Familiarity – Mark 6:1-3

Everyone in Nazareth knew Jesus.  The town wasn’t that big and Jesus had lived there most of his life.  When he came home and taught in the synagogue, the response might have been positive.  I’m the sort that loves it when guys from my hometown of Buffalo, NY, or my current home of Indianapolis make it big in one way or another.  Imagine if one of your local boys turned out to be the Messiah!?  It doesn’t get any bigger than that.

Alas, that was not the case.

Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him. And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” So they were offended at Him.

Familiarity can go two ways.  They clearly knew enough about Jesus and his “mighty works” to put two and two together.  It was an informed decision.  But they also had enough information to imagine that their unbelief was justified.  “He’s just a carpenter, right?”  “And his mom, brother and sisters are just normal folks. We’ve known them forever.”  If they had anything privately against the family, say suspicion surrounding the circumstances of Jesus’s birth, or some minor scuffle with a one of the brothers, these things would not work in Christ’s favor.

They were still wrong.  Jesus was and is the Christ, the Son of God (Mark1:1).  Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)

We can make the same mistake today.  People reject Christ due to familiarity.  They grew up in a Christian home or they know any number of Christians that they find unimpressive.  Or they pay Christ a bit of lip service while not accepting the Jesus we find in the Bible, because, well, they know a little too much, they believe.

This also happens in churches to otherwise solid believers.  It is more subtle, but the same basic thing.  The longer we know a pastor, a worship leader or the overall atmosphere of the church, we are faced with a continuous decision.  We can stay faithful for the sake of the relationships and continue to help build the ministry – or not. 

Maybe we’re kind of bored with the music.  Maybe we wish they would stress our favorite doctrinal stance a little more then they do.  Maybe we like the decor of another building or the neighborhood in which another church is located.  We can go on. 

Familiarity can increase commitment, cultivate brotherly love and build trust.  Long, old friendships are usually the best we have.  Or, we can collect evidence that something is seriously wrong.  If they did it with Jesus, we can certainly do it with other sinners saved by grace.  

 

 

Only believe – Mark 5:36

These words that Jesus spoke to Jairus regarding his daughter can easily apply in any number of situations that we face.  Here is how they appear in context.

35 While He was still speaking, some came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”

36 As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not be afraid; only believe.” 

The context in this case is vital to understanding what Jesus is saying.  

Jairus came to Jesus as his daughter was dying, asking for help.  Before they got home, however, the daughter had died.  When all was lost, Jesus encouraged Jairus with the words, “Do not be afraid; only believe.”  As it happened, Jesus raised her back to life.

Why does God so often wait until all hope is lost?  Perhaps it is so we are more focused upon hoping in him.  There is something spiritually healthy about being brought to the end of ourselves.  Self-sufficiency can be an enormous obstacle to faith.  Hope in anything or anyone but Jesus can redirect us away from trusting him.

When it is obvious that we cannot do anything to fix our situations, and neither can anyone else, God has the opportunity to intervene without interference.  He must like that, because he puts us in that place of helplessness pretty often.

What hopeless situation are you facing right now?  I am facing a few of them, but I won’t clutter this post with their tedious descriptions.  Christ’s message to us might be the same as his message to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; only believe.”

The other Parable of the Sower – Mark 4:26-29

The primary Parable of the Sower (as Jesus calls it in Matthew 13:18) is recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke.  This other one, also called the Parable of the Growing Seed, is only in Mark.  I like to think of it as a further elaboration on the sower’s seed sown on good ground, which “yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred” (Mark 4:8).

26 And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, 27 and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. 28 For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

The job of sowing and harvesting, of spreading the word of God and eventually seeing the fruit of it, is a wiggly business.  We have to “preach the word,” as Paul says (2 Tim 4:2).  But in doing so, we cannot look for immediate results.  In fact, it is hard to see the relationship between our work and its results at all.  We “sleep by night and rise by day” and in the meantime something happens.  We don’t know how, but growth comes naturally.  As Jesus says, “the earth yields crops ‘by itself.'”  

That last expression “by itself” is interesting.  The dictionary form of the original word is automatos, which is kind of like automatic.  It reminds me of an automat, the old vending machine, restaurant-like thingy, where the food just sat there waiting for someone to buy it.  (Yes, I was a fan, but do not know of one anywhere in Indianapolis where I live.  Not sure if they even exist at all in the USA anymore. Alas.)

Christ’s point, however, is important.  Proclaiming the word of God, whether it is evangelism, teaching, a weekly Sunday service, or a private conversation, will yield results.  Somehow, at some point.  This happens without our looking at it constantly and trying to measure the growth.

Let this be an encouragement for all of us “sowers.”  I want to see immediate results as much as the next guy, I suppose.  Normally I don’t see any.  You may not see quick returns on your word-sharing investment either.  But don’t quit.  Don’t give up.  Quick returns are not what we signed up for.  We signed up for continuous, consistent sowing and eventual reaping, when the time is right.  That might not be when or where we we are looking for it, but it comes.

Misunderstanding and Lies – Mark 3:20-35

Jesus’ family thought he was losing it.  The scribes were convinced he was evil.  Neither was right.  Jesus understood them far better than they understood him.

20 Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

22 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.” … 28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 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.”

31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

If we are going to faithfully follow Jesus there are two accusations that we have to expect.  They were leveled at Christ and we will make easy targets for them too.  They are simply:

  1. You are crazy.  If, as Paul says, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Cor 1:18), then we can expect those who believe it to be looked upon as fools.  
  2. You are evil.  This is almost the oldest lie in the book, since it echoes the serpent’s slander of God, calling his motives into question in dealing with Adam and Eve.  It is an easy switch to move from slander against God to slander against Christ to slander against God’s people.  Again, we can expect it.

The beauty of all of this misunderstanding and outright falsehood is that Christ endured it first.  In our case some of the misunderstanding is justified, some of the criticism is true and, let’s face it, our motives are rarely altogether pure.  Yet even when we really are completely in the right, if we expect to be treated like Jesus, there will be those people who fail to grasp that.  Some of them will be important, like the scribes, so their criticism will feel very demeaning.  Some of them will be close, like our family, so their misunderstanding will hurt.  We can only imagine how Christ felt.

The wrong crowd – Mark 2:13-17

13 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 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.

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. 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?” 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 is still eating with sinners.  The church is full of them.  On any given Sunday, in the midst of any given Christian congregation, you will find them.  Jesus is comfortable there and intends to make these people his friends.

One reason I say this has to do with our perception of hypocrisy.  The true hypocrites in this story were the scribes of the Pharisees who thought eating with certain people was beneath them. Who were they to feel so self-righteous?  In reality they needed Jesus too.

The church that we see is often a lot like the crowd here at Levi’s banquet.  Jesus is surely present and so are his disciples.  The disciples, as we know from the Gospels and Acts, were themselves in a state of continuous spiritual growth.  They were imperfect on their very best days.  And then there are those who are generic followers.  They may not even be believers just yet.  Or maybe they are very new to the faith and each day brings them a major lesson.  Or they may just be friends of Levi who came to the banquet, who just heard of Jesus that day, and have no desire to repent of anything at this time.

Let’s expect a lot of ourselves as far as holiness and spiritual growth.  Let’s also be gracious with others.  You’re going to find yourself sitting next to some sinner, tax collector or present day equivalent next time you attend any church gathering.  This isn’t the wrong crowd, but the right one, if you are looking for Jesus.

The beginning of the gospel – Mark 1:1

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The gospel message, euangelion or “good news,” begins with Jesus Christ.  It is the message about him and his coming and about his work.  Mark’s book gives us the story of his life, death and resurrection.  Unlike the quotation that allegedly comes from St. Francis of Assisi, it is full of words from beginning to end.

You may know the little saying that I am talking about, the one that says,

Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.

With respect to this saying, a little debunking is in order.  First of all, it is not likely that Francis ever said it.  Second, he did gobs of verbal preaching, so he evidently thought using words was necessary pretty much all the time.  

How on earth can news, bad or good, be faithfully and continuously communicated without words anyway?  This is no criticism of good deeds.  It is simply stating the obvious that deeds and words are different things and the gospel is something that takes words.  That is no doubt why Francis preached so much verbally, out loud and in public.  It is also why Mark wrote a book with words rather than a coloring book or a comic book without captions.

Mark Galli wrote a little biography of St. Francis, which is short and readable enough to enjoy by almost anyone.  It is presently available on Amazon for more money than you want to spend on it.  When I bought it, the price was way lower.  If you want, I might cut you a deal on my own copy, and I’d send it to you for much less than that current high price (and still make a handsome profit).  Then again, even the first few paragraphs of his article on Christianity Today will give you enough information to back up my point about the quotation.  The title alone will help.  It is “Speak the Gospel: Use Deeds When Necessary.”  

For the next few months at our church we will be going through Mark’s Gospel and reading every word, chapter by chapter and verse by verse.  Every week we will look at one more portion of Christ’s life and ministry.  We just finished Matthew and the plan is to go through Luke and John after we finish Mark.  This will be lots of gospel, lots of words and lots of Jesus.  It will also give us lots of good news.

Ultimate victory – Matthew 28

The resurrection turns the ultimate defeat into the ultimate victory.  Sin, death and Satan have now been dealt with forever because the Son of God has risen from the grave.  The consequences of humanity’s fall into sin are reversed, never to take control of us again.  

Just before issuing his Great Commission to the disciples, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  That means the sin, death and Satan combined have approximately zero authority.  

Since this deals once and for all with our biggest problem, lesser problems also come into a proper perspective.  All of the hurts, problems and defeats that I have experienced or that I have caused are reduced to times that my team and I have fallen behind in a winning game.  It may look bad for the moment but our final victory is ultimately assured.

There is never a reason big enough to give up hope.  Christ is risen and someday we too will be resurrected into a completely new life in him.