works.

But, by contrast, he also means for us to see a truer and better kingdom, the kingdom of God, the kingdom not of death, but the kingdom of life - the kingdom where the true king is enthroned. It says right after John the Baptist is in prison, Jesus comes on the scene in Galilee - which, is this backwater corner of the empire, not a place where you’d think the true king would show up. Nevertheless, he does. And, he comes saying … The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel … So, let’s break down what he’s saying here because, again, it matters. This is foundational to the rest of the book of Mark, and it’s important for us to grasp this morning.

So, what’s he saying there? First, he says ... the time is fulfilled … Now, it’s important to remember - and we heard a little of this last week - that, the Jews were longing for this coming kingdom, the Jewish people, God’s people were longing for this coming kingdom for centuries. It had been 400 plus years of oppression by the Babylonians, the Medo-Persians, the Greeks under Alexander, and then finally, the Roman Empire - which, in the book of Mark, that is who is ruling at that time. By this time, them, you can imagine centuries on, by this time when Jesus shows up and says … the time is fulfilled … Christians are being thrown to animals as spectacle. This is part of the reality that God’s people are living under. So, you can imagine God’s people awaiting, longing for their freedom. When is this going to happen? When is this king coming that we’ve been hearing about for centuries? We long for him, we desire him, we need him. And, Jesus shows up and he says … it’s here. He says, the time is fulfilled.

Now, there’s two words for time in Greek …

Chronos = Chronological or sequential time

Kairos = Opportune time for action

There’s chronos, which is chronological of sequential time, and that would be, you know … it’s 11:00 a.m. That’s chronos. But, there’s also kairos. Kairos is an opportune time for action. This is when your pregnant wife looks at you and says … it’s time. That’s very different than, it’s 11:00 a.m., right? You realize it is time for action. It’s a unique moment, a longed-for moment that is at hand, that is waited for, for some time. And, that’s the word that’s used here. The time is fulfilled, the kairos is fulfilled. It’s here, it’s now. So, this was - you can imagine, and we we’ll see the ripple effects of this, this was shocking, this was a shocking statement that Jesus made. It was incendiary to some people, it was an explosive proclamation that after all the centuries of longing and waiting and desiring, Jesus shows up in this little corner of the empire and says … the time is fulfilled. It’s here.

He says, the time is fulfilled and … the kingdom of God is at hand. Now, what is the kingdom of God? There’s a lot of confusion around the kingdom of God. There’s a lot of misunderstanding, I think, around the kingdom of God. But, simply put, I think we could say that the kingdom of God is God’s rulership, God’s rightful rule and reign. It’s the active, exercising of God’s power and authority. You might think of it, and it’s spoken of in Old Testament language at times, as government. It’s this righteous, perfect government with the rightful king enthroned. So, Jesus’ proclamation says, there’s a new king in power, and this king will usher in the healing of the world in a whole new way, even beyond what they realized. See, God’s people in the prophecies didn’t get everything that Jesus was coming to do. They didn’t get the degree to which he was coming to change things, to free them. Their freedom was far more than just freedom from oppression from another ruling people, another ruling empire. It’s far greater than that.

So, when he comes, he says that the kingdom of God is at hand. He says that he will usher in the healing of the world, a whole new way of life. And, this comes to bear for all of us. We know from Genesis 1, 2, and 3 that we were built to live in a perfect world where all the relationships were holy, right? Relationship to self, relationship to God, relationship to one another, relationship to his creation. All of those things were right, all of those things were good. There was flourishing in the garden.

And, in Genesis 3, what we see is that we have chosen in the midst of that perfect reality, to enthrone ourselves, rather than God. In our hearts, we’ve displaced the rightful ruler of our lives, and we’ve put ourselves there, which is why in the midst of life, we think about ourselves first. Because, we are all born into that reality. Through Adam’s sin, death came into the world, Paul tells us in Romans. And so, we all know the reality of enthroning self. And, let’s be honest … few things make us more miserable than self absorption. Few things make us more functionally miserable, day to day, create more havok in our lives, than being self absorbed.

Because, what does self absorption do? The spotlight is always on us, and so we think about everything that happens in our lives, and everything that happens in the world in relation to us. So, we’re constantly thinking, how am I feeling? How am I doing in the midst of this? How am I being treated? Am I being treated justly? Do people appreciate me? Do people love me? Do people see what I’m doing? The reason it makes us miserable is because we live before everyone else. And, I don’t know if you’ve tried that very long, but it’s horrible. Because, everyone is not going to love you the way you want them to. Everyone is not going to see you as you desire to be seen. In fact, very few people are.

And so, there are very few things that actually make us more miserable, that create more chaos, and lead to death. But, this is the reality post-Fall, in the kingdom of this world where we’ve enthroned ourselves. Eugene Peterson, in his book The Contemplative Pastor, he writes this …

“The Kingdom of self is heavily defended territory. Post-Eden Adams and Eves are willing to pay their respects to God, but they don’t want him invading their turf. Most sin, far from being a mere lapse of morals or a weak will, is an energetically and expensively erected defense against God.”

—Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, pp. 31-32

Mark Sayer’s, in his book The Disappearing Church, he brings in to bear specifically in our increasing secular, western culture. And, this is a really good book, I’d encourage you guys to read, that just talks about our cultural moment as the church in the West, what’s happening. And, here’s what he says …

“What we are experiencing is not the eradication of God from the Western mind, but rather the enthroning of self as the greatest authority. God is increasingly relegated to the role of servant, and massager of the personal will.”

—Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church, pg. 11

This is what secularization looks like in the West. It is not a dethroning of self, it is an entrenchment in enthroning the self. But, the gospel of the kingdom is that Jesus - the true king - has come in weakness to die for us, and will come again in strength to put everything right, so that all that was lost will be restored, and even beyond restoration, to consummation. See, when we come into this kingdom, and back under the kingship of Jesus, all of the relational brokenness, the relational brokenness to self, to others, to creation, and to God, they begin to be healed. They begin to be restored. And, the dethroning of self begins to happen so that Christ takes up his rightful rule in our lives. And, it is a freeing thing, it is a beautiful thing, and it is what God desires for us. It is what God desire for Emmaus Church.

In Jesus, God’s kingdom is at hand. Now, what does he mean by that? His kingdom is at hand. It means, essentially, it is within reach. It’s kind of like on a road trip, especially you that have little ones that have been on roadtrips, right? What are they saying the whole time? Are we there yet, are we there yet … and then, as soon as you can say you’re there, as soon as you can see the city, it still may be 15 miles off, but you see the glimpse of the skyscraper, you tell the kids … we’re there. It’s within reach! We’re basically there, right?

So, to calm them down, we let them know that we’re there. Are we actually there? No, But, it is within reach. I think this is what is meant by the kingdom of God. Are we there fully? No, but it’s within reach, and we can experience glimpses of it and some of the realities of it in our lives. So, this is the kingdom contrast, these two kingdoms that Mark wants us to clearly see. One, the kingdom of self and the other, the kingdom of God - the kingdom of life.

But, how do we - in light of that, this kingdom that’s at hand, this kingdom that’s near - how do we enter that kingdom? What does it look like to come into that kingdom? Because, the truth is, if this is true … this message that Jesus has put forth, it demands a response. It’s not something that we can just be passive about, or apathetic about. It demands a response. It says that there are two kingdoms, and everyone is a part of one of those two kingdoms. But, the time has come, the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand. What are you going to do with it?

KINGDOM ENTRANCE

So, if the kingdom is here, and the king has come, this reality demands a response. And, we’re given the response in verse 15 … repent, and believe in the gospel …  The word repent, there, is metanoia …

Repent (Gr: metanoia): meta = renew, noia = to think

Meta means to renew, noia means to think. So, we hear that oftentimes it means to change your mind, which I don’t think is bad, but I think it’s more than that. I think it’s more than simply changing your mind, though it is that. I think it is to rethink everything. It’s to rethink everything. It’s to think about the world in a whole new way. See, when we’re in the midst of kingdom of self, we’re thinking about the world in one way, and all of the world terminates in us, and on us. And so, to repent from that means we now think about the world in a whole new way, where it terminates in and upon the true King, Jesus. So, one scholar translates it this way, a paraphrase. He says … give up your agenda and trust me for mine …

Can we just say his agenda is better than ours? It’s good for us, it’s life giving, it’s good for the world. And so, what we’re hearing here in … repent and believe in the gospel … is that if your agenda and my agenda does not fit God’s good rule, then give it up. Give it up, don’t squander your time, don’t squander your money, your talent, don’t waste your brokenness and your difficulty. Don’t waste your past. Get a bigger dream than outpacing your neighbor in their material goods.

You ever feel that? I feel it. I’ve been wanting a trailer for a long time, because I haul stuff three times a year, so I need a trailer. And, my neighbor always rented one, and I felt good about that, cause I’m like, yeah, I rent a trailer too. And, you know what I immediately thought? I’ve got to buy a trailer. And, I want to go measure his to see how big it is, cause I want it to be a little bit bigger. But, that’s what we do, right, with that kingdom. My agenda is not what’s best for me. Right? When my wife asks … why’d you spend $2,000 on a trailer? And I’m like … cause I haul wood twice a year, honey. Don’t you get that? That’s what my agenda does, right? It’s a waste. Don’t waste your life. We’re hearing, repent and believe the gospel. Turn to Christ.

He says repent, and then he says … believe … Now, we think the mind, with believe - oftentimes immediately. And, it certainly includes that. It is the mind. Believing is the mind, it is believing these truths about God. But, it’s more than that. It’s not less than that, but it is more than that. I think a better understanding is trust. The idea of leaning your weight onto the true king. Trust him fully, trust this good news. He says what? Believe what? … the gospel … The word for that is the euangelion, the good news. It’s an announcement of literally joyful news. Believe, trust, turn, give up your agenda for mine, trust the joyful news that I now, here and now, have come to bring.

See, we’re all trusting something. We’re all trusting someone who we believe is bringing us good news, joyful news. When you think about your life, when I think about my life, where do we look for our source of good news? And, I’m talking about ultimate good news, the good news that drives us in life. Where do we go to for that? What are we trusting in? What are we leaning upon for what we think matters most in this life? For joy? What are we leaning on?

Jesus says, if you’re leaning on anything other than me, it is another form of trusting yourself, and enthroning yourself. So, Jesus’s invitation is to trust him. See, believing is acting on what we know to be true. It’s acting on what we know to be true, and let me just say this as an aside. One of the things I read in studying this week, is that it seems like this was part of a catechism that they would read over baptism candidates in the early centuries of the church. And, I was just reminded that that is acting on what we know to be true. And so, I want to say this … maybe you’ve been at Emmaus for a while, maybe you haven’t placed your faith in Christ, you’ve been hearing, you’ve been thinking, you’ve been processing the scriptures and what you’ve been hearing as you’ve been a part of a body. And, maybe the Lord is drawing you. And, the way to respond is through baptism. Some scholars say that this summer was actually read at the time of baptism.

What the wedding is to marriage, baptism is to the kingdom. Right? It is this way of coming in to the kingdom. It is not what saves us, but it’s our first act of obedience. We come into the kingdom. It’s the entrance into the life of the kingdom, and the waters are always open. So, at the end today, maybe when you hear the call and we respond through communion, and your desire is to respond, let me know. I’m going to be at the front, and I would love to talk to you about what that means to take that next step.

So, this call to respond, to repent and believe, is an invitation, but even more accurately, it’s a command. It’s present and perfect tense in the Greek, which means it’s an ongoing act, not a one-time event. It is not only the entrance into the kingdom, it’s the way we continue in the life of the kingdom. It’s not something that happened in your life, it’s something that should be happening in your life today, and tomorrow, and the day after. This should be something that’s normal for us. There’s a Martin Luther quote that we have up on the screen from his 95 Theses that he nailed to the Wittenberg door …

“our Lord and Master Jesus Christ…willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

—Martin Luther, Thesis 1

It’s not only entrance into the kingdom. It is the way we continue in the kingdom. See, repentance puts us in step with this life, with this true king. Ongoing repentance puts us in step with him. So, repentance looks like, on a daily basis, when we have those moments where self rises to the surface, when we hear some joyful news and the first thing we think is not, let’s rejoice with our brother and sister, let’s lament what we’re losing in the midst of this good news … that is a call to repent. To turn from self, from our agenda to Christ’s agenda for us, which is that in that moment, we would rejoice with those who are rejoicing, and we would pray with them, and we would enter into that rejoicing.

I talk often about how prayer is something that should be always below the surface, ready to pop out at any moment. I think it’s true of repentance as well. That, repentance should always be just below the surface. We should be realigning our agenda with the true king throughout our days, again, and again, and again.

So, you might be thinking at this point … how can this actually be true? This kingdom of God at hand, the true king coming and taking his rightful place among his creation, 2,000 years later and the kingdom of God is here? Really? In the midst of school shootings, and war, and injustice, which seems to be rampant and growing, the world is getting better, really? I don’t see it. How is it here?

You may have heard this phrase before. It is good to think about the kingdom of God as now, and not yet. See, sometimes Jesus talks about the kingdom of God in the present tense, and sometimes it’s in the future tense. So, which is true? Both. They’re both true. Right? It is here, but it is not yet come in fullness. All four gospels teach two comings of Jesus. Jesus, the son of God, the incarnation, and Jesus the resurrected one who will come again in power to put everything back together again, perfectly. The first coming inaugurated the king, the second coming will usher in this kingdom for all of creation.

In theology, they call this inaugurated eschatology. So, when someone asks you how was church today, you’ll be like, great, we talked about inaugurated eschatology. It’ll be impressive. But, this is the reality of the kingdom. Eschatology is the study of the future, the end times. And, an inaugurated eschatology says that in Jesus’ first coming, he inaugurated God’s future rule over all the earth. We find ourselves in the midst, in between the now and the not yet. And, the kingdom of God being at hand, in some sense, it’s as if he has dragged the aspects of future kingdom into the present. It’s like an appetizer before the main course. Right? You’re at the table, and you get the appetizer, and it’s good, but you’re really thinking about the main course. That’s what the kingdom of God is at hand, that’s what it means.

See, the kingdom of God is coming. Because the kingdom of God is coming, there’s still sickness and death. But, because the kingdom of God is here, we pray for healing, and we pray for peace. Sometimes we experience that healing. We can certainly experience that peace. But, because the kingdom of God is coming, even if we receive healing, we are at best postponing the inevitable. Because, one day we will die. The kingdom is now and not yet. The kingdom of God is coming, because it’s coming, there are 200 million - roughly - orphans in the world today. Because the kingdom of God is here, we have a church full of people who have made outsiders, insiders, who have adopted orphans into the family, into their family, into the family of God.

This is the reality of the now and not yet, and it’s a difficult place at times, but it is always a hopeful place. We don’t mourn in the midst of death the way others mourn. We do mourn, we do miss people. Jesus, himself, cried at the death of Lazarus, right? So, we do mourn, but we don’t mourn as those without hope. We have hope. Why do we have hope? Because the kingdom of God is coming. See, we get glimpses and tastes of God’s brand new world here and now, and the church is where that comes to bear.

I was thinking about that book The Disappearing Church, where he talks about the secularization of the West. And, what he talks about some, in there, is it can be tempting for us to make … I’m very much paraphrasing here … but, the idea is that it can be tempting for us in the midst of a quickly secularizing culture for the church to try to make the gospel of the kingdom palatable. We think that, somehow, what we need to do is, let’s remove some of the offense around the hot button issues so that we can make the gospel more palatable. But, what we actually do in that, is we strip the gospel of its power when we proclaim that.

See, we don’t need a more palatable gospel, we need a more powerful gospel. We need the fullness of the gospel to come to bear. We need a sharp distinction between what the world is experiencing, and what they experience when they come into the midst of us. And, if that’s not happening, if the lines become blurred there, we no longer have the powerful gospel of the kingdom.

See, our call is to bring glimpses and tastes of God’s brand new world that is coming, here, and now, in this place, on this campus, in this physical reality. Right? This kingdom is coming. It’s not disappearing somewhere else for the kingdom. That kingdom is coming, here, to earth. And so, this place, this campus, this particular church building, maybe it’s not the most important thing, but the most important thing isn’t the only thing that matters. This place matters. And, what people need to experience here, is an outpost of the kingdom of God, in the midst of a world that operates by the kingdom of self. That is our call.

And then, finally, we have Kingdom life in verses 16-20.

KINGDOM LIFE

So, we see Jesus, this is the call to follow him. And, this is unique in Jewish tradition, what’s happening here, where Jesus shows up and he sees Simon and Andrew. We’ll read it. Verse 16 … Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat … That is a funny picture to me … with the hired servants and followed him.

So, this is unique what’s happening here. The call to follow him is unique in Jewish tradition. rabbi’s did not choose their students. Students would have to go to the rabbis, to the teacher, and they’d have to request and essentially earn the right ot be able to follow a rabbi. But, these men are sought out and called. They are sought out and called. See, we can’t come to know the king, we can’t come to know Jesus apart from his gracious call. He must call us, and he graciously does. So, he goes to Simon - we know his name is later changed to Peter - and Andrew, and he says … follow me … And, they left.

Now, we’ve heard this so much, we kind of lose how shocking it was that they just left everything in the midst of their work. Then, he goes to James and John, and they leave as well, and it’s even more shocking because they leave their father in the boat, and I have this picture of James and John just walking away and going … we’ll see you, pops. Sorry, I know we were going to inherit the business. You got it, though, you’ve got some servants. We’re going with this guy. Right? They’re leaving family, and they’re leaving career, the two most important aspects of their life, they’re being called to give up.

Now, these days, we say goodbye to family more readily, because we are more individualistic, more career oriented. And, in that time, if the family’s business was fishing, you knew what you were going to do with your life, you were going to fish. If your family’s business was farming, you already had your career in place, you were going to farm. So, saying goodbye to their career was is felt much more deeply by us. For them, they felt both, honestly. To follow me, means … and here’s what it’s saying … we know from the gospels that they actually do come back and they’re, in some way, united with family. We do know that they continue to fish at some point. What’s really being called here is not that you just up your career, but that to follow Jesus means that knowing him because the supreme passion of your life. That’s the call to follow Him.

Now, I know culturally, that can sound a little over the top, right? Can we be a little more moderate with this stuff? I mean, that’s heavy. The supreme passion of my life? Yes. That is the call of Jesus. And, you think that’s over the top, listen to this … Jesus, in Luke 14 verse 25, now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them … if anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yes and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple … Jesus doubles down. Jesus does not make this more palatable. He brings the reality, the powerful call of the kingdom that you must die to self to come into the kingdom.

Now, what is Jesus saying there? Now, I think he’s using hyperbole, or I think maybe more accurately, a hyperbole would be intentional exaggeration to make a point, but I think what he’s doing - because we're also called, we know, to honor our father and mother, right? It’s a commandment we have - so, he’s not calling us to hate actively, he’s calling us to hate comparatively. He’s saying, follow me so fully, so completely, that all other attachments pale in comparison. That, your passion and love for me is so great that all other passions and all other loves pale in comparison.

He’s saying, don’t come to me because I’m relevant, don’t come to me because I make you happy, don’t come to me because you feel better, come to me for me. Come to me because you desire me, because you see that I am everything that you long for. And then, in that, yes. Happiness, joy, peace, it follows it. But, if we come to him for that, we’re missing the point. We’re not actually coming to him for him. He is the prize, he is the goal. And then, he says … as you come, I will make you fishers of men …

And, we’ll end with this. He doesn’t say, come learn about me and I’ll give you information. Again, that is part of the Christian life, to know things about the Lord. But, it’s more than that. He says, follow me and along the way, I will make you become. Transformation will happen so that you become fishers of men. Notice what he’s saying there. He’s taking these men, their life, and he’s saying … you are not just a fisherman, you will become fishers of men. Two different things. In the midst of being fishermen, you become fishers of men. In the midst of your job, my job, what God has called us to, we become fishers of men.

So, to follow Christ is active. It’s moving. It is discipleship that happens on mission, as we’re going. Jesus is with the disciples on mission, and he’s pointing to all of these realities of the world, and calling people to himself, and in that, they are growing and being transformed into the image of Christ. It’s not stagnant pew sitting, though you’re all sitting in pews and it’s a good thing, and I’m grateful for it. But, this is not the summation of the life of the kingdom. This is fuel for the mission. This is, in fact, it’s part of the mission as well. See, God has called us not to a stagnant call, but a process of growth and Christ-likeness.

And, to be honest - just if I can speak honestly, pastorally for one second - it’s one of our biggest weaknesses as a body. Our mission. We are people who love to study God’s word, we love theology, we love one another, and I am incredibly grateful for that. But, if we’re not careful, this becomes about information rather than transformation. God has called us to be on mission, to be moving, which means every Sunday, we should have those who do not know Christ in our midst, a watching world. Paul says that you need to think about the watching world that’s in your midst, in Corinthians. And, here’s from our GC guide. It says this …

“As a disciple, Jesus wants to align our goals and ambitions with His kingdom so they don’t destroy us. Chief among these is His kingdom ambition: to save the lost. Like these fishermen, Jesus wants to reorient our careers, talents, and personalities to serve a glorious and eternal end, transforming us into fishers of men”

—Mark GC Guide, Emmaus Church

That is a great summation of the call to follow Jesus. In biblical imagery, the sea is a place of coldness, of darkness, and chaos. It represents the kingdom of self, the kingdom of this world. And, what makes it chaotic is this self kingship, and self kingship is what makes us full of self pity. It’s a thing that erodes us psychologically and spiritually. But, have you ever come into the presence of someone who is satisfied internally, so fully emotionally, so well adjusted that they are not thinking about themselves, but they’re thinking about you?

I can think of a couple of people, here in this church, that every time I see them, I just have a gut reaction of happiness. Like, man, it’s so good to see you. Why? Because, they draw you out. They are so healthy, they’re so fixed upon the king, and have gone through the process of dethroning self by God’s grace and God’s Spirit, that they want to draw you out. They want to hear from you. They want to embrace you, to serve you emotionally and practically. It feels like coming out of the darkness. That is a fisher of men. That is someone who is so satisfied in Christ, so fixed upon Christ, that it overflows to love of neighbor. That is what it is to be a fisher of men, and that is what it means to follow Christ.

See, Jesus has already done all that he calls us to do. In calling James and John to leave their father’s boat, he had already left his Father’s throne. And, he would later be ripped from his Father’s presence on the cross. Jesus went down into death for us, so that we could die to ourselves, and come alive to Christ and his kingdom. And, that’s the call to us this morning. Let’s pray.

Jesus,

We are grateful that the King has come, that the kingdom of God is at hand. We are grateful for the truth of your word that we’ve encountered this morning. And God, we confess we are people who tend to operate by enthroning ourselves, thinking of ourselves first. But, God, we are grateful for the call to follow you, that you would make us fishers of men. And Lord, as we come to the table this morning, we respond with a yes. We see the good king, we see his life-giving kingdom, and we repent and we believe as we come to the table. We change our agenda, Lord, to take up yours, under your lordship. We lean fully upon you, trust you fully, and our joy is found in you, and you alone. Lord, may that be true of us as we come to receive the elements. Lord, I pray for those who may not know you, who may not have placed their faith in you. Would you, this morning, draw them by your Spirit. Lord, we all know the reality of living for self and how that erodes us internally, how it leads to deep bitterness and anger and frustration. Lord, may we this morning look up to you. May those who are here that have not placed their faith in you, may they look to the true king this morning. We ask this, Lord, in Jesus’ name, Amen.


Gospel Community-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: MAX STERNJACOB

SCRIPTURE READING

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

—Ephesians 2:11-22, ESV

INTRO

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father,

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

THE COMMAND TO REMEMBER

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

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

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

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

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

—Ephesians 2:4-10, ESV


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Ephesians 2:11-22, ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Dietrich Bonhoffer in Life Together

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

Distortion #1: Christian Community as Connection

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

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

Distortion #2: Christian Community as Therapy

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

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

Distortion #3: Christian Community as Bible Study

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

Distortion #4: Christian Community as Clique

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

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

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


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

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

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

—Dietrich Bonhoffer in Life Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… And it shall be said,

“Build up, build up, prepare the way,

   remove every obstruction from my people's way.”

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

   who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:

“I dwell in the high and holy place,

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

to revive the spirit of the lowly,

   and to revive the heart of the contrite.

For I will not contend forever,

   nor will I always be angry;

for the spirit would grow faint before me,

   and the breath of life that I made.

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

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

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

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

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

   creating the fruit of the lips.

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

   “and I will heal him.

But the wicked are like the tossing sea;

   for it cannot be quiet,

   and its waters toss up mire and dirt.

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


—Isaiah 57:14-21, ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father,

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


Gospel Identity-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

“Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

—2 Corinthians 3:12–4:6 ESV

INTRO

Well, good morning! My name is Forrest, I’m one of the pastors here. And, it’s fitting on Mother’s Day, that we should talk about identity. Because, certainly, it is a temptation to make motherhood - and a myriad of things - our primary identity. We’ve been in the midst of a series called Vital, and what we’re exploring in this series, after we’ve come out of the book of Philippians, is the aspects that are crucial to our mission as a church. We’ve come through a season where we’ve experienced much grace, that God has given us much grace to merge two congregations together, and now we find ourselves doing life together and on mission together. And so, we thought it would be good to come back to what is central to Emmaus, what is central to the church, the biblical church, the people of God.

And so, we’ve looked at gospel conversion, we’ve looked at gospel renewal, and this morning we will look at our gospel identity. Many of you may remember this quote, Matt shared it about a month ago in one of his sermons. This is from Count Zinzendorf, he is not a vampire.

“Preach the gospel, die, be forgotten.”

—Count Zinzendorf (1700-1760)

Now, if you’re like me, you probably have mixed feelings about that quote, right? Preach the gospel … amen. Yes. This is the good news. I’m all about that. Die … I’m a little less excited about that one, but I do realize it’s a reality that’s coming. Be forgotten … that’s terrible. Like, really? Preach the gospel, die, be forgotten … is that what this is all about? That one stings a little bit, right? To be forgotten. Why does it sting? Let’s see if we can unpack it a little bit.

Here we are on Sunday morning, again, after one more week. We made it. We’ve made it through one more week. One more week of work, one more week of caring for the kids, one more week of marriage, and laundry, perhaps singleness, a paycheck, bills, maybe a little bit of downtime. And, perhaps, one more week of wondering if we’re really accomplishing what we hope to accomplish, if we’re really making a difference in anyone’s life, if the 50+ hours we put in at work really matters in the grand scheme of things, if all our effort to make our house a home, is worth it … if my life is really going to matter when it’s all said and done.

I mentioned on Easter Sunday, my grandmother used to love the soap opera, Days of our Lives, and I still remember the intro to that soap opera … Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives … That’s how it can feel, right? One day after the next, another day, another week, another month, another year, the kids are growing up … or, the kids have already grown up, moved out the house, I’m finding more wrinkles and more grey hair, and people I know and love are starting to pass on. It all feels like it’s fading quickly, and our accomplishments with it. And, to hear that we will just be forgotten feels like too much. It feels like too much to bear for all the work we put in.

And, I think the issue, here, the reason being forgotten stings, is an issue of identity. Now, when we say identity, what do we mean by that? It’s answering the question, who am I? But, I think even more specifically, our identity is where we locate our significance. It’s where we locate in our lives what we feel matters the most about us, what is most important about us. If our identity is rightly located, being forgotten loses its sting. But, often, our identity is misplaced.

In fact, what we’re going to see, is that before Christ, all of our identities are misplaced. And, here’s four areas we tend to place our identity, naturally, without even thinking about it, this is where we go.First, our performance, I am what I do. So, this could be our work, this could be sports, this could be some craft that we’re a part of, this is could be a business we’re building. That’s my identity, that’s where my significance is. I am what I do. Secondly, possessions, I am what I have. So, what I drive, what I wear, what I live in. Third, pleasure, I am what I want … foodie. Any foodies in here? We just went to Nashville last week, and my clothes are fitting a little bit tighter. It was so worth it, though, right? Our desires. I am what I want. Or, we’re travelers, we love to travel, or perhaps we’re gamers, we’re waiting for the next version of our game to come out. Fourth is popularity, I am what others think of me. So, I want to be intelligent, I want to be stylish, I want to be ironic. Right? Whatever we want to project, that’s what’s most significant about me.

And, the danger here, is that our self worth and our security, and our satisfaction, become tied to things that can be and will be taken away at some point. But, notice the language Paul uses in the text. In verse 12, he uses this language of hope. He says … we are very bold … or, a little bit later down in chapter 4 … we do not lose heart … So, Paul obviously is saying that we as believers do not have to live with this sting of being forgotten, that that somehow devistates us. And, I think the missiologist, Leslie Newbigin, he has a good quote that reorients us, I think, to the biblical reality of where we should actually find our identity. He says this …

“I am suggesting that the gospel is to be understood as the clue to history, to universal history and therefore to the history of each person, and therefore the answer that every person must give to the question, ‘Who am I?’ In distinction from a great deal of Christian writing which takes the individual person as its starting point for the understanding of salvation and then extrapolates from that to the wider issues of social, political, and economic life, I am suggesting that, with the Bible as our guide, we should proceed in the opposite direction, that we begin with the Bible as the unique interpretation of human and cosmic history and move from that starting point to an understanding of what the Bible shows us of the meaning of personal life.”

—Leslie Newbigin

You see how he flips that on its head, biblically. In a sense, you’re starting, when you start with self, you’re starting with the wrong thing. Our identity, our significance, the truest thing about us does not come from within. It comes from without. It is not a story we write for ourselves, but a cosmic story that is being written by the Creator, that we are drawn into by his grace. This is the beginning of what is most significant about us. This is the foundation. If we miss this, we are off completely as we begin the journey of life.

So we see, I think, three basic points here in Paul’s text. They’re really like 9,000. This text is so rich. I was just telling Raymond, we had to leave a lot on the cutting room floor of this one, it’s such a beautiful text. But, we’re going to go through it in this way. First, we’re going to look at living blind - that reality - seeing the light, and then becoming who we are.

I. Living Blind (3:12-15; 4:3-5)

So, let’s look at living blind. In chapter 3, Paul begins contrasting the old and the new covenants. And, in verses 12-16, he uses this veil imagery. Let’s look at it … Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts … So, what Paul is doing here, is he is drawing from the story that we read about in Exodus 34:29-35, where Moses has gone up to the mountain, and he’s received the law for the second time. And, when he comes back down from the mountain, he is glowing from the presence of the Lord. And, what we see as you continue to read in those few verses, is that he goes in to be with the Lord, and then when he comes out to speak with the people, he covers his face, he veils the glow that’s there.

In verse 14, Paul says that the veil on Moses’ face is metaphorically to have been over the minds of the people of the old covenant. Continue to track with me, I promise there’s payoff here. So, he’s using this metaphor for being veiled, essentially, to Christ. And then, he brings it to the new covenant in chapter 4:3-4. Let’s read that … And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God … Oh man, this is so good. I’m not there yet, I’m just remembering everything I’ve looked at. It’s rich. What he’s saying is - essentially - and, this is somewhat reductionistic, but I think it gets across the heart of what Paul is saying. So, we are living blind when we do not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God. We are blind when we do not live all of our lives before Christ first and foremost. In everything that we do, right? Paul says later, whether we eat or whether we drink, do all to the glory of God. He’s saying, everything you’ve been given - your taste buds, even down to that minutia, is meant to be for the glory of God.

And so, if we’re not doing even the most foundational things in life before Christ, we’re living blind. And so, he goes on to say, verse 5 of chapter 4 … For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants … See, when we live blind, we proclaim ourselves. When we live blind - not before Christ - the story starts with us, rather than with Jesus. This is a good understanding of man’s first sin in the garden. If you remember the temptation that Eve succums to, Genesis 3:5 …

“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God”

—Genesis 3:5 ESV

And, what first humanity was saying there, is I can live for myself rather than for God. I can live for my own name, rather than his. I can live to build my own legacy, rather than his. You see, the fall reversed God’s intended order. And, this had serious consequences. Later in Chapter 3, in verse 19, we see that rather than the abundant productivity that was enjoyed before the fall, and walking in perfect fellowship with the Lord, now you’re going to work in the midst of thorns and thistles. Chapter 3 verse 19 …

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return”

—Genesis 3:19 ESV


So, God says now, we struggle to make a name for ourselves by toiling in the dust until we return to dust. Are you depressed yet? Let me put it this way … if we live for our own name, the dust wins. Being forgotten stings. If we live for our own name, the dust wins. This is the reality of life apart from Christ, where self is the most important thing. Struggling, fighting, laboring for significance in the midst of brokenness, and all the while feeling like we’re losing the battle because we are.


In a few generations, the truth is, we will be forgotten, even by our own family, and the dust will win. I can’t tell you about my great, great, great grandparents. I don’t know anything about them. See, when we come to Christ, we’ve been formed by life in this fallen, broken world. In this world where self is center, and we’re toiling away in the dust, what we know, then, before Christ, without living before Christ, in our blindness, what we know is toiling and fighting for our significance day after day. And, it’s the only way we know how to live. In short, our identity apart from Christ is always, 100% of the time, misplaced. It is not what is most significant about us.

So, here’s the reality … the reality is, even as believers, even when we come into the light, and we come to faith in Christ, the truth is, we still struggle with this, right? I mean, we know about Paul when he talks about indwelling sin, and the things i want to do I don’t do, and the things I don’t want to do I end up doing. We all know that battle, we know that wrestle. We know the struggle of, at times, living blind, living for self rather than for Christ. And so, as I was studying this week, I came across this little article by Paul Tripp - Paul Tripp’s an author and a pastor - and, he basically had a self glory diagnostic. How do we know when we are living for ourselves? And so, here are for things he said, and this morning, let’s do it. Let’s dig into our own hearts to see, are we living blind, or are we living before Christ?

Self-Glory Diagnostic (from Paul Tripp)

We parade in public what should be kept private

We are way too self-referencing

We talk when we should be quiet

We care too much about what people think of us

The Self-Glory Diagnostic. First off, when we’re living for ourselves, we parade in public what should be kept in private. So, we cannot stand for the things that we do that we feel are good, we cannot stand for them not to be on display. We have to let other people know about it. It’s a sign of living for self. Secondly, we are too self-referencing. We insert ourselves into every conversation. We insert ourselves as the heroes of the story. We talk about self. Self just overflows from us in our conversations. We don’t listen well, which is actually number three … Number three, we talk when we should be quiet. So, what that says, is, we are posturing our self as better, or greater, or more important than the one that is before us. Are we a people who listen well to others? Fourth, we care too much about what people think of us. Criticism destroys us and praise leads to a gigantic head.

See, these are good indicators, that if we see ourselves - and listen, check, check, check, check … all four. Right? We struggle with these things. We wrestle with these things. But, they are a dashboard for us, to help us see whether we’re living before Christ, or whether we’re living for self. So, that is the blindness.

II. Seeing the Light (4:5-6)

But, we see that the light comes, in verse 5 and 6, seeing the light. That’s our second point here, verses 5 and 6 …  For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ … This is creation language, in verse 6 … Let light shine out of darkness … Creation language, the language that’s used in Genesis. And, it gives us the picture that we are being, post-fall, recreated in Christ. And, it also brings to light the miraculous nature of our salvation. God has spoken it. That is the only way, that is the only way we can come into the light, is that God has spoken it. It’s through his word.

So, what we see, then, is from creation, fall, to new creation. That’s what Paul says in the next chapter, if you remember it. 2 Corinthians 5:17 … therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a … new creation - you didn’t say that with conviction, but it’s alright. By the time we’re done, you’ll have conviction about it. New creation. If you are in Christ, you are a new creation.

Here’s what I think the heart of this is, and how it plays out for our identity. To find out who you are, you must start with whose you are. To find out who you are, you must start with whose you are. See, this is the core of our identity. This is the core. This is what is most significant about us … not what we do, but who we belong to. Everything that we do should flow out of that. And, if our identity starts with whose we are, it changes everything.

My wife said I could share this story this morning. She actually helped me come up with it. Sometimes I brainstorm with my wife on how to illustrate things. My wife is adopted, and over the years of marriage, we’ve talked at different times and asked the question, do you want to find your birth parents? Is that something you want to do? And, we have some discussion around it, and then we kind of move on, and then we’ll revisit it a while later. But, she’s pretty much arrived at, you know, I don’t think I’m going to seek them out at this point in my life. There’s, by God’s grace, a lot of life ahead. But, what she says about that, is because I have a mother and a father who raised me. She says, I know whose I am, and that has shaped my life.

It’s the same thing with us. When we know whose we are, it shapes everything we do. Being in Christ shapes our life. The light coming in the midst of darkness, of living for self, and shining a light on the glory of Jesus Christ, wakes us up to whose we are. And, notice specifically the place of self in the light. This is big … For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake … Did we see that? Did we see the contrast of how we tend to proclaim self, how we tend to live orbiting ourselves, and now we see in the light of Christ, self serves one another so that we might honor Christ.

It’s a completely different way of living, isn’t it? I mean, how many of you as kids dreamed of just one day … serving a bunch of people. Probably didn’t take up your dreams. I mean, I had guitars and mirrors, and I was waving my mullet in the mirror with a guitar around my neck. I mean, I was the center of my dreams. I was the star of every dream that I had. See, this is not naturally the stuff of dreams, but this is the stuff you and I were made for. And, as we come to Christ, it begins to become the stuff of our dreams.

So, the place of self is service. It’s service to one another, for the sake of Christ, which brings us to our final point, becoming who we are.

III. Becoming Who We Are (3:16-18)

Look at verses 16-18. So, there’s this veil that Paul has spoken of, and then in verse 16 … But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit … Paul, here, is contrasting unbelieving Jews who still have a veil over their face, and are not able to see the glory of the Lord, with believers who are beholding the glory of the Lord. Now, what is glory? That’s an important question, because actually our hope here is connected to that, and our identity absolutely culminates in that.

So, what is glory? I believe it was a pastor named John Piper - who a lot of you know - that said, glory is God’s holiness gone public. So, God’s holiness is all that he is. Holiness means set apart, it means “other than”, so God’s holiness is everything that he is. His attributes, his character, all that he is, so his glory is all of that going public for us to see. Glory would be like the rays of the sun that hit us every day. Glory is not the ball of gas that - forget the clumsy description there - but the ball of gas that is the sun, the rays are the glory of God, the ball of gas, the substance would be the holiness of God. And, the rays point us back to the sun, and so it is with God’s glory. God’s glory that is on display, that we experience in many, many ways, points us back to substance, points us back to the Lord, points us back to the work of Christ.

So, what we see here, is we are being transformed from glory to glory into the image of the Lord. This is the work of growth in Christ, as we behold the goodness of God, the grace of God, the worth of God, the might of God as we make him the primary aim of our lives, as we walk in the light as he is in the light, we will be transformed into the image of God by the Spirit of God, powerfully at work within us. That’s what Paul is saying. That’s why we’re here this morning. So, this means in the darkness, with the veil, we are greedy people, because we are centered on self. But, as we behold the Lord with unveiled face, we are transformed from glory to glory, and greedy people are formed into generous people. And, arrogant people are transformed into humble people, and covetous people are formed into satisfied people. This is the work that the Lord is doing in his people. What was lost in the Fall is being restored in those who worship the Creator, and walk in the light.

See, we are all created in God’s image, and there’s a lot that can be said about what it means to be created in God’s image, but at its foundation, what that means - is really deep - is that we were created to image. We were created to image, to reflect God. This is what is most significant about me, and about you, that we are image bearers, the only aspect of creation that carries the image of God. And, what happened at the fall is that image was marred. Not done away with - we’re still image bearers - but it was marred, so that we are not naturally like the one we were made to image. We are not naturally generous, or forgiving, or humble, or gracious, but we are self-consumed. But, here we see that as new creations in Christ, that image is being restored from one degree of glory to the next, so that we are becoming what we were created to be. This is our identity.

So, what is happening? Paul says … For this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit … this is a work of the Spirit. The only way self centered people are transformed into people who serve one another for the sake of Jesus, is the Spirit has to do that work through his Word. There is no amount of musicianship or eloquent preaching or anything else, or certainly gifts to the body, or anything else that could do that work. The Lord has to be at work in the midst of it for this to happen. I mean, think about Galatians 5 and what the fruit of the spirit is, the overflow, what should be present in us is love, joy, peace, patience, long suffering, gentleness … this is what it means to be restored into the image of God, when those fruits begin to define us, when people begin to see that in us. And, the church, the people of God, is absolutely crucial to this.

Now, I know church life is not easy. I get it. We’ve been pastoring for 20 plus years, and it at times is absolutely exhausting. But, it’s not exhausting because we all just display the fruits of the Spirit. It’s exhausting because we all live about half the time blind, because we’re telling stories that begin and end with us. And, I’ve got to tell you … well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

We tell stories that begin and end with us, and that’s what makes this so incredibly difficult. That’s also what makes it so incredibly glorious. He is using this body, he is at work in the midst of this body. No man can take credit for it. He is at work in the midst of the body, bringing about, restoring the image of God in us. He’s doing it through one another. And so, if you’re weary in the midst of the body, be encouraged. Be encouraged in the hopeful language that Paul uses here. God is doing this work.

Colossians 3:10 says …

“[We] have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator”

—Colossians 3:10 ESV

Which is being renewed. None of us are there yet. It’s being renewed. This is the struggle of the life of the body, but it’s the beauty of the life of the body, because we are being renewed in the midst of God’s people, right? Paul is writing ot the church in Corinth, who was - a lot of us know - they were a complete mess. I mean, if he can write with hopeful language to the Corinthian, I feel like we have a little hope here, Emmaus. I feel like, yes, we can say that God is doing it. What it means, is we are getting back our identity as God’s image bearers.

There’s a great, I think, illustration of this from a movie, the movie Hook. It’s an old movie. I don’t know if any of you guys saw it. But, there’s this one scene, and it’s - I watched it on YouTube again this morning, twice - I almost cried, both times. There’s this scene. If you remember it - super quick set up - So, Robin Williams is Peter Pan. This is a fictional story, by the way. Robin Williams is Peter Pan, and it starts with him, like, he’s just doing family life. He’s left Neverland, he’s beginning to age, and so he’s in the midst of raising this family, and he’s married, and he’s just … all of the realities of life are just coming to bear on him. He’s a tired dude. He has definitely left Neverland. And, he is in the midst of the wrestle of day to day life, and Tinkerbell comes back - also known as Julia Roberts - she comes back and she says, we need you in Neverland, we need you to fix this problem. We have an issue, and Peter Pan is the only one that can do this.

So, Robin Williams, through a series of events, ends up going back to Neverland, and he tells the kids, I’m back, I’m Peter Pan! But, he’s, now, wrinkled, a little beat up from life, and so this cute little kid comes up to him. And, he kneels down, and the kid’s looking at his face, like, he goes right up to him, he’s looking really hard at his face, and he pulls his glasses off and, like, sets them aside, and then he grabs Robin Williams’ face and he starts trying to smooth out the wrinkles, and he’s smooshing his face backwards and trying to get the bags out from under his eyes, and he’s not making the connection. And then, finally, he grabs his face right at the cheeks and he kind of pushes his face back and up a little but so that he has a smile, and he says … there you are, Peter. There you are. Right? That’s the Peter I was looking for.

See, what see here is that when we behold Christ and we are changed into his image, we know it in one another, don’t we? We can look at the other one and go, there you are. That’s what you were created to be. That’s who you are in Christ. That’s the love that you were created for, the joy, the peace, the patience, the gentleness, that’s you. And, that serves me and points me to Christ. See, that is what is most significant about me, and about you, that we are God’s image bearers.

See, when Paul speaks of this idea of glory to glory, there’s a huge narrative that’s in mind here. There’s this huge narrative of the glory, certainly the fading glory as Paul kind of talks about it, of the old covenant. And then, there’s this beautiful, transformative glory of the new covenant, where we are being renewed in the midst of it, through the work of Jesus Christ. And then, there’s is the ultimate one day, where we will see Jesus face to face, and we will be glorified. We will be like the one that we’ve longed for. We will be like the one that we were created for. See, the truth is, when we start with self and we tell stories, our own stories that center around us, what we don’t realize, is they may feel grand, but in reality they’re puny. They are so small in comparison to the reality of what you and I are made for.

See, what God is doing is global. Habakkuk says, the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the water covers the sea. How does that happen? It happens by his image bearers in the midst of the world, with unveiled faces, beholding Christ, and saying, that’s what I was created for. That’s what i was made for. And, as we’re drawn up into that story, we serve one another for Jesus’ sake, so that the world made know he set his son. That is what’s most significant about you, and me.

Listen, it may be true that we will be forgotten by our great, great grandchildren. But, the truth is, you are not forgotten by the one who matters the most, the creator and redeemer of all things. And, we have the cross of Christ that proves it, the resurrection of Christ that proves it, the ascension of Christ, now at the right hand of the Father, ruling and reigning over all things. Him? That one? The Creator of all? Has not forgotten you. We read it from Psalm 115 in our liturgy. I will remember my people. And, this morning, know this. If you’ve been living for yourself and your own story, there’s a beautiful grand narrative that your eyes can be opened to this morning. The veil can be lifted, and you can see the One you were created for, and you can begin to behold him and image him so that we go … there. That’s the person you were created to be, through Jesus Christ.

Let’s pray.

Jesus, we are thankful this morning for this truth. Lord, it’s so easy for us to get caught up in ourselves, to get caught up with our small stories that feel so grand. Lord, I pray that you would give us grace to see. Give us grace to behold the goodness of Christ. Lord, would you speak this morning. Would you speak and let light shine in the darkness, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. There is no more beautiful picture, there is no more beautiful reality, that we were made for that. Lord, as we do the work of the church at Emmaus, Lord we confess and recognize, we do it imperfectly. And, Lord, we are hopeful people, because this is the work of the Spirit, who is renewing us and transforming us into the image of Christ. Lord, may we be a church that finds our identity there. May all of life and all we do flow out of that reality. And, Lord, as we come to the table again this morning, Lord, may we be reminded of whose we are, that we are yours, and nothing can snatch us from your hand. We ask this, Lord, in Jesus’ name, amen.


Gospel Renewal-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS

SCRIPTURE READING

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

—Romans 3:21–26 ESV

INTRO

We are continuing our series today, Vital: Gospel Distinctives for Our Day, in which we are taking five weeks to walk through distinctives of the gospel that we believe are vital for us to hold on to and grasp as the church, if we are to continue to grow and be healthy as a church, and be fruitful, and to multiply, and to honor God in this next season in our life together. And so, we hope that this series as a whole will help better equip you with the gospel so that you will be able to better navigate our times with the gospel. And so, if this is the first week that you’re jumping in, this is a perfect time to be jumping in, because we hope that this will even define and highlight some of the core distinctives of what it means to be a part of Emmaus.

Last week, we looked at the distinctive of conversion, which is a word that means that we have to be born again, that there is a supernatural reality that God does in us to allow us to have eyes that are opened to see him, to have this new life within us that is this supernatural reality. And so, we hold to that distinctive. And then, today, what we’re looking at is renewal. The question comes after we are born again, after we have this new life, what does that new life look like? And, we see that is a life of continuous renewal.

Here is the definition for renewal, just a basic definition …

re·new·al: the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run down, or broken.

And, we were run down, worn out, and broken in our sin. Some of us, today, feel like when we walked in here we were worn down, run down, and broken. And, we again, and again, just as we came to Christ in need of Christ, so we continue in Christ, and are renewed in the same way in Jesus Christ, and through his gospel. But, quickly, before moving on with this idea of renewal, just to give us some biblical texts that give us the idea of renewal, first there’s Colossians 3:10 …

“put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”

—Colossians 3:10 ESV

And then, 2 Corinthians 4:16 …

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”

—2 Corinthians 4:16 ESV

“he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit”

—Titus 3:5 ESV

You see, gospel renewal means that the work of God continues after we are saved. In other words, God is not done with us. God is not done with you, God is not done with me, God is not done with us.

You know, when I came to Christ … this kind of hits on a personal note for me. I guess you could say my conversion happened when I was in junior high, when my eye were opened and I repented of my sins, and I came to Christ for the forgiveness of my sins. I was in 7th grade, and I was just in a place where the church that I was at, at the time that I found [Christ], really didn’t know what to do with the gospel, to put it frankly. And, I languished for years, until college, actually. And, during that time I wondered, is this really all there is for the Christian faith? Which, is really just looking back again and again to that conversion experience.

And so, I wondered if there was anything more to this walk with Christ, to this spiritual life, to this Christianity that was anything more than maybe that night that I had a deep, emotional response to God. Is there anything more than that moment? And, I began to think that that’s all that there was. And, I became bored. I looked around at school, I looked around to my classmates who didn’t know Christ, and I began to realize that, in fact, actually I was more bored than them because I couldn’t do what they do, but at the same time I wasn’t experiencing this life that was promised. I wasn’t experiencing renewal. That’s what I was missing. That was the vital distinction of the gospel that I was missing.

And so, today we’re going to look at renewal, and what we’re going to do is take a little bit of a tour, a 35 minute tour through Romans, somewhat. And, we’re going to launch into renewal in Romans 3, which we just looked at. And, here’s what we’re going to look at. First, that renewal means that we are saved from the penalty of sin. We have been saved from the penalty of sin, that we are being saved from the power of sin, and that we will be saved from the presence of sin.

So, let’s pray before we dive in.

Heavenly Father,

We thank you that our salvation is not merely just a moment in time, and now we are just in this inbetween time treading water. But, in fact, we are now every day called to renewal, that we are called to new life, we are called to life in Christ, we are called to walk in freedom from sin, that we are called to walk by your Spirit, walk in your presence, to experience new life. And so, Father, this morning we ask that you would open our eyes, help us to grasp this truth, and to take hold of it. We ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.

I. GOSPEL RENEWAL MEANS WE’VE BEEN SAVED FROM THE PENALTY OF SIN (Romans 3:21-26)

Well, gospel renewal means we’ve been saved from the penalty of sin. We’re starting, again, in Romans 3, which we read in the scripture reading. And, Romans 3 gives us a solution to a problem. At this point in Paul’s letter to the Romans, the Christians who were in Rome - modern day, what we think of as Rome, the city of Rome, the Christians who are there, Paul has written them a letter - and, he’s at this point in the letter giving them a solution, which means that there’s a problem that comes before.

Now, just to give you an idea, you may be familiar with this passage, because this passage is a very well known passage. In fact, Martin Luther, the reformer, actually says that the center of - not just the argument of Romans - but the center of all of Christianity, and all of scripture, is summed up in this passage. Leon Morris, who is a scholar and commentator, wrote about this paragraph in Romans. He said this is perhaps the most important paragraph that has ever been written. And, the reason is because it defines the solution to the problem that Paul lays out, starting in Romans 1.

And so, we can’t really get an idea of this good, the good news of the solution, until we look at Romans 1. And so, I want to just go back briefly, Romans 1, Paul says that God has created a world that is made to reflect his glory. Now, you might be thinking, what is glory? Well, it may be helpful, first, to define that God is holy. And, what we mean by Holy is that God is perfectly beautiful, true, good, righteous, morally pure, he’s grand, he’s strong … every perfection you can imagine, it leads you up, as C.S. Lewis says, back up a sunbeam, up to the sun, who is God.

In fact, God, in his holiness, though, the question is, what happens when that holiness goes public? Well, when that holiness goes public, you could say, when that holiness goes outward, it is glorious. And so, when scripture defines God’s glory, when it talks about God’s glory, what it’s talking about, is that like the sun, imagine God and his holy being the ball of gas that we call the sun, and then you imagine that, we stand in the sunlight. That’s his glory, that we bask in his glory, that we stand in his glory.

And, God has made a world that is filled with his glory, that is emanating with the truth of who he is, and his holiness, and that goodness, and that truth, and that beauty, and that purity, and it is made and hardwired into this creation. And, the good news is that God created that world. The bad news is, then, as it says in verse 20 of chapter 1 of Romans … for his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made … And again, what he’s saying there, just like Psalm 19:1, when it says that the heavens declare the glory of God, that all of creation, when we look at it we can see something true about God, that he is glorious, that he is good, that he is beautiful. So, when you see the mountains, when you see that new picture, now, of the black hole, right? That should blow your mind, and it should make you think thoughts of God, of how huge he is, how powerful he is, and even the mysteries of God.

And, its says this right here, that we can perceive this, but then if you go down, jump down to verse 23 to get a clear statement, it says in response, we have God’s glory …  but we exchange the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, and birds, and animals, and creeping things … That’s language that goes back to Genesis 1. That’s language that goes back to say that we were made for this glorious creation, for this relationship with God, to know his glory, and instead we have rejected it, and we’ve turned everything on its head, whereas before, it was God, and then man was placed in creation, and creation was used, then, by man for the raw materials to glorify God, and said, now, everything is flipped on its head.

And so, now it’s creation rules over man, and then God is like this add-on. And so, man now takes worship of what’s meant for God, and he uses it to worship creation, and now man serves creation. And so, now our jobs are a place where we find our identity, our lives are the place where we find significance, and we find that over, and over again, we try to find satisfaction in things that actually can’t satisfy us. That’s why we sings songs after confession about expressing that we want to turn constantly, again and again, to lesser loves, cause we were made for a greater love. And so, God’s revealed in his glory, but we rejected his glory. And this is why, then, in chapter 3 as we read in the liturgy, starting in verse 10, it goes on to say … none is righteous, no not one, no one does good, not even one … And so, now our hearts are turned to find glory in ourselves and creation, rather than in God. We’ve rejected his glory.

And so, at this point … you may have thought that when we read that passage in the confession, you may have been like, man … not one? Really? Is it really that bad? What Paul is saying is, yes. It really is that bad in our sin, and Paul says if you understand the bitterness of how bad your sin is, then now you are ready to hear the sweetness of Jesus Christ. And then, he transitions into our passage. In verse 21, then he says … but now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law … you see, what Paul does here, is he transitions from using language like glory, which is good and beautiful and true and pure, and what Paul says is that now, that has been tarnished by man, and that is called unrighteousness. Unrighteousness, to reject what is true, what is beautiful, what is pure, what is glorious. And, he says, how though, there is one who has entered the world, and he lives delighting in what is good, and what is true, and what is beautiful, and he not only does that, but he also is going to bring you back to what is glorious. He’s going to restore you to it. He’s going to renew you.

And so, in verses 21 and 22, we see that Jesus is the one who is righteous, and he says he is a remedy for us, in verse 23, for we have … all sinned … and we ... fall short of the glory of God. He juxtaposes Jesus to our failure. Jesus’ righteousness to our own righteousness, Jesus’ obedience to our disobedience, Jesus’ desire for glory and for goodness and what is true. And we may say, what does it mean? Why is it so bad that we fall short of the glory of God? Why is this such a horrible thing? Well, what this is saying here is if God made a creation that reflects who he is, and is meant to just embody and be hardwired with who he is, it is the most satisfying reality we could ever imagine. The best thing that could ever be created is the world God created for us to live in, to delight in him and know him. And so, anything that tarnishes it, hatred instead of love, lust instead of fidelity, abuse instead of care and peace, these things tarnish. They corrupt. They pollute God’s glory.

And so, God says, I don’t just want to give you some half-baked remedy. I want to give you my glory. I want to give you my goodness, and I want you to see my beauty. I want you to experience my presence. And so, God says that takes a massive remedy. And so, specifically, Jesus Christ - who is the righteousness of God - then, it says in verse 24 and 25, especially, that God put him forward ... as a propitiation by his blood … And so, what God does here, is he says there is a reality, a pollution, a tarnishing of what is good, and he pours out. Propitiation means that God satisfies his wrath. Christ says, I will take their sin upon myself, and I will receive your wrath, so that it falls upon me and not upon them.

Now, I know - for a second here I have to say something - because, I know in our modern world, we tend to hear that idea of a sacrifice being made for sins, of God’s wrath being poured out … you see, God becomes both the propitiated, he’s the one who’s satisfied, and he becomes the propitiation in the Son, he becomes the one who is the propitiated, the one who actually satisfies the wrath of God, the propitiation, the object of that wrath. And, I know in the modern world, we think, oh this is just some kind of archaic, religious idea of wrath. But, I actually think it’s a very modern idea. Because, today, I think of it as simply - and I get it, why we tend to recoil at this - but then, I just turn on the news. Then, I go onto social media, and I realize that we, as human beings, is we’ve lost this idea that there is this actual standard of glory, and of goodness, and of holiness, and now we’ve kind of made it a catch-all for whatever you think it might be, then we all are, at the same time, pouring out and expecting propitiation for our wrath, for the injustices and the brokenness as we define it, all around us. And, just go on to social media to see it just fulminating and being poured out. The wrath is constantly coming.


You can read books like Jon Ronson’s book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, and you can read of the accounts that began happening five years ago, that are of individuals being torn apart, their reputations being shredded, their lives being ruined. See, here’s what I’m saying. We may say, as modern people, that we don’t believe in wrath, that we don’t believe in hell. But, we will very quickly pour out our wrath on individuals who do not agree with us, and do not measure up, and then we will banish them and socially ostracize them to a hell of our own making. See, there, the bad news is there’s no redemption. But, the good news here is God says there is a wrath, there is a standard of justice, it must be poured out, it must be cleansed, it must be gotten rid of, but your bad news is, you would be under that wrath. And, we all feel it. That’s why social media, when you go on it, you’re depressed, right? Because, you walk away going, oh, that’s me, I’m just going to back up now, pretend I didn’t go in there. Right?

And, he says, but the good news is now, that that you can look straight into your sin, you can look straight into your brokenness, you can look straight into your dependencies, and you can say yes, that is me, and he says, I have a solution. It is my grace, found in the son of God. And so, God pours out his wrath in Jesus, and the gospel gives us a better news. It’s called the great exchange, saying that Jesus exchanges his righteousness for our sin. It’s put like this by John Stott, who is a scholar who just passed away a few years ago, in his commentary in Romans he sums it up like this, this is great …

““The righteousness of God” is God’s just justification of the unjust, his righteous way of pronouncing the unrighteous righteous, in which he both demonstrates his righteousness and gives righteousness to us. He has done it through Christ, the righteous one, who died for the unrighteous. And he does it by faith when we put our trust in him, and cry to him for mercy… The gospel reveals “God’s righteous way of ‘righteoussing’ the unrighteous.”

—John Stott, Romans


See, God doesn’t just pass over things, he doesn’t just flippantly say, we’ll just sweep that under the rug. But, he actually deals with it. He takes on the penalty of our sin, and now the decision for us is … do we want the renewal that comes when God covers the penalty of our sin? See, let me just be clear. Either Jesus Christ will bear the the wrath for your sin, or you will bear the wrath for your sin. And, God says, let me renew you. Let me forgive you. Let me wash away your sins so that you might live - not trying constantly to overcome your shame and overcome your guilt, and overcome all of the things that are rattling in your mind and trying to run from them -  to stop living running from something, and start living running to something. Run to Christ.

And so, gospel renewal means that in Jesus Christ, God has saved us, by faith, from the penalty of sin, to live a new life. And, it is in that new life that we also are being saved from the power of sin. So, the second point, the first that gospel renewal means that we have been saved from the penalty of sin, but then the second, gospel renewal means that we are being saved from the power of sin.

II. GOSPEL RENEWAL MEANS WE’RE BEING SAVED FROM THE POWER OF SIN (Romans 8:1-14)

If we follow Paul’s argument, it’ll eventually bring us to chapter 6. So, if you have a Bible, turn to chapter 6 of Romans. And, verse 1, verses 1-4, it says this … What shall way say, then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? … So, now you have this issue that, okay, the penalty of sin has been done away with and now you’re living life, and he says, people keep saying, well, if it all grace and it’s covering you, then now what’s going to happen is, people are just going to start sinning and going ...ah, there’s grace. I’m good. And he says, so are we supposed to just go on sinning so that grace may abound? … By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? … Catch that? How can we? … Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life …

So, what’s Paul saying here? We saw this demonstrated, actually, two weeks ago, here at the 11:00 service, we had nine baptisms on Easter. And, baptism provides a picture of what happens when we place our faith in Jesus Christ. When we place our faith in him, when we look - and by faith, I mean that we trust that God’s remedy for our problem - God’s solution in Romans 3:21-26 is the solution that I need for my problem, which is defined in the first two and a half chapters of Romans. Paul says, if you see, then you place your faith in Christ, that his sacrifice for your sins is what you need. And he says that when that happens, just as Christ died, going under judgement … see, when it says that he was baptised - this is why Paul uses this imagery of baptism - he’s saying something very specifically. Because, here’s what happens in baptism …

In baptism, we might just think, oh, it’s water. And so, sometimes one aspect of baptism is that it means, like, a cleansing for sin, like a bath. If you don’t know what I’m talking about with a cleansing in water and a bath, then perhaps you have some other things you need to work on. But, when we go down for cleansing, but also it’s actually hitting on an imagery that’s all throughout scripture. It’s very precise, and it’s this … throughout scripture, water is a symbol of judgement. Specifically, if you think about what happens with Noah, God’s first major response to sin after the Fall, with Noah. What does he do? He floods the world. And, Noah, who is righteous, builds a boat - it’s an ark - and he passes through the flood, through the judgement waters, that cleansed the world of sin, and he passes through the judgement waters through the ark, and he comes to the other side.

And then, also, you come to the Israelites in Egypt, during the Exodus, when they come out, it says, before they have the passover, the say, if you’re going to be covered by the blood of the Lamb, then put blood over your doorpost, and those who do it are now covered by the blood of this lamb, the sacrifice for sins, which Paul is pointing back to and using that imagery in the sacrifice for Jesus. And, he says, then, what they do is they head out into the wilderness, and Pharaoh and his army start catching up to them to kill them. And, what does God do? He parts the Red Sea, and those who are covered by the blood of the lamb walk through the waters. Those who are not, then the waters come down in judgement upon them, and they die. Then, when we get to Revelation - just so we can go through more - but you go to Revelation and fast forward, it says at the time, when the city of God fully comes to the new Jerusalem, that the sea was no more, that the sea was no more. And, the reason why it says that the sea is no more is because it’s saying that evil no longer exists. Now, there’s a river running through, but there’s no longer this chaotic sea, where sin abounds.

And so, the judgement waters, at that point it says if you, a Christ goes under in death, he then goes under judgement of God, but then he’s the one who’s raised in newness of life. And, Paul says, if you have been baptized in Christ, you also have gone under the waters of judgement - I always joke that when I do baptism I like to hold people there for a second, just to make them wonder … am I really going to be resurrected with Christ? You are! Born in newness of life! Right? Just to make sure they get it, hammer it home - but then, we’re raised to this newness of life. And, he says, if that has happened, that means you died already, and now the resurrection is yours. In the same power, here, he says the glory of God that raised Jesus from the grave. Later on in chapter 8, he’s going to say, the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the grave, that now the glory of God, and the Spirit of God has come to dwell within you, and raise you to newness of life.

And so, it’s not saying just some act of baptism, it’s saying that now your life is fundamentally different. It’s fundamentally different. We walk in newness of life. And then, Paul sums this up, then, in verses 10 and 11, saying … for the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God, so you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus … You are freed from sin. You have been freed from guilt, you have been freed from sin. The grave no longer has any power over you. Because, the one who walked in the judgement and then walked back out of the grave, you have become one with him. And, if you are one with him, then not only have you died with him, but you are risen with him, and that power dwells within you.

See, renewal in the gospel is not just about one moment when you’re forgiven of your sins, and your guilt is erased. It also means that now you walk, and you live with a new power that says you are a new being, you are a new creation, you have new life within you as well. Now, I know as I start to say this, because I’m starting to talk about now, that we have the power, we are being freed from the power of sin. And, I know as I start talking about this, you’re like, man, Pastor, you’re starting to make this sound really, kind of, too easy, right? And, I think one of the things is that when we think about sin and overcoming sin, what we tend to do, is we tend to turn to introspection, we tend to become overwhelmed and just thinking about the ways in which we’ve failed. But, here’s they that I want you to hear. Gospel renewal comes not from our feeling more guilty, not from our beating ourselves up more, not from ourselves demanding more of ourselves and saying I just need to do better. Gospel renewal comes by God’s means, and God’s means that he has given are two-fold here in what Paul says. And, these are the two ways that you overcome and are freed and find renewal and freedom from the power from sin.

The first is identity in Christ. See, one of the things in our sin, and just - I guess I should say a side note - I’m not talking about … it’s a different approach we need to take a little bit if you’re saying, I’m continuing in sin, and I just don’t care what God thinks, and I desire sin, and I’m just going to continue down that road. That is a dangerous place to be. So, if you’re thinking, okay, I’m a serial killer, I’m about 20 people in now, and I’m just going to continue, so I’m going to apply grace here, this isn’t the way you apply grace, okay? This is talking about those sins that are ongoing, those attitudes of the heart, those words that keep coming out, the attitudes and the emotions, and the thoughts. And, this is what the first thing is, identity in Christ.

Here’s the thing about your baptism. Paul goes here because he has a paradigm, which is in the baptism of Jesus. And, he says, if you’re one with Jesus, then you can look at the baptism of Jesus, to see how the Father looks at you. See, often in our sin when we have these attitudes and we have these things that come out, what do we do immediately? We start beating ourselves up, and in fact we tell ourselves, oh God … we just think God is, like, maybe a parent who shamed us too much, or a friend, or someone in our life who has just poured scorn and shame on us, and we immediately think … God thinks about me that way.

And, what he says is that the baptism of Jesus Christ, what you see is that Jesus is baptized, and then he comes up out of the waters and what happens? The Father speaks from heaven, saying ... this is my son, in whom I am well pleased. And, why is that important for you? Because, if you are in Jesus Christ, the Father sees you as the other side of that baptism. He sees you as one with his Son. He looks at you, he delights in you. He looks at you as his child, and he says, this is one in whom I am well pleased. You see, so often we only look in the mirror of our sin, and that just beats us down again, and again, and again. And, what God says, is allow me to be your mirror. Allow me to tell you how I see you. Allow my grace to overcome your sin.

But, it’s not only the identity, it’s also that there is a power that we have in the Spirit of God. The good news of the gospel is more than just a legal declaration. Again, it’s also new life within you. At Jesus’ baptism, as well, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus. And, in Christ, you also now are sealed as Ephesians 1 says … with the Holy Spirit. That means God cultivates within you a renewed desire. This is the reason why he’s called the Holy Spirit. Because, that holy character of God that now is all this glory around us in creation, now God puts his Holy Spirit in you, cause it doesn’t just sit in the holy of holies in a temple somewhere in Jerusalem, but now it is in his redeemed people, and we are the temple, and how his Spirit is within you. And, it cultivates within you a desire for God’s holiness, and to please him, and to be obedient, and to find life in him, and we become a slave of the Spirit. We become a slave of Christ, we become a servant for God’s desires.

And, here’s the thing. I know as soon as I say that, some of you … I’m not a slave of anyone. But, catch what Paul says in verse 12. He says, you can’t just say I’m not a slave of anyone. In fact, in verse 12, it says … let not sin, therefore, reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions ... See, what Paul says is, you will either be a slave of the spirit of this age, and of the fleshly desires that are within you, or you will be a slave of the Spirit of God. As Bob Dylan said, everybody’s got to serve somebody, right? And, you will either serve the flesh of the world and the devil, of you will serve the Spirit of God.

And so, Paul says, like in Galatians 5, to walk, keep in step with the Spirit, to cultivate the presence of the Spirit. Paul struggled with the power of sin as well. That’s why in the next chapter, in chapter 7, he says, for I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. So, just so you know, the Apostle Paul is right there with you. Right after this, when he says you must walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, you must walk in light of your identity in Christ, he goes straight into the fact that he’s like, I get it. I’m a human being, too. I don’t do what I want to do, and I do what I don’t want to do. But, does Paul give up? Does Paul just beat himself up? Does Paul just say, I’m done with this, or it’s not for me? What Paul says, then in chapter 8, he reminds himself of his identity in Christ, and he points himself, he turns to the power of God’s Spirit, and he says this in verse 1, he says … there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of Life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

You see, Paul said in chapter 6 that you must consider yourselves dead, that you might walk in newness of life. And, what Paul says here is, you must consider yourselves alive by God’s Spirit. You must walk in God’s Spirit. God is setting you free from the power of sin, if you will walk in his Spirit. God is giving you new life, desire for his goodness, his beauty, his truth, and to know it, to walk in light of it, if you will turn to his Spirit. If you will stop just trying to force, bury yourself in the grave, to say God, I’ll punish myself for this one. He says, I’ve already punished my son. You’re one with him. It’s over. Look to him, confess your sin.

This is why every week we confess our sin, because we confess our sin knowing assurance is coming, which is just another form of confession. I confess what I’ve done, and then I confess what God has done. And, I turn to him, and I walk in newness of life, and Paul says, the promise is sure if we do this, in verse 11 of chapter 8, he says … if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you … He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through the Spirit who dwells in you. God will do this work. God will empower you by his Spirit, and he’ll do it without just beating you up, and making you this cantankerous, bitter person, who’s like, I’ve got my good works, but nobody likes being around me.

This is what 18th century preacher, Robert Murray McCheyne, he sums this up so incredibly well in a letter. He says …

““The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9) Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in his almighty arms… Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him. Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart, and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.”

—Robert Murray McCheyne

He says, look to Christ, be filled with his Spirit. Walk in newness of life. God is renewing you. He’s freeing you from the power of sin. Delight in your savior, walk in the Spirit. And, we do this in the present, and it’s a fight worthwhile, because of the future promise that we have.

Last point, gospel renewal means we will be saved from the presence of sin.

III. GOSPEL RENEWAL MEANS WE WILL BE SAVED FROM THE PRESENCE OF SIN (Romans 8:18-25)

Paul, then, continues in Romans 8 with this promise. In 8:18, he says this … for I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us … the present sufferings. Paul is not just saying, you know, the, you know, my elbow’s been hurting lately, and so, like, maybe I have, like, an arthritic elbow now. Just add that to the list of the things I’m discovering. And so, now I have this pain. There is that suffering. But, he’s saying, also the suffering of Christ being formed in you, the suffering of the power of sin being put to death in your life, that suffering, that pleading before God for life, he says, none of this is … worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. What is that glory? Go back to chapter 1! He’s saying, I’m bringing back in Christ the glory that was lost in the Fall, and I’m bringing it in IMAX form, right? There’s going to be no diminishment of it. I’m bringing it back in full.

One day, all will be made new, completely renewed to a perfect display of God’s glory, and that is what we are pilgrimaging toward. Do you realize that’s what we’re journeying towards? That is the sure promise, that one day we will close our eyes in death, and in the twinkling of an eye, we will open them and we will see this in fullness. Everyone who’s gone before us that we know and love, in Christ, that is their reality. One day we’ll be completely renewed. And, the promise that we will be saved from the presence of sin guarantees complete renewal. And, it is exactly the hope that we need in our day.

Two future guarantees of gospel renewal. The first, a city with sure foundations guarantees redemptive progress. Here’s what I mean. I don’t know how else to say this. Modern, secularism’s confidence in unlimited progress is misplaced. I love the quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., you probably have heard it …

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

—Martin Luther King, Jr.


That is a true statement. Now, right now it’s being used a lot because we take this, and we say, listen, justice will flow down like rivers … but, here’s the thing, all this is rooted in a biblical worldview. All of these statements are rooted, in fact, MLK did not come up with this quote. It comes from a 19th century sermon by Theodore Parker, in the middle of a sermon. And, Luther takes it, and he uses it, MLK uses that in the middle of a sermon himself. And, then we take it, we unhinge it from the fact that this is rooted in the fact that we have a holy God who made a glorious world, to reflect his glory, and then was rejected by his creation. He’s renewing his creation through his glorious ones, so that we might desire glory, and he’s bringing back that fullness of glory one day. It is a sure thing, it will happen, so the ark is true, it will occur.

But, you remove that, and you start going in all different directions and demanding different outcomes, it can not be a sure thing. We don’t know. History has ebbed and flowed. It’s been ups and downs, where civilizations step backwards, they step forward. How do we know we’ll always progress? The way we know, is the guarantee is found that God is bringing renewal, and he has promised us a city with sure foundations, and that guarantees redemptive progress. It says this in Revelation …

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more … [There you go, no more evil. Now you know why it’s there. God’s not against oceans, okay?] ... And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” …  [He is renewing all things] … Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

—Revelation 21:1–5 ESV

We have the confidence that all things, as Paul will say later in chapter 8 … will come together for the good of those who are in Christ Jesus … because, this progress, this end, this outcome, this city, the New Jerusalem, is sure, because God will do it. He has secured it already in Christ, and Christ is coming again. And, when he comes again, he will bring his glorious kingdom. And, the end of pain, and sorry, injustice, illness, loss, depression … it’s coming. It’s coming. It is sure, and it is coming with Christ. He will restore all things in the presence of a holy God. All things will be as they should be, and every chapter will be better than the last.

The second thing, glorified bodies guarantee the end of sinful tension in our lives. This is the last one. The modern world tells us that we’ll always be the way we are. The reason I was reading Robert Greene, I really like Robert Greene’s work - some of you know who I’m talking about - but he has a new book on human nature. And, he says multiple times throughout, you cannot change human nature. However someone is, you cannot change their character, you cannot change them. And, in fact, most social sciences, most behavioral therapists, they’ll actually tell you, you know what, on the whole, that will that is at the center of a person, you really can’t change it. You really can’t change it. The problem is that that’s not rooted in a Christian worldview. See, what happens when we believe that we cannot change, that there is no renewal, that we are just what we are, so whatever we desire, even if we’re embarrassed by it, if we’re ashamed by it, that we just might as well give in to ourselves so we can feel better about it.

And the problem is, again, that means there are a thousand standards, a million infinite standards out there of what it means to be a human being, what it means to grasp true beauty, to grasp true purpose, to grasp true knowledge and truth. And, as we live, just grasping at any way of life, and all the choices that are out there, and finding again and again that it’s not satisfying. Because, here’s the only way that you can live without the tension, is to just give in, to tell yourselves, well, whatever conscience or whatever I have inside of me that’s telling me to slow down, or this isn’t really satisfying, I just have to bury that, cause that’s some repressive thought that was given to me by some institution, and burrowed down into me, and I have to release that.

But, here’s the problem, is that this is not freeing. As we’ve been living this out, it’s not freeing the modern person to experience any more fullness. In fact, there’s a book quote by Kent Dunnington, in Addiction & Virtue, he’s a counselor, a psychologist. He says this …

“The absence of a shared or ultimately justifiable telos makes modern persons uniquely bored. Because one can do anything, there is nothing to do. It is not only, as in the case of standard boredom, that a particular way of life seems pointless. Rather, the search itself seems pointless, and therefore boring: “Hyperboredom” names the paralysis brought on by modernity’s inability to justify one commitment over the others.”

—Kent Dunnington, Addiction & Virtue

You see, when we live without a standard, just pursuing whatever we can find, we actually find ourselves to be quite bored. We actually find that everything tastes quite bland after a while. Then, on the other hand, then we say, well if I’m going to live in this body, and I have this tension with sin within me, and I’m under knowing God’s truth, what am I to do with that? Well, one, point to … to continue to go back to what God … God knows this. God knows this, and he’s remedied it. He’s addressed it in Jesus Christ, and has sacrificed for sins once and forever. And, his grace is continuously coming to you and covering. And so, now that means that you can continue to live your life even with that tension, and you don’t have to live as a hypocrite as you go before God, you go before others, and you confess and say, here’s my sin. I want to grow. And, you ask God’s Spirit to do a work in you.

That is not hypocritical. That’s just … that’s life. That’s life in Christ. Hypocritical is pretending as if it’s not even happening. But, here’s the thing, here’s the thing that pulls you through, is hope. As it says, then, in verse 25, Paul says after verse 18, it says … but if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience … we endure, we have patience. Because, we know this truth, that he will end the tension. It says this in 1 John 3:2, this is the best simple summary of the fact that one day we will have glorified bodies and be done with the presence of sin. It says …

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

—1 John 3:2 ESV

Do you realize that? You will one day be like him. You will one day fully desire, you will not have these desires in you that are fighting and causing this tension within you, and these doubts within you, and this toiling within you, but one day you will be freed from this fleshly cage, with all of its desires, and you will be in a renewed body - so your body’s not all bad … fleshly cage makes it sound like matter is all bad - matter is not bad. God is redeeming all things. You’ll be in this glorified state where your desires will be renewed, and that tension will be gone. The tension is not just something to be forgotten or pretend it’s not there. What God is calling us to is to look right to his redemption and the promises of how he’s going to remove it, and there you will find joy, and there you will find hope, in actually dealing with the sin that is in your life.

We have the privilege of living as a hopeful people, living before the world, lives anticipating complete renewal. Do you realize that? We, as a church, live lives patiently enduring, realizing that there is renewal that God has done, he is doing, and he will do. And, as we see the witness to one another when we see God renewing one another, we know that it’s just a downpayment of the reality that is to come. And so, when the presence of sin will soon be no more, then the gospel has, is, and will renew you. Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father,


Lord God, you alone have saved us from the penalty of sin. You, alone, are freeing us from the power of sin, and you alone are our sure hope that one day we will be completely removed from the presence of sin. Renewal is yours. Renewal is part of the good news of the gospel, Father, don’t let us miss this distinctive. Father, don’t let us think that in the weightiness of being human and being new creations in Christ in this world, yet, that we don’t just give up on renewal. That, Father, we don’t just look around the world around us and just thumb our noses at it. But, Father, we would see the work of renewal you are doing around us and through us, as well, and Father, the renewal that starts with us would go outward, would glorify you and the world around us. Give us a willing Spirit to live in light of these truths, fill our imaginations with your glory, compel our will by your Spirit, fill us with hope that in Christ all things are being renewed. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Gospel Conversion-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS

SCRIPTURE READING


“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.””

—Matthew 28:16–20 ESV

INTRO

Well, good morning. My name is Matt, I’m one of the pastors here at Emmaus. And, this morning we are beginning a new series, called Vital: Gospel Distinctives for Our Day. And, in this series over the next five weeks, what we will be looking at are five distinctives that we believe are important in our day and age, if we are to be a church that is centered around the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, we’re doing this because we, as a church, are in a unique season. We’re at this unique intersection of past and future. We’ve just come out of a successful merger, we’ve just come through years of consistent growth as a church, and we are also are coming out of this season where we’re realizing what a healthy and firm foundation that we have in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so, now the question is, what’s next? Where is the Lord guiding us next?

And so, as we look ahead, what we want to do as a church, is we want to orient ourselves, we want to align around these basic distinctives, because what we’ll see is that the same basic distinctives of the gospel, if we keep the main things the main things, and the playing things the playing things, then God will continue to be faithful and grow us in a healthy way as a church. So, I want to say if you’re new here, this is a perfect time to be diving in, this is a perfect first week. I want to give you what sometimes we call the sermon series challenge, which is, over the next five weeks, during the course of this series, I invite you to be here every week, to hear some of these distinctives, and to be thinking about, what does it mean to be living out the gospel? I promise, if nothing else, you’re going to find yourself better equipped with the gospel, a better understanding of the gospel, and ready to navigate our times with the theological, gospel fidelity.

So, today, the first distinctive that we’re going to be looking at is conversion. Conversion. Now, conversion, I just want to throw up the basic definition, if you google search conversion, because, why not crowdsource a sermon? If you google conversion, this is what you get …

con·ver·sion: the process of changing or causing something to change from one form to another.

See, conversion means a complete transformation. It means to become something that you weren’t before. It means, well, let’s hear how scripture defines it. 1 Peter 1:3 says this …

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”

—1 Peter 1:3 ESV

The next, in 2 Corinthians 5:17 …

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

—2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

And lastly, and probably most famously, John 3:3, when Jesus says …


“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

—John 3:3 ESV

See, what the distinctive of conversion says, is that there is not a spectrum in humanity on its way to God. There is not this spectrum where we are maybe bad, and then if we do a little bit of work, then we’ll become good, and then if we do a little bit more religious work, then we’ll become better. But, in fact, what scripture says is there are two states that of humanity, they are in one or the other. And, that is either dead in sin, or alive in Jesus Christ. Conversion means new birth, blind eyes opened, complete and utter transformation to become something that we were not before, a new creation in Jesus Christ. And, we are all called to take part in calling the dead alive in Christ, by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, you may be thinking - I’m sure some of you are - I mean, conversion? I’m sure when I said conversion at first, you kind of chaffed, you were like … what was that? Cause, conversion is not a word that we normally just culturally go, yeah, a conversion, let’s talk about, right? You might have even been thinking to yourself … conversion? Are you serious? Like, who is this fool? Don’t you know that our society is trending secular? Don’t you understand this is something that we just don’t even talk about anymore? Yes. I do. And, in fact, if you’re actually thinking that what you’re talking about - this conversion idea - sounds like it’s completely impossible, then I would say you’re absolutely right. That is exactly what scripture represents.

A few months ago, I shared this illustration, and it’ll be helpful throughout this morning. I can’t think of a better time in my life that this has hit me, which is that this is what conversion looks like. Back when I was in school, I would go to this cemetery, and I would walk around. It was a beautiful cemetery, and it hit me one day that what we do when we call others to life in Christ, when we share the gospel, what we are doing is like if I were to walk up to one of those gravestones and say, rise! Walk in newness of life! Rise from the grave, find newness of life in Christ! I could shout that throughout the graveyard, in response there was silence. And, I would do that sometimes. I would just walk up, and I would walk up to a whole hillside filled with tombstones, I would say, rise! (Hoping no one was around to hear me.) Just to drive it into my heart just how impossible it is.

See, left to our own, that is a picture of how impossible new birth, new life, and new creation conversion is. That is where we were at one time, dead in our sins. And, it is impossible for us to change our hearts, unless God works. This is what Jesus says a few chapters before the Great Commission, which we’ll be looking at. He says, with man, this is impossible, when the disciples come back. They say, well, how can we do this? We’re going out there, and the demons are running over people, and people are persecuting us and turning away from us. And, he says this to them … with man, this is impossible. Your eyes are finally opened, you’re finally now seeing that this is impossible, but with God … but with God, all things are possible. But with God, this is possible.

And, see, this is why it is an important distinctive for our day, because our world is changing. Our world is changing, and we tend to think because of the new, secular, and pluralistic defaults, we think that because it is changing, we forget that the one who is reigning, who is standing over it all, has never changed, will not change, never will change. And, if we are still here, it is because he is still bringing redemption. And so, what is impossible with us, is possible with God. And so, today we’ll look at the Great Commission, which fittingly comes immediately - we didn’t think about this when we set it up - but it comes immediately after the Easter passage. And so, right after the Easter passage, it’s significant because these are the last words of Jesus before he ascends.

Sometimes we forget about the ascension of Jesus, that right now he is on the throne in heaven. If you look at the stained glass, he is born, and then Jesus has is baptism, and then Jesus on the cross, and then Jesus resurrected, and then we usually forget there’s another scene, which is that then, Jesus is ascended to the Father’s right hand, and right now, since that time, he has been on the throne, above all earthly powers, all heavenly powers, and he reigns.

And so, what we see in the Great Commission, the last words to earth that he’s giving here to his disciples, he’s telling them, this is what my reign is about. This is why you, as the church, are here in the world. To see hearts awakened so that those who are dead would find new life in me. And so, we’ll see why. The first point is just going to be boldly asking the question, why would we want anyone to be converted? Let’s answer that question. Why would we want anyone to be converted? And then, next, we’ll look at three distorted approaches to making disciples, and then lastly we’ll look at the key to true conversion in our day. So, let’s pray before we dive in.

Heavenly Father,

We thank you that we, right now, are the people of Jesus Christ gathered under a risen, enthroned king. Father, we ask that this morning you would lift our eyes to see Christ reigning today, that you would banish our small thoughts, you would banish our thoughts of an impotent Christ, you would ban our thoughts of a distant Christ, you would enlarge our Jesus, you would increase our understanding of his power, the work that he has called us into in this world. Father, help us to see the impossibility of conversion, but also, Father, to find complete hope and joy in the fact that you are the God that changes hearts, and that you place us in the front row to see that happen. Do this work by your Spirit in Jesus’ name, amen.

I. WHY WOULD WE WANT ANYONE TO BE CONVERTED? (vv18-20)

So, why would we want anyone to be converted? This commissioning to invite, Jesus to his followers, again, has been called The Great Commision. In verses 18-20, we get the thrust of it, and I’ll just read it so that we’re all on the same page again … All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me … this is Jesus speaking … All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even until the end of the age.”

And so, what Jesus is saying here, is he’s saying, church, as long as I am on the throne and you are still in the world, this is your commissioning. This is priority number one. This is my calling upon you. This is where my power will be at work through you. And, see, we often, we forget the context of this passage. Because, many times, when I was in college, I was involved in Campus Crusade for Christ, and we used to come to this passage again, and again, and again. And, it was very, very helpful, because I just have it internalized now. In fact, I probably was quoting a different version, I just realized, than what was right here in front of me. Sorry for that. But, I just internalized it, and we constantly were living that out and thinking about what does it mean to make disciples, and share the gospel? It was very healthy.

At the same time, sometimes I forgot what the context was that Jesus gave the Great Commission. And, he gave the Great Commission right after he walked out of the grave. He gave the Great Commission, imagine this, it says that some of them were worshiping him, and some of them were doubting. If you can imagine the guy who’s your leader, he dies a horrible death publicly, you think he’s gone, and then suddenly he says, rendezvous with me somewhere, and you arrive, and he’s there. What they’re seeing here, is this is one who has accomplished everything he would accomplish, and now he is powerful enough to go into the grave, and apparently to come out of the grave.

And so, when Jesus says all authorityall authority on heaven and earth has been given to me … Jesus isn’t just saying, hey, I’ve got the title, I’ve got the power, here, I’m Jesus, my last name is Christ, so therefore follow me. What Jesus is saying there, is I have the ability to bridge heaven and earth, because I am the one who entered into the grave, and I am the one who came out of the grave, and conquered death, and therefore I am the one who ascends to heaven. I reign over all of this, I know what I’m doing. Follow me. And so, the whole point, see the whole point of Matthew’s gospel from the very beginning of Matthew’s gospel …

If you remember from our advent series, we went through the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, and the very first chapter of Matthew’s gospel begins with a genealogy, and that genealogy points back and says, this is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And, it goes back to this entire history, from the beginning of time, God has been at work to bring about this redemption. And, all throughout history, mankind has been wondering, how will God remove very tear? How will God deal with my sin? How will God deal with this murderous intent that’s within me of this hatred, and how everything is broken, and illness, and disease, and evil, and backstabbing, and death, and separation, and isolation? How will God fix this? He says, there is one who will come.

There’s one who will be a true prophet, unlike the prophets who died. There will be a true king who will reign, unlike the kings who failed you and abused you. And, there will be one who is true incarnate, who is God incarnate, who is Immanuel, God with you. And, his name is Jesus Christ, and he has come. You see, as Paul says, 2 Corinthians 1:20 … For all the promises of God have found their yes and amen in him, in Jesus Christ … every human longing, every want, every human desire that has ever existed … was desiring Jesus Christ. And, now he has come. He has come.

And so, why would we want to convert anyone? Why would we want anyone to experience this new birth, eyes opened to see Jesus? It’s because it’s everything they have ever desired, whether they realize it or not. Everything else will pass away. Everyone else will drop the ball. But, Jesus’ promises are true, and he will never, ever fail us. He says, I will be with you, even until the end of the age. Do you see that parallel? From the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, when they’re wondering, how will God make a presence with us, and they name Immanuel, God with us, and then it ends at the end of his time on earth, and what does he say? I will be with you.

This is the life you have always wanted, it has come in Jesus Christ. But, the question is, we know this, but do we really believe it? Do we really believe it? Because, consider verse 17. I think sometimes when we come to the Great Commission, sometimes we forget verse 17. It says that … when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. Some doubted. How do you doubt when a guy who you just saw get crucified, now standing there with, it seems like holes in his hands, and nothing else, there do you doubt him and go … I don’t, I don’t know if he’s really there. Right? It really happened. But, in fact, they doubt, and in fact, we can look at them and say, how could you doubt him? But, how can we doubt him?

Experiencing this resurrection life, experiencing this new life, experiencing the weight of our sin being removed, experiencing the fact that perhaps we can live forever in joy, and then we still can doubt the very power that saved us. And, that’s an important question, because the way Jesus describes what it looks like to become a follower of him is so total, that it’s actually impossible. Look at verse 18 …

… And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …

You see, you the impossibility of bringing someone to newness of life in baptism. You see, Jesus isn’t just saying here that I want you to just go around and forcibly baptize people. What we saw last Sunday at Easter, when we saw folks going into the water and coming out of the water, Jesus isn’t just talking about only a sacrament. Jesus is saying, there is an act, a sacrament that follows a reality that has, in fact, happened in that person. And, the reality that is happening in that person is impossible without me at work. And, that reality that has happened in their heart, is that now they have said, I will die to the pleasures and life in this world, and hope in this world, and I will go into the judgement waters, and I will enter death before my physical death, knowing that there is one who has gone before me into the grave, and he will bring me, through judgement, into newness of life.

And, what it’s saying there, is there is a power that is true, because I raise the dead from the grave. And, the question is, can we raise or open up anybody’s eyes to see the glory of Jesus Christ? Can we raise anybody from the grave? We cannot. It’s impossible for us to do it in our own power. And then, next, he says in verse 20 … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you … Now, you might be thinking, wait a minute, I thought Jesus was anti-legalistic, right? That Jesus wasn’t about, you know, obeying rules and whatnot. What it actually says in Matthew 5:17, again, in Matthew’s gospel, it says, Jesus says, I did not come to abolish the law and all the prophets, but, in fact, I fulfilled them.

And so, what Jesus says here, is then, that means to obey - by the way, Matthew 5:17, that’s right at the beginning of the beatitudes, and going in to the sermon on the mount. And so, now Jesus gives them a new way of living in his kingdom, and he says, in fact, now you will live out this new way that’s not just by the letter of the law, but it will actually be because you will be filled with my Spirit, and you will have the Spirit dwelling in you that will cause you to want to live in obedience, and you will walk in freedom from sin.

Who of us can fill anyone with God’s Spirit? Who of us can cause anyone to desire to walk in newness of life? Who of us can fill anyone with eternal joy? It’s actually impossible, what Jesus is pointing to, here. It’s impossible. So, if I say, go and make those things happen, it starts to feel a little bit like in that graveyard. It starts to feel like when you walk out into your job, into your neighborhood, into the grocery store, into the gym, wherever it may be, the playground … it seems impossible because it is.

So, before we discuss what Jesus would have you do, let’s dig in a bit there. Because, when we’re sharing our faith, it feels as hopeless as a graveyard, and because of that, we often resort to approaches to making disciples in the appearance of life, but our are actually falling short of the kind of life that Jesus is promising. So, three distorted approaches to making disciples.

II. THREE DISTORTED APPROACHES TO MAKING DISCIPLES (vv18-20)

When we realize how impossible it is - and you may be thinking right now, yeah, I feel this. If I were to just get up here and say, let’s talk about evangelism, and let’s go do it and tell you some stories, and then go do it. As soon as you walk out those doors, you would immediately feel this crushing weight, which is … I feel there’s something here I can’t do. And, that’s actually healthy. Now, want to also bring another healthy element, which is what God is going to do through us.

But, one of the things, is that means usually what happens - at least in my life - is I have two responses, one of two. The first is that I just give up. Now, here’s the problem … the thing that drives me to give up is that I believe that it is impossible to just, for me, to raise someone from the dead. When I give up, I preach to myself the fact that that is something that God is no longer doing. And, the problem is, if God is no longer doing that in others, than it’s only a matter of time before I begin to believe that he’s not going to do it in me. And, that everything I’m doing and saying is a super natural reality of God working in my heart, is actually something that I, in my own power, am doing. And, that’s a crushing reality.

But, the second one is to attempt to convert in my own power. Because, even though I know in the graveyard example, I know that if I say rise, and no one raises, I go - Oh, I know what will make them rise - if I get more eloquent. But, eloquence isn’t going to change it. If I say, let’s get a band in here and have a big party, and I get all my friends and we have a cookout, and I’m like, it’s going to be such a good time, the dead are just going to be crawling out of their graves. Like, can I join? Can I have a hotdog, guys? This is amazing, right? It’s not going to change anything.

But, often, we fall into the belief that those kinds of approaches will do it. And so, here are three distorted approaches, and I think this is important to consider. Because, Jesus says this right before one of the last times he speaks to his disciples, before he’s betrayed, prior to the Great Commission. He says … For many will come in my name saying I am the Christ, and they will lead many astray … This is a sobering statement from Christ. Because, we may not claim to be the Christ but we can offer a false idea of life in Christ when we make disciples in our own power. So, here are three distorted approaches.

Parrot Approach (Convincing the Mind)

The first is what we are going to call the parrot approach, like parrot on your shoulder, convincing the mind. Jesus said to teach them all that I [Jesus] have commanded … Here’s the key, not just our way of thinking. In other words, conversion isn’t just limited to getting people to think and talk like us, to parrot us. But, here’s the thing. We do this, cause often it can look like life to us, if we can just get someone to parrot how we talk, how we think, to use our tribal or theological language. Because, if they are saying the right things, repeating what we say, then they must be born again, right? Not necessarily. They could still be dead.

I know this is going to seem completely goofy, but I can’t help but the picture in my head, just to drive this home, what this is like. Do you guys remember the movie Ace Ventura? It made my childhood. I’m dating myself a little bit, I know for some of you that’s way before your time. But, in Ace Ventura there was this time when he goes up and he punches the Monopoly guy. There was, like, this old monopoly guy and he punches him - and he actually ends up killing him - but he picks up the guy to pretend like he’s not dead, and he puts him on his shoulders, and he dances him around, and he’s talking for him. That’s, many times, what the way that we pursue discipleship looks like.

What we do, is we take people who are dead, and we tell them, just say and repeat after me, and say these words, as if that is enough. And then, we say, do you see this disciple here? They’re dead. It doesn’t matter if they’re parroting what you’re saying, they’re still dead on the inside. Following Christ is about more than mere information, it’s about complete transformation.

Be doers of the word, James says, not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. The outcome of parroting and making disciples by a parroting approach is not disciples of Christ, it’s disciples of us, followers of us, who parrot us, rather than passionately following Christ. Jesus says this, he gives many woes in the last chapter, and he says this … woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. For, you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice a much a child of hell as yourselves. You have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faithfulness. Listen, you can’t intellectually convince someone into new life. They’ll have facts in their head, but no life in the heart.

The next distorted approach is the puppet approach.

Puppet Approach (Colonizing the Will)

Puppet, like puppet on a string, colonizing the will. So, the first is going for the mind, this is going for the will. Jesus says disciples will com from every nation, every tribe, every tongue, every nation, Revelation tells us. Because, God will take every human form of worship, and he will transform it by his Spirit, as he renews the dead and brings them to life where they are in their culture, he will take their cultural expressions and their form of life, and he will turn it to worship him, and bring him glory. And, that means there is no one monolithic way to worship, no one right Christian subculture, but instead of allowing Christ to enter into lives and express himself by his grace, how often do we make conversion about becoming and acting like us?

So, we may not expect them to parrot our thinking, but we do expect them to be a puppet that follows us, to act like us. But, like a puppet can live, move, and have its being only if the puppeteer is pulling the strings, so also can a disciple who is living off the expectations that we have for them for their behavior, they don’t live in the power of the Holy Spirit, they live in the power of our expectations.

And, we do this because it is more expedient to colonize lives with our behavioral expectations than to colonize growth by God’s Spirit. The point of conversion is not to make others like us, it’s to free them so that they’d worship Christ in their own way. Do we shut the door with our expectations of what a follower of Jesus should look like?

The last approach, the party approach.

The Party Approach (Cathartic Emotional Moments)

Conversion is, to new life, not a momentary high. Jesus says, behold, I will be with you until the end of the age. That’s not a moment, that’s not even a season. That’s forever. Jesus says, I will be with you forever. We often, though, think that conversion can come just through a series of emotional highs, just cathartic moments, just moments of a kind of high, and we think if we can just make them feel this high, if we can just make them feel something they haven’t felt before, then they’ll give their lives to Jesus.

It’s like bringing a band into the graveyard, or trying to just have a party. In and of itself, it won’t bring life. Now, listen to me, I am all for parties, okay? I don’t want to be the party pooper - man, Pastor doesn’t like parties. No, I love parties. I’m just saying, you can’t bring dead people to life with a party. We, and that, can’t alone bring the dead to life. Jesus says, woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you clean the outside of the cup and the plates, but inside they are full of greed and self indulgence. Jesus wants to transform the inside, and come make his presence in us, by his Spirit, not leave us endlessly searching for another high.

We are commissioned to go after more than right thinking, right actions, or right feeling. Jesus wants the whole person. And, the only way to see someone truly come alive in Christ is to allow God to do what only God can do.

And so, lastly, the key to true conversion in our day.

III. THE KEY TO TRUE CONVERSION IN OUR DAY (vv18-20)

Here’s the key. We are commissioned, God converts. We do not want to attempt, in our own power, to change a heart. We do not want to attempt, in our own power, to manipulate minds or coerce wills, or just try to manipulate emotions. God is the one who changes hearts, and it leads - when that happens - to true, gospel conversion. Conversion that is rooted in the power of Jesus Christ, rooted in the power of Jesus’ Spirit at work in this world, not rooted in our own power, our own personality, our own persuasion, but rooted in Christ. God opens eyes, God causes new birth, God causes the dead to rise. We can’t do that.

Go back to the graveyard. So, what do I do? If I’m in the graveyard and I realize that they are dead in a grave. Now, of course, the illustration begins to break down here because they’re dead, right? We’re talking about spiritually dead. But, what does it look like at that point? I don’t try to get more eloquent, I don’t try to manipulate, I don’t try to bring in, you know, all the fun gimmicks to try to bring people to newness of life, but what do I do there as I begin falling on my knees and I cry out and say, God, help my unbelief. But, bring life here. I cry out to God, because he is the one, and his power is the power that raises them from the grave, the same power that raised Christ from the grave.

See, while we can affect, we can affect someone’s thinking, we can affect someone’s will, we can affect someone’s emotion, but we cannot effectively change a heart to love Jesus Christ. And, if God gets the heart, the rest will follow. Here’s a helpful way of putting it. Tim Keller, a pastor in New York City, says this …

“What the heart most wants, the mind finds reasonable, the will finds doable, and the emotions find desirable.”

—Tim Keller

You see what he’s saying there? He’s saying, we go for all the other three, but in fact what you want in the Bible, the heart is the seat of the whole person. Think of, like, the steering wheel, the entire person. If you actually allow God to get the heart, all the rest will follow. All the rest will follow. So, how do we point those God has placed in our life to Christ so that their hearts come alive in Christ?

Proclamation & Prayer Approach (Conversion of the Heart)

In scripture, we are given two primary tasks: to proclaim the gospel, and then to pray. To proclaim the gospel, and to pray. And so, let’s look at proclamation for a second. And, I know as soon as I say proclamation, what you start to think is … are you going to give me, kind of, a model for how to share the gospel? Are you going to give me kind of a 1, 2, 3, 4?

And, not that I’m against any of those approaches, I found them very helpful just to start with, hey, there is a God, and he has a plan for your life, he is over your life, and you are sinful, and you are separated from that God, and there’s newness of life and forgiveness found in Jesus Christ, and so respond and come to him. And so, just going through those things, here’s the thing … you want to know the best and most powerful way to learn to share the gospel? It’s to allow God to do a work through the gospel in your life. Let God change you with the gospel. Because, people don’t need us to just share our truth from on high. They need to see that there is one who is true, who is actually on high in our lives.

You can say yes, I know you think that pursuing more, more money, more sex, more achievement, more stuff, more peace in this world will satisfy you. But, trust me, I know, I’ve experienced in this, in that way that Jesus has forgiven me of my sins, that Jesus has fulfilled me, that Jesus has given me newness of life, just sharing how the ways that Jesus has actually changed, how God is at work in your life. Cause, you and I were dead, you and I were lost, in darkness, blind. But, thanks be to God in Jesus Christ. That’s the message of the gospel. Thanks be to God. In spite of our sin, Jesus has saved us and given us newness of life in himself. Not a message that puts us on high, but points to the one who is on high, Jesus.

Think about it. Jesus calls redeemed sinners, like you and me. Think about it. Why doesn’t Jesus just write it in the heavens? Why doesn’t God just make it kind of like a cosmic plane that is flying around? When the sun rises, it’s got one of those banners, like on the back of a plane, you know? And, it just says, Jesus is Lord. And, you’re like, well, I don’t know how to explain that one … must be true. Right? Why does he have us do this? Because, we are as much proof as it gets. That, in fact, that he could take our prideful arrogant selves, broken people like us, and he could turn us into a new creation, and now we have this message to share.

We are the proof, as Peter says, be ready to give a defense, be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within you. The work that God has done in you. To share that. If he could save me from myself, he can surely save you. If he could give me hope, then he can give you hope. If could give a curmudgeon like me joy, then he can give you joy, as well. Don’t make the gospel an abstract series of ideas. But, share how God has forgiven you, how he’s freed you, how he’s given you joy, how he’s at work in your life.


And, second, pray, and ask God to reveal what to say. Because, here’s the thing. So, I said proclamation, second one is prayer.  Because, here’s the thing. Everyone around you is actually seeking to know the Lord. This is how Paul puts it in Acts 17 …

“he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us”

—Acts 17:26–27 ESV

Paul, at this point, is actually talking to a pretty pagan audience. And, he says, do you know that in what’s happening in your life, there’s this cosmic drama that’s playing out in your mundane neighborhood? In your mundane office place, in your ordinary gym, in all these places that we think are just normal, material, mundane passing by moments? What’s happening, is God is at work, and he is causing there to be desires, and men, and women all around us that are reaching, and they are pining, and they’re yearning, and they’re grasping at everything around them, hoping that this next thing will be the thing that will satisfy them. And, they’re just hoping it will be that thing, and they don’t know that it’s Jesus, that it’s God’s glory that they’re searching for. And so, they’re grabbing everything that has a little bit of the taste. It’s as if they’re lapping up cinnamon in the dirt, because there’s just a little bit of the taste in it.

And, God says, do you realize that’s the cosmic drama that’s playing out around you. As Julian Barnes, an english novelist says, he says this, I love it. He’s not a believer. He starts Nothing to Be Frightened of with this …

“I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him.”

—Julian Barnes, Nothing to Be Frightened of

That’s honesty. I don’t believe in God, but I miss him. That’s what’s all around you. Don’t disqualify someone because they live a messy lifestyle. Don’t hold back because it seems like someone has it all together. Listen, all they’re doing is trying whatever it is, is they’re just trying to find Jesus. And, if we’re willing to step into their lives, and we’re willing to say, listen, when you’re grasping for this, and you’re grasping for achievement, and you’re grasping for pleasure, and you’re grasping for security, and comfort, and stuff … I know what you’re looking for, and I guarantee if you sit down and you get to know them, what they’re going to say is yes, because deep down, I’m just dying inside.

This is the drama that’s playing out all around us. We don’t have to give intellectual arguments alone. We pray God would give them the heart to see Christ as reasonable and true. If they throw their lifestyle choices in our face, ask God to make them see the goodness of Christ, his way is fulfilling. Ask God to do that by his Spirit. We don’t have to do that. Sometimes we take on the weight of doing all this. Well, the whole point is, it’s not in our power. In fact, everything Jesus describes here of making disciples is what comes after they have a conversion experience and newness of life. He says, just proclaim the gospel, and then when I do the work of changing their heart, then you follow up, and you baptize them, and you teach them.

We never should have had this idea that somehow we kind of persuade people, and kind of nudge and kind of contort people into the kingdom of God. Jesus changes hearts. We can pray, we can ask the one who is on the throne. And, listen, I know that witnessing, that sharing our faith, all these things, this is the kind of thing that’s nerve wracking, that causes trembling, that causes just this anxiety. And, here’s … perhaps, perhaps that’s a good thing. Perhaps that’s a healthy thing. Because, what we’re doing in that moment, is we’re coming to the end of ourselves, and we’re realizing, God, this is a work that only you can do. And, we’re leaving the power in his hands.

It’s okay to be nervous, because we know at the end of the day it’s God who does the work, not us.

CLOSING

In closing, Jesus said to his disciples ... the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest … See, we live in a day, again, when the defaults and the beliefs are that we are in a secular time, that the harvest is not plentiful. But, that is not what Jesus says. Jesus didn’t say, well, at one point in the future, I get it, there’s going to be the Scientific Revolution and all these things are going to happen, there’s going to be the enlightenment, and kind of the subjective turn to the self, and I know it’s going to get real messy, but, oh man, it’s just going to be a graveyard, not a harvest at that point.

Jesus says it is a harvest, until I come again. It is a harvest, even in a society trending post-Christian. It is trending post-Christian, but I like more the phrase that is gospel haunted. All around us, there is the desire … I miss God. I miss the fact that there is one who is bigger than me, one who can save me. Jesus says, there is a harvest. The problem is not the harvest, but the lack of laborers. While our world does change, the one who can change it does not. And, if we are still here, it is because God is still working, a redemption that we have a part to play in. We are commissioned, and he converts hearts.

The harvest, the graveyard if you want to say, is plentiful. And, we must ask the Lord to give us a laborer’s heart, and a laborer’s mindset so we would see it. Listen, there are six million people. Six million people in the Inland Empire. And, most of them are searching for what we have in Jesus Christ. Right now, they are straining, they are pulling, they are reaching, they are feeling along, just hoping, hoping that the next season, the next thing, the next whatever it is would give them what they have been longing for. And, there are our neighbors. They’re our follow classmates. They’re our coworkers, they’re our family members. They’re the people God has placed all around us.

By Jesus’ authority, you are commissioned, because he is the way, he is the truth, he is eternal life. And, he is going to open eyes, he is going to change hearts. Because, that is what he has always done. He has always, since the moment he walked out of the grave, he has caused the dead to walk out of the grave, from the very moment he first walked out. Don’t miss out, Emmaus. Don’t miss out. Witness the impossible, as God brings the dead to life. He is with you. Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father,

Lord God, give us a laborer’s mindset. Lord, the harvest is plentiful. Lord, help us to see with the eyes of your Spirit. Father, give us eyes to see that all around us the fields are ripe for the harvest. Father, don’t let us sit on our hands and just bemoan that around us it seems like the devil is having his way. But, Father, help us to see where you are at work. Give us a laborer’s heart to see, to want and desire to see the blind see for the first time, to see the lame walk, to see the dead rise. Spirit, empower our witness, and give us boldness, knowing we serve the one who is truly on the throne above all thrones, the king above all kings. It is in the name of our ascended King that we pray, Jesus Christ, amen.


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.


Content in Christ-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

Philippians 4:10-13, ESV

(10) I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. (11) Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (12) I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (13) I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

INTRO

Well, that was amazing. With all of those kids, no crying, no runners, no one threw up. They were up there a long time. So, these parents are killing it. They are doing a great job. It’s one of the great joys, and it’s really a joyful responsibility we have as a body, that we have so many little ones in the midst of our body. They bring a lot of life to us, and we also recognize, as we just fleshed out, that we have a responsibility to raise them to know and love the Lord. And, this is part of all of our call, if we are a part of the body of Christ. So, we are grateful for that joyful responsibility that we have.

I don’t know about you, but I remember, as a kid, dreaming about the future with utmost optimism. Any of you guys do that as a little one? All the possibilities that were before you were all amazing. Every career was a win. I had a few careers in mind. I’ve shared with you guys before, garbage man was a big one for me as a little kid. I really wanted to be a garbage man. Yeah, I had none of the smells in mind, it was just all good. I got to ride on the back of the truck, cause that’s the way they did it in the old days, and it was - in my mind - was going to be the best career ever. Later, the garbage man dream gave way to being a professional football player. I knew nothing about CTE, nor did I have the skills or body type for a professional football player. But, forget all that, that was a real possibility for me. Or, becoming the bass guitar player for Ozzy Osbourne. Playing Crazy Train on a stage in a stadium full of people, that was a real possibility for me, when I was a little kid … or so I thought.

All of those possibilities were “can’t lose” options. See, there’s a lot of hope attached to an open future. When we believe our future is open, when we believe our possibilities are limitless, there’s a lot of hope in that. So, as a child, thinking about your future is really an exercise in imagination, isn’t it? We have imaginary vacations, we have imaginary jobs, we have imaginary spouses, and imaginary kids, and imaginary salaries, and imaginary lifestyles. All of these things are dreamed up for us when we are children, and the world seems open to this. And, as long as the possibilities are distant and ambiguous, the options are endless.

But, as life progresses, something happens, and the imagination meets reality. So, we choose a mate, and we realize that two people becoming one isn’t just as miraculous as it sounds. It’s not easy. It meets reality. We have these children that we’ve dreamed of, and, well, they’re real children, with all of the things that come along with real children. We land a job, and we discover our career, and we discover why it’s called work. It’s not easy. You commit to a church, and you find out that all these people really do need Jesus … badly. You move into a home, and you discover that Chip and Joanna Gaines have been hiding some things from you. That, behind all that white shiplap, there are rusted pipes, and old electrical wiring. See, our imagination meets reality. And, as life progresses, contentment is truly tested. Eventually, the possibilities that we dreamt about give way to the realities of a fallen world.

In the face of these realities, then, the question becomes for us - the question for us in light of our text, is really this: In the face of these realities, will we look on our life as gracious blessing, or will we look on it as undeserved privation? As if something is lacking in the lot I have in life. Our text this morning brings this question to the forefront for us all, and it brings something all of us long for. We should perk up when we hear, in our text, that Paul says, I have found the secret to contentment. Anybody want that? I do! He says, I’ve found it. I’ve discovered how to abound in little, and in much. And, this morning, the text is going to illumine that for us. So, we’re going to look first at the universal chase for contentment. And then, we’re going to look at the unusual contours of contentment. Contentment may look a little different than we think. And then, finally, we’re going to look at the secret, our union with Christ.

But, before we jump in, let’s pray. Jesus, we are grateful this morning, Lord, that in the midst of the realities of life, in the midst of the fallenness of this world, where we often go about life with deep discontent, Lord, that we have here in your Word, your life giving Word what Paul says is a secret of contentment. Lord, this morning, would you give us ears to hear. Lord, would you help us to lay aside the weights that so easily entangle us - specifically, the weight of discontentment, that we might live into, this morning, our union with Christ. We are grateful for this truth, Lord, that you have given us all we need in this world, to live blessed and content, regardless of circumstance. Lord, we thank you for that truth, in Jesus’ name, amen.

1. THE UNIVERSAL CHASE FOR CONTENTMENT

So, first the universal chase for contentment. There is no human out of the billions of people on the face of the earth, we are all chasing contentment. It is a universal desire that we all have. I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that every person in this room deeply desires contentment in this world. But, contentment is not the natural default setting for us as humans. Not at all.

In fact, we see this in Genesis. Back in Genesis, if you’re familiar with the story, this is a story of God’s creation, and he brings Adam and Eve, he creates them, brings them into being, and they are walking with God in this garden of delight, in perfect fellowship with God. And, this is a … we don’t know specific details, but we know it as absolutely gorgeous, and it had everything they needed for life. And, they could eat of any tree in the garden, except for one. And, that’s what they did. They looked at the one tree they couldn’t have, and they said, yeah, we’re going to have that one. In a garden full of yes’s, the want the one thing they cannot have. Isn’t this all of us, in our universal chase for contentment, that we want those things that we don’t have. We are no different. In a world full of God’s good gifts and abounding generosity, we want the things that are just out of our reach, believing that contentment is found there.

I think if we were honest with ourselves, and we searched our heart in that, we would find that reality at work in us, that though we live in the midst of a country that is full of blessing, we still long for that which is just outside of our reach. The simple phrase, I think the simple phrase, if only, captures the universal chase for contentment. If only … if only I could get X … I would get content. If only I could find a spouse, if only - once we find the spouse - then if only we could have children. And then, once we have children, we realize we need money, a lot of it. And, if only I could get the better job, with the better pay. If only … if only I had more power, if only my circumstances were a little bit different … if only …

But, how often in life do we get the if only’s? How often do we actually take hold of the, and it’s like cotton candy in our mouths? We get ahold of it, and we go … yes, this is what I thought it would be. It’s gone, like that, right? It melts away as soon as we get ahold of it. There’s a book by a Puritan named Jeremiah Burroughs, called The Rare Jewel of Contentment, and I think he captures the reality of this longing, this chase for contentment, and the reason why the things that we long for … if only we had that, when we get it, it melts away … I think he captures why that is. Let’s look at this quote. The language is a little old, but you’ll get the heart of it here.

“My brethren, the reason why you have not got contentment in the things of the world is not because you have not got enough of them. That is not the reason. But the reason is because they are not things proportionable to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God himself. Many men think that when they are troubled and have not got contentment, it is because they have but a little in the world, and if they had more then they would be content. That is just as if a man were hungry, and to satisfy his craving stomach he should gape and hold open his mouth to take in the wind, and then should think that the reason why he is not satisfied is because he has not got enough of the wind. No, the reason is because the thing is not suitable to a craving stomach.”

—Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

See, this chase for contentment, the reason why we lay ahold of the things that are just outside of our reach, and before we know it they’re gone, is because you and I were made for something much more grand. That contentment will only be satisfied in the person and work of Jesus. Now, we’re going to get there in just a moment, but I want to transition, then, to the unusual contours of contentment that we see in our text.

2. THE UNUSUAL CONTOURS OF CONTENTMENT (vv. 10-12)

The unusual contours. I use that word, because this isn’t the way we typically think of contentment, but we see in our text, let’s look at verses 10 and 11, we see in our text four things I want to highlight ...

… (10) I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. (11 ) Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content …

So, four things. First …

Contentment is free from prideful comparison and expectation of others. We cannot be content people, if we are people who go about life with prideful comparison, and prideful expectation of others. Now, reminder here, that Paul is in a Roman prison, writing this letter. He’s in a Roman prison, at the mercy of family and friends, for food. Remember, in the Roman prison, they didn’t provide your needs, you had to depend on those outside to provide your basic needs. So, he’s at the mercy of family and friends, of the church, for clothing and provisions. He’s probably cold and hungry when Epaphroditus shows up.

On the other hand, the Philippians, though they’re not without difficulty, they are in a very different place. They have access to the resources, and some of the luxuries of the Roman Empire, which was expanding at that time. And, we saw a couple of weeks ago that Philippi was a Roman colony. So, they had a lot of what would have been the conveniences and comforts of the day. See, by comparison, those that Paul is writing to, the Philippian church, are living in the lap of luxury, while he is most likely cold and hungry in a prison. And, Paul says of that … I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at length you have revived your concern for me … Rejoiced.

There is a celebration. It could be translated, I’m having a great celebration in the Lord. So, get the contrast here … Paul has planted this church at Philippi. He is now, because of his proclamation of the gospel - which has undermined the rule of Caesar, he finds himself in a prison suffering, and he finds those who have formed this community of faith in Philippi, in a very different place. But, if you notice, he’s not saying, why didn’t you come sooner? You failed me. Why did it take you so long to get here? You hear none of that. No pointing out there failure, but celebrating, not one hint of prideful comparison or expectation.

Now, I use prideful, specifically, because comparison is not an inherently bad thing, right? Paul says, follow me as I follow Christ, or imitate me as I imitate Christ. And, that takes some level of comparison to do that, right? If we’re walking with one another and growing and learning from one another, there is a place where we go, oh, they’re doing that really well, and I don’t seem to be, so I’m going to grow in that. That’s humble comparison. But, prideful comparison is very different. If we’re not careful, pride hijacks comparison. And, rather than seeing others as crucial members of the body with unique callings to live out, they become threats to self glory, or they become failures because they do not contribute more to our glory.

James 3:16 tells us that this type of prideful comparison leads to jealousy and selfish ambition. And, we know this is happening in us when we look at others and we don’t see the grace of God at work in and through them, but we see reflections of ourselves. So, as we look at others, and we look at their place in life, we look at their lot in life, we look at their place in the midst of the body, we immediately don’t see how God is at work in and through them, but we see ourselves in comparison to them. We see our inferiority, our superiority, what we deserve, what they don’t deserve, that they’re getting. So, I think the question in here is … are people mirrors that we see ourselves in, or windows into which we see God’s grace? Because, This is not one of the contours of contentment that Paul highlights here.

So, first, contentment is free from prideful comparison and expectation of others. Secondly, contentment is not dependent on circumstance. Again, we see this in Paul’s letter …

… (11) Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (12) I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance …

Nothing about Paul’s circumstances tell us that he should be content. Nothing about Paul’s particular season of life tells us that he should be content. He’s poor, he’s infamous, he’s probably not healthy, he’s definitely not looking his best. He’s sitting in a prison. Nothing about him says contentment. Yet, he says … not that I am speaking of being in need … and you go, what? Not … if you’re not in need, who is? But, Paul says, I have no need, even in this situation. This is a guy I want to learn contentment from, right? This is a guy who has something to teach us.

See, the reality of our culture, is the American dream is a carrot on a stick. It’s held out in front of us, and we chase it with everything we have, believing that if somehow we can lay hold of it, that we will finally be content. But, in the words of Ecclesiastes, it’s chasing after the wind.

See, the truth is, the hard truth is, if we are not content now, we never will be. If we’re not content single, we will not be content married. If we’re not content in school, we won’t be content in our career. Now, why? Because, all of our hopes and dreams are placed in something that is fleeting, that ultimately cannot handle the weight. It is some aspect of creation that cannot live up to the expectations.

See, here’s the truth that I think we get to with Paul. Contentment is not a destination. Contentment is a mode of travel. It is a way of moving throughout the world. It is a way of moving from one season of life to the next, from one circumstance to the next. This is an unusual contour of contentment, that it is not a destination. And, we tend to treat contentment in the West as if it is a place that we arrive, and it is not. It is an attitude of the heart, it is a mode of travel in the midst of a fallen world, a fallen world that God is redeeming.

Third, contentment is a battle in both the highs and lows of life, in both of those, facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. One paraphrase says, I have learned now to cope with having too much. We don’t tend to associate being discontent with having too much, right? We associate a discontent with having too little. But, here, Paul is saying … I’ve learned how to be content, even when I have too much. The truth is, the basic truth is, the more we have, you can probably finish this sentence … the more we want. The more we have, the more we want. That’s what the discontented heart says. This is a basic truth of economics, right? That, employers know that when you give pay raises, the requests are coming for more time off, because as we get more, we want more. This is a discontent heart.

John D. Rockefeller, the oil tycoon, widely regarded as the richest man in American history … people don’t know how much he was worth. I read anywhere from 200 billion in today’s standards, to 24 billion. It doesn’t matter. Once you get into the B-billions, you’re just in another world, right? Anyway, the man had a lot of money, a lot of money. And, he was asked the question, famously, how much money is enough? And, his answer was, just a little bit more.

See, this is the lie of the discontent heart. It’s always just a little bit more. I need just a little bit more. There’s a prayer in Proverbs that I think captures the contented heart. Proverbs 30:8-9 …

… Remove far from me falsehood and lying;

   give me neither poverty nor riches;

   feed me with the food that is needful for me,

(9) lest I be full and deny you

   and say, “Who is the Lord?”

or lest I be poor and steal

   and profane the name of my God …

How many of us have prayed that prayer? See, that’s a prayer of contentment. That’s a prayer that only could be prayed with a contented heart. So, we need to remember, as people who live, perhaps, in the wealthiest country the world has ever known, people who have, if we’re just absolutely honest on a worldwide scale, the very top percent of wealth in the world. If we’re sitting in this room, most likely, that is true of us. Can we pray that prayer? Lord, give me neither poverty nor riches. That’s the prayer of a contented heart. So, another contour of contentment is, it’s a battle in both the highs and lows of life.

And the, finally - and this will lead us into the final point - contentment is learned over time. For those of us that are impatient, that’s hard, right? I want contentment now. I think we can have a measure of it now. I think, though, what Paul is saying, cause he specifically uses that language, in verse 11 …

not that I am speaking of being need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, I know how to abound in any and every circumstance. I’ve learned the secret of facing plenty, and hunger …

Learned, there, in the original Greek, is a word that tells us that it was not an epiphany. It wasn’t a moment, but it was a growth over time. It was something Paul learned over a long period. Now, this is going to bring us to our final point. So, how do we learn contentment? Paul said, I learned the secret to contentment.

3. OUR UNION WITH CHRIST (v13)

And, our final point is this, and we’ll unpack what it means to learn about this contentment. The secret is union with Christ. Verse 13 is the secret, so … I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need … and, here comes the secret … I can do all things through him who strengthens me …

Now, you may hear this as one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, right? We hear it with professional players after they won the game … I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me … we hear it in positive thinking land, when we’re going after … whatever we’re going after. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. And, in some sense, when the, you know, Christian football player says … yeah, I just did it because I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, he’s not wrong in that. I don’t want to just bash that. There’s some dependency there. But, it’s not the context, right? The context of … I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me … is contentment. It’s all about contentment. The all things points back to any and every season. So, in any and every season, I can be content through Christ.

Sam Storms, a theologian, unpacks this, I think, in a helpful way. He says …

“When he says it is ’through’ Christ he doesn’t mean merely that Christ is the instrumental cause. Paul is referring to his life ‘in’ Christ, his daily existence in loving and trusting intimacy with Jesus who enables him.”

—Sam Storms

So, he’s speaking of this beautiful doctrine of union with Christ, that brings much life to the believer. So, Paul’s language here, though, it’s written over against near eastern philosophy, and, particularly, stoicism. There is a very strong stream of stoic thought in Philippi at this time. See, to the ancient Greeks, Greeks’ contentment was the ultimate virtue. It’s what they sought. It’s what they desired. Socrates was asked, who is the wealthiest? And, he said, “He is richest, who is content with the least. For, content is the wealth of nature.” For content is the wealth of nature.

Seneca, a stoic philosopher right around the time of Paul, writes probably about a decade before the Philippians, but this thought carried into Paul’s time. He writes, “The happy man is content with his present lot, no matter what it is, and is reconciled to his circumstances.” So, the point, is that this language that Paul is using of contentment is well known to all the Philippians. It is on the front lines of philosophical thought in his time. And, part of that, it was bolstered because there was a movement by the stoics in reaction against, sort of, the opulence of the Roman empire, which many people would say America would be the modern day Roman empire. It said that contentment is found in self sufficiency. In other words, they said, contentment is found in and of myself.

So, Paul picks up on this language, but he turns it on his head. He says, I can do all things - not in and of myself - but I can do all things through him. He says, contentment, this contentment, this universal chase for contentment, is found not through self sufficiency, but through dependency, right?

If we take ourselves back to the garden, that we talked about in the beginning. If you remember, there was a warning that came along with being disobedient to God, in the garden. And, what was that warning? That death would come. Right? So, it might be said of humanity, in light of this overarching biblical truth, that we, all humans, are deserving of death. I know that’s hard, in our culture, but this is the reality of what scripture teaches. But, listen to the good news of it … what do we then deserve? Nothing. In light of what scripture teaches about anthropology, about who humans are, and how we’re wired, and how we function, we don’t deserve anything. Therefore, everything we have is mercy. It’s grace.

So, Paul gets this. Paul, who calls himself the chief of sinners. We were joking about that this morning. We all could rival Paul in that, right? We all could take that title. Paul, who saw himself as the chief of sinners. How is he so content as he sits in prison? Because, he realizes that anything he has, his next breath is a gift. It’s mercy. It’s grace. It’s not deserved, it’s not merited, it is God’s goodness.

Then, we begin to dig into the reality of how we arrive at contentment. See, stoicism … I should say this, before I go on. Perhaps the key to contentment, one of the keys to contentment, is having a right view of self. A view of self that says … though we are created in the image of God, and therefore have worth and value and dignity, we have all of that … everyone in this room has that … that, though we have those things, we are not deserving of anything we have in this life. See, that foundational understanding gives us a posture of moving about in the world that we talked about earlier, that understands contentment is not a destination, but it’s a way of living. It’s a way of moving about, because we understand that all that we encounter, every smile, every handshake you had this morning in the passing of the peace, was a gift of grace. Underserved. The lunch you’re going to have when you leave here, gift of grace, undeserved.

When we begin to move through life in that way, we can’t help but for the reality of contentment to take ahold of us. See, stoicism said, let go of your desires - kind of similar to Buddhism today. Just, the way you kind of reach that place you’re longing for, is to get rid of all desires. But, here’s what we see. Paul says, no, you were created with desires to reshape the world, and those desires are good. Right? That’s joining with God, and making all things new. These desire to reshape the world, to bring justice, to see people come to this place of contentment in Christ, those a good desires. Don’t lay those aside. But, use them in service to Christ. Put them in King Jesus.

So, it might be said, that I can do, or translated … I can do all things in him who strengthens me. That would be a valid translation, as well. In him who gives me strength … a living union with the creator of all things. Paul says, this is the secret to contentment, that when we live into that union, into that reality, you will be a contented person.

So, speaking of this truth of being united to Christ … but what is that? What does it mean to be united with Christ? Now, there have been hundreds of thousands, millions of pages written about this. So, there’s no way we’re going to be able to fully unpack it. But, I want to kind of, maybe get to the crux of it. So, I’m going to give us four quick things. What does it mean to be united with Christ? There are scriptures there next to them, I’d encourage you to write them down, look them up. They’re also in the app, in the notes on the app.

So, what does it mean to be united with Christ? First, it means that everything we need and lack is found in Christ. You can see Ephesians 1:3-14, where it says … we have every spiritual blessing in Christ … Secondly, it means that Christ is always with us, and he will never forsake us. Hebrews 13:5-6 tells us, specifically, connects that. It says … Be content with what you have, for [or because] he will never leave you, and he will never forsake you … There’s a direct connection between union with Christ and our contentment. And, specifically, this aspect, that Christ will never leave us or forsake us. Third, we are in Christ, who is all sufficient. Colossians 2:9-10 says that … we have been filled in him … We are filled, satisfied, completed in him, content in him. And then, finally, the all sufficient Christ is in us. Galatians 2:20, where it says … it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

This is the crux of union with Christ. There are many more aspects to it. But, how, then, do we move from mental ascent, to these truths, to having these truths work down into our bones so that we can be content people? How do we do that? Because, here’s what I find we do with this truth. We tend to intellectually stiff arm it. So, in other words, we hear these truths, and some of you are very theologically minded. You’re already kind of picking it apart, like, are these really the four aspects of union with Christ? Right? You’re already trying to break it down.

But, here’s the reality … when we’re theologically driven, we’re really comfortable with stiff arming the experience away from us intellectually, right? Where we just go, oh, this is what I understand, I get it, I know this .. Berkhof’s systematic says this about it .. And, again, that’s great. I’m being a little cynical, I apologize. But, this is why we don’t experience the reality of union with Christ as a way of being in the world.

So, how do we work this down into our bones? Well, we know that it’s through Word and through prayer, right? We immediately, like … well, pray and read the Bible. But, how do we - absolutely, I amen that - but, how do we really work it down into us? This week, in our Lent guide, the spiritual discipline is contemplation. It’s to think upon these beautiful truths that scripture illuminates to us. See, for us to work these truths down into our bones so that we are people who go about life contented, we have to be people who contemplate these truths.

Here’s what the Lent guide says this week about contemplation. “Contemplation is about waking up and becoming fully present in the now, inviting ourselves into the moment, with hearts alive to what is happening. It is not just thinking about or analyzing a person or event, but rather to see life with the gospel lens of faith, hope, and love. Contemplation slows us down, so that we seek God and the meaning he’s woven into our days and years, so that our experience of his sovereign hand in our lives deepens and grows until we awaken to his presence in every moment.”

Does that describe you? Does it describe me? Are we people who go about life in this world, in that way, deeply believing, contemplating, considering, praying these beautiful truths of scripture that root us and ground us in contentment in every season of life? I’ve shared with you guys, recently, probably more than I should - or more than you want to hear - about our house flooding, my son’s place flooding outside, about a month ago. He lives in a refinished garage, and we went in during that crazy rain we had on Valentines day, and everything was soaked. The carpets, we had to rip it all out, rip out all the sheetrock. And, when we were outside during the day, it was leaking really badly, and we couldn’t get it to stop. We literally tried everything. I’m almost embarrassed to tell you everything we tried. But, we were afraid it was just going to flood the entire thing, and we were going to have to rip it all apart. We were trying to keep it contained to one specific room.

So, we go outside in the midst of the rain, and we start digging up the foundation, digging around the foundation, excavating the foundation by hand. It’s raining, it’s cold, I’m in a bad mood, and in the midst of it - and let me tell you, I’m not doing this to set myself up as the hero, because this is, unfortunately, not enough of the norm in my life. But, in the midst of it, I found myself - we found the issue, or one of the issues. This root had grown into the foundation, cracked the foundation, we found where the water was coming through, we ripped up the root, we started to fix it, and I found myself in the midst of it saying, Lord, thank you that we have abled bodies to do this. Lord, thank you that we needed some concrete - and I didn’t have any concrete - and I went to my neighbor and he had concrete, and he gladly gave it to us. And, I found myself saying, Lord, thank you that we have a generous neighbor. Thank you that you’ve given us the wisdom and resources to deal with this problem, now. We don’t deserve any of it.

Now, that’s mundane - and I’m purposefully using something that feels mundane - but, in the midst of a moment where I wanted to do everything opposite that a pastor should do, I had to dig in and remind myself of what I have in Christ. Lord, thank you for your wisdom. Thank you for the grace that is the ability to grab these shovels and do this work, and still be able to move tomorrow … thank you, for that - though, not very well, the next day … we didn't move very well. But, thank you, we don’t deserve any of it.

See, this is the secret to contentment. I can do all things through Christ, in Christ, who strengthens me. I began the sermon by saying that, as children, early in life we experience the blissful hope of an open future that often gives way to discontentment in the face of reality. The greater truth, in light of Paul’s words here, the greater truth is that those who belong to Christ, we experience a sure hope, both now and in the future, that leads to deep contentment in every season. See, contentment is yours this morning, if you desire it, because you are in Christ, and he is in you. Let’s pray.

Jesus, we are thankful for this truth, that we are united to Christ, that we are in you, and you are in us. Lord, our minds cannot fully even fathom it. But, Lord, would you make us people - not just who analyze these truths intellectually - to keep them at a distance. But, Lord, would you make us people of contemplation. Lord, would you make us people who lean in, in every season, to the truth that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Lord, I pray for those, this morning, in particularly difficult circumstances. Lord, we are grateful that contentment is not based upon circumstances alone. It’s not an arrival, but it’s a way of being. Lord, would you give all of those, this morning, who need that grace, would you point them to the finished work of Jesus on their behalf, again. Lord, because, it is in you, the very thing that we desire, Lord, is contentment, and it is in you that we are found fully at peace, and fully content. Lord, as we come to the table this morning as your people, bring us to this truth again, we ask in Jesus’ name, amen.