[Author's note: Any sermon manuscript found on this blog is written pre-preaching, which means that invariably the content is slightly different than what is actually heard in the sermon. If you'd like to listen to the audio of this sermon, please visit our website here.]
I have to be honest with you this morning…I can’t even begin my message without first making a confession, an admission of guilt. I’m confronted this morning with the realization that if I don’t throw something onto the table, if I don’t lay my cards down, if I don’t reveal a level of transparency, a degree of humility, then I’ll never be able to proceed any further.

What I’m about to say may shock some of you. It may distress some of you. Some of you will tell others, “I knew it!” “I knew it all along!” Some of you may be baffled by what I’m about to say. Some of you won’t be able to believe it no matter how hard you try. Are you ready for this?

Believe it or not- and I’m being dead honest when I tell you this…I did some pretty stupid stuff when I was younger. I confess! I was an idiot! Now please, please- keep your shock to yourselves! And for you skeptics in the crowd, and I know that’s the majority of you, I can prove it!

The year was 1999, and I was seventeen at the time. I have a brother who’s 14 months older than me- Jerry, and it was him, a friend of ours named Tim, and myself riding to Tim’s house in Jerry’s car. On the way to Tim’s house the alternator decided to die in my brother’s 1986 Chrysler LeBaron- don’t hate, K-cars are awesome! Oh, who am I kidding…?

So we’re a couple miles out from Tim’s house and the engine just dies on us, leaving us to drift to a stop. Here’s when the problem really begins, because my gears are turning, and it dawns on me…I bet it’d be easier to push this car if I don’t wait for it to come to a stop. After all, objects at rest remain at rest, right? Let’s add some momentum while the car is rolling.

So as soon as we had slowed down to a snail’s pace, I threw open the back door and hopped out effortlessly. Well- that’s what I had planned to do. Went right in my head, at least. What ended up happening was this: when I put my foot out on the ground, my brain got a little busy thinking “hey, the ground is moving. This is weird.” Meanwhile I’m still trying to get the rest of myself out of the car, but by this point the car (which was going a little faster than I realized) had thrown me off balance and the back tire found my foot.

Yeah. Next thing I know I’m being thrown to the ground while this stupid LeBaron is rolling over my foot. All Jerry knows is that I hopped out of his moving car and there’s a thunk from my body-to-car contact, so he jams on the brake…which of course stops the dead car. So great. My foot hurts, I’m an idiot, and the car came to a stop anyways. I tell ya- intelligence like that has “church-planting” all over it!

My attempts to fix a big problem in my own strength is something to laugh about now, but doesn’t this happen to all of us? Granted, few of us are dumb enough to leap from a moving car (I hope!), but today we’re going to find some disciples of Jesus who are clueless as to why their performance as a Christ-follower was lacking in power- and that’s something I think we can all relate to. We resonate with Paul, who said “the things I want to do, I don’t do, and the things I know I shouldn’t do is exactly what I do!”

But does it have to be that way? Can we experience supernatural victory over the problems that plague our walk with Christ? Can we recapture our joy, or are we stuck experiencing failure after failure? Can we put to death the sin that wages war against our souls? Can we really be this new creation that Jesus died to make?

The question we should ask ourselves this morning is this: How do the people of God experience the power of God? ‘Cause I’ll throw out this hint early: without God’s power, you’re powerless. Powerless.

Let’s go ahead and jump into our text. We’re in Mark chapter nine today. Mark chapter nine. As you turn there, let me quickly give the setting for today’s passage. We’ve just come off of a four-part sermon series on seeing God clearly that culminated in Peter, James, and John enjoying a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven.

They saw Moses. They saw Elijah. And they saw Jesus in His full glory. And then as they watched, Moses and Elijah disappeared, leaving only Jesus. And God the Father said “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.”

No more trying to justify ourselves by deeds of the Law. No more anticipating the coming Messiah. He’s here! Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Change your mind, and believe the Gospel!”

Peter, James, John, and Jesus are now making their way back down the mountain where they’ve seen with their own eyes the invisible realm of God. This wasn’t the first time this had ever happened. Nor the last.

Elisha saw it. Stephen saw it. Paul saw it. John saw it. Jesus’ three disciples saw it. We see glimpses of it in Scripture. The kingdom of God is among us, and the extent to which we see that will determine the extent to which we can live in light of that reality.

And so this heavenly mountaintop experience changes quickly when this group of men come back down into the valley to find all hell breaking loose. Isn’t that how it goes in the life of a Christian? Life is good, communion with God is amazing, sin is being put to death in the flesh, angels are singing in your ipod, and out of nowhere you find yourself falling flat on your face, getting beat up spiritually and wondering what in the world just happened! Where’d the power go?

These disciples come down from one of the greatest experiences in their life, and then reality smacks them in the face and they find that things in the valley aren’t going so hot. Jesus and His boys come down and find the other disciples surrounding by a large crowd, and within this crowd are scribes, Jewish lawyers, arguing with the disciples.

Turns out that within this crowd was a man whose son was demon-possessed. It was known that Jesus was in the area, this man came looking for help…Jesus was on the mountain, so it befell the disciples to remove this demon. No big deal, right? Back in Mark six Jesus had given his disciples authority to cast out demons…but it seems that now the disciples were unable to do so.

Well, the scribes took this opportunity to question and accuse the disciples. Mark doesn’t tell us specifically what the argument was about, but it wouldn’t be a far stretch of the imagination to think that the scribes were using the disciples’ failure to attack their leader Jesus.

Come on guys, I thought you were good at this sort of thing. Really just a bunch of talk, aren’t you. Powerless. Impotent. Just like your leader. Where’s he at, anyways? He hiding ‘cause He knows He has no power over this demon?

And with impeccable timing, here is Jesus. I say impeccable, because when the crowd saw Him, they were greatly amazed and ran to greet him. Some would say that the amazement was caused over residual effects of the transfiguration, but I’d have to disagree.

If Jesus had come down bearing evidence of the transfiguration, it wouldn’t have made much sense for His admonishing His disciples to keep what they had seen to themselves. I think what we’re seeing here is the crowd’s amazement that Jesus seemed to have come out of nowhere to defend Himself and His disciples right when He was most needed. That, or they were simply happy to see a celebrity.

So then Jesus asks, “What are you arguing about with them?” I believe the question is directed to His disciples. I suppose the question could have been directed to the scribes, yet still there is no response from either of them. It’s like the Scribes were scared to engage Jesus in debate…and His disciples were ashamed at their inability to perform this exorcism and put the scribes in their place.

So finally a response from the crowd is heard as the man who’d brought his boy spoke up. “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams, and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. [You weren’t here] So I asked your disciples to cast it out…and they were not able.”

I know that God is longsuffering, but if ever there was a place in Scripture where Jesus’ patience is tested, it’s here. Peter saw Him as He was…and wanted to build shelters for Him, Moses, and Elijah. Now the rest of His disciples are incapable of doing something Jesus has empowered them to do. So here’s His response- not to the crowd, not to the man, not to the scribes, but to His disciples:

“O” It’s not a word so much as an interjection. “O! Faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”

Jesus’ disciples still don’t get it. For years now, they’d been following Jesus, listening to His teachings, watching His miracles…and still Jesus chastises them for their lack of faith.

So they brought the boy to Jesus, and the situation went from awkward to terrifying, because when this spirit saw Jesus, he recognized him. I used to think that what happened next happened because this demon was scared of Jesus…but if the demon recognized Jesus and was afraid of Him, don’t you think the demon would have either departed the boy, or at least chosen not to manifest itself?

This demon didn’t fear Jesus, it hated Him. And it hated this boy. Mark tells us that when the demon saw Jesus it immediately launched a brutal attack- not on Jesus, but on the boy. The boy went into convulsions. Not shakes, not tremors, convulsions. This verb is found only four times in the Bible, all four in reference to demonic activity. It’s not a natural convulsion, it’s a supernatural, body damaging, panic-inducing, terror-creating spasming that is beyond this world.

Mark says this boy fell to the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. I mean, put yourself into the scene here. Imagine this is your child. You think seizures are scary? This boy is so entrenched by this demon that he can’t speak, he can’t hear, he’s convulsing so violently there wasn’t a word for it, flopping on the ground, foaming at the mouth, suffering unimaginable pain because of the demon within.

And then, in an almost surreal moment, Jesus asks this boy’s dad, “How long has this been happening to him?” Jesus knew. He wanted the crowd to know. “From childhood. The word means from infancy. His whole, young life. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him.” For years this dad has watched his little boy get burned, almost drown, fall, convulse, suffer. Does this not break your heart as a dad?

We dads like to be fixers, don’t we? Would kill me if my little boy was suffering like this and I couldn’t do anything. Yet this boy’s dad had spent so many years watching his son suffer like this, it was almost old hat.

The boy’s dad continued, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Help us. The word means to run to the aid of someone. Picture this! On the one hand is Jesus, calm, collected. And over here is this boy writhing on the ground, convulsing, foaming at the mouth, and it’s like the fight has finally gone out of the boy’s father. Why isn’t he holding his boy? Why isn’t he trying to protect him?

He’s done. He’s done. Jesus. Jesus, if you can do anything please, please help me.
And then Jesus drops a bombshell: “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”  If you’re willing to trust me for it, I can do anything. And immediately dad says “I believe! Help my unbelief!” Matthew tells us this man was on his knees. “I believe, Jesus! If I didn’t believe, I wouldn’t have come to you for healing. But Jesus, if my belief in you isn’t strong enough for you to heal my boy, if there’s some element of my faith that is missing, if I’m lacking in a perfect faith in who you are, what you can do, help my unbelief!” Create in me what I’m lacking…

At this point Jesus saw another crowd coming their way, and He wasn’t interested in performing for the crowds anymore. This boy’s dad has exercised what little faith he had, he rightly recognized Jesus as the source for all faith, asked Him in desperation to help him trust Jesus rightly, and now Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

I found myself wondering what went through dad’s mind when he heard this. I would have held my breath, thinking it too good to be true. “And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.”

Jesus’ power wasn’t the problem. This dad’s lack of faith was. “If you can?” “If I can??” Wrong “if” there, buddy. It’s not “If I can,” it’s “If you can believe.” Do you have faith in who I am? Dad’s faithlessness was the problem.

He wasn’t alone in it, though. Mark tells us “And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, ‘This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.’”

Come on, guys! Quit trying to accomplish the supernatural by means of your own power. Did you forget where your ability to cast out demons came from? You can’t do now what you could do then because you’re no longer believing me for it- you’re believing yourself.

Remember how I jumped out of the car thinking it’d be best for me to just add my own power to that of the car? Yeah…Jesus’ disciples were trying in their own might, apart from prayer, to cast this demon out. Fundamentally, the problem wasn’t in their lack of prayer. It was in their lack of faith, as evidenced in their lack of prayer.

And when the disciples in their own power were helpless against the demon, it’s as though prayer never crossed their minds! Prayer is an act of dying to self in humble submission to the will of God, and the disciples had no clue how to go about that.

The disciples are guilty of doing what all too often we ourselves try to do: they wanted to see a supernatural experience from the kingdom of God take place in this kingdom of darkness by means of their flesh- not through the power of God. And we do no less trying to experience the reality of the new creation by virtue of our own efforts.

Here’s what I mean. We find the disciples ineffective in their exorcism because they lacked proper prayer, so what do we instinctually want to do? We want to amp up our own prayer lives and therefore experience more power in our own lives. Having a hard time kicking a sin habit? Well, if you get up earlier and pray, it’ll magically go away, right?

Now I know I’m being sarcastic, but it’s what we do. We try to fix things. We look at commands in Scripture, we look at the life of Christ, we see the do’s and don’ts and take it upon ourselves to do, and don’t do, and for a time we can do it. But it doesn’t last, does it? And when we experience power failure and jump out to push the car, it rolls right over us.

We read this passage and want to zero in on the lack of prayer, but like i said, the lack of prayer isn’t the problem. The problem is their lack of faith, which was evidenced by their lack of prayer. Is prayer powerful? Absolutely. Does prayer impact the will of a sovereign God? In a mysterious way that I can’t understand, yes. I think it does.

But I don’t know that prayer in and of itself moves God to action. It’s not like you’re rubbing a lamp and boom- there’s God and now He’s obligated to grant your wishes. It’s not as much about the prayer as it is the faith in God behind the prayer. And this isn’t faith that God will do whatever we ask of Him- I’m talking about faith that God will do that which He has already promised.

Here’s a perfect example. James he says this: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”

Now that’s crazy, right? That Elijah could pray and cause it to rain or not rain- but what is Elijah doing? He’s exercising his faith that God will do what God promised to do in Deuteronomy chapter 11, where Moses said “Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; 17 then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you.”

Elijah saw God’s people straying and knew that famine could serve not just as a punishment, but as a means of God’s people returning to God. And in his belief, in his faith, he asked God to do what God said He would, and those prayers were answered.

Biblical prayer is faith in action. And while defeat in your spiritual life may be tied into a lackadaisical prayer life, a poor prayer life is merely symptomatic of a poor belief in what God has said.

I can’t beat this sin, Richard. Really? Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” The biggest tool in defeating sin is truly believing that you don’t have to sin. You’re no longer enslaved by your flesh.

I wonder sometimes how much energy we burn trying to push our spiritual cars, failing to realize that the source of our power was never us? Paul says in Phil. 2:13 that it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Do you know what that means? It means that any ability of yours to find victory over the flesh isn’t your own doing, but God working through you. It means that you wouldn’t even desire to do good were it not for God’s work in you.

Embracing grace means clinging to the realization that it’s not just grace that saves us- it’s also grace that changes us, both inwardly at conversion and outward as the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is manifest in our lives. Were it not for the inner work of the Holy Spirit, our faith would be as fleeting and fickle as that of the disciples. But now it doesn’t have to be.

Maybe this week you’re like these disciples of Jesus, and you find yourself unable to gain any victories in your battle against the flesh. I could encourage you to pray over it, I could create a do/don’t do list…but isn’t faith in the work of Christ what you need more?

The battle is over. Jesus defeated sin for you. The new man cannot be touched by it. There is no more condemnation for you. As we read in God’s word what has been done, what God has promised, when we believe God, we can act on it in faith. For some of us here this morning, the first step is saying, “I believe- help my unbelief!”

What I’m trying to say can be summarized in our JourneyMarker: “The power of God is displayed in the people of God through the indwelling presence of God.” Let me give you one last illustration and we’re done here.

This past week YahooNews revealed a Wendy’s employee who was photographed guzzling frosty’s from the frosty machine. Naturally, the guy was fired. One of the conversations that was spawned in the comments section had to do with preventing this type of action.

One recommended course of action was to put cameras all over the place, with TVs in the dining area so that diners could watch their food being made. That’ll stop ‘em! Well, it may alter their behavior, but only out of a sense of self-preservation. You won’t change them inwardly through threat of punishment for bad behavior.

But what if you put the spirit of Dave Thomas inside this guy? He’d never dream of gross behavior in the restaurant.” Lasting change, true transformation, comes through the indwelling Holy Spirit. As we soak in the promises of God and really believe that we are free from sin, that we are free to serve, that is when our prayers will become effective and we’ll be the fruit-bearing Christians that God has created us to be.

I believe! Help my unbelief.

[Author's note: Any sermon manuscript found on this blog is written pre-preaching, which means that invariably the content is slightly different than what is actually heard in the sermon. If you'd like to listen to the audio of this sermon, please visit our website here.]
Good morning! I thought we’d start off this morning with a few statistics! Yay, right? Come on, now. Three out of five students surveyed on the internet claimed to love statistics. That’s like…80% of them. And since everything on the internet is true, that means that most of you must love statistics too, right? Hey- don’t knock my math skills. I  can math good!

You know who really does love statistics? The Barna Group. The Barna Group is a research and resource company widely considered to be a leading research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture. They like to take polls and crunch numbers. They’ll take a data set, run it through SPSS or some other sort of analytical software, and convert the research results into easy-to-digest statements like this:

According to Barna, 25% of American Christians have an unbiblical view of God, that He is “in everyone or everything,” or that God is the “realization of human potential.”

60% of surveyed Christians would argue that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.”

Almost 60% of surveyed Christians agree that the Holy Spirit doesn’t exist as a person, but is simply “a symbol of God’s power or presence.”

40% of surveyed Christians believe that Jesus Christ sinned while on this earth.

In the words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

If you don’t recognize the quote or the person, see me after the Gathering and I’ll weep with you over your miserable upbringing.

As I was piecing together the various facets of my sermon preparation, I found myself wanting to inject a bit more humor than I normally do, but I think it was to compensate for a biblical text that isn’t very funny at all.

So let me set it up with a story of something that happened to me this week. I half-jokingly told my community group that I was going to find some way to incorporate this into a message- what I didn’t realize was that it fits beautifully with where we’re going to spend the next 30 minutes or so.

Ok, so I’m at my office one day this past week, which for those of you who don’t know, means I was at Mudhouse. Yeah- I let them use my office as a coffee house. But I’m headed to the restroom on my way out, and as I push the door open I hear a frantic manly voice saying “Hold-hold on!”

Well, I knew it was Keith, a pastor friend of mine in Charlottesville who I run into a bit at Mudhouse. So I decide to mess with him a bit for not locking the bathroom door. Only reason I chose that door was because the little sign above the handle was green and read “vacant,” rather than being red and reading “occupied.”

So I decide to teach him a lesson, and I quietly grabbed the door handle with both hands and pulled tight. Now, Keith exercises, so I knew I’d need to put all of my two-hundred pounds of chiseled steel into tugging on this door.

Sure enough, a few seconds later the door knob jiggled, but the door didn’t budge. And then I watched the little green “vacant” sign flash over to the red “occupied,” but of course it didn’t open then, Keith had just locked it. And then it switched back to green, then red, then green- all the while the handle was jiggling, and I could tell that he was starting to worry a bit about why he couldn’t get the blasted door open!

So finally I released the handle, crossed my arms in front of my chest, and stood there with an amused smirk on my face. With one final swap back over to the green “vacant,” the door was finally tugged open and some old guy I’ve never seen before in my life is standing there with a “what the heck?!” look on his face!

Of all the days to wear my Life Journey t-shirt! I tried to apologize profusely, but what I really wanted to do was invite him to our Gathering, where we promise not to let anyone leave no matter how much they want to!

I thought I’d seen Keith go down the hallway to the restroom. I was counting on it. Acting on it. Holding onto that door knob, I was fully convinced that I knew exactly what I was doing and where it would lead…and I couldn’t have been more wrong. I wasn’t seeing clearly, for sure.

It’s funny when it’s a humorous mixup in a coffee-house restroom, but sometimes having a poor view of reality can impact your health, your friends, your family. Your soul. What if your mixup leads you to Hell? What if your inability to clearly see God, to clearly see Jesus and what following Jesus looks like leads to your eternal separation from the one you claim to serve? What if our vision of Christianity isn’t Jesus’ vision?

Now I’d be the first to tell you that your salvation doesn’t ride on your ability to read, comprehend, and believe everything you read in Scripture. There’s a lot in there that is difficult for some of us to embrace. Now let me clear- I very firmly believe that the Bible, though written by the hands of ordinary men, was inspired by God and completely free of error.

But I also know that to rational minds, a lot of things don’t make a lot of sense. There’s a degree of faith required there. Accepting everything at face value is easier for some of us than others.

So please don’t hear me as saying that if you question any bit of the Bible you cannot be a Christian. But what I am saying is that people who deny the existence of Satan and the Holy Spirit are woefully lacking in their knowledge of God’s Word.

And I would say that anyone claiming to be a Christian while maintaining the sinfulness of Jesus probably does not understand what being a “Christian” really means. They certainly do not have a Biblical understanding of the person and work of Jesus.

Seems these days that anyone can call themselves a Christian and really define it how they want- they can see it as being whatever they want it to be. They can act on it, bank on it, live in total assurance that they’re a biblical Christian, but what if they’re wrong? Is there a such thing as someone who calls themselves a Christian being so blinded to reality that they can die and spend eternity suffering the wrath of the God whose name is on their lips?

Well, yes. And I don’t just say that because the statistics point to it. I say that because of what Jesus said.

One of the scariest passages in all of Scripture for me is found in Matthew 7:21-23, where Jesus says “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

Atheists do not emphatically declare Jesus as Lord. Muslims do not prophesy in the name of Jesus. Buddists, Daoists, Agnostics, and Wiccans do not cast out demons in the name of Jesus. No, the only people who do mighty works in the name of Jesus are those who claim to follow Jesus!

Jesus tells us in the context of Matthew 7 that the majority of professing Christ-followers are in actuality going to be rejected by Jesus. Why? Because He never knew them! The Jesus they perceive is not the Son of God. Their vision is so obscured, they have no clue that they’re not truly following Christ.

Same vocabulary, right? “Jesus is Lord.” Different dictionary. “You’re not seeing me right. I don’t even know you.”

We saw this last week with Peter, didn’t we? Peter knew Jesus was the Messiah, and yet the idea in his head of what the Messiah would do and be was a far cry from reality. Jesus had to set him straight.

But what about following Jesus? Do we clearly see what that means, or have we created for ourselves a religion built around a faulty vision of what it means to follow Christ? How do we know it won’t be us on the day of judgment that Jesus tells, “I never knew you”?

In our text today Jesus spells out for us what it means to be a Christ-follower. My prayer is that by the time we leave, we will leave with a heightened sense of assurance that we’re truly on the right track, or that perhaps God will open our eyes to the reality that we’ve been seeing things wrong the whole time.

Last week we found Jesus rebuking Peter for trying to steer Jesus away from His mission. Peter believed that the Messiah was going to usher in an era of of political, social, and economic prosperity. Rome would be defeated, the Messiah would rule from the throne of David, they would all live happily ever after.

But Jesus said no, that’s not the case. Instead, I’m going to suffer at the hands of the Pharisees and scribes. I’m going to be rejected. I’m going to die- but I will rise again. Jesus said, “Peter, you’re not seeing it because you’re setting your mind on the things of man- not the things of God. You see a bit- but not clearly enough.”

Now in verse 34 Jesus calls the crowd over and lays out His requirements to be a follower. Walt and I invite you every week to follow Christ if you’re not yet a believer. Pastors all across this country this very morning are calling people to follow Christ. But what if what we or they are calling to you isn’t what Jesus Himself calls people to?

Here’s what Jesus lays out, and it begins with an open invitation to anyone who’s willing. Jesus says, “if anyone would come after me,” if anyone would follow me, if anyone would claim to be a Christ-follower, if anyone would claim me as their Savior, their Messiah, their rescuer from sin…and then he lays out three requirements. Three action items. Three ingredients. Miss any one of these, and you’re not following Jesus. You’re following the Jesus of your own creation. And it will lead you to Hell with the name of Jesus on your lips. We’ve got to see this clearly.

Step one: Jesus says “if anyone would follow me, let him deny himself.” Let him deny himself. What’s this mean? Historically, some have interpreted this to mean a denial of one’s innate hedonism, our pursuit of pleasure. And certainly we’re all seeking happiness.

Many of you are familiar with the French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal, who said “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”

There’s definitely an element of truth to that. We’re all seeking our own joy and happiness. We’re all acting in accordance to our will, which is about as biblical a concept of “free will” that you’ll ever find. But our wills aren’t free- they’re slaves to our desires! We can only do that which we most desire to do.

So many think that self-denial means asceticism of some sort. Perhaps abstaining from sex, good food, community, and other things that bring us joy. They think, “Ok, I can’t follow Jesus and have all this money, so I’ll give it away! Jesus lived in poverty, I will too! I don’t need a house, Jesus was homeless- I’ll be homeless too! And good food? Jesus was often hungry. If I want to follow Jesus, I’ll be hungry too!”

But I think this is all missing the point of Jesus’ words. He doesn’t say abstain, He says “deny.” The word means “to affirm that one has no acquaintance or connection with someone.” Want to see it in practice? Remember when Peter was hiding from the authorities the night that Jesus was arrested and tried? Multiple times when accused of being a Christ-follower, Peter vehemently rejected any association with Jesus. He said, “I swear I don’t know Him!”

That’s denial. And Jesus calls us to deny…ourselves.

Huh.

The first step in pursuing Christ is disassociating ourselves from everything that is intrinsic to us. The things that make us tick. The things that bring us joy. And the reason for this is simple- our default tendency is to elevate ourselves as god over our universe, do whatever feels good to us, and go through life seeking the satisfaction and joy of numero uno.

Embracing ourselves means egotistically thinking that we’re good enough on our own to merit God’s favor. Of course I’m going to heaven. Haven’t killed anyone. Denying ourselves means saying “I’m not a sufficient savior. I’m not good enough to earn God’s favor. I have been worshipping myself instead of the One who made me.”

Our default setting is to deny God and embrace self. Are you willing to reverse that and humbly embrace the reality that you’re not god? Jesus says that’s step one. And as we’ve seen following the ministry of Jesus, it’s a step that few take.

What about you?

Now, here’s where the rubber meets the road. If you dangle a big enough carrot, you can move anyone towards Christ. What do I mean? What I mean is this: if you can convince someone that denying themselves is a means of improving themselves, then yeah- you can make a convert out of anyone. Well- you can make a church goer out of anyone.

For some people it goes like this: Come to Jesus- we promise you health! Wealth! Prosperity! If you will deny yourself and embrace Jesus as your savior, and maybe “sow a little seed of faith,” then God will bless the fool out of you and make you all live happily ever after! Think it doesn’t happen? Watch TBN sometime. Bunch of gospel-pimping posers who seem to have passed over this part of the passage.

Jesus doesn’t say, “Deny yourself and climb into the lap of luxury.” He says “Deny yourself…and take up your cross.”

That’s another phrase largely misunderstood by the Church. Oftentimes people associate “bearing one’s cross” as being a ministerial or life hardship. “I never asked to work in JourneyKids…but it’s my cross to bear. We all got one, I guess.” It’s like a baptized version of Eeyore. Well, I guess I’m stuck serving God…I guess I’m stuck in a job I hate. I reckon I’ll just endure this bad relationship, this physical ailment. Just my cross to bear.

You know what the cross was in Jesus’ context? Here’s a hint- it wasn’t a piece of jewelry to wear on your neck. It wasn’t something cool to get tattooed on your body. It was an instrument of torture, a horrific, humiliating, excruciating death that Rome refused to render on its own citizens.

And Jesus knew He was going to carry one. He knew He was going to be nailed to one. And He knew He was going to die on one…and He calls us to do the same. Wanna follow me? Grab your cross. Let’s go.

Hey Richard- that kinda stuff doesn’t happen anymore! It doesn’t? Did you know that of the 70 million Christians who have lost their lives to the Kingdom (that we know of), 45.5 million of them were killed in the 20th century alone? That’s 65%. Almost two out of every three Christians murdered for following Jesus lost their lives in the last century alone. Currently the Vatican claims that over 100,000 Christians a year are being killed for their faith. This was in an article on Foxnews.com just this week. Followers of Jesus are holding onto their faith even when it leads to their death.

Are you willing to do the same? Pursuing Christ is an all-in move, and while you may be promised eternity, Jesus also promises you a cross. Is He worth it to you? Are you willing to follow Jesus if it costs you your friends, your popularity in school, your position at work, your family, even your life? Jesus demands no less from His followers. Grab your cross, let’s go.

Jesus ends His list of requirements with a self-evident reminder that if anyone is to follow Jesus…they’re to follow Jesus. They’re to go where He went, teach what He taught, do what He did, and love like He does. And sadly, there are multitudes of people out there calling themselves Christ-followers who show no resemblance to the person of Christ.

Don’t believe me? Google “Westboro Baptist Church” sometime. Look at the crusades. Look at the “Christian”/Muslim wars in Nigeria. So easy to talk the talk. Walking’s a bit harder.

Worst part is when the walk is walked, but there’s no underlying heart change. Remember, Jesus said that those He will deny spent their lives in what looks to some as spiritual service. Walking like Jesus did won’t guarantee you eternal life, but you won’t experience eternal life if you’re not following the way of the Master. “Faith without works is”….what? It’s dead. Following Christ means following Christ.

So here’s the irony. The mission that Peter rebukes Jesus for placing upon Himself is the exact same mission that Jesus is calling this entire crowd to. “Come. Lay aside your every ambition. Embrace me as your Savior. Follow me in my suffering. They’ll kill me- they’ll probably kill you. You’ve watched me at work- join me in my mission. Come on…let’s go.”

And to the rational thinkers in the crowd, those who are thinking, “Uh…this doesn’t sound like it ends well. Why would I join in?” Jesus says “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?”

I don’t have time this morning to unpack all of this for us, but Jesus is essentially throwing down the gauntlet. Reject me out of self-preservation- it will only lead to your death. Follow me- even if it kills you. There is life therein. What is your soul worth? Is it worth gaining everything, only to spend eternity in Hell separated from the love of God- the very God who calls us to come to Him?

Jesus continues, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Get this- Jesus is again referencing His return. He left after the resurrection- He’s promised to return. And when He comes back this time, He won’t be in a stable. He won’t be poor and rejected. He won’t be clothed in the frailty of human flesh.

When He comes back, He will come back in the full radiance of God. Our warrior King who subjected himself to mockery, pain, and death will return accompanied by the Holy Angels, and He’s coming for His bride.

This is what the Jews of Jesus’ day were anticipating- not the humble servant Jesus was. Jesus is saying, join me in my humility, or when I come back like you were expecting me all along, of you, I’ll be ashamed. I’ll want nothing to do with you. Grab your cross. Let’s go. Are you coming?

And then Jesus mysteriously adds this final thought: And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

Theologians have wrestled with interpreting this for centuries. Who will see the Kingdom? What does that mean, “coming with power?” Well, when do we see the most radical change in Jesus’ followers? When do His disciples really begin to deny themselves? When do they follow Jesus to the death? When are their lives forever altered?

I would submit to you that all of these things occurred at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit of God came and made His temple within God’s people. You can almost feel Jesus bursting at the seams here: “I know it’s not what you were expecting. I know dying isn’t on your list of things for me to do, or for you to do. But you have no idea what’s coming. Ohhh, but you’ll see. You’ll see.”

So as our band comes to lead us in a closing worship song, my question for you is this: are you seeing it? Are you seeing what it means to be a Christian- no, a Christ-follower?  Are you at that place where all of your faith and trust in resting on Jesus? Or are you still trying to save yourself, to earn your own right standing with God?

Are you really committed to Jesus, or is He simply an accessory in your life? Are you following? I know you won’t follow perfectly. None of us will. But are you following? Are you willing to lose your life in order to find it?

If we had to wrap it all up into a JourneyMarker for us, it’d be this: “Jesus Doesn’t Want Us to Just See Him- He Wants Us to Follow Him.”

If God is speaking to your  heart this morning, how will you respond? Will you trust Jesus as your savior? If you have questions about all of this, Walt or I would love to speak with you. We’ll be in the back if you want to get it settled this morning.

Come on, church. Jesus is calling us to follow Him. Can you imagine what we could do in this town, in the surrounding towns, if we were intentionally pursuing a life like Jesus’? A life marked by love, by service, by sacrifice. I want that. I dream of that. And it begins with us telling God “Yes! I want to follow better. Help me follow better. And thank you for your perfect love even when I stumble.”

[Author's note: Any sermon manuscript found on this blog is written pre-preaching, which means that invariably the content is slightly different than what is actually heard in the sermon. If you'd like to listen to the audio of this sermon, please visit our website here.]
If we’re honest with ourselves, sometimes it’s hard to see God in this global mess we live in. But even as we zoom into our own lives, the clarity is still gone. In our own church family, we’ve suffered miscarriages and cancer, death and depression. Some of us are in lifeless marriages, some of us struggle with feelings of loneliness.

Our kids rebel, parents fight, bosses frustrate us, and yet somehow we’re in the middle of this thing we call the “Kingdom of God.” Ok, we might be in it, but “seeing it” isn’t happening. Especially when we find ourselves stumbling on the same sin over, and over, and over. Or when we have a blowup at the house with our family and realize how entangled in sin our flesh really is.

We’re God’s people in God’s kingdom supposedly enjoying the presence of God as His beloved children, but let’s be honest here- sometimes we’re not seeing it. A lot of times. We aren’t seeing God clearly. Big picture, small picture, whatever picture, it’s blurry or He’s completely unseen.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to us today that we find Jesus acting out against blindness, both physical and spiritual, ‘cause it’s something that has plagued us since the Garden of Eden.

So what I’d like to do this morning is kind of summarize where we’ve been these last eight months in the Gospel according to Mark. I want to do that because if anyone can see God clearly, you’d expect it to be Jesus’ disciples. We’ll find, though, that they were blinded as well.

So we’re going to recap really quickly and then spend a few moments looking at a unique miracle of Jesus, and then we’re going to set the stage for our next two weeks as we continue this idea of seeing God clearly.

At this point in Mark, Jesus is approaching His third year of ministry, having spent the last 30 months or so making His way throughout the region. His ministry began at the age of thirty with a supernatural baptism by His cousin John the Baptist, and ever since he’s been touring the region performing miracles, teaching about the Kingdom of God, and setting the religious crowd straight in their understanding of God’s Word.

Undoubtedly, the greatest source of contention between Jesus and the Pharisees  was on how to relate to God. The Pharisees believed that their conformity to God’s Law resulted in their gaining favor from God and ultimately their justification. Jesus, on the other hand, said “Obedience to God is impossible, and it’s impossible because inwardly you’re all evil and incapable of earning righteousness.” You can understand how that would create tension.

So the Pharisees hate Jesus, the Jews did not recognize Him as their Messiah, and He’s been on the ground now for years enacting miracles that, by and large, pointed to His own mission and authority. And after all this time with His disciples, after all He’d done, it seems as though they still don’t get it. They’re not seeing God, though He’s right in front of them.

He fed the 5,000, and the 4,000. He walked on water, brought the dead to life, and even as Walt spoke last week Jesus asks His disciples in vs. 18, “Having eyes, do you not see?” Can you believe that? These guys are still clueless. So here comes a series of object lessons and lectures where Jesus begins to shed light on things. Let’s pick it up in verse 22.

Mark tells us, “22 And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 And he sent him to his home, saying, ‘Do not even enter the village.’”

Before we can even dissect this passage, it’s important that we realize that while yes, this is a physical healing that we’re seeing Jesus do, He’s doing it to present a spiritual reality. He’s using the seen to reveal the unseen. And the gist of Jesus’ message isn’t about seeing physically, but rather seeing spiritually.

I believe this because as I mentioned, Mark just showed us Jesus asking if His disciples still couldn’t see it, and in this next passage there are no less than nine references to sight or seeing. This is no simple healing. None of them were.

Now with that in mind, there are a few things we can take home from this passage that will hopefully be of benefit to you in your own walk with Christ, things that will allow us to see God more clearly.

The first is this: Only God can give spiritual sight. Only God can give spiritual sight. There’s a bit of irony in play here. Jesus is back in Bethsaida, near where He’d fed some 20,000 people with a couple fish and a few loaves. And while by and large the miracles and teachings of Jesus were going well over the heads of the people in attendance, they at least recognized Him as a miracle worker. They knew He could restore sight.

What about you? Have you come to that place of total dependance upon Christ? Have you taken that first step of trusting Jesus as your Savior? Or are you still trying to maneuver your way through life, spiritually blind and bumping into one dead end after another? My prayer is that when you get tired of trying to find your own way, when you realize that you are hopelessly lost and with no ability to save yourself, that your blinded eyes would be opened and set upon the Christ.

We find there were some in the crowd who believed Jesus could give sight. I mean, really believed. And they believed that only Jesus could do this. And while we might agree from a spiritual perspective that only God gives sight, let me ask you this- what are you doing to bring your blind friends to God?

Mark tells us that they brought this blind man to Jesus, and “begged” Him to touch him. What are we doing for those we love who are still blind? And make no mistake, they are. The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 that “if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 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.”

Too often we try to remove the blindness ourselves, to no avail. I’m bad about this. I have a few friends and acquaintances who are atheists, and it’s easy for me to get bogged down in cosmological and teleological arguments for the existence of God. Or we’ll look at polystrate fossils that are encased by rock that supposedly formed over millions of years while a fish stood nose-up waiting for it to happen.

Or we’ll argue the Cambrian Explosion or the complete lack of transitionary fossils. And without fail the dialogue ends in a stalemate with no one’s mind changed. Argumentation, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, is often fruitless and sometimes even more damaging than good.

So if we can’t argue our friends to Jesus, what do we do? Well, for one we can show them Jesus in our own lives. Part of following Christ is actually, um, following Him. When our flesh conforms to the inner reality of who we are in Christ, Jesus is seen in us.

We can also strengthen our understanding and articulation of the Gospel, the good news that God saves sinners through the sacrificial work of Jesus who lived perfectly on this earth, suffered on the cross for the sins of His people, was buried, raised the third day, and now promises forgiveness and eternal life to those who repent and believe. Apart from the Gospel there can be no restoring of spiritual sight.

But there’s something else we can do, and this is pretty cool. There’s a miracle in John chapter nine not recorded by the other gospel writers, another healing of a blind man. In typical Pharisaical response, they were more concerned that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath than in the actual healing.

So they tried to use this man to discredit Jesus. Here was the formerly blind man’s chance to break out his best apologetic for the divinity of Jesus, his chance to wax eloquently about the Messianic identity of Jesus, to give a discourse of the sovereignty of God in choosing to heal him among others in need.

No, this guy doesn’t know all that. He’s not a theologian. He doesn’t have a Ph.D. He isn’t concerned with arguing with the Pharisees in hopes of swaying their position. He simply says in answer to the Pharisees, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

We might not live exemplary lives at all times. We may not be able to give a theological discourse about Jesus and salvation, but we can testify to the work of God in our own lives. That’s one of the reasons we celebrate and encourage testimonies to be shared collectively to our church.

Only God can give spiritual sight. Have you embraced this? Are you trying to bring your friends to Jesus?

The second thing we need to see this morning is that spiritual sight is restored in stages. Spiritual sight is restored in stages. And not the ones we usually expect, at that! Mark tells us that “he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village.” These guys asked for Jesus to touch him, and Jesus does- he grabs his hand and leads him away. Yeah, I’ll heal you, Jesus seems to be saying, but I’ll do it on my own terms.

Now here is something interesting. We’re witnessing the only miracle that Jesus ever worked twice in. Mark tells us “when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, ‘I see people, but they look like trees, walking.’”

Ok…there’s partial sight. He’s starting to see a little. But then “Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” Why? Why the two-stage healing? Wasn’t Jesus powerful enough to instantaneously heal this man without even needing to touch him? Of course. But Jesus is teaching us that spiritual sight comes in stages.

Certainly there is the initial sight given to those being converted, but even we as Christ followers have seasons of life where we can clearly see God at work, yet even within the same day we’re confronted by our inability to see God anywhere!

You need to know this morning that despite our poor vision at times, God still loves us. This becomes clear when reading Scripture. John the Baptist is a perfect example of this. While in prison for preaching out against King Herod Antipas, John the Baptizer had a lot of time to reflect on Jesus. John was perhaps the first to really “see” Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Yet the longer he was imprisoned, the worse his vision got. Finally he sent a few of his disciples to Jesus. You know what they asked Jesus on behalf of John? “Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Jesus…are you really the Messiah? Are you really the Son of God? John had lost sight of it…yet rather than explode in a wrathful diatribe against John for his lack of faith,  for his poor vision, Jesus responds with this: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Yes, John. I am He. And I love you. Hold on.

Then He tells the crowd around Him, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” Church, know today in your often failing vision that God’s love for you has not diminished in the least.

It’s vital to us in our limited sight that we continue to trust God in what we do see. Sometimes that’s only possible when using hindsight. David knew this. He wrote in Psalm 13, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”

David felt betrayed, abandoned, and unloved by God. He’d lost sight of Him completely. Did he wallow in despair, feeling sorry for himself that God had left? No! He said “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

David is saying, I can’t see you now, God. I can’t. But I know you’re there, and you love me, and you’re for me, and I know this because of how you’ve treated me in the past.

Church, if God loves us so much that He sent His son for us, know that even in the darkest of times, when you see God the least, that’s He’s still there. He hasn’t left you.

So why the pain? Why the natural disasters? Why the sin running rampant across the globe? Can’t God stop it? Yes. And the fact that He doesn’t means that He has a purpose to it, even when we can’t see it. The same man born blind in John 9 wasn’t born that way because of his sin, or even his parents’ sin. He was born blind so that Jesus would be glorified in healing him. There’s a purpose to everything.

John Piper says it like this: “God governs the course of history so that, in the long run, His glory will be more fully displayed and His people more fully satisfied than would have been the case in any other world. If we look only at the way things are now in the present era of this fallen world, this is not the best-of-all-possible worlds. But if we look at the whole course of history, from creation to redemption to eternity and beyond, and see the entirety of God’s plan, it is the best-of-all-possible plans and leads to the best-of-all-possible eternities. And therefore this universe (and the events that happen in it from creation into eternity, taken as a whole) is the best-of-all-possible-worlds.”

Spiritual sight comes in stages- trust that God is love and God is good, even when we still don’t see it.

That raises a final question for us this morning, which is this: “What can we do to see better?” Anything? Do we grit our teeth and deal with the hand we’re dealt? Do we try to recall God’s presence in the past and draw our present strength from it?

Well, I think there’s a few things we can do. Firstly is this- we can go to God. Mark tells us that this man was brought to Jesus because he needed to see. We can do the same, through a variety of means that God has given us.

We can come to God through prayer, or through fasting. I can’t stand before you this morning and guarantee that a little time in prayer or a few days without food is going to result in God opening your eyes to the unseen, but I can tell you that by far the majority of my encounters with God have come on the waves of intense times of fasting and prayer.

We can also go to God through His word. It’s a Book about Him, isn’t it? And as we read it and allow it to transform the way we think, we’re able to see God more clearly. It still astounds me how lazy we as a people are when it comes to a Book that we believe God wrote for us.

We believe that Paul was right when he told Timothy that “16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[b] may be complete, equipped for every good work.” We believe it’ll reveal more of God, help us see better, yet we won’t intentionally carve out time to actually read it. Maybe you should start there. Can you imagine what Life Journey Church would look like if we all took the time each day this week to open God’s Word and let Him speak to us?

As our band comes forward and prepares us for our final worship song, there is one last thing we need to realize in our pursuit of seeing God clearly. Whether it’s Jesus’ disciples, or the persecuted Christians in Rome, or you sitting here today, one truth is timeless, and that is this: we will never have perfect spiritual vision this side of eternity.

We may see better now than we did last month, or last year, but we won’t see it all. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 that for now we see God dimly. Yeah, we can see Him at work in our lives, in the lives of those around us.

We can see His handiwork in creation, sometimes even see God in the midst of tragedy. But it’s a dim picture. Oh, but church- one day we’ll see Him face to face. What a day that will be, when my Jesus I shall see. When I look upon His face- the one who saved me by His grace.

In closing, our Journey Maker is this, and we’re going to be on this theme for a couple more weeks. I hope it sinks in. “God is the source of all sight in the kingdom of God.” I hope you’ll come to Him.

So I’m not sure where you are in the middle of all this. I don’t know what God has laid on your heart this morning, whether it’s to place your faith in Jesus as your savior, perhaps revamp your prayer and devotional time. Walt and I will be in the back if you’d like to talk with us, or you can talk to God right where you sit.

However He’s leading, will you respond?

[Author's note: Any sermon manuscript found on this blog is written pre-preaching, which means that invariably the content is slightly different than what is actually heard in the sermon. If you'd like to listen to the audio of this sermon, please visit our website here.]

 

As our baskets are passed around, go ahead and turn to Mark chapter seven in your Bible. Mark chapter seven. As you turn there, I’m going to go ahead and let you know that today’s message might not be what you’re used to. It’ll probably be a little more theological, more doctrinal in nature. Might even be shorter than normal- but I won’t make any promises on that!

I don’t know that we’ve had occasion to tackle this issue extensively yet, but there’s a bit of an elephant in the room here. A rather large elephant, actually. See, I don’t know about you, but I’m not of Jewish descent. I don’t know that any of us are. The problem with that is the fact that the Messiah, who would Himself be Jewish, was expected to usher in a new era of political, social, and economical prosperity for God’s people. And who are God’s people? Well, the Jews. Right?

So one of the questions for us today becomes this: why in the world would a group of non-Jewish people, especially given that we’re not even proselytes of Judaism, gather to celebrate the ministry of Jesus- a ministry commonly believed in Jesus’ day to be exclusively for His people? I mean, the very reason He was named Jesus is because “He will save His people from their sins.” That’s Matthew 1:21. Doesn’t say all people. Doesn’t say “American Christians.” Says “His people.”

So today’s text is exciting because in it we’re able to see a preview of what is to come. We’re able to get an idea of how Jesus feels about people like us who aren’t descendants of Abraham.

As many of you know, the dynamic between ethnic Israel (those born in the lineage of Abraham) and the Church has always been a debated “hot topic” in Christianity.

On one end of the spectrum, many believe that due to Israel’s continued rebellion against God, they have completely and utterly been cut away from the blessings of God. They would see the New Covenant Church as a replacement of ethnic Israel. Therefore in this framework all of God’s love and favor rests now firmly upon the Church, on us.

On the far opposite end of the spectrum you have those who believe that God’s dealings with Israel have been placed on hold, as right now God’s primarily dealings are with the non-Jewish Church. When God’s purposes with the Church are complete, God will resume His work with Israel, fulfilling Old Covenant promises made only for Israel. This framework presents the Church as a parenthetical, an almost-but-not-quite afterthought, an interruption between God and the real object of His love- Israel.

And of course, you have a variety of positions somewhere between the two, as well as a few fringe groups that are so far off either end of the spectrum that they’re not even within the boundaries of orthodoxy anymore. So everyone here today is a theologian, everyone has their idea of who God is and what He’s revealed to us, and everyone is somewhere on this spectrum, whether you’re aware of it or not.

If you’re not in some oddball fringe group that’s been non-existent in the past 2000 years of Church history, you’re either into covenant theology, new covenant theology, progressive covenantalism, progressive dispensationalism, classic dispensationalism, hyper-dispensationalism, or some weird unknown hybrid!

It gets worse, though. One’s standing in this arena is also going to determine not only how you interpret Old Testament prophecy, but it will also shape your understanding of the end times. Everyone in this room, whether you know it or not, probably falls into one of three camps: those being Amillennialism, Post-millennialism, or Pre-millennialism, which also means that we probably have several adherents here to the idea of a pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-tribulation rapture.

Ain’t theology great!

Now some of you may be sitting there wondering where Life Journey Church falls into the mix, but I would imagine that more of you are wondering how long I’ve been speaking in tongues and whether or not we have an interpreter on hand!

So please, forgive the carpet bombing of $2 theological terms, but there is a point to the madness. Rather than create an interpretive framework and push our agenda onto what we find in Mark, Walt and I labor hard at allowing the revelation of God to shape our understanding of God. So as we dive into our text this morning I pray we do it with open hearts and active minds. This is good stuff. We need to come into this text trusting God to reveal what is there.

Because this is important, right? If the Jews are God’s chosen people and we aren’t Jews, what are we doing here? If the Messiah came to redeem Israel and we’re Americans, are we wasting our time, or what? If God’s special love was only for descendants of Israel, then what about all the Christians who are being persecuted in Rome even as Mark is penning this book?

And what about us? We’ve been talking sometime about this “New Covenant,” but who’s to say that this New Covenant isn’t simply a new one for the nation of Israel? What if we’re just pagans piggy-backing onto a religious system that was never intended for us? Or how about this thought- if the work of Christ wasn’t for me, how am I supposed to believe that God loves me when I continue to fail in my endeavors to please Him? How am I supposed to believe that Jesus came to save me? I mean, yeah- most of us grew up being told that Jesus was for everyone, but just because that’s what we believe doesn’t in itself make it true. And so far we’ve spent some eight months now looking at Jesus and the Jews…not Jesus and the Church.

Yeah. I think that’s an elephant that needs discussing. Let’s get to work.

In verse thirty-one we find that “Jesus returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.” Your translation may use the word “left”, or “departed” from Tyre- the word “returned” in the ESV threw me off at first, but the idea being communicated is that Jesus is leaving Tyre, where He had healed the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter. Leaving there, He goes north some thirty miles to Sidon, and from there travels southeast until He arrives in the Decapolis, which is the area of Gentile cities sitting east of the Sea of Galilee.

In the space of one verse Mark covers about a hundred miles and weeks, if not months, of Jesus’ ministry. And yet through the moving of the Holy Spirit, Mark has chosen to jump from the healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter into this account we’re moving into. Remember that, because context is our friend.

So Jesus is now in the Decapolis, He’s among non-Jewish Gentiles, and “they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on Him.” Now remember, months before Jesus had cast out demons from men in this region. One of them who wanted to follow Jesus had been told to stay and tell his friends what Jesus had done. Well, he did just that, and as a result Jesus’ reputation preceded him. A rabbi and twelve disciples coming into the area? Oh yeah- they knew who He was.

Now remember this- this is no random occurrence. Our sovereign God doesn’t do random. It’s not random that Jesus walked a hundred miles to meet this man, and it’s not random that Mark chose to share this story, even though John tells us that “if everything that Jesus did were to be written..the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

This is a special event, this deaf and mute man that was brought to Jesus. And how Jesus responds to him is not only going to reveal much about Jesus’ love and compassion in general, but it will also show us specifically how Jesus feels about us.

We see first that Jesus “took him aside from the crowd privately.” The idea here is that Jesus took this guy away from the noise and commotion of the crowd so that his attention would be on nothing but Jesus, and Jesus’ attention could be exclusively on this man.

We know that there are witnesses to this event, so there wasn’t total isolation, but we see that the majority of the crowd is gone now. Remember when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter to life, but not without first dismissing the crowd of skeptics? This wasn’t uncommon with Jesus.

What happens next here is pretty cool, but first we have to put ourselves into the shoes of this man who’s deaf and can’t speak right. Some would argue that the speech impediment indicates that the man wasn’t born deaf, otherwise he would have been a total mute. I think there’s a level of legitimacy there. I’ll tell you why shortly.

Nonetheless, he’s now deaf and cannot communicate verbally. 2000 years ago, that was a recipe for ostracism, particularly in Jewish minds. Physical ailments were a result of God’s judgement, so either this guy had royally screwed up, or his parents had, which wasn’t much better.

So get this- Mark last shared with us an encounter between Jesus and a member of a people-group despised by the Jews. Today Jesus stands before a man equally worthless in the eyes of the Pharisees, though it’s unlikely any Pharisees were present.

In fact, Rabbis categorized deaf-mutes with the insane, because nobody knew what they were trying to say. And even among his own Gentile peers he would have been an outcast. They would have assumed that his inability to communicate was evidence that he wasn’t right in the head, or that he had demons within.

So here’s this outcast who was inexplicably brought before Jesus. May have been brought by family, or friends. Might have been brought not by people who cared about him, but by people who wanted to test Jesus, to see how He would respond to this worthless man, this outcast Gentile. They implored Jesus to lay His hand on him, to heal him.

What does Jesus do? Does He simply will for this man to be healed, thereby healing him? Well, no. Could He have? Of course. But I think Jesus shifted gears here because He knew His actions could speak far louder than words. But He does more than just lay hands on him to heal him. Jesus talks with this man, and he does it in language that this man gets: sign language, of a sort.

Any of us with kids have done this. When your one-year old falls off the sofa, what do you do? You pick her up and say “Gracie, I know your brain is telling you that you’re hurt, but when you look at the physics involved, it’s difficult for your twenty-five pounds to sustain serious injury falling from a height of twenty-inches. Your crying is irrational and unnecessary, so cease immediately.”

Of course not! She’s not going to comprehend any of that, but what does she understand? She understands when I pick her up and rock her and hold her close to my chest that she’s ok, that everything is going to be alright.

So here’s Jesus, He’s taken this guy off to the side, and in the middle of the confusion that this guy must have felt, Jesus “put His fingers into his ears.” Now again- I’m not sure where you are in all this, but I’m not a fan of people putting their finger in my ear. It’s ok if you’re my kid. At best, I’ll tolerate someone else sticking their finger in my ear. Make it a wet-willy and the sanctification of my flesh is going to take a few steps backwards, know what I’m sayin’?

But not this guy. No, what Jesus is saying in putting his fingers into this guy’s ears is this: “I know. I know you can’t hear. You’re not insane. You’re not worthless. You’re not possessed. Your problem is, your ears don’t work.”

Then Jesus does something even more weird. He spits, and according to many scholars, when Jesus “touched his tongue”, He was putting His spit on this man’s tongue. As the 1st-century Mediterranean world thought that spit has medicinal qualities, Jesus may have been doing this to bolster this man’s faith. And again in this action, Jesus is telling this man, “I know you can’t speak right.”

Jesus doesn’t just identify this man’s problem and then leave, though. As this man looks on, “Jesus looked up to Heaven and sighed…” This isn’t a sigh of frustration. This isn’t a sigh of “Good grief, how many more people do I have to deal with.” This isn’t a sigh of “Come on, come on. The game’s about to start.”

The word “sigh” is the same word that Paul uses in Romans eight to describe the inner groanings we have when we don’t even know how to pray verbally. Ever been there? I found myself there this even this week as I sat behind my computer watching a documentary on late-term abortions.

This same week sin has been openly embraced by our country, the military is seeking to outlaw expressive Christianity, and as I was getting a behinds the scenes peek at the industry that murders some 3600 babies a day in this country there rose within me a grief-laden, hopeless, gut-wrenching and burdensome thing that had no words behind it, and yet in the midst of it I was crying out to God and begging Him to save our nation, to spare the souls of so many millions of God-haters.

I don’t believe that Jesus was sighing out of frustration- I think He was sighing out of love, compassion, and empathy with the plight of this man, especially in light of what this man represents.

Though certainly touching this man, Jesus reveals the Divine source of His power as He looks up to Heaven and says to this man, “Ephphatha,” which was Aramaic for “be opened.”

“And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” Our perfect Savior healed this man perfectly. And what happens when the miraculous power of God is put on display? People can’t shut up about it. Jesus told them to tell no one about it, but “the more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

So explain to me the irony in these Gentiles making two statements of Messianic identity when Jesus’ own people were clueless as to who He was. Here’s what I mean: No doubt not intending to have such theological precision, these Gentiles said that Jesus “has done all things well.” Yet even in the opening chapters of Genesis we see that everything Jesus created was “very good.”

When this man was healed, he didn’t need speech therapy. He didn’t need to learn the function of syntax, vocabulary, and grammar. He was healed. He was whole. Jesus does nothing half-heartedly.

But then they said something that I believe is at the heart of this passage here. These Gentiles, in their astonishment, say “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Couple things happening here that deserve our close attention. The first is this: prophecy is coming to pass. It’s coming to pass. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah some 700 years before this day, saying in reference to the coming Messiah, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”

So besides actually witnessing the healing, how do we know that Mark is pointing us towards Isaiah thirty-five? Check this out- when these Gentiles say that Jesus makes the mute speak, they don’t use the same work that Mark does in describing this man. Mark says he had a speech impediment, he uses the word “mogilalos,” a word so rare that this is the only time its ever used in the New Testament.

As the Old Testament was penned in Hebrew, it’s fair to say that Mark uses a word found nowhere else in Scripture. However, this word “mogilalos” is found in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was used in Jesus’ day. Mark wanted his readers to see what was happening here and think back to this Messianic prophecy.

But why?

Check this out: as we’ve been watching Jesus display His divinity through the feeding of the 5,000 and the walking on the water, as we’ve seen how the God who was once far from us is now united to us, as we’ve seen how the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart, what we’ve seen is Jesus redefine the “how” of salvation.

The Jews thought it was about attaining righteousness through keeping the Law, yet Jesus revealed that the problem lies within. We don’t need better obedience- we need a heart transplant! And so while Jesus has been exposing the “how” of salvation, in this passage today Mark begins to shed light on the “who” of salvation…and it’s not just the Jews. Think about it- the Messianic prophecy of Jesus healing the deaf and mute was specifically fulfilled among these Gentile heathens!

So let’s fast-forward a bit so we can look at this text with a bit more hindsight. In just a couple short years from Jesus healing this man, perhaps not even two years, Jesus’ followers would receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, an event experienced only by the Jews who claimed allegiance to the risen king Jesus.

And as the Spirit comes down, filling these men, revealing Himself in miraculous works, we’re able to see the regenerating power of God transform these men from scared and often faithless followers into fearless proclaimers of the Good News of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

But, and listen to me carefully, we do not see this happening among Gentiles, nor were the Christ-following Jews expecting to. The Messiah was for them, right? This “Church,” this assembly of called out ones, was a new move of God among the Jewish people, right?

Well, partly. Certainly started with the Jews, but it was only a handful of years before the unthinkable happens. Flip over to Acts chapter ten as we jump into the middle of the action. Peter, along with some other Jewish followers of Christ, are in the middle of a group of Gentiles, and Peter’s just finished proclaiming the Gospel. Go to verse 44:

44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

Life Journey Church, get this: the redemptive mission of Christ was always about all the nations, Jews and non-Jews alike. Yes, first it went to the Jews. But only briefly. Paul says in Romans 1:16-17,16 “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

The Good News is good to those who believe, not those who are born a descendent of Abraham, and this is exactly what Jesus is revealing in Mark chapter seven! Jesus went out of His way to be in the midst of non-Jews, singling out one outcast who had no ears to hear the Good News and opening them. Opening the ears of a non-Jew! The Good News is for Gentiles ears too!

And I don’t believe that Jesus healing his tongue was random, either. The mouth has always been symbolic of the heart. When Isaiah saw Jesus he knew his lips were unclean, yet the angel cleansed him. I believe what we’re seeing here is the realization that for the Gentiles who have their ears opened to the Gospel, their forgiveness and salvation is every bit as perfect as what any Jew would experience.

As our band makes their way forward, we have but a few minutes to grasp the implications of this passage. There are some truth statements that I would love to drill into your heads, truths that can radically transform us.

The first is this: Gentile inclusion into the people of God was always God’s plan. Always. You are no afterthought. More than a year before His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus was on the scene pouring out love to the Gentiles and revealing through His actions that their ears would be open to the Gospel, that their sin would forgiven as wholly as any Jew’s.

Secondly, I want us to realize that no one is beyond the reach of our loving and gracious God. No one. I don’t care how badly you’ve screwed up. I don’t care how ugly your sin is. No one here, no one anywhere, can sin so badly that there is no hope for them. Salvation isn’t conditioned upon our ability to life perfectly- it’s conditioned upon our faith in Christ, whose death and resurrection guarantee the forgiveness of all who believe.

Third and in closing, Church, we need to realize that there is a world of lost and hurting people out there who have no hope apart from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A Gospel that is for all nations, for all peoples. A Gospel that comes with power. What are we doing to spread the fame of God to our neighbors and the nations, if we’re sitting on the Good News too afraid to share it with others. Will you pray even now that God gives you an opportunity this week to share the good news with someone in your life?

As our band plays we’re going to give you the opportunity to talk to God and worship in response to this message. Walt and I will be in the back if you’d like us to pray with you. But in the rest of your time here, I urge you to embrace the love of God, thank Him for saving you, and ask Him to point you to someone in need of Him this week.

If you’re not yet a follower of Christ, your action item is even simpler. Trust Jesus. Ask Him to save you. Embrace His forgiveness.

[Author's note: Any sermon manuscript found on this blog is written pre-preaching, which means that invariably the content is slightly different than what is actually heard in the sermon. If you'd like to listen to the audio of this sermon, please visit our website here.]
Go ahead and turn in your copy of God’s Word to Mark chapter seven. As you turn there I’d like to give a brief recap of where we’ve been and where we are now. We began our journey through Mark with the launching of Life Journey Church last September, where we see Jesus arriving on the scene as a grown man and is baptized by John the Baptist.

Jesus wasn’t declaring that He Himself was repentant for His sins in His baptism, because He’d never sinned! Instead He was symbolically putting himself in the place of sinners and immersing Himself into the sins of His people, giving us a picture of the reality to come, where some three years later He could stand in the place of sinners, take that sin upon Himself, and bear His Father’s wrath in the place of His people while on the cross.

After His baptism, Jesus spent over a year traveling throughout the Galilean area, calling disciples to Himself and preaching the Kingdom of God. Along the way, friction is created between Jesus and the Pharisees, the religious elite among the Jews. They hated Jesus for his message of grace, instead of works. Of grace, instead of rules.

Jesus is now on the move, transitioning from Galilee to the surrounding areas. As He moves around, His message begins to morph a bit, and He begins to do things that only God can do. He demonstrates the power of creation in the feeding of the 5,000. He shows His power over creation last week as He walked on the water.

He has begun to live out the reality of the New Covenant, that the “God who was once far away from us is now united to believers in the new creation.”

Today’s personal, though. Today it gets ugly. Today, reality is made known and the truth is exposed in a not-so-pleasant way. Today we’ve got to asked ourselves, “What if we’ve been wrong all along?” I mean, what if we’ve been totally backwards in our way of thinking?

Sometimes this is amusing, right? I mean, who doesn’t like watching a football player running into the wrong end zone and then wondering why he’s the only one cheering? And I don’t know about you, but I love shows like Jeopardy or Who Wants to be a Millionaire when the contestant blurts out an answer and then immediately realizes that they’d given the wrong one!

Some mistakes are amusing. But Jesus isn’t on the scene telling people “Hey, your prayer shawl is on backwards, haha!” No…it’s a bit worse than that. What if our errant way of thinking has catastrophic results? What if the mistake we make is the final nail in the coffin of our damnation? What if we’ve had it all wrong, all along?

With that in mind, let’s jump into our text. We find that Jesus is again being badgered by Pharisees and some of the scribes who had made their way up from Jerusalem. Remember- they’re only there to find something wrong with Jesus, some way in which He is violating the Law of Moses.

And they can’t find anything. Big surprise, huh!? Jesus came to fulfill the Law in our place- or course they can’t find Him violating it. What they do find, though, is that Jesus’ disciples are eating food without washing their hands first, and this was a no-no to the Pharisees.

Mark tell us that there were many traditions passed down among the Jews, things like washing their hands before eating, or bathing after returning from the marketplace, and they’re meticulous about how they’d clean their cups and pots and copper vessels- even the couches they would dine on!

And we’re not talking about a lackadaisical hand-washing here. We’re not talking about the “someone else is in the bathroom, let me as least wet my hands” kind of hand-washing. No sir. Washing up before eating was a little more complex than that.

One scholar tells us that, “For these ceremonial washings, special stone vessels of water were kept, because ordinary water might be unclean. To wash your hands in a special way, you started by taking at least enough of this water to fill one and one-half egg shells. Then, you poured the water over your hands, starting at the fingers and running down towards your wrist. Then you cleansed each palm by rubbing the fist of the other hand into it. Then you poured water over your hands again, this time from the wrist towards the fingers. A really strict Jew would do this not only before the meal, but also between each course. The rabbis were deadly serious about this. They said that bread eaten with unwashed hands was no better than excrement.” – Guzik

The Jews took their hand-washing seriously. Why? Because they didn’t want to contaminate their food and make it unclean. If they eat unclean food, they’re in violation to the Law of God, right? For so long, God’s people were simply accustomed to washing up at mealtime, but not Jesus’ disciples. Not all of them.

And so the scribes and Pharisees ask him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” Ooooh boy. You done screwed up now. Y’all hands is filthy!

I think that Jesus’ patience is beginning to wane a bit. Listen to His reply: “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

That’s you! Jesus says. Isaiah is talking about you! You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.

“Oh, and you have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother.‘ Moses said ‘Whoever reviles father and mother must surely die.‘ But you? You tell people that they can withhold needed money from their parents under the guise that it’s God’s money! Therefore  you make void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down- and many such things you do!”

You wanna jump on me for not keeping your traditions? Your stupid traditions have trumped the Law of God!

Then Jesus called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me- all of you- and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”

What? What did you just say? Did you really just say a person isn’t defiled by what they eat? Come on, Jesus! Haven’t you read the Law of Moses? You know we can’t eat pork. You know we’re defiled by lobster, by frog-legs, by all sorts of things. Jesus, what are you talkin’ about?

And then we have an interlude between Jesus saying all of this and then leaving the crowds to go back to the house of one of his followers. I don’t know what transpired immediately after Jesus made this audacious claim. Matthew tells us that Jesus’ disciples came to him and said, “Did you know you offended the Pharisees earlier?”

Ha! Yeah, I think He knew. But his disciples pressed him on it. They knew the law. They knew something wasn’t meshing right.

Jesus said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? You don’t get this? You’re not seeing this? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from the outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”

Jesus says, “There is nothing on this Earth that upon your eating it, is going to make you defiled before God. Whatever part of it that isn’t useful isn’t going to contaminate you. It going to come back out.”

And in that simple statement, Mark tells us that Jesus thus declared all foods clean. I mean, how much of the Law did that unravel? How many years, how much time and effort went into ensuring that no unclean foods were eaten, for fear of becoming unclean?

See, that was the problem all along- the Jews were of the mindset that inwardly all of them are clean, and it’s up to a good law-abiding Jew to make sure they stay that way. That’s why they were fanatical about their hand-washing.

But here’s the fundamental problem… righteousness in the sight of God isn’t based on protecting our cleanliness…Jesus says we have none. Listen to Him.

Jesus continues, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these things come from within, and they defile a person.”

And so of course this begs the question, are we depraved in the sight of God because of the things we do, or because at our core we are spiritual dead? What comes first, the chicken or the egg? Are we considered righteous until we have evil thoughts, lust, pride, etc? Was Pelagius right? Are we born in a righteous state with the ability to sin or not sin?

I would say Scripture is clear on that point. None are righteous. All have sinned. Death passed upon all men through the sin of Adam. There are no blank slates. So what is Jesus talking about here?

To get at the bottom of this I need to draw a mental picture for us here, one that I hope is beneficial to you. Ok, I want you to imagine with me that your body is a well, a reservoir, a container of water. Buried deeply within you is a wellspring, the source of this water that is intimately connected with the water around it.

Whatever flows from this wellspring is going to eventually take up all of the space around it and start to over flow. Now- what if the wellspring within was full of and distributing poison? This poison would seep out, grow deeper, fuller, expanding, and finally it began to spill out. Like a contaminated well, nothing coming from this well would be healthy. It’s no good.

That wellspring is our heart, and here’s the problem: if our heart is corrupted, everything else will follow.

So here is why the message of Jesus was so radically offensive to the scribes and Pharisees. While they were thinking themselves righteousness and creating new ways to avoid contamination, Jesus is here saying “You know the lust you have? It’s coming from your heart. Hatred for your brother? Your heart. Lying, stealing, envy, pride- everything that makes a person unclean comes from the heart.”

Jesus is telling these men that the very core of their being was so radically depraved and fallen, simply washing hands and watching what one ate was a waste of time and missing the point- men don’t becomes sinners because they sin; men sin because inherently we are sinners. We don’t need clean hands and good food- we need a  heart transplant!

I think it’d be best for us to spend some time putting this into perspective. Let’s zoom back a little bit, dig into history, and find why this isn’t just revolutionary for the Jews of Jesus’ day, but why this is earth-shattering even today.

If you’ll remember, the first announcement of the Gospel is found in Genesis three where God says that a descendant of Adam and Eve would crush the head of Satan. Almost 2,000 years later, God approaches Abraham and tells him that He is going to make a great nation out of him, that through Abraham all the nations would be blessed.

We see this promise begin to come to fruition through the birth of Abraham’s son Isaac, and from Isaac we have Jacob, whom God called Israel. As Jacob fathered 12 sons who became the heads of their own tribes, this collection of individuals came to be known as Israel, also known as Hebrews or Jews.

Part of God’s interaction with Israel was in the giving of the Law, an extensive collection of commandments which were meant to form the basis of behavior for Israel. In return for their obedience, God would bless them. In fact, perfect obedience to these commands would result on one’s righteousness, or right standing before a holy God!

On the other side of that coin, there were also repercussions for failing to keep the Law, though God repeatedly, graciously and mercifully, withheld full judgement from His people. Oh- judgement was coming, but it would fall upon the shoulders of Another.

As the centuries pass, we see over and over God’s people falling away from Him and His Law. They pursue other gods, they abandon their unique identity as God’s people, yet still God lovingly refrains from judgement.

But see, this story isn’t about us. It isn’t about our being blessed or cursed. It isn’t even really about righteousness vs. damnation. Undercutting all of this is a story of God’s fame, of His holiness, and His desire to create for Himself a people who would follow Him as their God.

God says, you are my people. Live this way. I am holy- you be holy. I am perfect- you be perfect. Reflect who I am to the pagan nations around you. Israel’s response? No thanks, God. That’s not what my heart wants.

Because it wasn’t! Through the Fall, man’s heart, the wellspring of their entire being, that core aspect of who they were, because hopelessly corrupted, defiled, separated from God. As a result, all those born to Adam (in other words, all of us) now have a poisoned wellspring, and from within our hearts come all thoughts of sin. It’s why we’re born at odds with God.

God’s people didn’t want to obey God. Well, they wanted to as long as they benefited from it. But God tells us that the inward thoughts of a man’s heart are always set to evil. Perhaps restrained evil due to God’s common grace, but evil nonetheless.

So what happens when God builds for Himself a nation of people who, instead of following Him and living holy lives, pursue the desires of their wicked hearts and look just like the nations around them? Well, what happens is that God’s name is defiled. The onlooking nations mock this God of Israel who is powerless to change His people. They look at Israel and see no difference between their worship of Yahweh and their own worship of Ba’al or any of the other gods they worshipped.

Well God isn’t going to stand for that very long. He’s got two options, really. He can utterly destroy Israel, which had crossed His mind on more than one occasion, or He can change them.

So God chose to enact yet another covenant with mankind. There were several throughout the pages of the Old Testament. There was the overarching covenant of works, which in Adam we all trangressed. There was the Noahic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, Mosaic covenant, Davidic covenant- this one would surpass them all in scope and magnitude.

The prophet Jeremiah speaks of it in Jeremiah 31:31 where God tells us: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Ok, God. This sounds great, but wait a minute. Jeremiah also told us that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. What good is putting your law on my heart, if my heart wants nothing to do with you? If you’re talking about a New Covenant that deals with the heart, but Jesus says that the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart, then how’s this going to work?

This Old Covenant has a lot of issues. God’s people are giving God a bad name, the heart is the root of the problem, yet a New Covenant is promised- how’s this going to work?

And amazingly, we don’t have to turn to the New Testament to find this out. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God says this to Israel: “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

The New Covenant works because there is also a New Creation. There must be. God will not unite Himself to fallen beings. He will not place His Spirit into uninhabitable temples. So for God to dwell within the heart of a men, there must be a new heart, a new wellspring. As Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3, you must be born again. Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God- much less enter.

So Jesus’ point to His hearers is this: our actions will never result in our own righteousness, because the very core of our being is poisoned, dead, against God. Yet these Pharisees were throwing a fit because Jesus’ disciples hands were dirty?

Jesus’ message was this: “The Law cannot save you, because it’s not about you protecting yourself against outside ungodliness. The problem is within! You need a new heart, and you’ve known that you need a new heart!

Let me tell you this- there’s nothing a religious person hates to hear more than someone else saying that their actions will not result in their justification. And Jesus has just announced that it’s not about the external. It’s not about the food. It’s not about the rules. It’s not about the obedience or lack thereof. It’s about the need for a supernatural heart transplant.

So here’s how this works, because the need for a heart-transplant still exists. In our depravity, we cannot seek God because we will not seek God. And yet showed His love for us in that even while we were sinners, Christ died for us.

On His cross, Jesus stood in the place of lawbreakers and absorbed His Father’s wrath in their place. Now God is free to pardon guilty people like you and me. We unite to that work of Christ by faith in Him, when we see ourselves as sinful rebels and embrace the person and work of Christ on our behalf.

In His death, Jesus purchased our redemption. In His burial He promises forgiveness. And in His resurrection He gives new life- a life we’re given in our conversion by which God removed our lifeless heart of stone and replaces it with a living, beating, God-loving heart that is wed to Christ through the Holy Spirit. That’s the Gospel!

So if you’re here this morning and you’re still on the fence, trying to figure out what you’re going to do with your faith, whether you’re going to place it on Jesus or not, I beg you- believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. Don’t rely on your own efforts- what you need is a heart transplant. Beg God for it. Your prayers will not fall on deaf ears.

As our band comes forward and we wrap things up, I want to spend just a few moments addressing a remaining issue- one that Jesus’ hearers wouldn’t have been able to relate to, but definitely one that we and Mark’s original readers can.

‘Cause there’s a disconnect here, isn’t there? Jesus tells us that the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart, and the good news is that in the New Creation, in this New Covenant, we’ve been given a new heart.  But if the old heart was responsible for the outward sin…how do we come to terms with the sin we still wrestle with?

In other words, if there is truly a new creation, a new core, a new heart, a new inner man, if the wellspring of our lives in wed to Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit and the old man is crucified with Christ, wouldn’t that make us sinless?

Maybe you’re sitting there thinking, man…I still have pride issues. I still battle lust. I fight envy, with covetousness, there’s still sin there, and if external sin is a reflection of who I am inwardly, does this mean I’m not saved? Does this mean I don’t have a new heart? Does this mean God’s hasn’t forgiven me?

That’s not what it means. God has replaced the wellspring, but think about this- does the creation of a new spigot, of this new wellspring mean the instantaneous transformation of all the water in the well that is you? No, it takes time. Now thankfully for us, God sees only the new creation, but this new creation is still within our fallen flesh.

And so for us the Christian life isn’t about working for our salvation. It isn’t about looking at the flesh and taming it to make God happy. It’s about letting this new wellspring of life permeate our entire being, slowly but surely pushing out the contaminated water and replacing it with Christ.

And here’s the key to that- it’s the renewing of our minds. Our minds act as the valve between this new creation and the rest of us. It’s that valve that, when fully opened, releases the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, transforming us outwardly into who we are inwardly. And when that valve is closed, change is slow to come. You’re gonna struggle more with sin. You’re going to see slow progress. The writer of Hebrews told His readers, “some of you should be teachers now, yet you’re still spiritual babies!”

Advancement in our Christian walk comes through the intentional renewing of our mind as we dive into the Gospel and not only see what God has done for us through the Cross of His son, but to also see what His Spirit has done in the recreating of our hearts and our union with Christ. We will never advance beyond this. This is the Good News.

As we enter into our time of response, we’ll put our JourneyMaker on the screen. Let it penetrate. Believe it. “The Heart of the Problem is the Problem of the Heart, but in Christ We Have New Hearts.”

You say, Richard, what do you want from me in this time of response? If you’re here and not trusting Christ as Savior, I implore you to throw yourself at the foot of the cross and receive His forgiveness. Trust Him with your life.

If you’re here and a child of God, this is the time we’ve carved out for you to think about the Gospel and worship God for who He is and what He’s done. Repent from thinking that His love for you is wrapped up in your performance for Him. It was never about your performance. It was about your heart- and He’s fixed that.

Good morning! Mark six is where we’re going this morning. Mark chapter six. We’re going to cover a very familiar historical account of one of Jesus’ miracles- one of His biggest, in fact. It was the biggest in Galilee, to be sure. Anyone who’s ever heard of a flannelgraph can probably recall childhood memories of crowds of people, fish, and loaves of bread slapped against a flannel board. Ringing any bells with anyone?

That’s right- we’re at the feeding of the 5,000. And what used to be a simple childhood story has become for me this week a story with so much depth that it’s amazing. So many things in play here, such an obvious display of Jesus’ divinity, sovereignty, and grace…it’s hard to even know where to begin.

I struggled as I put this sermon together to figure out the “big” picture, as well as how we can best apply it in our lives today. Quite frankly, one message cannot and will not do justice to everything going on here. So let me just put in a shameless plug for our Community Groups, where we’ll be able to discuss things that I simply don’t have the time for this morning.

But I want to frame today’s message within the context of this convoluted question: If the Kingdom of God is a present reality, and if we as God’s children are now within this Kingdom, and if the resurrection has granted us supernatural new life in Christ, and if a miraculous cutting out of our old, dead spiritual self has happened, and if God has placed within us a new man created in true holiness and righteousness…then where is the power, presence, and person of God in my life, now?

‘Cause I don’t know about you, but I didn’t heal any sick people this week. I didn’t raise anyone from the dead. I didn’t talk about the Kingdom of God and see God radically transform hearts before my very eyes. I didn’t perform any miracles that led to all of Crozet knowing that I’ve been given power and authority by Jesus.

When I look at the pages of Scripture and compare myself to what I see Jesus’ disciples doing, a lot of times I feel like a loser. And so naturally there are thoughts coursing through my mind, like “maybe Jesus doesn’t work like this 2000 years later,” or “what if I’m doing this whole Christianity thing wrong?” or “what can I do to experience the supernatural?” “Does it even happen anymore?”

But then I have to get after myself, because when I look at the rest of God’s Word, and I look at the work of God in my own life, there is no denying this fundamental truth: nothing is ordinary in the Kingdom of God. Nothing. Sometimes, though, we’re blinded to it. Or we miss opportunities to experience the supernatural.

So the question for us this morning isn’t where has the extraordinary and supernatural gone, but rather what can I do to experience it? Can it still be seen? Have I blown my chance?

Hopefully before we leave this morning we’ll have answered these questions as we look at one of Jesus’ greatest miracles. My goal is for us to leave here having learned Four Secrets to Experiencing the Supernatural.

We’ll ask and answer some other questions along the way, but I’ll tell you up front that it’s going to take some work. It’s going to take some thought. It’s going to require us- all of us- this morning to envision the scene set before us.

Listen for the birds crying in the air, the sounds of waves lapping at a boat. The excited murmuring of thousands of people. Try to smell the springtime grass. Feel it between your fingers. Don’t just listen to the narrative. Join it.

As our text picks up in verse thirty, we find “The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.” If you recall, Jesus had commissioned His disciples and sent them out to the surrounding towns and villages, preaching repentance and performing many of the same miracles that Jesus did.

We don’t know exactly how long they were gone, but we know that the rumors of their works had covered the region, and wherever they went people were healed, the dead were raised, and the Gospel went out. Now, they’re returning to Jesus, six teams of two, to report on what they had done and taught.

They’ve been busy, and they’re tired. They didn’t have the luxury of driving from town to town- they walked. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.

What’s amazing here is that Jesus recognized their need for rest. It was a need that He Himself experienced on multiple occasions. Remember when He was so worn out that He passed out in a boat in the middle of a storm?

Jesus was no stranger to weariness. He knows that ministry is hard, that Kingdom work is tiring. His disciples were so bombarded by people seeking miracles for various reasons, and telling Jesus what all had happened, that they hadn’t been able to eat and were getting hungry.

Come on, boys. Hop in the boat- let’s go relax a bit. You need to rest. You’ve done great.

Not so fast, Jesus. By now your whole crew is recognizable, and you have six teams of men leading people your direction. Mark tells us that 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. As one commentator put it, “some track star guessed where Jesus and His men were headed and raced there ahead of them, alerting each town they passed that Jesus was coming.”

Whoever Jesus’ PR agent was, they were good at their job. By the time Jesus reached the shores just outside of a town called Bethsaida Julius, he went ashore [and] he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.

There was no quit in Jesus, was there? He’d spent a lot of time catching up with the disciples, they were worn out, all were hungry, Jesus had to be an emotional wreck adjusting to the murder of John the Baptist, all they wanted to do was rest, and yet here is this great crowd, ready to continue draining Jesus of His time, energy, and emotions.

And Mark tells us that Jesus “had compassion on them.” This word in the Greek means to be “moved in the bowels.” It’s that gut-wrenching feeling you get when you see people in need- and not just see people in need, but connect with it. It wrecks you. It binds you to that person and drives you to act.

I want to remind you this morning that Jesus was not simply a passive observer of the human race during His incarnation. He was one of us. And He loved us. He hurt with us. He was hungry with us. He was tired with us. And yet He never withheld Himself from us.

Jesus sees this multitude and it crushes Him inside, because He knows. He knows they’re like sheep without a shepherd. You know what happens to sheep without a shepherd? They die. They can’t clean themselves, feed themselves, find water, travel, or defend themselves from predators. They can’t even pick themselves up off the ground if they fall on their back. They’re pitiful, helpless, hopeless, and miserable without a shepherd.

Might surprise you to learn that the phrase “sheep without a shepherd” is mentioned frequently in Scripture as the way God sees Israel.

You could argue that Jesus has a special love for His bride, much like we do our own spouses. I agree with that, and I believe Scripture is clear that Jesus’ love for His church has no rival, save for the love He has for His Father, and for the Holy Spirit. But there’s no denying that Jesus loved even those who would eventually call for His execution, those who would stop following Him even directly after this encounter.

Jesus loves this crowd, He hurts for them, He cares about them, and so He begins to teach them. Yeah- most were going to let His words go in one ear and right out the other, but there were some who would get it. There were some who were His.

Picture Jesus standing there on the shore, stretching His tired legs and helping His disciples out of the boat. Looking around, He sees thousands of people milling around, hoping for miracles, with no regard for the needs of Jesus and His men.

He was hungry, he was tired, He’d told His men they were coming to rest- He needed a rest…and yet the needs of the people outweighed His own. As it always did. And so He teaches them. And teaches them. And teaches some more.

35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” Pretty clear problem, right? Um, Jesus? We’re not exactly in the city center right now. It’s past time to eat, it’ll be dark in a bit- tell them to go home, ok? And if they can’t make it home tonight, let them at least find a place to eat and stay for the night. Let’s call it good, get back to our R&R, whaduyah say?

37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” Now here’s where things get interesting, because I don’t think Jesus was throwing out an impossible command just to highlight the need for His own power. Let me explain what I mean.

Jesus had given His disciples authority to raise the dead, heal the sick, and proclaim the Gospel with power. Here, in His presence, with His permission, they were commanded to feed this enormous crowd. Had they acted obediently with faith, I can’t help but believe they would have been able to feed them.

They aren’t thinking on that wavelength, though. That they could actually do this went right over their heads.

And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” To be honest, it was a sarcastic response. Yeah Jesus! Sure, no problem. Let’s just buy almost a year’s worth of bread and give ‘em all an appetizer, huh? 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”

So what now, Jesus? We just combed this crowd looking for food (and I still can’t believe that we’re talking about this)- there’s one kid here with food, one boy with a kid’s lunch. Five “loaves,” if you want to call it that. More like pitas. And a couple small fish.

They had obeyed Jesus, perhaps in hopes of discovering more food than what they had. But the secret was out- there simply wasn’t any food. Nothing, that is, except for this boy’s lunch. And now we’re in the middle of the first secret to experiencing the supernatural, which is this: faithful obedience in the ordinary. Faithful obedience in the ordinary.

Last Sunday we baptized four people- two of whom have been Christ-followers for years, two who are recent converts. I know of others who have come to faith in Christ through the ministry and influence of Life Journey Church…but that does’t happen by itself. Our church does not exist in a vacuum, you are the church! Two years ago there was no LJC, there was no Walt Davis, and now almost 40 families are plugged in and connected to this dream of spreading God’s fame to our neighbors and the nations.

And we are spreading His fame! If you believe otherwise, just ask those who were baptized last week! God is supernaturally drawing together for Himself this growing assembly of believers known as Life Journey Church, and He is doing it through community group leaders, co-leaders, group hosts, groups, musicians, a/v technicians, JourneyKids volunteers, food servers, greeters, setup and teardown crews, and the countless other ways in which you have come together to serve as the body of Christ.

God is doing extraordinary things here in Crozet and our surrounding communities, and He’s doing it through your faithful obedience in things that may not seem supernaturally spectacular when viewed alone.

Want to see more of God in action? Be faithfully obedient in the mundane, in the seemingly unimportant. But remember, nothing is unimportant in the Kingdom. Nothing is ordinary.

39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. Let’s be honest here for a second. If I had been there, and I had known the predicament these hungry people were in, I’ve got to say that I would have questioned this. Why bother putting them in groups we can serve when we have no food, Jesus? Yet still His disciples obeyed and had this crowd of people sitting in groups of fifty and a hundred.

By this point all eyes are on Jesus. We’re sitting down, it’s been a long day, we’re tired, we’re hungry, we see no food, we heard your disciples asking around- they have no food…what’s the deal?

41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all.

Man, I wish we could get inside the minds of Jesus’ followers right here. Standing before this crowd of thousands, Jesus holds this lunch his disciples ganked from a kid, and staring into the heavens He blesses it before God…and what? Now we’re supposed to pick a lucky winner to give this food to as a snack?

Yet incredibly enough as the disciples begin to distribute this food they’d been given, something like half a pita and 1/6 of a fish each, the supernatural begins to occur as Mark tells us, “42 And they all ate and were satisfied.” “Satisfied” doesn’t do it justice there. They were stuffed. This was an “All you care to eat buffet” going on, and they were getting it done.

I love what John MacArthur says about it. He notes that in this Divine act of creation by Jesus, the barley loaves He’s creating, the fish He’s creating, these are elements of creation untainted by the Fall. There is no stain of sin touching this food, and because of that it’s no doubt the best fish the crowd had ever tasted, the most delicious bread. This was a precursor, the faintest image, of what is in store for God’s people in the coming new creation.

Mark tells us that “43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.” These faithful disciples, skeptical and wavering at times they may be, were left holding a basket for each of them, loaded with fish and bread. And as they stood there, holding this food somehow created by Jesus, I wonder if they were weighing what they knew about Jesus against this.

Yeah, He’d raised the dead. Yeah, He’d healed the dead. But this? The ability to create? No one does that but Yahweh.

And I wonder what the crowd thought. This massive crowd, this last group who experienced this kind of power on such a large scale. Mark tells us that “44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.” That’s 5000 men. The text doesn’t mention how many mothers, sisters, wives, and children were in the mix. Some scholars estimate that this crowd was at least 15,000 large- possibly as large as 25,000.

One boy eating five loaves and two fish, adults doing at least twice that…crunch the numbers and it would have been something like 200,000 loaves and 80,000 fish in that crowd. This was a miracle that couldn’t be faked. There was no denying the power of Jesus here. And I would venture a guess that many of us here today have experienced things in life where God’s involvement was undeniable.

But it doesn’t always involve crowds of thousands of people, does it? Because if that’s the only way we expect to see God in action, we’ll rarely see Him. That leads us to our second secret to experiencing the supernatural, which is this: Realize that the supernatural doesn’t always come with flashing neon lights.

I’d like to share one such story with you this morning. I believe I shared this once before, when we met at Old Trail, but it’s definitely worth repeating.

Last month in a message, I told you that I had resigned my job last year as a Student Pastor to join Walt here in Crozet, and I did so with very little support in place. My home church was gracious enough to give me a two-month transition period during which I could build my support network, take care of housing, spend some time with my students, etc.

You can imagine how fast and chaotic those two months were! In the final month there, which was July of last year, I wrote a daily entry in my blog that showcased God’s faithfulness and sovereignty and we made the transition to Crozet. I would encourage you to read through it sometime.

God is still working in supernatural ways, and He does it to bless us- not for our perfect obedience, but because we’re His children and He has a distinct plan for each of our lives.

But please, be sure to get this third secret to experiencing the supernatural: Understand that God’s moving isn’t contingent upon our obedience. This is what I mean: Jesus’ disciples didn’t exactly obey Jesus’ command to feed the crowd, and also the same crowd that was blessed turned on Him the next day.

How many times in Sunday School did we learn that the moral of the story is that if we have childlike faith and give God our lunch, He can do mighty things with it? That is Old Covenant thinking! In the New Covenant we don’t have to earn God’s favor or perform in ways that cause Him to shower us with Grace.

Is it true that actions come with consequences? Absolutely. Is it true that obedience to God enhances our joy in Him? Of course. But to think that God will only move in supernatural ways in your life if you have perfect obedience is only going to rob you of your joy, because no one obeys God perfectly. That was that point of the Cross. And yet still God blesses. Still God works miracles. But it’s about His glory…not about your stellar track record. ‘Cause let’s be honest…we’re not that impressive.

As our band comes forward, let me share with you this fourth and biggest secret to experiencing the supernatural: It doesn’t get any more supernatural than what we’ve experienced personally in the New Birth.

Here’s what set this miracle of Jesus apart from the others He had done: Jesus wasn’t taking diseased fish and making them well. He wasn’t taking dead fish and bringing them back to life. Jesus used His Divinity to create, to bring into existence something that had not existed prior to His work.

And He’s done that very thing in us. Jesus didn’t simply resuscitate our spiritually dead self. He could’ve, no doubt. But equally certain is that fact that in our fallen flesh, we wouldn’t have made it far at all before again falling into temptation and rebelling against God.

No, God is at work among us doing so much more than that. If we’re united to Christ by faith, we are a new creation. That is something within now in our regeneration that did not exist prior to our conversion. And as our minds slowly, so slowly!, grasp the reality that God no longer sees our sins and failures, that He cannot be displeased with us because He sees us as He sees His own perfect Son Jesus, as we set our minds on the things of the Spirit, the flesh will follow.

Want to see the extraordinary and supernatural work of God? Look at yourselves, church. We are His prized creation, His glory put on display. We are the embodiment of Jesus as we function as His bride. That is miraculous.

You’ll notice as we go through Mark that there isn’t a whole lot of “do’s” in our messages. Don’t get me wrong- there are some “do’s”. And if we wanted, we could take each message and end with a list of “do’s” and “dont’s,” but I don’t think that’s the purpose of our Gatherings. Our goal isn’t to bring you in with your burdens, lay more on you, and send you on your way. We want the grace of God to remove them from you.

So these next few minutes aren’t going to focus on action items, other than these two…the first is this: Ask God where He’d have you obey. I’m not going to tell you what God wants you to do- but I want you to be open and listening for Him to tell you what He’d have you do, how He’d have you further His Kingdom here through Life Journey Church.

And the other thing is this- in these few minutes I want this truth to sink in, and sink in deep. This is our JourneyMarker for the week: Nothing is ordinary in the Kingdom of God. Nothing. Daily, whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re experiencing the supernatural work of God.

It’s there in our obedience as we see God use us- it’s even there in different forms in our disobedience as a testimony of God’s grace. It might not have flashing neon signs, but it’s there, and I know it’s there because in our salvation we’ve experienced the God of the Universe drawing us to His Son, cutting out from us the old man, the spiritually dead God-hating rebel within, and giving us a new life united to His Son through His Spirit, so that for the rest of our lives we will be conformed outwardly ever-increasingly, into the image of Jesus. It doesn’t get much more supernatural than that.

Nothing is ordinary in the Kingdom of God.

[Author's note: Any sermon manuscript found on this blog is written pre-preaching, which means that invariably the content is slightly different than what is actually heard in the sermon. If you'd like to listen to the audio of this sermon, please visit our website here.]

Well good morning, so glad to see all of you here. I must confess from the get-go that this is something of an odd morning, for many reasons. Obviously, we’re in a different part of the school. If you’re new to us, this isn’t where we typically meet- usually we’re in the cafeteria.

I’ve never preached three Gatherings in a row until now, which is also an anomaly. Typically Walt and I alternate Sundays, but with the imminent arrival of Baby Drake weeks ago, we felt it best to free his Sundays up. In case you’ve not heard yet, Drake was born early Saturday morning and Walt and April are doing well.

And on top of that, we’re at a bit of an odd text this morning as well. Walt and I have been systematically making our way through the book of Mark and will continue to do so unless the Holy Spirit impresses upon us a need to deviate. Until then, we’re strolling through the life and ministry of Christ and trying to discover two things: what Mark was communicating to the Christians in Rome to whom this book was written, and what the Holy Spirit is communicating to us today, 2000 years later.

And so as we prepare to continue on, let me explain how there are a few reasons why I say the text is odd. For starters, we’re going to cover the only lengthy passage of scripture found in the book of Mark that has no mention of Jesus. Up until this point, and from here on out, Jesus is the primary focus of Mark’s narrative. But this passage, while certainly connected to Jesus, contains a lot of material that doesn’t feature Jesus.

That ties in well with the second reason this is an odd passage. It’s not doctrinal in nature, nor does it contain a description of current or on-going events. It’s largely a flashback into the past, without many clear tie-ins to our own present day, much less that of Mark.

But lastly, I find it an odd text because despite what I’ve already said, this passage will serve as a beautiful bridge to our quickly approaching Easter celebration. Next Sunday we celebrate life, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the new life given to those who died with Christ, the coming physical resurrection for all who believe. Lots of life to be found in Christ.

But this week we’re surrounded by death. In five days Good Friday will be here. While there is spirited debate about the actual day of Jesus’ death (made possible by the complexities of the Jewish method of denoting days and time) there is no arguing that Good Friday is the day where world-wide, millions of people will stop at least once in their day and think about the bloodied cross, where 2000 years ago Jesus died to atone for the sins of His people.

Jesus, the true King of the Jews, was betrayed by his own people and murdered….But there was another. There was a forerunner for Jesus who preceded Jesus in life, who preceded Jesus in the ministry of repentance, of calling men to turn to God, who preceded Jesus even in death. Jesus called him the greatest man ever born, but we know him simply as John the Immerser, the Baptizer. There were incredible parallels in the deaths of these two.

Now that may catch some of you off-guard, ‘cause John was alive and well when we last saw him. Well, alive at least. Maybe not so well. Mark told us back in chapter one that John had been arrested. As we’ll see, his story didn’t have the happiest of endings.

We’re also going to meet a man today that’s consumed with fear and guilt…a man who later in life has the opportunity to be freed of this, yet refuses. And when it’s all said and done, we’re going to have to ask ourselves the same question that’s been brewing for over six months now: how are we going to respond to the power and authority of Jesus?

So let’s continue reading in Mark chapter six. When we left off last week, we found Jesus commissioning His twelve closest followers and sending them out on a mission. This made them apostles, or “sent ones.” We saw that in obedience to Christ, they went out “proclaiming that people should repent, and they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.”

We also know from Matthew that these men were raising the dead back to life. And now word is spreading. Jesus has effectively multiplied His ministry from one to thirteen. It’s not just Him performing miracles now, but the other twelve are as well, all in the name, power, and authority of Jesus.

We see in verse fourteen that “King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known.”

Before we continue we need a little background info on this King Herod. This part might sound a bit more like a history lecture, but bear with me. This guy’s family puts the “fun” in “dysfunctional.”

King Herod’s full name was Herod Antipas. There were lots of Herods running around back then. It was a family name. His father was King Herod the Great. You might remember him as the King of Israel who ordered the execution of all the baby boys who were two and under in Bethlehem when he heard of the birth of Jesus.

We call this line of rulers over Israel “King,” but this kinda exaggerates their position in the Roman empire. It’s nothing like when David was king over Israel and Israel was a mighty nation with its own borders, military, and political system.

You see, as Roman rule expanded, there was an increasing need for regional rulers. These were more or less pawns of the Roman empire- not men with legit power sticks. You were to obey the mandate of the Empire and ensure the same of your district. Failure to do so meant you were replaced, killed, or both.

So tread lightly, but hey- call yourself a “king” if it makes you feel better. If it helps you do your job. Herod the Great was the so-called king of Israel when Jesus was born, but in his will he requested that upon his death, Rome should divide Israel into four regions and allow four of his sons to rule over each, collectively. Rome agreed, and so his sons became known as “tetrarchs,” or “governors of a fourth.”

Sounds like a nice thing to do for your kids, that perhaps Herod the Great wasn’t that bad a guy, but just five days before his death, Herod the Great had murdered one of his own sons, thinking that he was out to claim his kingdom.

So along comes Herod Antipas, one of the sons of Herod the Great, make-believe king of a region of land in Galilee, maybe 900 square miles or so, along with a larger tract of land further south around the Dead Sea.

Now also important to keep in mind is this: Herod the Great was a descendant of Esau- not Jacob. By blood, he wasn’t Jewish. Nor was Herod Antipas- though he often partook in Passover and other Jewish festivities. He’d built a new capital and named it Tiberius, though there was much flak when the Jews discovered that he’d build the capital building on one of their graveyards. So Antipas was trying to front with his subjects, wanted them to think he was one of ‘em. See? I believe in God. I can be religious, like you.

But now word of Jesus has reached his ears. At least, word of the miracles had come. There was debate over the actual person behind them. Some said “John the Baptizer has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” Others said, “He is Elijah!” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.”

Understandably, there was confusion. Reports of these supernatural events are circulating- it only makes sense that the explanation is equally supernatural. The Jews knew their history. If Elijah the prophet had raised the dead, maybe he was back! Wasn’t there a prophecy about Elijah returning? Maybe it’s him, or maybe God has raised up another great prophet and empowered him for service!

Herod is among those who think that this “Jesus” character is John the Baptist, raised from the dead. Whenever the conversation came up, Herod’s response was always “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised!” It wasn’t an indifferent guess- it was fear-based, guilt-driven, anxious, frightened reality in the mind of King Herod. And rightfully so- after all, he’d had John murdered.

Why would he do a thing like that? I’m glad you asked, because Mark gives us the backstory.

Turns out, Herod is the kind of man who likes to have his way. He sees something he likes, he takes it, or does whatever necessary to acquire it. Just so happens this was the case when he met his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias.

Now get this: Herodias’ grandpa is Herod the Great. Her dad is a half-brother to Philip, who is a half-brother to Herod Antipas, so she didn’t just marry into the family; she was part of the family to begin with. She’d married her own uncle. And now another one of Herod the Great’s sons wants her- Herod Antipas, who himself is already married to one of the daughters of the King of Arabia.

Well, Herod wants Herodias, even though she’s a blood relative only one more generation removed from his father than he is. Even though she’s married to his brother already. Even though he’s already married. And so he divorces his wife Aretas, Herodias leaves her husband Philip, and the two are married.

Come to find out, John the Baptizer is also John the preacher, and he wasn’t shy about condemning the actions of King Herod. And rightfully so, given the public prominence of Herod and his quasi-adherence to the Law of Moses. So John called him out on it. “Come on, bro. You know it’s wrong to have your brother’s wife. This is adultery. You claim to be a ruler over God’s people, you celebrate Passover with us, yet you do this? Something ain’t jiving somewhere, amigo. No true King of the Jews could do this sort of thing.”

Weirdest thing, here. Could you believe that Herodias wasn’t a fan of John’s nosiness? In fact, Mark tells us that she had a grudge against him- maybe a bit more than a grudge. She wanted him dead. She hated him for his proclamation of truth.

Remember how last week I said that following Christ might not end the way you envision? Here’s a case study for us. Herodias wants John dead, yet oddly enough Herod actually enjoys listening to him talk and preach. And so he doesn’t have John killed, but simply arrests and imprisons him. There was also a part of Herod that feared killing John because of the fallout that would ensue from the people, not to mention the Divine fallout for killing a man of God.

So for over a year- closer to two, Herod has kept John imprisoned. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Perhaps in general…but Herodias hadn’t forgotten, and her hatred was in no way diminished.

In verse twenty-one we find ourselves at a birthday party for Herod. We call it a party- it was a banquet that he orchestrated, one to which he invited “his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee.” That’s the upper crust of Jewish society, the movers and shakers. Herod wants to rub elbows with the real powerhouses of both the Jewish people as well as the Gentiles, or non-Jews. It was a night of drinking, of eating, of enjoying the baseness of their depravity.

Here’s our next player in this drama. At some point during the party, Herodias’ daughter makes an appearance. According to the historian Josephus, her name is Salome, and according to history she’s somewhere around the age of 15.

Now Mark isn’t very clear in the details, but Salome comes into this party and begins to dance for these men. I don’t think it was the Harlem Shake or the Texas Two-Step. This was a dance that led to these men being “pleased.”

I think we’d got every right to assume it was a sensual dance, because when Herod sees it, he begins to write all kinds of checks with his mouth that his rear can’t cash. He tells her, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you. I swear to you, whatever you ask of me I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.”

Who are you kidding, Herod? You have no kingdom. Rome is allowing you to rule over a fourth of what your daddy did, and if you deviate too far from that, you’ll be kicked out in a New York second! Herod’s talking big in front of his boys, is what he’s doing. And he’s doing that to please her, more than likely motivated by his sexual perversity.

She’s related to him. He should have been the father-figure she needed and protected her from these leering men. Her mom should have loved her enough to keep her out of the party, displaying herself to be gawked at.

Told you this was a dysfunctional family.

Salome runs back to Herodias. “Mom, Herod said that I could have anything I wanted, up to half his kingdom. What should I ask for?” And here was Herodias’ chance to finally get her way, to be rid of this meddler. This loud-mouthed nuisance. “Salome…ask for the head of John the Baptist. Demand it. He promised you.”

There’s no way to know what went through Salome’s head when she heard that, but Mark tells us that Salome wasted no time in running back to where the men were still recovering from her dance. I have to wonder at this point if Herod even remembered why she was there. But she came in and blurted out, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter!”

‘Was right about then that Herod realized, “You know…maybe I shouldn’t have spoken so quickly after her dance.” Herod didn’t want John dead. He kinda liked the guy. People loved him. This had the potential for all kinds of negative fallout.

Now this room full of Jews and Gentiles alike are waiting to see what Herod does. While the Gentiles may have been more indifferent to John’s fate, I would like to think the Jews in the room were sober enough to realize the ramifications of Salome’s request.

Here they were, descendants of Abraham, God’s chosen people. And below them in the prison was one of their own. A wildman, yes. Preaching a crazy message of repentance, yes. But his message was turning people to God. And he was right; Herod’s marriage to Herodias was wrong. But John had been bold enough to proclaim it. Them? They liked their wealth. They weren’t about to make waves.

And now because of his stand for Godliness and obedience to the Law, John was locked up…and Salome had just asked for his head. Herod was too arrogant to retract his offer- he didn’t want to lose face or have his integrity later challenged. In his mind, he really had no choice. He needed to act, and he needed to act quickly.

Wasting no time, Herod called for the executioner to come and gave him orders to go to the prison and cut off John’s head. And he did. The head was placed on a platter- not an uncommon practice at the time- and given to Salome, who in turn gave it to Herodias. Mark tells us that when John’s disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

…And with that, the greatest man who’d ever lived was gone. God’s last Old Covenant prophet was quietly murdered with no fanfare, no national mourning. He was innocently killed while some of God’s people sat there in the party making no attempt to prevent it. Allowing this death to happen was more beneficial to them than risking their status to save him. Their allegiance was to Herod, not to God. That’s why they were known as Herodians.

I find this ironic, because later this week we’ll observe Good Friday, that day 2000 years ago where God’s people screamed for the murder of Jesus of Nazareth. Didn’t scream against it. Screamed for it. And again sat by undisturbed when they got it.

John preached repentance, so did Jesus. John was persecuted for his message, so was Jesus. John was murdered while his own people did nothing to stop it. Same with Jesus. In life, in ministry, and in death, John truly was his cousin’s forerunner.

But there’s two major differences in the deaths of John and Jesus. The first is this: Jesus’ death accomplished far more. That’s because John died to appease Herodias’ wrath, but Jesus died to appease His Father’s wrath.

It’s true. Yes, Jesus was killed because the Jews hated His message. Yes, Rome was content to execute an innocent man to prevent a potential uprising among the Jews, but ultimately Jesus died for this purpose: to save His people from the wrath of His Father by bearing our guilt, though He was innocent.

I want to shift gears a little bit as we begin to wrap things up by fast forwarding over a year to where we see Herod lay his eyes on Jesus for the first time. The occasion? By this time Jesus had been arrested and was making His way through the pitiful excuse of a local legal system.

The Jews wanted Him dead but had no authority of their own to execute Him, so they lied through their teeth, brought Him before the governor of Judea- a man named Pilate, and tried to show how Jesus was an enemy of the state. Luke records for us what happens next in Luke 23:

6 When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. 9 So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. 12 And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.

Luke tells us that Herod was “glad” when he saw Jesus, “for he had long desired to see him.” You would think a man of Herod’s stature would have had no problems seeing Jesus. He’d been in the area for over a year since we saw Herod first catch word about him.

Admittedly this is speculation, but I wonder if Herod’s gladness came from seeing Jesus face-to-face and finding out that He wasn’t John the Baptist. I wonder if he was glad because with John truly gone, he could stop living in fear. I wonder if he was glad because he could finally quell his nagging conscience.

It’s a shame that when Herod met Jesus, it only served to build a friendship between him and Pilate. Herod became just as complicit in the death of Jesus as he was with John. Herod saw Jesus as an escape from his fear and guilt- and not because he was trusting Jesus to deliver him from the punishment he was due for his rebellion against God, but simply because if Jesus wasn’t John, then Herod saw no reason to have any further concern with Him.

Herod never learned his lesson and not even a decade later he died while powerless and in exile. John the Baptist talked with him for over a year and Herod never listened. Jesus gave him His undivided attention and Herod asked all the wrong questions. Talk about wasted opportunity.

So here’s where we’re going to land this plane. As our band comes forward I want us to take these last few moments and really ask ourselves this question, this question that has served as our foundation to Mark’s Gospel for the last six months: how will we respond to the power and authority of Jesus? More specifically, how will you respond?

If you’re a believer this morning, the response I wish for you is this: “I am going to respond to the work of Christ by resting in the work of Christ. I’m going to quit striving for Godliness as a means of making God happy and I will rest and delight in the knowledge that God is happy. I’ll quit abiding by a set of rules to please God and rest in the reality that He is pleased! I will stop attempting to earn God’s love and embrace God’s love. I will pursue godliness purely as worship in response to God’s grace in my life.”

I can’t tell you how much I hope you’re here next week. I told you Jesus’ death was different in two ways. One, it served as the basis for the believer’s salvation. Secondly and more importantly, Jesus’ death was different because He didn’t stay dead. On the third day, on that first day of the week, Jesus was raised to life. Next week Walt is going to explain why the resurrection is so vital to the Gospel.

But maybe you’re here and you’re not a believer. What should your response be to the person and work of Christ? Complete reliance and trust in Him. And it begins in your heart when you tell God that He’s right and you’re wrong. Will you do that this morning?

Our JourneyMarker, the thought I want you to take with you from today’s message, is this: “We Know Who Jesus Is…What Will We Do With Him?” Will we embrace Him as Savior, or decide we have no need for Him? The choice is yours.