Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

Timing: Old & New, 18 June 2017

Timing: Old & New
Series—
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 2:18-22

Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea: God is always doing new things, even though He never changes.

My fellow graduates, I want to encourage you to lead. I know you might not consider yourself to be a leader, but my favorite definition of leadership is simply “influence.” Each of us has countless opportunities every day to influence others, whether it be friends, a family member, co-worker, Facebook acquaintance, or even total strangers in public. Follow Jesus and lead/influence others to do the same.

But for all of the talk of leadership in our day, remember one thing: every leader has followers and opponents. Whether you’re a politician, CEO, store manager, or little league coach, there will be people who support you and people who can’t stand you!

Just ask Jesus!

We’re in the middle of a series exploring The Real Jesus from the gospel—or good news—of Mark, a biography of King Jesus.

Last week we saw Jesus questioned for inviting Levi into a meaningful relationship. “How dare he associate with sinners?” the religious leaders asked. But the criticism is still just beginning.

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” (Mark 2:18)

Fasting is an ancient practice which seems to have periodic surges in popularity. I’ve noticed several authors recently writing about the benefits of fasting, especially for weight control. This is not the context of our passage today.

Fasting was a popular practice in first-century Judaism. Some thought they could ward off demons by fasting. Others thought they could earn God’s favor by fasting, perhaps making their prayers more likely to be answered in a way that pleases them. Still others fasted in hopes of prompting mercy or attaining the forgiveness of sins. The most self-righteous would use fasting as a way to show their piety and gaining the applause and admiration of others.

This is not to say fasting is a bad thing. Hardly. Jesus fasted for forty days. It was sometimes connected to sorrow for the loss of a loved one. Jesus’ own death likely led to the fasting of the disciples as they grieved.

But there is an appropriate time and a place for everything.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens: 
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build, 
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance, 
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away, 
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak, 
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

There is a time to fast…and a time to feast!

Jesus answered,
“How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. (Mark 2:19-20)

I love weddings! There’s no celebration like a wedding. Last week Heather and I traveled about 3000 miles to California just to participate in a wedding.

The day was filled with joy, smiles, laughter, food, and feasting. And why not? Is there any greater party than one focused on love? If there is ever a time to eat, drink, and be merry, it is a wedding.

Jesus tells the religious leaders now is not the time for his disciples to fast. He is the groom. It’s time to party! There will be a day when he will be taken from them. He’s previewing his death on the cross. There will be no celebration on Good Friday, though Resurrection Sunday will be another story!

Jesus came to proclaim and practice the kingdom of God. The kingdom is God is not a funeral but a wedding party! You don’t fast at a wedding. You can’t fast at a wedding! It would be offensive to the host. It’s time to feast! Religion and the kingdom of God are completely different.

Jesus continues

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. (Mark 2:21)

This is a universal truth. I’m no seamstress, but I know garments will tear when they are washed and the patch of new, stronger fabric shrinks. The old and new are incompatible.

Perhaps you’ve experienced this reality. Replacement parts for old products often fail to fit. When my wife gets new glasses, she gets new lenses and frames because the new lenses won’t fit in new frames. I recently had to explain to someone a DVD will not work in their VCR!

Jesus is saying the old and new are incompatible. He didn’t come to abolish the law or add to it. He came to do something new.

Weddings are filled with fancy food, fancy garments, and fancy drinks, too.

And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22)

This is not a verse about alcohol, per se, but rather about another truth concerning the incompatibility of old and new. Animal skins, often goatskins, were used as containers for fluids. Old, stretched wineskins will burst when new wine is poured in and expands.

David Garland notes, “The question, ‘How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?’ (2: 18), is answered with proverbial sayings about not patching old cloth with new or putting new wine into old wineskins (2: 19, 21– 22).”

Jesus came to do a new thing. He will die for the sins of the world, the new garment, the new wineskins. Jesus will not merely reform the old, he will transform it. He announces the end of the old and the birth of the new.

Religion is like a ball and chain, weighing people down with guilt and shame.

Jesus showed us how to party, how to experience abundant life, how to soar with joy.

Why do you do what you do?

This is an important question for us all. What is behind our behavior? Why are you here this morning? Is it to impress others? To try to score points with God? Or to worship our LORD with others, knowing Jesus and making him known to our city and world?

It’s hard for us in our day to understand the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, but suffice it to say they were bold, loud, and arrogant. They judged, condemned, scorned, and criticized. They were stuffy, proud, fuddy-duddies!!! And they were no fun at all!

What about you? Do you live like you’re at a funeral or a wedding? Again, there’s a time and place for everything, but I wonder if more people would follow Jesus if we looked more like him. I wonder if the world sees Christians as boring, gloomy people depressed by Fox News rather than hope dealers filled with joy, peace, and love.

Jesus rocked their world…and the world of everyone he encountered. He replaced gloom with joy, death with life, despair with hope, and hate with love. This is why I love Jesus! Even if you skipped his death and resurrection—the climax of his ministry—his very attitude was refreshing. He hated organized religion!

Jesus announced the kingdom of God, saying God was becoming king in an entirely new way. Something powerful and explosive was about to take place…and history has never been the same since! We are invited to participate in the kingdom, the reign and rule of King Jesus.

Because of Jesus’ teachings, life, death, and resurrection we must think differently, think bigger, live more passionately. God never changes, but he’s always doing new things. Our church history is a great example of this. In 1930, we began a live radio broadcast. In 1966, we started a Christian radio station, WPOS, Proclaim FM. In 1996, church members launched a TV station, WLMB. Today you can download our sermon podcasts online. The message of King Jesus remains the same, but medium changes.

I can’t imagine what lies ahead for us as a church, but God knows, and it will be exciting. It won’t always look like the old, but it shouldn’t. There are great things in the rear view mirror, but if you look ahead you’ll see even more exciting things. And most exciting of all will be the ultimate party, the ultimate feast, the day when the groom returns for his bride, when Jesus returns for the Church. What a celebration that will be! Are you ready?

Credits: some ideas from Matt Carter (Austin Stone Community Church), Warren Wiersbe, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Church: Hospital or Museum? 11 June 2017

Church: Hospital or Museum?
Series—
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 2:13-17

Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea: We are to welcome sinners, recognizing we are sinners ourselves.

Good morning saints! Good morning sinners!

My name is Kirk and we’re studying Mark’s biography of The Real Jesus. In chapter 2, he has been baptized, begun his preaching ministry, and done some healings. Word is spreading and while he is attracting crowds, he’s also drawing the envy and wrath of religious leaders. This will be a common theme, so significant the religious leaders will eventually kill him.

Jesus has at least four followers—four fishermen. Now he continues his recruiting trip.

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. (Mark 2:13-14)

Levi is also likely called Matthew, though it is possible he was not one of the Twelve, making this invitation even more compelling. He works at a toll booth, but it’s not automated like the ones on the Turnpike. These collectors were known for extortion and dishonesty.

Levi likely worked for Herod Antipas. His father’s kingdom was divided among his three sons. Tolls suddenly had to be paid to cross from one part of the old kingdom to another. Levi did not have a popular job!

Jesus comes by, and instead of complaining or swearing at Levi, he says, “Follow me.” What an invitation! Instead of working for a man who thought of himself as king of the Jews, he is invited to follow the true King of the Jews, the Messiah.

Can you imagine someone walks into your office, says, “Follow me,” and you walk out on your job? Levi takes a huge risk in following Jesus. The fishermen can always return to fishing, but a government job? They’re not always available, especially after suddenly leaving without giving your two weeks notice!

Jesus’ identity as King was not yet revealed, though. Instead, he was known as a preaching doctor who loved to throw parties…for sinners, outcasts, the marginalized.

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. (Mark 2:15)

Jesus continues to attract crowds, even at dinnertime. But he did not just attract the educated and elite, the righteous and religious. Jesus was a friend of sinners.

The best scholarship seems to suggest Jesus was the host, throwing a party at Levi’s house. Jesus doesn’t just preach to sinners; he befriends them. He loves them. He offends the religious establishment who have rejected these “sinners.”

When we are invited to dinner, the polite thing to do is say…yes. Who doesn’t like a free meal, right? But in the first century, table fellowship implied friendship—even approval. If you and I share a meal together, it tells the world we are close friends. Does Jesus approve of these greedy, dishonest tax collectors and sinners? Doesn’t he care about holiness? It makes sense for Levi to gather with fellow sinners, but why is Jesus present?

When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16)

They’re afraid to ask Jesus! They go to his disciples and criticize him.

Now the Pharisees get a bad rap. It’s deserved, but they were devout. They wanted to honor God by carefully following the Jewish law. They made two mistakes, however. First, they were prideful, also satan’s downfall. Second, they focused on every minute detail of the law without understanding the purpose and spirit of the law. They could no longer see the forest for the trees. They were so concerned about staying clean and pure that they missed opportunities to love their neighbor, to extend forgiveness, and to see reconciliation and repentance. They wanted to exercise control rather than compassion.

But make no mistake, Jesus did not endorse sin.

In John chapter 8, a woman is caught in the act of adultery. A group of Pharisees condemns her. Jesus famously says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, the Pharisees walk away, leaving only Jesus and the woman. He says he does not condemn her. He offers grace and compassion. But the story doesn’t end there. He tells her, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Jesus welcomed sinners. Jesus loved sinners. But because Jesus loved them, he urged them to repent, to turn, to change…not because he doesn’t want them to have fun, but instead because he knows there’s a better way to live.

Sin always leads to death. It might not be instant physical death, but it will kill relationships—with others, with God. Sin will destroy our ability to experience the abundant life Jesus taught and modeled. Greed. Pride. Adultery. Envy. Gossip. The list goes on.

Can people live in sin and survive. Sure! But I’ve discovered following Jesus and his Word are the path to true satisfaction, true peace, and true joy. We need to welcome sinners

We need to welcome sinners, but we also need to encourage them to experience Jesus, grow in their faith, and love God and their neighbor.
David Garland notes,

“to follow Jesus in the full sense of the word requires repentance and obedience. His goal in reaching out to the sick is to bring about healing and transformation in their lives, not to gather them together for a fun time. Instead of sorting people into classifications, holy and unholy, clean and unclean, righteous and sinner, Jesus gathers them under the wings of God’s grace and love.”

It breaks my heart to see people make poor choices. But what shall I do? It depends upon the relationship. If it’s someone I know and love, tolerance might be the most hateful thing I can do, standing by watching them self-destruct. On the other hand, getting in their face about their behavior may cause our relationship to be destroyed. Obviously, this calls for wisdom…and it matters greatly if the person claims to follow Jesus or not.

If you are my brother or sister in Christ, I owe it to you to encourage you to pursue Jesus. This doesn’t mean I point out all of your sins, but it does mean I might love you enough to confront.

This week I received a short e-mail which simply said, “If I'm openly gay, would I be accepted at your church?”

Would they, church?

If they are seeking to know God, I hope and pray we would welcome them with open arms. I replied:

All are welcome at First Alliance Church. We exist to help people know and experience Jesus, our example of what it means to be truly human. I hope to meet you soon.

When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16)

Why was Jesus a friend to tax collectors and sinners?

On hearing this, Jesus said to them,
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

We are not a museum for saints. There’s a museum next door if you want a museum!

We are a hospital for sinners. And we’re all sinners! It might get messy. It might get uncomfortable. But the reason we’re still on this planet is because of the
mission Dei, the mission of God, to seek and save the lost, to call sinners, to heal the sick, to make disciples, to serve the least of these, to love the unlovable. If all you care about is your own comfort, it’s not Jesus you’re following. Jesus lived to die and that’s what he calls his followers to do—die to ourselves and love and serve others.

You would think after 2000 years we would understand this, but religion persists. Self-righteous people insist on pointing fingers.

Love the sinner, hate the sin? How about love the sinner, hate your own sin?

Brothers and sisters, I can summarize this message in three words. Many Christians have had the attitude the if you behave and believe, you can belong.

Behave – Believe – Belong

We must reverse it. Jesus did! He said you belong. As you are loved and accepted, belief often follows naturally. And don’t miss this: when you believe in Jesus and make him King and LORD, you are also given the Holy Spirit who gives you power to behave. You can’t just change your behavior because someone tells you to do so. You need power. You can’t just walk up to a guy with a brown bag on the streets and say, “Stop drinking” and expect him to never take another drink. He needs power to quit his addiction.

And we’re all addicted to sin of one sort or another.

Belong – Believe - Behave

You belong here. All of you. Everyone. Young or old. Gay or straight. Black or white. Christian or atheist. Citizen or immigrant. Republican or Democrat. You belong here. You were created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth. Jesus died for you. Come as you are.

But we don’t want you to stay that way. Jesus doesn’t want you to stay as you are. He tells all of us to “go and sin no more,” not because he’s a scolding, condemning God but because he knows sin will always harm us. He wants what’s best for us.

You belong here. We would love for you to experience Jesus and believe in him, surrendering your life to him. It’s not that we are trying to manipulate you or sell you anything, but we’ve discovered the source of real life, real peace, real joy and it’s not in religion but it’s in a person, Jesus!

If you welcome Jesus into your life, you will want to change, you will want to follow Him, and you’ll be given the Holy Spirit’s power to do so.

"God judges, the Holy Spirit convicts, we are to love." -Billy Graham

Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Paralytic: Forgiveness & Healing, 4 June 2017

Paralytic: Forgiveness & Healing
Series—
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 2:1-12

Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea: Jesus can heal both the physical and spiritual…and we can participate!

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. (Mark 2:1)

Jesus’ headquarters moved from Nazareth to Capernaum. If you recall, Jesus healed a leper, told him to keep quiet, and instead the healed man told everyone about Jesus. The crowds loved to see physical healing but cared less about the spiritual messages Jesus preached.

Jesus left Capernaum…and later returned to Simon Peter’s house. Most homes had 1-4 rooms so it would’ve gotten crowded quickly.

But wait. Some scholars believe this was probably Jesus’ own house. Have you ever heard that before? That was news to me, and it shifts the story a bit.

They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. (Mark 2:2)

Preaching the Word of God was Jesus’ primary ministry. It is powerful. Whether it was his own house or not, he was obviously trapped. I’ve never been the subject of TV news, fortunately, but we’ve all seen private homes overrun with paparazzi when overly-zealous reporters try to get an exclusive interview. It’s chaos. In this case, it’s not media but people. Jesus is preaching to a crowd that gathered without any press release, billboards, or direct mail invitations. Did they want to hear…or just get healed?

Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man,
“Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:3-5)

Five guys show up, can’t get to Jesus, and take things into their own hands!

It was a thatched roof made of straw, but getting the man on the roof must have been challenging, though many first-century homes had an outside staircase leading to a flat roof made of sod and branches.

How would you feel if someone put a whole in your roof? Jesus says, “All right, I forgive you!” Of course, this was a deeper forgiveness than just necessitating a home improvement project! But if it is Jesus’ house, it makes his forgiveness a bit more interesting, don’t you think?

Whose faith? The faith of the men. Their faith led to the man’s sins being forgiven? It’s not their faith that saved him but their faith led to the man meeting Jesus.
Our city is filled with sick people—physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally. We need stretcher bearers, people who will bring people in to hear the gospel.

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:6-7)

Only priests could declare forgiveness, speaking in the name of God. Of course, if that’s what his friends were seeking, they would’ve taken him to the temple in Jerusalem, not to a guy preaching in a home.

Mark tells us what they were thinking. Only God can forgive sins. They’re right about that, but Jesus is not blaspheming. He’s God. He came to earth to provide salvation. Isaiah the prophet had said the Messiah would forgive sins, restore the broken hearted, and bring healing to the lame (chapters 29; 35; 61).

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me 
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners, (Isaiah 61:1)

Today’s story is a micro version of the entire gospel of Mark: Jesus teaches, heals, is condemned for blasphemy, and vindicated.

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them,
“Why are you thinking these things? (Mark 2:8)

He knew what they were thinking. They were speechless!

Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? (Mark 2:9)

Only God can do either one! Jesus will do both.

But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” (Mark 2:10)

This is the first time in Mark where Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of Man.” This is the key sentence in today’s text. Daniel 7 said “one like a son of man” would be the representative of God’s true people. He would be opposed by evil, vindicated and rescued by God, proved right, and given authority to dispense God’s judgment.

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

Jesus has authority, even the authority to forgive sins.

Mark 2:10 also points to Jesus’ answer to Caiaphas in chapter fourteen:

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62)

Jesus declares himself to be the Son of Man. He also forgives, the most powerful thing in the world.

So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (Mark 2:11)

The paralyzed man obeys. Incredible!

He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:12)

I love how this story ends with people praising God.

So What?

We are called to be stretcher-bearers for others. The man had great friends!

The greatest healing is spiritual, not physical. Even healed bodies will eventually decay, but the soul is eternal. Jesus addressed the paralyzed man’s spiritual brokenness before addressing his body.

God is not done healing souls. He offers forgiveness for all of your sins. All of them!
God is not done healing bodies. His timing is perfect, even when it is slower than ours.

Jesus can heal both the physical and spiritual…and we can participate!

We can receive forgiveness and healing.
We can proclaim forgiveness and healing.
We can bring people to Jesus for forgiveness and healing.

Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Ministry: Private & Public, 28 May 2017

Ministry: Private & Public
Series—
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 1:35-45

Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea: Jesus used his private time to prepare for his public ministry.

Today we’re continuing our series on The Real Jesus based upon Mark’s biography of the Messiah. His gospel—or good news—is short and sweet. In the final verses of chapter one, we see aspects of Jesus’ private and public life and ministry.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

Note this is the morning after a busy Sabbath! The day before he was healing, preaching, and exorcising demons.

Again, I love Mark’s details in the midst of his headlines. It wasn’t just morning, it wasn’t just early morning, it wasn’t just very early morning, it was very early in the morning while it was still dark! So Jesus seeks solitude before everyone awakes to pray. The Greek word for “solitary” (eremos) is used to speak of the wilderness, the place where the Jews wandered for forty years, where John the Baptist was calling people to repentance, and where Jesus was tempted.

God uses the wilderness. It’s not a comfortable place, but it is in those bleak and hopeless places in our lives that God does some of His best work.

This isn’t a desert, but it is deserted. It is a great place for Jesus to pray. Why did Jesus pray? The same reason we pray…to talk with the Father. To submit. To listen. To be filled with the Holy Spirit.

I believe Jesus sets an example for us to follow. Some of you saw the movie War Room. Jesus didn’t have a dedicated place, but he sacrificed sleep to surrender, to be with the Father.

Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” (Mark 1:36-37)

I’m guessing they did not get up early and look for Jesus in the dark. It’s even more unlikely that the crowds were looking for Jesus very early in the morning. Jesus devoted serious time to prayer, most likely several hours. Based upon the text, Jesus has four followers at this point. They aren’t even called disciples yet, but mere companions. They aren’t listening to Jesus, they frantically talking to him. The original Greek conveys the idea that they were hunting for Jesus. I can just hear them. “There you are! The crowds are looking for you! Come on! You can pray later!”

Jesus replied,
“Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1:38-39)

Jesus is a man on the run…or walk! He tells them he came to preach, which he does…and drives out demons. He didn’t come to heal, he came to preach. Healing gave him credibility and authority, but it wasn’t his primary purpose. He came to call people to repentance, to change, to follow him. He didn’t come to do magic tricks. He came to preach. This is the last time Jesus’ preaching is mentioned in the gospel of Mark. He will later send the twelve apostles to “proclaim” or “preach” the message.

What did he preach? We saw a few weeks ago in verse 15:

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

Returning to verse 38…

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1:38-39)

Jesus has little success in his hometown of Nazareth or here in Capernaum. Later in Matthew’s gospel Jesus will denounce Capernaum.

And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.  For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. (Matthew 11:23)

Yikes! So Jesus and the four fishermen travel, preach, and drive out demons.

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1:40)

He doesn’t ask to be physically healed, but rather to be made clean, a spiritual and social change. This word “leprosy” was used for as many as 72 different skin conditions. I made the mistake—or not—of doing a Google Image search for “leper.” It was so shocking and tragic. Here’s what the law prescribed for lepers:

“Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46)

In several Old Testament stories, people were punished by God with leprosy, so imagine what people thought of lepers.

- They were physically sick
- They were considered unclean, unholy
- They had to live alone and stay 50 paces away from others

Both the medical disease and the spiritual impurity were considered contagious. Lepers couldn’t work so they had to beg. It was catastrophic in many ways—physical, spiritual, social, financial. The man asks to be clean rather than healed because social and spiritual restoration mattered more than his physical body.

Lepers were untouchables…literally. Can you image never being touched by another human?

Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man.
“I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. (Mark 1:41-42)

Obviously, the man got within 50 paces of Jesus since Jesus touched him. That touch must have been incredible! Anyone in sight would’ve thought Jesus was crazy to contaminate himself with a leper. Instead, Jesus transmits wholeness and holiness to the leper. He has authority. He has power. And he has given it to us through the Holy Spirit.

Why was Jesus indignant and angry? Some translations say he was moved with compassion, others that he was filled with pity. Compassion makes the most logical sense, but if he was actually angry, it probably wasn’t because the man broke the 50-pace barrier. Anger doesn’t seem to fit the interruption. Most scholars suggest he was angry at the evil forces who claimed the leper as their victim. That would be holy, righteous anger. We need to be angry at sin, at injustice, at evil.

Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 
“See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” (Mark 1:43-44)

Jesus sends the leper away. The word to describe Jesus’ strong warning is used to describe a horse snorting! He is serious! Perhaps he risked attracting people who only wanted to see magic tricks rather than listen to his preaching.

Was this reverse psychology on the part of Jesus? Keep your healing a secret. Is that even fair?! People aren’t going to notice the leper is healed? But Jesus seems to be saying to the man, “Don’t blow my cover!”

The priest was to determine whether or not a person had leprosy and whether they were cured. I’m grateful that’s not in my job description! You can read more about the treatment of lepers in Leviticus 13 and 14. The cleaning is an eight-day process with sacrifices. Of course, without the priest’s approval, the man cannot re-enter society.

Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere. (Mark 1:45)

He disobeyed Jesus’ strong warning! He proclaims the news. The publicity leads to audiences rather than congregations, fans rather than followers. Donovan notes four ironies:

1) A disobedient man is one of the first to preach the good news about Jesus
2) Jesus’ popular hurts rather than helps his ministry
3) The leper begins outside of society and is restored to it. Jesus begins in public and has to live outside. The two men trade places!
4) Jesus’ power to heal becomes the reason he cannot move about

But he didn’t have to move. The people came to him!

So What?

I want to end by going back to the beginning. Before Jesus heals the leper, he spent time alone with God.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

This is where he sacrificed. This is where he prepared. This is where he worked.

This week is the beginning of the NBA Finals. For the first time in NBA history, the same teams—Cleveland and Golden State—will face each other for the third year in a row. Millions will watch the marquis matchups including LeBron James and Stephen Curry. The players will give their all for 60 minutes. But the real work is done before the games. In the weight room. During practice. Making good choices at mealtime. In mental preparation.

NBA players don’t spend every day lounging around watching Netflix, drive to the arena, play for an hour, and then go to bed and do it all the next day. They train. Most of the work is done off the court.

This is true for Jesus. He didn’t just show up for work, preach and heal. He prepared when no one was looking. His private life made his public life possible.

Many want to play in the NBA, but few are willing to do the hard work off the court to be ready at game time.

Many want to do miracles, but few are willing to do the hard work on their knees to be ready.

What about you? How committed are you to following Jesus? What have you sacrificed? Sleep? Time? Money? Energy? Dreams?

Are you willing to pay the price to radically follow Jesus…or are you just a fan?

N.T. Wright writes,

As we Christians pray today, especially when this prayer is costly and sacrificial, not merely a perfunctory few minutes now and then, the presence of this same Jesus is promised, by his Spirit, to guide and encourage us. Part of this guidance will be the discernment to know when to speak and when to be silent, when what we are called to do should be kept secret and when it should be celebrated publicly. Sometimes, in some countries and in certain situations, some Christians will know, in prayer, that it is better not to attract too much attention to themselves. This isn’t cowardice; it’s wisdom. But if, as in Jesus’ case, word leaks out anyway, we can remain confident, especially through prayer, that this same Jesus is with us as we face the cost of being kingdom-people, bringing the news and power of Jesus’ healing love to the world.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is our country’s most hallowed and somber holiday. It’s not a day to honor our military—that’s veteran’s day—but to remember those who paid the ultimate price to defend our freedom. I’m grateful for their sacrifice and would like to pause for a moment of silence to remember them.

I’m also grateful for the true heroes of the faith—men, women and children who paid the ultimate price to follow Jesus. History is filled with martyrs. You can learn about them at
www.persecution.com.

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimates 90,000 Christians were murdered for their faith last year. That’s like filling 5/3 Field nine times! At least 29 died Friday in Egypt, including children.

What would possess a person to die for their faith? Passion, commitment, and quality time with God in prayer. I freely admit I’m a spiritual wimp. I need more quality time with the LORD…not because I’m a pastor, but because I claim to follow Jesus. That requires action. It involves preparation. It necessitates sacrifice.

Conclusion

As we continue to look at the life of Jesus, it’s easy to be awed by his miracles and teachings. But his public ministry was only possible because of his private preparation. He invites us to follow his example.

Credits:
some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and Richard Niell Donovan.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Supernatural: Exorcism & Healings

Supernatural: Exorcism & Healings
Series—
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 1:21-34

Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea: The supernatural world is real, and so is the Holy Spirit.

Who is Jesus? This is the question we’re asking in our series on the gospel—or good news—of Mark.

In the first verse of the book we see Jesus introduced as the Messiah and Son of God. Then we examined John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin who prepared the way for His arrival. Next we discussed Jesus’ preparation for public ministry through baptism and temptation. Last week we looked at an invitation from Jesus, an invitation He is still making to us thousands of years later, to follow him.

I want to make a brief addendum to last week’s message.

I’ve become frustrated by those who communicate the gospel is about praying a prayer to avoid hell and go to heaven when you die.

The gospel is Jesus. The gospel is Jesus is LORD. Christ is not his last name. He is the Jesus the Messiah. He is King Jesus.

I mentioned John 3:16.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)

I listened to Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Roots Podcast last week and he did a fascinating interview with Matthew Bates, author of Salvation by Allegiance (KR 51).

The question is,
“Who are you believing in?”

If Jesus is Savior, then faith means trust in his saving work or trust in him who can save
If Jesus is LORD, then faith means submit or to bow down to
If Jesus is King, then faith means a declaration of allegiance and loyalty to serve that king and to serve in that king’s army

What does it mean when you say you believe in Jesus? You believe in the historical figure and that he died and rose again…or he is your LORD and King and you submit to him and declare your allegiance to serve him?

Remember, believing that there is a God is no big deal. Even the demons believe that, we’re told in James 2:19!

We are to submit, serve, and declare our allegiance to King Jesus.

The Supernatural. Does it excite you? Does it scare you? Why? In our passage for today, we get a front-row seat to see the authority and power of Jesus.

He has just asked two pairs of brothers to follow him.

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. (Mark 1:21)

What did he teach? We’re not sure. How did teach? With authority! With power!

The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. (Mark 1:22)

This is Mark’s first hint that Jesus will face opposition—opposition that will claim his life. He would be crucified because of the envy of religious leaders.

Mark continues…

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:23-24)

He was possessed by an impure spirit. What do we make of this? A man cries out in the synagogue, identifies Jesus, speaks in the plural, and is obviously threatened. The “us” is a reference to all the demonic forces. This wouldn’t be the last time Jesus would have conflict with demons.

I’ve preached hundreds of sermons. I’ve been interrupted, but never like this!

Mark clearly shows us the world of the supernatural is real. And it submits to Jesus.

“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. (Mark 1:25-26)

What is this? The people asked the same thing!

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”  News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. (Mark 1:27-28)

Many of you have read this story, but imagine you know nothing about Jesus, you attend synagogue, his teaching amazes you, and then he exorcises an impure spirit before your very eyes.

No wonder news traveled fast about Jesus…and they didn’t even have CNN! This was the first miracle Mark mentions. Jesus had authority and backed it up with power. But there’s more!

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. (Mark 1:29-31)

Jesus heals the Peter’s wife’s mother. Notice we don’t even know her name, but she has a fever—which was actually a very big deal back then, more than a symptom but a serious condition. Notice Mark’s details. Jesus goes to her, takes her hand, helps her out of bed, and it says the fever left her. Did he pray? Exactly when did the fever leave her? When he touched her? When she stood up? We don’t know.

We do know she went straight to the kitchen, made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and served them with glasses of cold milk. Ok, we don’t have those details, but Jesus actually benefits in small way from healing her. I’m sure that wasn’t his motivation, of course.

Jesus teaches with authority.
Jesus casts out impure spirits with authority.
Jesus heals with authority.

What a day! And he wasn’t done.

That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. (Mark 1:32-34)

If you were with Jesus and didn’t believe in the supernatural in the morning, you surely did by the time you went to bed.

The demons knew Jesus. Do they know you?

So What?

I know some of you are looking for simple answers and resolve everything. I’ve got to be honest and say this text actually raises several questions for me.

Why are exorcisms common in the New Testament and we rarely see or hear about them today, unless it’s Halloween? Where did all the demons go? No, mental illness is not a sure sign of demons.

Should we be performing exorcisms? I actually participate in one in college. It was low-key but very cool. I would love for our church to do whatever it takes to help people experience joy, freedom, peace, and life. If that means exorcisms, let’s do it—carefully. The supernatural is not something you mess around with, but it is a reality we must accept an experience. We have been given authority from Jesus. We often forget the beginning of the famous Great Commission text:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)

Why doesn’t God heal today? Oh wait, he does! There is power in the name of Jesus.

Conclusion

Jesus had authority and power. All authority—in heaven and on earth! The exciting news is he said it was good that he ascended so the Holy Spirit to come. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit arrived! Jesus said,

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

The supernatural world is real. We can engage it, but we must do so wisely. Demons are real and powerful. But God is greater. The Holy Spirit is available to each of you, but you must surrender. You must repent and believe, as we noted last Sunday. You must let go and let God…be your Lord and King.

Jesus had power and authority. We have been given authority. Let’s use it…wisely.

Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

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