Sunday, September 17, 2017

The gospel in three courses, Mark 2:13-28

The Bible has a lot to say about food and eating.  Some of you are very appreciative of that fact.  My wife thinks that food is next to godliness.  You’ve heard the phrase, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach?”  Well, my wife thinks it should be “the way to God is through a man’s stomach.”  She loves food and loves to cook. Her solution to all of life’s problems is to make a cake.  When we were first married, she hadn’t been a Christian long.  And so she was very disappointed to learn that in heaven there is no marriage.  But the longer we have been married, the more she has come to appreciate that fact.  However, she cheered up considerably when she discovered that the marriage supper of the Lamb is going to last 1000 years.

I’m just kidding, of course.  But my wife does think that food plays an integral part in Christian fellowship.  And I have to admit that she might be on to something.  Jesus seemed to place a great deal of emphasis on food as well.  His first miracle was done at a wedding feast, turning the water into wine. You will remember He fed the 5000 and then another time 3000 some bread and fish.  He conducted the last supper.  After His resurrection, He prepared fish and bread for his disciples for breakfast.  He declared that His words were the manna or bread which had come down out of heaven.  And there are many more examples of Jesus’s use of food or meals as an opportunity to minister or teach. 

Today as well we are looking at three incidents concerning food that Jesus used to teach gospel doctrines. So in keeping with that theme, I have titled today’s message “The gospel in three courses.”  I hope to use, as Jesus did, these three incidences concerning food to teach some important biblical principles. 

The first incident is that of a dinner party held at a new disciple’s house.  Matthew, the author of the Gospel of Matthew, was also called Levi before he was converted.  Levi was a tax collector, or as some of your versions might read, a publican.  These guys were some of the most hated people in Israel.  In the case of a guy like Levi, who was obviously a Jew, he was considered a traitor to his country.  And the reason was that tax collectors worked as agents for Rome, who bid for a territory, promising Rome a certain degree of taxes, and then adding their generous commissions on top of that by Rome’s permission.  So they were generally very wealthy people, but hated by the Jewish population.

It’s interesting that in the previous study last week, we see Jesus healing, even touching the untouchable.  A leper was considered so unclean that you would walk across the street to avoid them.  And now in this passage, once again Jesus reaches out to someone that in Jewish culture was considered abhorrent.  

Now the scene starts with Jesus teaching by the seashore.  Today of course, we are teaching by the seashore.  And we do it for the same reasons that Jesus did it.  Not to be cool, or novel, but first of all out of necessity.  We have no other place, no other building that we can use.  And secondly, we do it because we want to reach people where they are with the gospel. I would love to have a building someday here in Bethany Beach that we can hold services in, but I am sure that we reach people on the beach that we will never reach inside.  

And that’s the case with Jesus’s ministry.  Matthew had his tax office near the seashore in Capernaum.  Matthew must have heard enough of Jesus’s message that he became under conviction.  And as Jesus passed by after the message, He said to Matthew, “Follow Me.”  And the scripture says simply that Matthew got up and followed Him.  In Luke’s gospel account of the same incident, Luke says that Matthew left all, and followed Him.  He walked away from his lucrative business and followed Jesus.

I can imagine Matthew’s surprise not only when Jesus acknowledged him, a despised tax collector, but when Jesus invited Him to follow Him. Jesus obviously knew his heart, He knew that Matthew was convicted by His message and was desiring to become a disciple.  But society would have prevented Matthew from even approaching a proper Jew, much less an esteemed Rabbi.  But Jesus knew Matthew’s heart, knew that he was willing to leave everything in exchange for Christ, and so Jesus simply said to him, “Follow Me.”  And Matthew left a thriving, successful business and never went back.

That’s what is required for salvation, folks.  Not just a tacit acceptance of truth, or intellectual acknowledgment of Christ, but a willingness to forsake everything and follow Him, wherever He leads.  To walk with the Lord, relinquishing your self control to His control.

Well, later that evening, Matthew’s gratitude was so great, that he decided to use whatever resources and opportunities that his job had provided to further the kingdom of God.  Prior to that, his resources and opportunities had always been used for his own advantage.  But in one final grand gesture, he invites all his friends and coworkers who were also outcasts from Jewish society, to come to his dinner party.  And the guest of honor is Jesus.  He wants to use what he had to introduce people to Jesus.  

There is a good principle to be learned in that, as Jesus taught in a parable found in Luke 16:9, ”And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.”  The principle being that your resources even of unrighteous things like money and wealth, should be used to bring people into the kingdom of God, and in so doing, you will store up treasure in heaven.  Matthew might have taken the approach that he no longer had a job and so he needed to conserve whatever money he had left.  But he willingly  spent it on a lavish dinner so that he might bring others into the kingdom of God.

So Jesus attends this dinner party in His honor, at the house of a former despised tax collector, and all of Matthew’s friends from the wrong side of town are in attendance.  Such events were commonly held in the courtyard and open spaces of wealthy homeowners.  So it was evident to everyone in the community that there was a big event going on, and the Pharisees were standing nearby offering criticisms. And so they approached his disciples and asked, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?”  Let me explain the word sinners.  It referred to people that openly lived in defiance of Judaic law.  They were people who had received a scarlet letter so to speak, but unable or unwilling to make themselves acceptable in polite Jewish society, they had become outcasts and lived openly in rebellion to Judaism.  So we can imagine the type of crowd that were in attendance.  And of course, the self righteous Pharisees found the whole thing scandalous. 

So they ask the disciples what is Jesus doing?  They want to establish a rift between Jesus and His disciples.  That’s why they don’t go to Him directly.  But once again, Jesus hears their question, whether supernaturally or because the disciples ask Him, and He responds to the Pharisees, ““It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Some commentators think that the first part of Jesus’s answer might have been a familiar proverb: “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.”  But whether that’s the case or not, it aptly describes Jesus’s purpose in attending the party. 

The Pharisees had a point in that as people of God, we are called to separate ourselves from the world and not participate in the deeds of darkness.  A lot of Christians today want to label every attempt at that sort of holiness as legalism.  And yet I’m afraid that often in their rush to prove they have a right to do certain things as Christians, they are merely using it as a covering to serve lusts of the flesh. I can tell you that as a person who was saved out of the nightclubbing, partying lifestyle, it would be a mistake for me to start hanging out at the local clubs. 1Corinthians 10:23 says “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.” Jude speaks of our attitude being towards such people that walk with the ungodly that we should snatch them out of the fire, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.  There are places where Christians should not go lest we be enticed by the world and drawn into destructive practices.

But Jesus establishes by His answer that is not what He is doing.  He isn’t just hanging out with some of the locals after a hard day of ministry, knocking back a few cold ones.  Far from it.  Rather, Jesus said “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.” He is like a physician that is ministering to the sick.  A doctor may need to visit the sick, but he does so to make them well, and he takes great care not to get contaminated himself.  

So also Jesus teaches that it is not the self righteous that He had come to save, but the sick, the sinner, the one who knows that He is lost. Luke’s version adds that Jesus said, “ but to call sinners to repentance.”  For that repentant person, that sees his sin as a deadly sickness, Jesus stands ready to forgive you and give you righteousness resulting in life as a gift  from God.

Now let’s move on to the second course.  And in this incident we don’t explicitly see anyone eating, but it is understood that the disciples were eating.  We know that because it was evident that the disciples were not fasting.  The only way you can know that is if someone sees you eating.  So the disciples were eating, when the Pharisees were fasting.  And they wanted to know why the disciples weren’t fasting like they were.  They knew also that John the Baptist’s disciples fasted on occasion, and so again they wanted to know why Jesus’s disciples did not fast.  There was a certain self righteous indignation on their part in asking the question, as if to question the legitimacy of Jesus’s ministry. 

This was a serious question as far as Jesus was concerned, as is obvious from the extent of His answer.  Jesus uses no less than three analogies to answer this question of fasting.  The first one Jesus gives is the analogy of a bridegroom and his attendants at a wedding feast. Jesus says when the bridegroom is with the attendants, they cannot fast.  A wedding is a celebration, a festival, a cause for rejoicing.  It would be inconceivable to expect the attendants of the bridegroom to fast while the wedding festivities are going on.  

The analogy is showing the parallel of Jesus’s ministry of the gospel, the good news, to that of a bridegroom taking his bride, which is the church.  God has become man, and made it possible for man to be reconciled to God.  He has chosen to shed abroad His love for man, to  offer forgiveness of sins, and give eternal life.  So Jesus is saying, in light of the fact that His ministry is a ministry of good news, it is to be celebrated, not mourned.  But there will come a day, He says, when He is taken away, and in that day there will be cause for fasting.

The problem with fasting as it was practiced by the Pharisees, was that it was done to be seen of men.  It wasn’t to be right with God.  The Pharisees fasted twice a week, and rubbed ashes on their faces so that everyone knew that they were fasting.  They fasted to be seen of men, and in Matthew 6, Jesus said that such received their reward; the applause of men.  But not of God.  God sees the heart.  And God knows which fast is of repentance, and which is not.  In the case of John’s disciples, they may have been fasting because their leader had been arrested.  And so they paralleled Jesus’s statement concerning HImself, that when He was taken away there would be cause for fasting in that day.  Such was the case for John’s disciples when he was taken away.  So fasting is associated with mourning, but the gospel of Christ is a reason for rejoicing; that the Savior of the world had come and made it possible to become reconciled to God.

The other two analogies are very similar to one another.  One is that of an unshrunk patch of new cloth put in an old garment.  When it is washed, or gets wet and it shrinks, it will tear away from the garment making it worse.  The other analogy is of new wine in old wineskins.  An old, dried out wineskin would not expand with the fermentation of wine and so new wine would burst it, resulting in losing the wine.  In both accounts, Jesus is saying His gospel is something new that cannot fit into the old paradigm.  The old paradigm was the ceremonial aspects of worship, the rituals that were intended to be a picture of Jesus Christ.  But now that the picture is fulfilled in Christ, the symbols are no longer necessary because the real is manifested. So Christ has enacted a new covenant, enacted on better promises, and the old symbols are no longer necessary.  The gospel is such good news, that to try to put it in the old wineskin of the ceremonial law and rituals would be to constrain it so as to even ruin it.  It would not be a covenant of grace, but of law.  Christ came to establish a new covenant, a better covenant, through His sacrifice, and not on the basis of the blood of bulls and goats.  

This principle of a new covenant of grace is spoken of to a great extent in Hebrews, but we will read just a few verses fro chapter 10:11-17 just to get a sense of it. Speaking of the old covenant based on the law it says, “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins;  but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET.  For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, "THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART, AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM," He then says, "AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE.”

And in Romans 8:2-4 we read that these two covenants are contrasted as flesh and Spirit. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.  For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”  So the old fleshly requirements of the law such as fasting and washing and rituals  that could never make us righteous have been replaced by a new law of the Spirit, who is given to us that we might have new life in Christ.  This is certainly good news worth celebrating.

Now let’s look at the final course.  Again we see the disciples eating.  This time however, they are eating on the run.  This is the first century equivalent of a drive through fast food restaurant.  They are walking through a grain field on a Sabbath day and pulling the grain off of the stalks and eating it.  This was called gleaning and it was provided for under the law.  It was legal, and it was a way that God provided for the poor or destitute so that they might have enough to eat.

But the Pharisees were also tagging along, trying to find something to criticize, some reason to find fault with Jesus’s teaching. And since it also happened to be the Sabbath, they thought they had found it.  Because the Pharisees and their lawyers had so embellished the law that they had made a bunch of little laws to keep from breaking the big law.  If God said to do no work on the Sabbath in the 10 commandments, then they established 39 other laws defining how to keep the Sabbath, or what constitutes work.  The problem was, as Jesus said later on, they tied burdens impossible to bear on other men’s heads, but they refused to bear them themselves.  They defined the law to the nth degree not because of a zealousness to keep the law, but so they might know how to manipulate it to their advantage.  

For instance, they said that you could not bear a burden on your back, or carry it in your hand on the Sabbath, because that would be work.  But you could carry it on your foot, or your elbow, or tie it to your hair.  And so they had all these crazy ways worked out to get around the law.  But for the uninformed, they gave the appearance of being strict and zealous for righteousness, when in fact they used it to restrict others but not themselves.  

So now they tried to turn Jesus against His disciples.  They said to Him, ““Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”  They made the case that the disciples were harvesting grain, thus they were working and breaking the Sabbath.  Jesus answers them by taking them back to the Old Testament, the source of the law, and says to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry;
how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?”

Now in using this example, Jesus is showing that the high priest had no problem giving David what was considered unlawful for him to eat.  The showbread on the altar was for the priests to eat, and it was unlawful for anyone else.  It was holy to the Lord.  But the high priest recognized that David and his men were starving, and in need of food, and so there was another law which took precedence over the ceremonial law.  It was a law of mercy which triumphs over judgment.  Jesus would say later on another occasion in Luke 14:5, if your ox fell into a well on the Sabbath,  which of you would not take it out?  There was a principle inherent in the scriptures, that the preservation of life takes precedence over ceremony.  

So Jesus says in vs.27, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”  By that statement Jesus shows the order of creation establishes the precedence of life over ceremony.  Man was made before the Sabbath.  Thus the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was given that man might have rest from his labors.  

In the new covenant that Jesus came to establish, Jesus fulfilled the symbolism of the Sabbath.  He provides the Sabbath rest in that He did the work that we can rest in.  In Hebrews 4:9-10 it says,  “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.”   Thus in the new covenant the Sabbath was changed from Saturday to Sunday, as Christ rose from the dead, so that we walk in newness of life and not labor in our dead works.  We rest in HIs righteousness, and not ours. He is the Sabbath rest that we have entered into. 

And Jesus confirms that in vs.28 saying, “So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” In other words, Jesus made the Sabbath.  He is Lord of the Sabbath.  He was not subject to the Sabbath.  And as Lord of the Sabbath, He can use the Sabbath anyway He wants.  And He has chosen to give us rest from our works, so that we might have rest in Him.  Because He finished His work, we can rest from ours. 

So in closing, I would just say that these three courses in the gospel represent salvation.  First, Jesus came to save sinners.  If you recognize you are a sinner, if you are sick of your sin, then Jesus is the Physician that has come to save you.  Secondly, the good news is that it is not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to God’s mercy He saves us.  God has come to man in Christ Jesus to reconcile us to God, so that we might have forgiveness and be invited to become the bride, or church, of God.  The gospel is the good news, it is the source of joy, peace and life.  And then thirdly, when you receive Jesus, when you follow  Him as your Savior and Lord, then He will give you rest.  You can rest in His righteousness and find rest for your souls.  

Jesus said in Matthew11:28-30 "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. "For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

Not only does the Lord want to give you forgiveness and rest, but He wants to have fellowship with you, to be with you as His bride forever.  And there is verse in Revelation that speaks to that desire of Christ for His bride.  And actually it’s in another reference to food.  It’s an invitation to dinner.  Jesus says in Revelation 3:20  'Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”  I hope you will answer the door.  

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The gospel’s authority to forgive sin, Mark 2: 1-12

I’ve said it many times before, that every miracle of the gospels is a spiritual parable, meant to teach spiritual principles.  And we are looking at such a miracle today and the spiritual principles that we can learn from it.

Last time we talked about the gospel’s authority over the spiritual realm and the physical realm;  the spiritual realm was illustrated by Jesus casting out the demon of the man in Capernaum, and then the physical realm was illustrated by the healing of the leper.  Today, Mark is showing us the priority of the spiritual over the physical. The purpose of Christ coming to the earth, the purpose of the gospel, is to free men from sin. 1 John 3:8 says “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.”  He came to set the captives free from the dominion of darkness, to proclaim liberty to the captives.  Christ’s authority over sin is the spiritual emancipation that delivers the physical from bondage.  Sin is the root cause of all of life’s ills.  The biggest problem in society is not lack of money or education, or resources.  The biggest problem in life is the need for forgiveness of one’s sins.

So as I said the purpose then of the miracle is to teach spiritual principles.  It is not to give us the idea that God intends for all people to be healed physically.  There are a lot of fake healers out there who purport that God doesn’t want anyone to remain in illness or any sort of malady.  And that it is a matter of faith to claim your healing. They say if you aren’t healed, it is due to a lack of faith.  I am here to tell you today that is not what the Bible teaches.  Paul had faith more than anyone, and he asked God three times for his thorn in the flesh to be removed from him, and yet God told him that His power is made perfect in weakness, and His grace was sufficient for Him to endure his illness.  As I said a moment ago, God’s purpose in the gospel is to deliver men from sin, so that they might have spiritual life, that they might escape the second death, and that they might have fellowship with God.  Everyone is going to die sooner or later.  You may be healed from cancer, or some other sort of illness, but you will still die.  The million dollar question is whether you will die in your sins, or be forgiven and receive eternal life.

Now there are several principles that we can establish that are being taught through this miracle.  Let’s take them in order of appearance.  We left off last time with the leper being cleansed, and contrary to Jesus’s command, he broadcast it far and wide, so that Jesus could hardly preach or teach due to the crowds that came looking for a miracle.  We can determine from the gospel accounts, that the crowds were drawn to the miracles, but Jesus did not want them to come for that reason.  Thus he told the leper not to tell of his healing, except to the priests.  Jesus wanted him to follow the law’s requirements for healing of leprosy and present himself to the priests so that he would be declared clean and could return to society.  Jesus wasn’t interested in building a ministry based on sensationalism.  He wasn’t interested in drawing a crowd who were just interested in miracles. But Jesus’s main ministry was preaching the gospel.  His main ministry was preaching the word.  And so that is what we find Him doing in vs 1.  He’s come back to Capernaum after a long time away, and He is in His home or possibly Peter’s home, and He is preaching the word.  Jesus would say later, that the truth would make you free.  That is the purpose of preaching the gospel.  Only the truth will make you free from the captivity and dominion of sin.  

There are a lot of people out there teaching a mixture of man’s philosophy or psychology with a little bit of the gospel mixed in.  It has the appearance of godliness, but it is man’s wisdom. It is presented as self improvement.  I heard a Christian counseling program on the radio the other day, and they gave 5 points to some poor guy who was struggling.  The first step they recommended was to go to a psychiatrist and get some anti-depressant medicine, 2, see a counselor weekly, and so on.  Around #4 they said go to a men’s Bible study, and the last one was another secular program. It sounded like wise counsel according to man’s wisdom. But that is not the truth of the gospel. Paul said in 1Cor. 2:3-7, 13 “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling,  and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.  Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away;  but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; ... 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.”

So we need to be aware that the wisdom of God, the power of the gospel, is the the only thing that really has the power to save.  A lot of man’s wisdom sounds good, because it focuses on the physical.  But the root of all man’s troubles are spiritual, and the sin that causes death. Jesus was teaching the word in Capernaum.  That reveals the priority of the gospel.

The second principle I want to point out is the necessity for personal evangelism.  I don’t like to use the word evangelism though.  It sounds as if it’s some sort of revival crusade.  How about we substitute the phrase personal intervention. If we can agree that sin is the source of all problems, and that the gospel is the only cure for it, then it stands to reason that men and women must help those caught in sin to come to the One who can help them.  The problem with sin is that it is a trap.  Again and again in the gospels we see sin likened to death, to leprosy, to lameness, to blindness, and here in this text, to being paralyzed. The point being that such people are in many cases helpless to help themselves.  And as such they are a perfect picture of those who are trapped in sin.  Sin is a condition that blinds people to the truth, that traps people in addiction, that causes people to be so handicapped that they are unable to extricate themselves on their own.  And so their salvation many times is dependent upon a divine intervention.  And God uses people to intervene on their behalf.  That is what the Bible calls love.  To intervene on behalf of others is loving one another.

This principle  is such an integral part of the gospel. Jesus came not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.  So as His ambassadors, we too must be about saving the world.  In Zechariah 3 there is a vision of Joshua the High Priest, and he is standing in front of God in filthy garments.  And it says that Satan was standing next to him to accuse him.  But the Lord rebuked Satan saying, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?” And the Lord removed Joshua’s filthy garments and clothed him in righteous garments.  And as Christians, our mission is not to accuse the world as Satan does, but to tell the world of the forgiveness that is made possible through Christ, to pluck them as a brand from the fire.

As people who have the mind of Christ (let this mind be in you which is also in Christ Jesus) our reactions towards those caught in sin should be one of forgiveness, love, encouragement, esteeming their needs for salvation as worth any cost.  The devil stands at our side to accuse us and discourage us, to tell us to give up and give in.  But we are not of the devil, so we do not stand accusing, but rather forgiving, loving, helping and encouraging the weak. That is what I mean by intervention. And God has commissioned you to be that intervener.  It’s not the job of angels, it’s not the job of psychiatrists or professional counselors, but God has chosen you to go to the lost in love, by personal sacrifice, and help them to come to him.

So it’s the mission of all Christians, to go into the world and proclaim the good news to all people.  God wants to use  us to spread the gospel, so that all may be saved.  God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.  So there is a great urgency in the gospel; people are perishing and the gospel is the antidote to sin and the death that is it’s consequence.  Not only is there an urgency, but there is a blessing.  James says in James 5:19-20 “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”  So there is a great blessing to those who answer that call of God to go to the lost and turn them to God.

Jesus illustrated this need for intervention by telling a parable about leaving the 99 who need no repentance and seeking out the one who is lost.  In another place He gave a parable about the Good Samaritan, which not only teaches us to love our neighbor, but shows us that real love reaches down even to the stranger with the saving news of the gospel, no matter the cost or inconvenience to ourselves. No matter how much we may think the poor sinner brought it upon themselves.  Realizing but for the grace of God so goes us all.

Now let’s look at this example in our text.  Note that this paralyzed man had four friends that were determined to bring him to Christ. Four interveners.  Oh that every sinner had four such friends that were determined to bring them to Christ.  So determined were these friends that nothing would stop them.  Here we see that the great crowds were actually a deterrent to the saving power of the gospel.  God is not always in great crowds.  Man seems to equate a large crowd with effective evangelism.  But that is not so with God. 

Nevertheless, they would not let the obstacles stop them.  They climbed on the roof of the house where Jesus was teaching, and tore off the roof.  These houses were built usually one story, with flat tiled roofs, and an exterior staircase.  But can you imagine the consternation of the crowd inside and crowded around the doorway, when the roof starts being torn apart during the service, and they lower a man down  on a  stretcher at the feet of Jesus.

I would to God that we would all have such determination to see the lost saved.  In this politically correct climate we live in today we are so afraid anymore of embarrassing anyone, of inconveniencing someone, least of all inconveniencing ourselves, that we dare not bother anyone with the gospel.  Eric Clapton wrote a song a few years ago called “Tears in Heaven.”  And he repeats the oft quoted adage that there are no tears in heaven. But my friends, I think many of us are going to be in tears in heaven.  The Bible says that Jesus will wipe away all tears.  But that is after we are in heaven.  And if I can make the suggestion without being too dogmatic, I think there are going to be tears in heaven for us when we see our loved ones, our friends, cast into outer darkness for eternity, knowing that we did not do all that we could have done to bring them to the Lord.  I think the problem is that most Christians don’t really believe the Bible.  Somehow, they think that though their loved one was not saved, yet somehow Hell does not really exist, and God will not actually keep His word.  Because if we truly believed the Bible, we would move heaven and earth to bring our loved ones to the Lord.

Well, moving on, Mark says in vs.5, “And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Now I want to point out something here that is going to surprise you perhaps.  But notice that Mark said, Jesus “seeing their faith….”  Now most commentators say that includes all five people.  But I tend to think that it is specifically speaking of the faith of the four friends.  I think there is a principle here that your faith, and your actions in faith, can contribute to another’s salvation.  Let me say that again.  Your faith, and your actions in faith, can contribute to another’s salvation.  Now you can’t be saved for them. But you can contend for them.  You can intercede for them.  You can intervene for them.  You can compel them to come to the Lord using every means at your disposal.

I’ll give you an Old Testament example of this principle. The Lord visited Abraham in human form one evening.  And as He was ready to leave, the Lord told Abraham what He was about to do.  He said the news of Sodom and Gomorrah’s debauchery had reached heaven, and He was going to see just how bad it was, and if it was as He had heard, He was going to destroy it.  (Gen.18)  But Abraham said, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?”  He then began to negotiate with God for the deliverance of his nephew, Lot.  Abraham started by saying, what if there are 50 righteous, will you destroy the city? And God said “No, I won’t destroy it for the sake of 50.”  But as you are familiar with the story, Abraham negotiated with God down to 10 people.  Turns out there were not 10 righteous people either, but for the sake of righteous Lot, God did send two angels to take him out of the city before the destruction came.  

Now that’s not a perfect illustration perhaps, but it is evidence of our ability to intervene with God on another’s behalf.  James says in James 5:14-15 “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;  and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.”  Everyone likes to quote those verses to suggest the power of healing, but I would point to the last part, which says if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him based on the prayers of others.  I think it clearly teaches that we can pray for one another for spiritual healing, for sins to be forgiven, for their soul to be saved.  And I think we can be effective in that at least to some degree.  

You know if I were to ask a rhetorical question this morning, of how many of you have unsaved loved ones, I’m sure that 3/4 of you would raise your hands.  But I wonder if I said how many of you spent even an hour, 60 actual minutes, praying for that loved one this week, how many would still raise their hands?  There are 168 hours in a week. Is their soul not worth one hour to you?

John says something similar in 1John 5:1616 “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death.”  Again, the principle is that someone sees his brother sinning, and petitions God on his behalf.   God uses people to reach people, to bring them to God.  We have a mission, and a responsibility to reach the lost for Christ.

The next principle I want us to look at is the priority of the spiritual over the physical.  Now I have already alluded to this principle’s importance in my opening statements.  But let’s unpack this a bit more as I believe God has a lot to say on this subject.  First of all, we need to understand that in the Hebrew mind, the paralytic was obviously a terrible sinner whom God was judging in the flesh for everyone to witness.  That was their understanding of sickness; that God brought it about as judgment.  You will remember the disciples in John 9 asking Jesus about a blind man, saying, ““Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” That was the common perception.  Well, in that case, Jesus had answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  

But that teaching comes later.  At this point, I think Jesus plays into their misconceptions in order to teach a couple of important lessons.  So Jesus says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Now there are a couple of things going on here.  I don’t think that it was that surprising that He would say that as far as the Pharisees were concerned, because they thought that sin was the reason this man was paralyzed.  However, from our perspective, we automatically think that it’s a strange thing to say, because we think that the obvious problem was the man’s paralysis.  

Jesus though answers all those problems with these words.  His insightfulness cuts right to the quick of the real problem. First He shows the Pharisees that He is God.  And He does that because of the principle that one cannot forgive someone of a sin against another.  One forgives a sin against himself.  I heard it illustrated this way.  Tom, Dick and Harry were hanging out together, and Tom punched Dick in the nose.  Harry went over and told Tom, I forgive you for punching Dick.  But Dick objected, and said you can’t forgive him, he didn’t punch you, he punched me.  The point being, the one injured is the one who has the power to forgive.  In forgiving the paralytic, Jesus was teaching that all sins were against God, and He was God.  He alone had the power to forgive sin.  

Secondly, He was teaching us, that the physical problem is not the primary problem.  It’s a symptom of a deeper problem.  Jesus, seeing the heart, goes to the root of the problem.  All sickness finds it’s root in sin.  Now I know that is not a popular thing to say in this day and age.  I might get stoned, or pelted with sand in this case, for saying such a thing.  I’m not saying that every illness is the result of an individual’s particular sin.  I am saying that sin is the result of living in a fallen world.  Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”  Sin is the cause of death, and death is the result of illness. The wages of sin is death.  It is appointed unto man once to die.  It is part of the curse that came upon the human race at the fall.

But in this modern world of healthcare and hospitals and luxury lifestyles, we suffer under the misconception that God wants everyone to be healthy, wealthy and happy.  So from our perspective, the most important thing is health.  But from God’s perspective, the most important thing is eternal life, undoing the curse of the fall.  Unfortunately, oftentimes today  even church leadership has the same short sided perspective.  I was at a pastor’s conference a few years ago, and about a 1000 pastors were there from all over the country.  A missionary was speaking about reaching one village after another with the gospel.  They had never heard it before.  And so entire villages were being saved and they had baptisms immediately afterwards before moving on the next village.  The missionary spoke of how dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of natives were saved in village after village.  And as he spoke, I heard a few Amens grunted here and there from the crowd.  But then he spoke of a baptism in which one woman’s baby died.  And she brought the baby to the pastor, and he said when it touched the water it came back to life, and he gave it back to the mother.  And the whole crowd of pastors gave him a standing ovation.  I found it incongruous that when 100’s of people were saved from the second death there were a few grunts of Amen.  But when one baby is saved from the first death, it results in a standing ovation.  That tells you where our theology is focused, ladies and gentlemen.  We are not focused on men’s souls, but on men’s health and prosperity.

The most important principle taught here though is that of Christ’s authority to forgive sin. When Jesus said “your sins are forgiven,” the Pharisees started thinking “blasphemy!”  They thought that they had found something to pin on Jesus in order to condemn Him.  But Mark says that Jesus knew their hearts.  He knew what they were thinking in their minds.  I wish that we really believed that.  That God could read our minds.  If we truly believed that we would be down on our knees this morning asking for forgiveness for ourselves.  Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”  Well, God knows your heart.

Mark 2:6-9 “But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts,  "Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?"  Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, "Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts?  "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven'; or to say, 'Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk'?

So we see that the Lord is willing to illustrate His authority over sin through physical healing.  But the question He asks bears some scrutiny.  The question of which is easier to say?  Well it is certainly easier to say your sins be forgiven you if you are a charlatan. Because it is virtually impossible in this life to know if they are forgiven or not.  So on the surface it would seem that Jesus is saying that it is harder to say “Get up and walk” because that requires results in real time.  Not in eternity out there some where, but right here, right now.  

But in actuality, Jesus may have been saying that it is harder to say “your sins are forgiven.”  Because Jesus was the truth personified.  He could not lie.  And so for Him to be able to say that your sins are forgiven, then He had to be willing to die on the cross for sins.  In that respect, it is immeasurably harder to forgive sins than to heal a physical handicap.  A doctor can in some cases heal, but only God can forgive sins.  

It’s interesting that the word used for “forgiven” means literally to be sent away.  I spoke a couple of weeks ago in chapter one about how after Jesus’s baptism the Holy Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness.  And I said then that was a  picture of the Day of Atonement ceremony, when the scapegoat was laid upon symbolically with the sins of the people and then driven out into the wilderness to bear away their sins.  And how Christ, the sinless Lamb of God bore our sins away.  Here again we see that illustrated.  Jesus does not merely say “I will forget about your sins, they are not important,” but He illustrates the need to bear them away. God’s justice requires that sin be paid for.  And Christ came to take away our sins upon Himself  so that we might be made free.  So it was more difficult to say “your sins are forgiven.”

But again, Jesus knows their hearts, knows their misconceptions, and so He answers them in their ignorance.  He says in vs10, “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He *said to the paralytic, “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.”

Please understand this.  It is not that Jesus had the power to heal, therefore He has the power to forgive.  But He has the power to forgive, therefore He has the power to heal.  According to Hebrews 7:25, “He is able to save to the uttermost that come to God by Him, seeing that He ever lives to make intercession for them.” He is able to save not only physically, but eternally, because He is able to deal with the root cause of all infirmity, of all death. 

It’s interesting that the word that Jesus uses to say get up, or rise up, is the same word that is used by Mark to speak of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead.  So there is a sense in which as Jesus is healing him physically, He is also healing him spiritually, in raising him from his deadness, to walk in new life in Christ.

And that teaches us the final principle.  That the Christian life is not just believing in some sort of detached, theological or intellectual way.  But that in our sinful state we are incapacitated, unable to walk in the Spirit.  Unable to walk in fellowship with God.  Sin has paralyzed us spiritually, so that we are dead in our trespasses and sins.  But when the love of God appeared, we are saved not on the basis of our works, which was impossible being dead and in our sins.  But we were saved on the basis of Christ’s righteousness through the grace of God which is ` credited towards us.   Then being forgiven and clothed in His righteousness, we are made able to walk in new life through the power of the Holy Spirit who now dwells in us.  Faith is always tied to action in the Bible.  Rise up and walk.  Come and follow Me.  

Notice in vs.12  the result; “And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this.”  Let me say it this way, a life that is transformed, that walks out their faith by their actions in the community, will result in not only the amazement of your community, but it will also glorify God.  Our testimony is not necessarily our words, but our actions.  When we live a life that is radically different than before, when we take on the nature of the life of Christ, then we bring glory to God.  And that is our purpose.  That is why God leaves us on this earth, to be useful in service to Him.  But for the grace of God we should all be in the death grip of infirmity.  God has granted us life and health so that we might serve Him and bring glory to God.  And when we have fulfilled that purpose according to His will, He will take us home to be with Him.  Until that day, let us use wisely the stewardship of life that He has given us, and be about the business of our Father, building up the kingdom of God.  

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The authority of the gospel, Mark 1:21-45

Mark writes in the opening verse of this book, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  Gospel comes from the Greek word euaggelion, which means good news.  And so thus far in this book, Mark has been showing us various aspects of the gospel.  Last time we looked at the message of the gospel, which is repentance of your sins and faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.  Then we looked at the ministry of the gospel, which is to make disciples.  Today, we are looking another aspect of the gospel, which is the authority of the gospel.  Authority speaks of power, or control, or supremacy.  Mark shows us in some very vivid ways that the gospel of Christ was one of authority.  And to start with we are going to see that it has authority in two realms, both the physical and the spiritual.  And that’s important to understand, because the gospel must have power in both realms in order to be what it claims to be.  It cannot be merely physical, for then it would fall short of the spiritual, eternal realm, and it would have no lasting power to save.  And it must not be merely spiritual, without any immediate benefit, because if it is ineffective on the temporal, then we should believe no claim of it’s benefit in the spiritual.  So Mark shows that it is powerful in both realms.  Thus we can agree with Paul in Romans 1:16; “For 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.”

This principle of the authority of the gospel in the physical and spiritual realm is going to be emphasized again and again in Mark’s book, especially in our passage for next week in chapter 2 when we look at the healing of the paralytic.  In that example, you will remember that Jesus was criticized for saying to the sick man, “your sins are forgiven.”  The scribes said, “Who can forgive sins but God?”  And so Jesus said to them, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He *said to the paralytic, “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” Thus it is clear that Christ’s power over the physical realm which can be seen is evidence of His authority in the spiritual realm which is unseen.

Now that principle is illustrated in this passage by a series of events stretching over a 24 hour period of Jesus’s life.  And in the process of studying these events, I hope to show you not only the authority of the gospel in the physical and spiritual realm, but the source of it’s authority, and an illustration of the power of the gospel to cleanse from sin, the power to save both now and forever.

First let’s start then in vs 21, as Jesus and His disciples go to Capernaum.  There we see that Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and began to teach.  And it says that He taught with authority, and the people were amazed at His teaching, because it was not as the scribes were used to doing, but He taught with authority.  Twice in retelling this story, Mark uses the word authority to describe the teaching of Jesus. The gospel has authority because it is the truth of God.  It has power because it is the truth of God.  Jesus said in John 8:32, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

If the gospel is to be authoritative, if it is to have power, it must be the truth of God.  And we cannot cherry pick truth.  We can’t emphasize one aspect of God’s truth, and neglect others which we don’t necessarily favor, or which are not politically correct.  Truth is composed of the whole counsel of God, and when certain parts are left out, then you end up with a half truth.  And no one is saved with a half truth.  They might like the way it tastes, but it has no power to save unless it is the undiluted, full truth of the gospel.

And what was He teaching?  Well, we don’t know the particulars of His message, but we know the principles.  There were two principles of His preaching as stated in vs 14, “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”  So the two basic tenets of the gospel are repentance and faith.  That was the message of Jesus, and we can assume that is what He was teaching in Capernaum.

Now notice that as He was teaching, a man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit cried out, saying, ““What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”  Now I don’t want to focus our attention completely on demons this morning.  Our focus is on the authority and power of the gospel.  But there are some things which we can learn from this regarding the authority of the gospel over the spiritual realm.

First though, I would point out that this man was in the synagogue on a Sabbath morning, presumably to worship God.  I want you to know something folks, Paul said in 2 Cor.11:14 that Satan loves to disguise himself as an angel of light.  Satan and his demons are fallen angels.  They are called the dominion of darkness.   In Ephesians 6:12 it says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  That’s the demonic realm, the spiritual realm, which is the dominion of darkness.  And I want you to know  that these fallen angels often hide out in the church, they operate under the cover of religion, they disguise themselves as angels of light.

I think Satan has deceived the world by the popular depictions of demons as portrayed by movies and media. And as a consequence we fail to recognize them. I would bet that prior to this outburst, no one in the church would have thought that this man was under demonic control. I’m sure he seemed perfectly normal, even religious.  And I would also assure you that this is not just a first century phenomenon.  Satan is alive and well in the church today.  His unclean spirits are among us this morning.  Contrary to popular doctrine, our singing of Jesus, our mention of Jesus or God, does not drive him away.  He love to hide in the church.

In fact, Jesus gave a parable elsewhere in which He says that the Kingdom God (which is the church universal) is like a mustard seed, which grew into a very large tree, so that the birds nested in it’s branches.  And I would suggest that many people have misinterpreted that parable.  The fact that this mustard seed has not produced a normal mustard bush, but a very large tree, shows an abnormality that is not good.  And furthermore, in the parable of the soils, Jesus made it clear that the birds of the air were the demons who plucked the gospel from the soil by the road, so that those who heard it were not given the opportunity for it to take root.  In other words, the birds are demons who are working in the church,  taking refuge in the church, to pluck up the seed, which is the word of God and prevent it from taking root.  So we know that Satan and his angels are at work in the church.  Not everything that happens in a church is sanctioned by God.  In fact, Paul warns Timothy that the Spirit explicitly says in the last days some will fall away from the faith by listening to doctrines of demons. He isn’t talking about witchcraft there, but he is talking about false teachers in the church perverting or subverting the gospel.

Well, it’s unlikely that anyone would have suspected this man of being under the dominion of an unclean spirit.  But as we see, he recognized Jesus, and he yells out at Him, “what have we to do with you Jesus of Nazareth?” You know at first glance, what the demon says doesn’t seem to bad.  He says Jesus is the Holy One of God.  But James tells us that the demons believe in God and shudder.  They do not doubt God’s existence.  They recognize Jesus, because they being a spirit recognize the Spirit of God in Christ.  But they are terrified of Him because they know He has the authority to cast them into the pit of hell. And they know that He is going to do it.  But I believe the unclean spirit cried out, because he knew that Christ recognized him, and knew that He had come to destroy the works of the devil.  1 John 3:8 says, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.”

Now let me expand upon this for a moment.  Because I only quoted part of 1John 3:8.  The whole verse tells us what the works of the devil are; “the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.”  So from that we can understand that demonic influence or control stems from sin, especially harboring unrepentant sin. I believe everyone who gives himself to sin, to some degree or another, perhaps unknowingly, opens himself up to demonic influence.  The degree to which that influence is pervasive depends upon how much the person submits himself to that sin.  And whether or not it is noticeable to himself or to others, he is under the influence of an unclean spirit, because he is bound by sin.

In the case of this man in Capernaum, as I said, I doubt that it was evident how much he was under the influence or control of a demon.  But when he met Christ, it became apparent.  I know I have encounter similar experiences on a number of occasions.  A person seemed normal, even expressing perhaps a degree of spiritual knowledge, and then for some unexplained reason they seem to explode.  They start yelling, cursing, and sometimes blaspheming God.  And it can be a bizarre experience to see someone start acting like that. A lot of the time it’s not that apparent, maybe it’s just an outburst of anger and you don’t know where it comes from.  I would suggest that it comes from a resentment towards the gospel, especially when you call out sin.  But that’s when we have to realize that we are not fighting a person, we do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but we need to see the unclean spirit which is behind that person, pulling their strings.

Well, Jesus shows His authority over the spiritual realm, defeating it with His word.  He commands the unclean spirit to be quiet, and to come out of him, and it throws the man in convulsions, and with a loud scream comes out of him.  And Mark tells us the people are amazed, and declare that His teaching is with such authority, that even the unclean spirits obey Him.

Next we see Jesus’s authority over the physical realm.  Mark says after visiting the synagogue, Jesus goes to Peter’s house, and his mother in law is sick.  This indicates by the way that Peter was married, or at least had been married.  One cannot have a mother in law unless you have been married. So those that teach that Peter was the first pope, (of which doctrine I disagree) need to reevaluate their policy of celibacy for priests based on the precedence of Peter.

Peter’s mother in law had a fever.  Not much is known about the severity of her illness, but it was a hindrance to her hospitality at the very least.  Jesus shows His compassion on her and upon Simon Peter and takes her by the hand and raises her up.  And the scripture says her fever left her and she began to wait on them.

I would just point out the simplicity of this miracle of healing as a contrast to what we often see today portrayed as a healing ministry.  Jesus in all of the healings that He performs, and in all the demons that He casts out, makes a point to tell the beneficiaries not to broadcast what He has done.  But of course they can’t help it.  And so as we see in the healing mentioned in vs45, the news about Him becomes spread throughout the region and great crowds start coming to Him so that He cannot even come into a city.

Now most modern day, so called faith healers would  not see that kind of popularity as a bad thing. In fact they seek to take advantage of the sensational claims of healing to attract a crowd.  But Jesus was not interested in drawing crowds to be healed, or drawing great crowds to witness miracles.  He wasn’t interested in sensationalism.  But He was interested in teaching and preaching the word of God.

I don’t believe the Bible teaches us, nor does this passage teach us, that God decrees that all physical ills will be healed.  I believe that God does heal, and that Jesus healed many people, but He did not heal everyone.  At the Pool of Bethesda, for instance.  The porch area was filled with sick people, and yet Jesus healed just one.  At the tomb of Lazarus, there were undoubtedly many dead people in the cemetery, but Jesus only raised Lazarus.  I am not sure why God choses to heal some and not all.  But I do know that the Bible teaches in Hebrews 9:27 that it is appointed unto all men once to die.  Everyone is going to die once.  And usually death comes through sickness of some sort.  But what Christ came to save us from is the second death.  The second death is eternal separation from God and torment for eternity.

But as Paul said, whether I live or die is not important to me, but if the Lord let’s me live, then that will mean fruitful labor for me, but if I die so much the better, I will be with the Lord.  So perhaps that’s God’s motivation for healing physically.  So that it might result in fruitful labor for the kingdom of God.  Peter’s mother in law was healed of her illness, and as a result, she began to serve the Lord and His disciples.  And that is a good picture of how we should respond to the grace of God in our lives.  Our health, our physical blessings should make our hearts grateful to God so that we would serve God and not just ourselves.  God’s gifts of health are not just for our own benefit.  I know from experience, and I am sure some of you do as well, how fragile human health is, and how fleeting it is.  Our life and health is a stewardship from God that we might use it in service of the Kingdom in the time that is allotted to us.

Now in vs32-34, Mark tells us that as the Sabbath ended, and travel was again enabled, people began to come to Capernaum where Jesus was to be healed and delivered from unclean spirits. And while that illustrates even further the two realms that Jesus had authority over, the spiritual and the physical, I would also point out that there is made a distinction between being afflicted by illness and being afflicted by demons.  They are not necessarily the same.  Sometimes we are going to see in scripture that someone suffered a physical infirmity because of a demon.  But that in no way means that all illnesses are a result of demons.  All illness is the result of the curse upon creation as a result of sin entering the world.  But those that suffer illness do not necessarily suffer as a result of their individual sin.  If that were the case, then none of us would escape.  But ultimately, sin does cause all to die.  The wages of sin is death. Romans 6:23.  And all have sinned.  But the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Well, we have to hurry if we want to finish this section.  There is much more I could say, but not enough time this morning.  Let’s look at the third aspect of authority, and that is the source of authority.  Or the source of power.  As we fight the spiritual battle and deal with the physical realm in which we live, the source of Jesus’s power and authority is the same source that we have, which is fellowship and communion with the Father.  And we see that explained in vs.35: “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.”  I’ve said it before in defense of our early meeting times, that good things happen early in the morning.  Jesus got up to pray while it was still dark.

You know, I love to surf.  And yet I hate crowds.  I like surfing with one or two guys max, but around here that just doesn’t happen.  So I look forward to low tide when it comes early in the morning.  I love paddling out while it is still dark.  And when the light is just starting to glow on the horizon, I manage to get some good waves all to myself.  But I also love to pray early in the morning.  And I’ve found if I don’t pray in the morning, then the quality of my prayer life goes downhill.  Surfers call those early morning sessions a dawn patrol.  And perhaps that is a good name for our early prayer time.  Get up early in the morning and walk and talk with the Lord and I assure you that it will provide power and authority in your spiritual walk.

Jesus of all people didn’t need to get up early and pray.  And yet Jesus did it the most.  Many times He prayed spent the night in prayer.  I would suggest that the reason most of us do not have authority or power in our walk, or authority over sin, or see results in our evangelism, is because we do not avail ourselves of planned, purposeful, strategic prayer.  If Jesus needed to pray all night or all morning, then how much more do we?

I would encourage you, pray purposefully. Jesus talked in the Sermon on the Mount about praying in your closet.  Have a special place of prayer.  Daniel prayed three times a day in his upper room facing Jerusalem. Pray strategically.  There are a lot of things I could say about prayer.  But just notice what Jesus illustrates in this example.  He got up early, and He went to a secluded place.  Get alone with God where you can really open up and talk to Him.  I suggest praying out loud.  That’s why it’s good to go to a secluded place.  That way people don’t think you are crazy when they hear you talking out loud.  I like those early surf sessions alone because I pray out loud.  And sometimes I catch myself doing it when others come out. I was in California last week and I surfed Malibu Friday before I left.  And I was having a great time, catching a lot of waves, and I was praying sporadically out loud.  I thought no one was near by.  But I happened to turn around and saw this guy had paddled up behind me and I didn’t know he was there.  But California is full of crazy people.  I saw more people talking to themselves out there than I’ve seen in my entire life.  So I probably just fit in with everyone else.  They figured I was as crazy as they were.  But around here you might draw attention to yourself if you’re praying out loud.

However, I will say, that it is a benefit not only to you to pray out loud, I think it’s a benefit to God, and I think praying out loud defeats the devil as well.  When he hears your prayers, when he hears your faith, then I think the devil knows that the source of your power is God.  The source of Jesus’s authority was the communion and fellowship He had with the Father.  And that is the source of our power as well.  When we commune with God, when we fellowship with God, when we pray and read His word, then we have power with God, because we are united with God.

Mark ends this section with the story of the leper who was cleansed.  I’ve said it before many times, that every miracle that Jesus did is a spiritual parable meant to teach us a spiritual principle.  And I think that this miracle illustrates the power of the gospel over sin which is the root of all illness and all affliction.  And I would point out that among the Jews during those days the rabbis taught that leprosy was the direct result of God’s visible judgment of sin in a person’s life.  As a result, they taught that you were to avoid such people, not even to speak to them.  They were outcasts from society.  They were looked upon as the worst of sinners upon whom God had judged in the flesh for all to see.  And so the leper had to announce his presence as he walked through the community by calling out “Unclean! Unclean!”

This leper that comes to Jesus is a picture of a repentant sinner who comes to Jesus for salvation.  Notice first of all that he knows he is a leper.  He knows he is unclean.  He comes before Jesus and bows down on his knees.  He has a repentant attitude.  He doesn’t have any hope of healing outside of Jesus.  There was no cure for leprosy.  It was a horrible illness that rotted your fingers and then all your extremities away and totally destroyed you little by little.  What a picture of the nature of sin.  Satan loves to tell you that a little sin won’t hurt you.  A little peccadillo won’t really matter.  But he knows that sin is like leprosy.  It starts with a little spot on your skin, and then it spreads to your hair, and then starts to rot your fingers and toes, your ears and your nose until it one day totally destroys you.  Listen, there is no sanctified sin.  Sin is death and sin brings death.  Sin is an invitation to demonic affliction.  Sin results in separation from the source of life, the Creator God.

But this leper illustrates how to be cleansed from sin.  He comes on his knees.  He comes as a beggar.  He comes confessing his need to be clean.  And then we see salvation.  Jesus moved with compassion.  Did you know that Jesus came to save the lost?  He came to save those that were like this leper.  Jesus says in chapter 2 vs 17, “They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Listen, don’t be deceived.  You cannot be saved unless you first realize that you are lost, that you are diseased, that you are hopeless and helpless.  Come to Jesus like that, and He will have compassion on you.  And I want you to note something.  Jesus touched the untouchable.  You were not supposed to touch the leper.  Jesus could have healed him with a word.  But he touched him.

Folks, compassion for the lost means sometimes that you have to get your hands dirty.  It’s not enough to just say you will pray for someone.  Jesus gave a parable about the good shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep and goes to look for the one who is lost.  He gives another parable about the good Samaritan, who gets off his horse and gets down in the dirt to tend to a stranger’s wounds.  Let me tell you that ministry is a messy business.  We are not called to sit in ivory towers and condemn sinners, but to go into all the world and compel them to come in. To go into the highways and the byways and tell them the good news.  And sometimes in order to do that you have to help them to become well enough that they might hear it.

I tell you, California has a lot of problems.  But the worst problem that it has is it’s homeless situation.  I’ve never seen a greater homeless population in my life.  I went to a church last Wednesday night and across the street from the entrance to their church was a empty lot that was a homeless camp.  Santa Barbara is where all the movie stars have homes.  You can sit in a upscale coffee shop with Maseratis and Lambourghinis parked out front, beautiful homes and all the beautiful people sipping coffee, and on the sidewalk homeless people are lying there covered in filth.  Many of them are drug addicts who are helpless to get out of their situation.  I don’t know how to reach them.  It’s not as simple as giving them money because it just goes to fuel their addiction.  But I can tell you that it’s a problem that is not going away on it’s own.  It’s growing and it’s an epidemic.  I do know the answer; it’s the gospel.  Its the truth of God.  But how to tell them when the devil has them so firmly under his control, I don’t have the answer for. But I do believe that Jesus is the only hope.  So we have to do what we can, even if it means we get dirty doing it, to tell the lost that Jesus can deliver them.  I believe that.

Jesus told the leper, a hopeless case if there ever was one; ““I am willing; be cleansed.”  Jesus was willing to die in our place that we might have life.  Jesus was willing to become our servant, so that we might become a child of God.  Jesus was willing to die, so that we might be given eternal life.

Listen, that kind of humility and willingness to suffer and serve that was illustrated by Jesus is yet another source to power and authority in the gospel.  Satan may tempt us with pride, he will attempt to control and oppress people through sin, but Romans 12:21 tells us that we overcome evil with good.  We overcome pride with humility.  We overcome sin with compassion.  We overcome selfishness with service.  Jesus said we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  We overcome evil with good.  The gospel is good news.  It is powerful.  It is authoritative.  And that power is available for those who abide in Christ, who are in fellowship with God and trust in God to provide all that is needful for service to Him.  I pray that you will not be ashamed of the gospel of God, for it is the power of salvation to all who believe.