Sometimes it’s not in *how you say it* – Luke 7:31-35

After Jesus reassured the crowd that John the Baptist was pretty much the greatest man that ever lived, the tax collectors and various others present were satisfied.  Not so much the Pharisees and lawyers, who rejected Jesus after rejecting John.  Jesus went on to describe their response, or the lack of one.

31 To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,

‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’

33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.

Pastors and churches like to be relevant, and that is great – to a point.  There is a temptation to let our thinking run wild in that direction.  We may daydream, “Well, if we can only do this, and add this, talk like this, dress like this, and change the decor to this, then …”  

The responses to John the Baptist and Jesus provide some much-needed counterweight to that tendency.  

It would be hard to find two personalities or presentation styles that contrasted more starkly than Jesus and John.  John was famous for wearing rough clothing, preaching in the wilderness and eating mainly bugs.  Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard.  He never seemed to turn down a free dinner or an invitation to a party.  Rather than hanging out strictly in the wilderness, he wandered all over the countryside and traveled by water.  He was found in the towns and cities of Galilee, in the synagogues or on the seashore, and then in Jerusalem for the holidays.  

The message of both these men, however, was more or less the same.  It may have sounded different, or looked different, if one looked at the messenger.  But they mainly agreed that repentance from sin was needed, and that good works were a corollary to faith.  Jesus drew people to himself, which John did not, but then John also pointed people to Jesus.  

In the end what they said differed little.  The difference was in how they said it.  So what was the difference in response?  Well, there was none.  The same people who followed John also went after Jesus.  Those who rejected John rejected Christ.

Jesus compares his detractors to children in the marketplace that won’t join the game no matter what game is being played. 

“Let’s dance!” one shouts, and begins playing a flute.  No response.  

“How about a nice dirge!”  (OK, it’s a weird idea, but Jesus is just making a point.)  No response in that case either.

For those of us who are attracted to making the message relevant, let this be a caution.  Sometimes, if we are faithful to the message itself, how we say it won’t make any difference.

Luke 4 – Verse by Verse

Photo for Luke

Having been baptized by John in the last chapter, Jesus is now led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he endures a time of testing and temptation at the hands of the devil.  He goes from there back to Galilee to begin his public ministry.

Luke 04.pdf

Luke 04.mp3

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.

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.

The Foolishness of Preaching

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. – 1 Corinthians 1:21 (NKJV)

“In some ways, the entire process seems ridiculous.  Common sense rebels against claims that eternal destinies will change simply because we voice thoughts from an ancient text.  When Paul commends the foolishness of preaching – not foolish preaching – he acknowledges the apparent senselessness of trying to transform attitudes, lifestyles, philosophical perspectives and faith commitments with mere words about a once crucified rabbi (see 1 Cor. 1:21). Yet preaching endures and the gospel spreads because the Holy Spirit uses puny human efforts as the conduit for the force of his own Word.  By the blessing of God’s Spirit, the Word yet transforms (i.e., causes our hearts to love God and our wills to seek his will).”  

– Bryan Chapell, in Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, pp. 28-29