søndag 29. juli 2012

Mark 3:6-4:10 “What do I do with Jesus?”

“What do I do with Jesus?”

Trouble-maker, healer, demon, crazy man. Who is Jesus?

Tonight we see different groups responding to Jesus. Chapter 3 is all about response: the Pharisees reject Jesus and plot to destroy him; the crowd reject Jesus’ role as teacher and want him as miracle-worker; the scribes from Jerusalem (the top religious leaders) reject Jesus’ deity (his God-ness) and say his power comes from Satan; and Jesus’ own family think he’s out of his mind.

But right in the middle, Jesus goes up onto a mountain and calls forth 12 men, just as he called out 12 tribes in the wilderness on Mt. Sinai 1500 years before. It is the birth of a new nation, one that truly would fulfil the promise made to Abraham 2000 years before: “every nation will be blessed through you”. The nation that spans all nations on earth: the Church. V13-18 is the birth of the Church, the New Israel, the True Israel, both Jews and Gentiles brought together in Christ Jesus.

This is Mark’s “sandwich” method, where he puts two similar stories around the “meat” which explains what’s really going on. The calling of the 12 seems badly placed – it doesn’t fit with the flow of the narrative. Which means it’s deliberately placed, there, so pay attention!  (If anything seems a little out of place when you’re reading a Bible story – pay attention! It’s probably the key to the whole thing. As Sherlock Holmes would say “Singularity (the unusual) is almost invariably a clue”. When these manuscripts were written they had no bold or italics or underline – if they wished to emphasise something they did it through the structure of their story.)

So, there is a new people of God being called out. The critical thing is who is part of it, and who are not.

Let’s take a look at the different response to Jesus in this chapter.

1.    The Pharisees want to destroy Jesus

3:6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. 7 Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea

The Pharisees were so angry at Jesus’ provocative healing on the Sabbath. How dare he do good on God’s day! He’s not playing by their rules, threatening to upset the balance of power – and so off they go to meet with their political enemies, the Herodians to kill Jesus, ironically plotting murder on the Sabbath…

The Pharisees reject Jesus. Their thinking is like old wineskins – the new wine has come, but they are so caught up in the old religious order they can’t adapt to the truth. Stuck in their ways, they refuse Jesus.

And, horribly, Jesus withdraws.

Your choices matter – you have real choice. And you will be eternally responsible for that choice. Don’t be a Pharisee.

2.    Old Israel wants a healer, a magician

7 [A] great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea 8 and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. 9 And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, 10 for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him.

The crowd is from the four corners of Israel – the geographical areas mentioned are the boundaries of old Israel. All Israel gathered! That seems good doesn’t it – Israel responding to their Messiah? But why are they gathered? They pressed around him to touch him.
They are only interested in what they can get from Jesus.

Israel is rejecting Jesus. They are not listening to him - remember his stated purpose in 1:38 “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.

The evil spirits are also mischievously proclaiming the truth about him “11 And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” Knowing the crowd would see him as a political rescuer – the king of the Jews who would overthrow the Roman rule. The crowd did not know that their Scriptures, that God had something much bigger in mind: to overthrow the rule of sin, and to not only redeem a nation, but the whole world. So Jesus strictly ordered them not to make him known.

The other day I was reading about the “subway hero”, Wesly Autrey, who risked his life to save a stranger who fell on the tracks. He became an overnight celebrity, with interviews, sponsorships, and gifts (including cars) thrown at him. But there was a downside. As he says in his own words: People stopped him for pictures, hugs, and solicitations for donations—“I need, give me, I want,” Wesley says. His estranged Dad, who he hadn’t heard from in 30 years, suddenly made contact. What did his father say? “That he was happy for me doing what I’d done, you know?” Wesley pauses. “Then him, like everybody else, ‘I need, I want, give me.'" “Never once did he say, ‘Are you all right? Are the little girls okay?’ He just said, ‘There’s a family reunion coming, and if you’re coming, bring me some of that money you got.’ That’s how that went.”

Old Israel loved God like we love a cow: for what we can get from it.
It’s a challenge for our own hearts isn’t it? Why do I love God?
Do I love Jesus for Himself, for His glory? OR for what he gives me – even eternal life, forgiveness of sins, future glory? Good things, yes, but not the best thing. My heart betrays me when I get angry or disappointed with God, imagining that he somehow “owes” me. What am I but dust!
He is the glorious ascendant powerful awesome God most High, ruler of heaven and earth, Creator of all things, and he deserves all praise and honour. Amen.

3.    The scribes claim he is Satanic

So here come the big shots from the capital to see what all the fuss was about. Unable to deny his obvious power, they decide to smear his name:  And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” 23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house. 28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

By the way, this puts a hole in the theories of those claiming Jesus was misleading simple people by magic tricks and sleight-of-hand. If it had been trickery, these guys would have found it and exposed it! Always in the front row, always poking around – and not simpletons. These were the intellectual elite. But His miraculous power was undeniable. What to do? by the prince of demons he casts out the demons. It’s a political smear campaign, designed to draw the crowd away from him.

Really? Says Jesus. Firstly, that means that Satan will soon fall! “Divide and conquer” is a war strategy, where you get the enemy to fight among themselves, weakening themselves until you can just drive in and take over. Why would Satan weaken himself? Your argument is illogical!

Secondly, Jesus says that only one stronger than Satan (the “strong man”) can bind him up. Jesus is “plundering”/stealing the goods of the devil by casting the demons out – therefore he must be stronger than Satan. And note that he does not do this in anyone’s name but his own. He is stronger than Satan.

Who is this man?

They run away from the obvious truth, unable to acknowledge the claim that Jesus, God the Son, has over their life, and so they call his spirit, the Holy Spirit, evil.
To deny the Spirit is to deny Jesus. The anointing of the Spirit in the Old Testament marked you out as the King. So, here in Mark where there is a strong theme of the kingship of Jesus, they are denying his kingship. It is a rebellion against the King of God’s Kingdom, and that rebellion has eternal consequences.
Blaspheming the Spirit does not mean that simply saying “the Holy Spirit is evil” means oops, you’re eternally condemned -  but denying the kingship of Christ over your life. It is rejecting the gospel – and if you reject the gospel, you cannot be saved, you are forever condemned. The scribes cannot attain Heaven by following the law instead. Jesus is warning them. They are guilty of an eternal sin. Only through Christ can one be saved. There is no other way. Any other way is blaspheming the Spirit.

Be careful what you do with Jesus.

4.    His family think he is mad, and refuse to listen to him

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

This puts a MASSIVE hole in the Catholic idea of the sinless Mary. His mother and brothers are not doing God’s will. They think he’s out of his mind. They are not listening to him, but have come to give him a talking to! In contrast, though

5.    The crowd is listening to Jesus

This second crowd is responding rightly to Jesus. They are gathered around Jesus LISTENING to him. That is the will of God. They are not pressing against him, trying to be healed, but seated (see verse 34) listening to him, learning from him – and he says they are his mother and brothers for they are doing the will of God. Not unsurprisingly the next 34 verses in chapter 4 are all Jesus teaching, teaching about the kingdom of God and about responding rightly to him.

But what brought about this change? How come the crowd are suddenly listening to him, doing God’s will? Because of the incongruous story in the middle. Because Jesus has called out the New 12 Tribes of Israel. He is founding a new nation. Unrepentant Israel, denying the Spirit, is rejected – those willing to listen, seeing the work of the Holy Spirit as God’s work, they are gathered around Jesus, the new people of God.

6.    Those Jesus chooses, listen to him

13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. 16 He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

A little indication there in verse 19 of his true mission – not just to teach, but to supremely reveal the heart of God by taking on the sins of the world. But so many echoes of Exodus in this little passage! On Mt. Sinai God called to himself the 12 tribes of Israel, forming one nation, the people of God. He sovereignly chose them, not because they were anything special, but because of his grace and mercy – and Jesus here does the same thing, calling to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. Irresistible grace.

Pharisees want him to be a religious teacher, obedient to the law (as interpreted by them). Like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Jews, and many even in so-called “Evangelical” churches today – preaching moralism and “be good” - not the grace of Jesus.

The crowd wants him to be a popular healer, like the motivational speakers of the prosperity gospel. God has promised you health, wealth and happiness, and send your money in to us and you’ll get it.
That’s not the gospel. That is anti-gospel. That is treating Almighty God, the Lord of hosts, like a cow. And his judgement will be terrifying.

Satan wants to destroy Jesus or at least to shut him up or set him on he wrong path: the demons crying out who he is, knowing full well the crowd would not understand and want to make him king by force. And inspiring the scribes to call the Holy Spirit evil.

Even his own family want him to settle down and stop having delusions of grandeur. Be reasonable, Jesus!

If God’s people are rejecting him, is he really God? Or is he deluded or evil?

V13-18 give a resounding No!
Jesus is Yahweh God, the LORD, the Sovereign Almighty, choosing a new people of God. These were 12 who were to be with him and be sent out to gather in all nations and peoples, fulfilling the great promise to Abraham. 

So, actually, the question isn’t what do I do with Jesus, but what will Jesus do with me? Cry out to him for mercy, plead that he will call you to be part of the new people of God, draw close to him to listen to his words in the Bible.
He is the King, and there is only one right response: Repent – turn away from everything except him. And believe in Him, living your whole life in service to the King. And as we start, so we continue. If you are a Christian, then you are part of the family of God, and are therefore called to do the will of God: to gather round Jesus and listen to him.

søndag 22. juli 2012

Religious People hate God? (Mark 2:15-3:6)

Religious people hate God?

Last week you may have noticed something in the passage that I didn’t really address: the growing hostility towards Jesus from, of all people, the religious leaders.

And if you’ve read further in Mark’s gospel, you’ll find that it is not the atheists who plot to kill Jesus, not the idol-worshipping Romans, not the tax collectors and sinners – but the religious elite. Why? Surely they are the ones who know the Scriptures, know of the Messiah, are waiting patiently as the stewards of God’s people?

But no, they had forgotten their place, imagined themselves as Kings instead of caretakers, the rulers instead of the servants, the righteous instead of those needing righteousness.

It reminds of a character in the Lord of the Rings called Denethor. He is the Steward of Gondor, a caretaker for the kings. But he and his line have reigned for centuries, and so when the King, Aragorn, suddenly appears he says this: “Word has reached my ears of this Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and I tell you now, I will not bow to this Ranger from the North - last of a ragged house, long bereft of Lordship.”
GANDALF, the bearer of this news “Authority is not given to you to deny the return of the King - Steward!”
DENETHOR (explosive) The rule of Gondor is mine, and no others!

As Jesus says in verse 17“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.

The question we must then ask is who is righteous, and who are sinners? The surprising thing we will find out tonight is that the religious elite, the good people, the “righteous” people – are far from God. They were born into God’s people, the Israelites – but that cannot save them. They have the Law, but that cannot save them.

Chapters 2&3 can be summed up as the “conflict stories” chapters. We begin to see the battle-lines drawn between Jesus and the Pharisees (teachers of the law). These conflict stories give us one immensely important message: the way to be saved is not through the Law.  DOING cannot save you. Next week we’ll see that it is LISTENING that will save us. Listening to Jesus.

1.    Free your mind: religion is about Jesus

18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”

“Hey, why are your guys not following our religious traditions?” is the question. The fasting they were engaging in was not one of the requirements of God’s Law, so Jesus isn’t breaking the Law. But people are confused by his behaviour: why aren’t you acting like the other religious leaders?

His answer is twofold:

Firstly, because nobody fasts during a party! Fasting implies sorrow, and Jesus is here, so let’s celebrate. Furthermore, Israel is repeatedly described as God’s bride in the Old Testament – so Jesus is saying rejoice! Israel’s Bridegroom is here: the Lord himself.

Secondly, his arrival changes things. He is the fulfilment of the Old Testament promises. The old religious order was simply a foreshadowing of his work. He is the new Temple, the meeting-place between man and God. He is the perfect sacrifice for sin. He is the atonement offering. He is the great High priest – no priests are necessary now. He is the final Prophet. He is the King. He is the Righteousness of the Law. He is the Messiah, the Christ. The old order has been fulfilled, the new has come, centred on and in Jesus.

I’ve never seen new wine and old wineskins, but apparently new wine expands as it continues to ferment. And old skins tend to be brittle and dry. So if you put something expanding in something brittle…  It’s like blowing up an old, brittle, balloon. Bang!  So trying to squeeze the new order into the old is like putting new wine in old wineskins (it bursts) or a new patch on old clothes (they tear).

Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament promises. Watch him, listen to him, for he is now the centre of God’s work in the world.

2.    The Law is a guide – and guides us to Jesus

23 One Sabbath he [Jesus] was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

The first question was raised by the people – this question is raised by the Pharisees. “Why are you not obeying the law?”
(Interestingly, again, this “law” is not found in the Bible. The religious leaders had extended or explained the law – and over time those commentaries on the Law had started to be just as – or even more – important than God’s Law.)

Jesus’ response is…confusing. Huh? What’s he talking about. Remember, though, who he is talking to: teachers of the law – the guys who were serious about the Bible. They were so serious about the Bible, they’d forgotten who had written it. They had fallen in love with their own commentaries about the Bible, and forgotten He who should have been their first love. There is a great warning in that for us.

Jesus’ answer, as usual, reveals the need of the people asking the question. Jesus could quite easily have said that picking heads of grain is not unlawful – instead he gets to the heart of the matter: “Have you never read…”

He was revealing their lack of understanding. Although they claimed to be experts, they’d missed the point of the Law: the One standing before them: Jesus! For those of us who aren’t Pharisees his reply is confusing, but, without going into copious detail, Jesus is comparing himself to David: the anointed king, opposed by those in authority. And if David could be given the priest’s bread, how much more his greater descendant, the Messiah, the Son of Man, the figure with all authority in Daniel 7? And Jesus indicates an upheaval in the old priestly order by saying that Abiathar was high priest: Abiathar replaced Ahimelech when David replaced Saul as king. The King is here, and the priestly order is about to change.

“Have you not read…” Do you not understand? “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”.  The purpose of the Law is not a narrow straitjacket: it is to set us free. It is a diagnostic, which reveals our tremendous need for God. Without the law, we continue to fool ourselves that we are righteous and not in need of a doctor, despite the copious evidence to the contrary – yes, Colorado shooter, Anders Bering Brievik – but also closer to home, little white lies, flashes of anger, perhaps divorce, adultery, betrayal, theft, cheating on taxes. We are sick, and need a doctor.

Imagine, for a moment, that you’ve got a problem in your heart. One of your valves is about to give in. But you don’t feel it. You may feel a bit tired, a bit run down, but that’s normal, isn’t it? But that valve is fluttering and wheezing away – at any moment it could shut down, and bye-bye you. Well, my Dad doesn’t have to imagine that, because that’s what happened to him! Thankfully, he went to the doctor, and did not ignore him when he said “I want you in for heart surgery in two days time”. Because of that, he’s alive. But he could have been dead if he’d ignored the diagnosis.

Have you never read…? What is it that you are trusting in for your righteousness? Do you not think you are sick? Is it everyone else that’s the problem, not you? Listen to the “Sabbath” word – it is made to set you free. You are sick. Go to the Lord of the Sabbath for he, and he alone, can heal you.

3.    Religion without Jesus leads to damnation

After his audacious statement “I am the lord of the Sabbath” = I am God Almighty, the religious leaders are starting to get angry. So he provokes again by healing on the Sabbath to reveal the evil is in their hearts.

3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him.(notice that they had closed their mind to the truth) 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

This story is dripping with irony. The “righteous” looking to accuse Jesus for doing good on the Sabbath – the day of honouring the Lord God! Their refusal to answer his question – what is lawful on the Sabbath? And the contrast between Jesus, the one who heals, the one who in his grief still holds out the hope of repentance and restoration even to the Pharisees – perhaps seeing that miracle and hearing his words they would repent? – and the Pharisees who go out and plot murder – on the Sabbath!

They accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath – but they are the law-breakers by plotting murder. Their self-righteousness drives them to destroy Jesus instead of repent. They are blinded to their own sin, convinced in their own mind of their righteous acts.

We are so good at fooling ourselves aren’t we – explaining away our own behaviour. We are masters at painting ourselves in the best possible light! Listen to Brievik – he considers himself a hero! What a dope. But listen to yourself, and despair. I do exactly the same thing! Snap at my wife – but it was her fault because… get angry with the traffic – it’s the traffics fault, not mine.…  leave out some income on your tax form – it’s not really income, not really. Anyway government’s got enough money… or downloading songs is not really theft (try talking to a musician and ask if they think it’s not theft!)…

The other day in Kiwi I was unpacking my groceries, and a bit of a queue was forming (four people). A man was growing more and more impatient, until he suddenly bursts out “Det er et helvete å handle her” (it is HELL to shop here) and continued to berate the cashier for the long waiting time, then, like a five year old, shoved his trolley out of the way, and stormed out of the shop, almost colliding with the other cashier rushing to open the other tillpoint…. Now what was the problem? The waiting time? Or his attitude? It was fairly obvious to the rest of us where the problem lay, but not to him. And how often are we that guy?!

We are so good at placing the blame for our bad behaviour elsewhere. It’s an excuse as old as time: Adam said to God “the woman you put here with me, she gave me the fruit”.
Not me, her.
Not me, them.
Not me, the situation.
Not me, Jesus.
If I could just get rid of Jesus, my life would be better. And so we plot to kill Jesus. Ignore him. Write angry letters on Christian websites. Follow scientifism. Hide in another religion, another way of earning salvation as a Bhuddist or Hindu or Muslim or Wiccan.
Even better, hide in the church, with all the trappings of Christianity – but no Jesus. Follow the rules, be good, be polite, toe the line.
If that’s your Christianity, then you’re headed for damnation, for that is Christless Christianity. Those who are “well” have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But what if you’re sick, and don’t realise you’re sick, then you end up grieving Jesus as you turn away and begin to plot how to kill Jesus.

Don’t be fooled. Free your mind from its desire to justify itself, and acknowledge your need for Jesus. Listen to the Law, guiding us back to Jesus. The Law is made for us, not us for the Law: it shows us our need for the lord of the Sabbath. And realise that religion without Jesus leads to damnation.

The King is here.

Repent (turn away from empty religion) and believe the gospel!

søndag 15. juli 2012

The Jackpot God! (Mark 1:40-2:17)

What do you think about God? Do you ever find yourself demanding your “rights” from God? Getting disappointed with God? How dare he not give you what you want! How often do we try to manipulate God - using God for what we can get from him? That’s treating him like an idol!

No. The God of the Bible will not be dictated to or pressured into things. He tells us what we need. He tells us to follow him. And in tonight’s passage we’ll see exactly that.

Last week we saw that Jesus is the King of God’s Kingdom, the Universe, because: only he can represent us as our champion, only he has power to teach the truth, power over evil spirits, over sickness – and tonight over God’s Law, and even over sin!

The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel! (1:15)

The King is here. The question is: Are you ready for him?

1.    Jesus has power over the Law of God (v40-44)

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

Leprosy was an unattractive skin disease for which the Bible had prescribed quarantine from the rest of society. In the law given to the Israelites by God it says this: Leviticus 13:45–46 (ESV) “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ 46 He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.

A leper was an outcast. He was on the periphery of the people of God. He could not participate in the corporate worship of God, could not offer sacrifices – he was cut off even, it seemed, from God.  Even worse, anyone who touched a leper became themselves unclean, and had to present themselves to the priests in order to be allowed back into normal society. Many Jewish teachers took this at face value and went beyond what the Bible says, teaching that leprosy was as a result of sin, and that it was a direct punishment from God. (Religious people love this kind of reasoning, because they’re not sick, therefore they are more holy or righteous than you.  This is rampant in the church, and indeed in our own hearts – beware!).

Think about what it must have been like to be a leper in the 1st century. Alone, excluded. Forever on the outside looking in. Instead of here seated in the lounge you’d be outside, nose pressed against the window, looking in. Alone, lost, outside, other. With no hope of ever being rescued. No kind words, people avoiding you wherever you go, as you shout “unclean, unclean”.

But the Bible gives us a shocking, horrible revelation: we are all lepers. Spiritually, we are lepers, excluded, other, alone, outside of Gods favour, shouting, with every unkind word, with every selfish action “unclean, unclean”. Sin consumes us like leprosy, and puts us out of relationship with God.

Who can save us?

Not religion. The priest can offer no cure – merely pronounce “yes, this man (or woman) has been cured”.

Not even the Law. It just condemns us. The Law is good and perfect, but because of our sin, cannot save us but instead proclaims exclusion, judgement, death. We cannot keep it, and so are judged.

But Jesus. Jesus can cure us. “If you will, you can make me clean.”
“I will;” says Jesus, “be clean.” And he stretched out his hand and touched him.

Moses, the great giver of the Law, could not cure leprosy. He could merely cry out to God for help. Elijah the great Prophet, would not touch Naaman, when he healed him. The priesthood could only say “why, yes, you have been healed”. But Jesus! Jesus does what only God could do. Jesus touches the man, and instead of Jesus becoming unclean, as the Law states, the man becomes clean! Jesus is greater than the Law, greater than Moses, greater than Elijah, greater than the priesthood. He is a better Great Leader of the Exodus, the Great Prophet (Mohammed could never do this!), the Great High Priest.

(Note: Jesus does not just ignore the Law – pretending he’s not unclean. He knows and respects the Law – he commands the leper to follow the Law – but also transcends the Law.)

Jesus has power even over the Law of God.

So what about us? What do we trust in? What do I trust in? Being good? The law condemns us. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul”. None of us have done that! We need One greater than the Law to rescue us, to pardon us, to mend the broken relationship. And that person is only Jesus. Only Jesus can touch the unclean and make them clean, the broken whole, the spiritually dead, spiritually alive!

Each of us needs to recognise that we are like that leper. Unclean. And we need to cry out to Jesus “Please, make me clean”.

2.    Jesus has the power to forgive sins (2v4-11)

[W]hen they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Try and picture the scene in your mind. Imagine the crowd pressing in, straining to hear Jesus. The religious leaders, in the front row, self-important, coming to assess this new sensation, Jesus. And then, suddenly, there’s a scratching and tearing in the ceiling above, and in a shower of dirt and debris, a man is lowered through the ceiling to Jesus’ feet. Jesus would’ve stood there covered in dust, looking around at the anticipation of the crowd, the quiet desperation of the man on the stretcher, and the hope in the eyes of his friends. He would have looked at the man as he lay, looking up at him, his body shrivelled and worthless, desperately in need of healing.

Can you imagine? The anticipation would’ve been immense! What would Jesus do? Thick clouds of dust swirling around, everyone waiting for the miracle – or maybe Jesus couldn’t do it?

And then Jesus speaks.

“Son, your sins are forgiven.”

“What? What did he say? Your sins are... but what about healing him? How can he say that....?” Imagine how the mutterings and murmurings filled the room and beyond! The scribes whispering angrily among themselves about Jesus’ blatant blasphemy: only God can forgive sins. Who does this man think he is?

Who indeed?

For some of us here that phrase is relatively meaningless. Your sins are forgiven. Oh that’s nice. Or for others it’s so familiar, a comfort. But for a first century Jew, it was a terrifying thing to say.

You see, sin is not naughtiness. Sin is not doing bad things or being immoral or rude or not a gentleman. Sin might lead to those things, but sin is a relational problem. Sin is rebellion against God. Sin is throwing God’s loving care and kindness back in his face. Sin is breaking God’s Law.
Sin is a problem first between us and God before it ever becomes a problem between us.

Therefore Jesus’ words “your sins are forgiven” are audacious, ridiculous, blasphemous! The scribes are right! Only God can forgive sins.
And Jesus knew this. He was a Jew, raised as a Jew, knew the Scriptures, knew the Law, knew all about God – yet claimed a right only God has. Now either he is completely mad (“Look at me, I’m God!”), completely bad (his power is demonic – Jesus addresses this charge in chapter 3), or … he is who he says he is. God Almighty, the King, in human form, able to forgive sins.

Mad, bad – or King.

That you may know that the Son of Man (Jesus) has authority on earth to forgive sins… Get up.

Son of Man? It’s a slightly obscure title found in Daniel 7 where one like a son of man is given all authority and power over the earth. Jesus demonstrates his power to forgive sins with his visible demonstration of power over sickness. 

When I was at University in Cape Town a group of us went climbing up Signal Hill. At night. By moonlight. Only moonlight. Everyone was walking up the path, but my friend Mark and I decided that we could climb up a shortcut. Climbing gear? Ropes? Pfft! We didn’t need that. We could do it alone.
Until we got stuck about 10 metres up – couldn’t go up, couldn’t go down.
Oh, how we longed for ropes and harnesses then!
We were wrong in our assessment of what we needed.

The Jackpot God. What we need is forgiveness of sins. Not money or things or fame or health or good times or relationships. We need to be made right with God. We need spiritual healing – and only Jesus has the power, the authority to do this. And that is the greatest miracle in the Bible. That he can proclaim: you are forgiven.

3.    Jesus has the power to restore the sinner. (v14-17)

14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.”… (16b) “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

I don’t think tax collectors have ever been popular! But in 1st century Israel, they were despised as traitors. They were Jews who worked for the Roman Empire, gathering money from their own people. They were unclean, because they mixed with non-Jews continually (in fact, worked for them). They were often dishonest and greedy, hated, excluded, shunned. And scandal, scandal, read all about it! JESUS calls this man. And then, not only that, goes to DINNER with him, him and his friends. From being an outcast, Levi was eating with the King. Relationship restored. Here is a true son of Israel.
The religious elite were shocked. Why is Jesus eating with them and not us? We are certainly more deserving.

And it’s the same with us today. We are constantly surprised that God would want to be associated with tax collectors and sinners, and not with us, the righteous. The nice people. The good people, decent people. Who have you written off as beyond salvation? Who do you not want to be in this church? Is it blacks? Whites? Gays? “Råner”? Racists? Criminals? Foreigners? Norwegians? Slackers? And, here’s the kicker, if you are thinking that you’re one of the good guys, sitting in judgement over the “sinners” – then you have no part in Christ. V17. If I am righteous in my own eyes, not needing Jesus’ help but merely his stamp of approval – then I am standing with the Pharisees.

All of us are lepers, cast out of God’s presence – and there is only one way back in: to humble ourselves and to say “Lord Jesus, help” and to follow him.

And that’s just as important for those of us who have been Christians for a long time - we are not saved by grace but then continue in our own strength! No, the path of the Pharisee is perilously close. So quickly we fall into pride and self-justification. We are in Christ because of his sovereign mercy, his irresistible grace, not because we are better than others! We are all sinners and tax collectors here – and yet here is Jesus, sitting amongst us. We really have hit the jackpot! The real jackpot.

Let us listen to him, and follow him. Praise God for his mercy! Praise God!!

søndag 8. juli 2012

Mark 1:9-45 Making your life count

Mark 1:9-45 Making your life count / Life with meaning

All of us need something to give our life meaning and purpose:  something to believe in, someone to follow. We all want our lives to count, to echo into eternity. What if there was someone who could tell us exactly how to do that? What if someone could ensure that our lives matter, that every moment we live here can count for something - wouldn’t you want to meet that person?

Well, that’s the type of person Mark described in the opening sentence of his gospel (his proclamation of BIG good news): “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Here, Mark says, is the Christ, the Promised Rescuer of the World, who the Jews had been waiting for for over 4000 years! Here is the Son of God, the title of the King of Israel, and God the Son, the divine second person of the Trinity. Quite an impressive collection of titles. Jesus Christ, the Son of God – someone who can make your life count.

But I could say I’m the President of the United States, even though I’m not. How do we know that Jesus is who is claims to be? Words are easy, actions are harder! The rest of chapter one (and most of chapter 2), therefore, is Jesus’ CV, proving he is who he says he is.

Jesus is the King of God’s Kingdom, the Universe, because:
1.    He has power to represent us as our champion (v9-13)
2.    He has power to teach the truth (v21-22)
3.    He has power over evil spirits (v22-27)
4.    He has power over sickness (v29-31)

And next week we’ll look at the last three, and probably most important points (into chapter 2):
5.    He has power over the Law of God
6.    He has power to forgive sins (something only God can do)
7.    He has power to restore the sinner

1.     Jesus has the power to represent us as our champion
This one may sound strange, until we take a little lesson in history and politics. One of the roles of the prime minister is to represent the country on the world stage. He speaks on behalf of the whole country. This was even more apparent in the times of kings, and the King really was the country. As he decided, so the country went. If he declared war, then the country was at war. He, the King, represented the country to the world.

And this is what we find in verses v9-13. In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

Baptism is a declaration of turning away from sin – dying to your old life (under the water), and turning toward God – raised to new life as you come out of the water.

So why would Jesus, who, if he is the Son of God, the Messiah, and therefore the perfect Rescuer, need to be baptised? Why does someone who has no sin need to acknowledge sin? Because, as 2 Corinthians 5:21 outs it “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
It is the swap that happens at the cross in action already. In fulfilment of the Davidic covenant in 2 Sam 7, Jesus, the King of God’s People, fully identifies with his people by taking on the posture of a sinner and acknowledging our sin on our behalf before almighty God. This is a rescue mission. The King who saves. The King who takes on the sins of the world, goes resolutely to the cross, and dies a sinners death, cursed on a tree, in order to rescue his enemies – you and me. Only Jesus can be our champion.

There’s a strange little story in the book of Revelation, chapter 5 the Apostle John sees a vision: a scroll of salvation, of rule over world history, which cannot be opened – and he weeps for none is worthy to open the scroll. Without that scroll, humanity is doomed.
But then he hears a voice say “weep no more” for Jesus is worthy to open the scroll.

No-one is worthy to open the scroll, no-one but Jesus. Only Jesus is qualified to be our champion. Only he is fully human, but also fully God. Only he is without sin and can become sin for us. Only he can take our place at the judgement seat and save us.

Jesus has the power to be our champion.

What do you place your trust in? Your own inherent goodness? You’re a nice person? You religious acts of duty? Or God won’t mind? Or “God is love”? Or any other excuse which means you can keep doing whatever you want, what you decide is right and can justify yourself? There is a judgement coming – and you can either face it yourself, hoping that you’ve somehow been perfect, or let Jesus be your qualified champion, and let him fight, and win, the impossible battle you cannot. Only Jesus can save you – you cannot save yourself.

2.    Jesus has power to teach the truth (v21-22)

And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.  

Jesus’ mission (as he says in verse 38) is to preach and teach. But his teaching was different, astonishing – he taught with authority. The word “authority” there is, according to the New Bible Dictionary, exousia, meaning rightful, actual and unimpeded power to act, or to possess, control, use or dispose of, something or somebody.

Have you ever been to Heaven? Have you seen the cosmos in all its glory? Have you stood at the brink of time and space and commanded it all, ruled it by the word of your mouth? No. Well, Jesus has. He knows what makes this world work because he made it. He knows what makes you work, because he made you. His words are authoritative truth. All other teachings are clouded by sin, warped by our self-interest and limited understanding.

But not Jesus. His teaching is “astonishing”. His teaching is authoritative, powerful, true.

So, do you believe him? Do you obey him? Do you truly believe that his words in the Bible are truth - not just lip service but practically, in your life. Christian, are you obeying God, or just pretending to? Are you listening to him, or listening to someone else. As Jesus says, repeatedly, in John chapters 14-16 “If you love me, you will obey my commands).

And if you’re not a Christian, what do you do in meeting this authoritative, powerful king?

Jesus himself gives us the answer in verse 15: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.

Jesus, and Jesus alone, has power to teach the truth.

3.    Jesus has power over evil spirits (v22-27)

And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

Do you fear that which goes bump in the night? Do you fear curses, black spots, the evil eye, witchdoctors, Satanists, witches, mooti, potions, ghosts, monsters? What is it that you fear?

And well you should fear! For there are demonic forces at work which want to destroy and tear us down. Powerful evil forces are arrayed against us in battle. That is reality.

In the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes there is a character called Mo. He is the biggest boy in Calvin’s class at school, and is a bully. He pushes Calvin off the swing, takes his lunch money, shoves him in the dirt, etc. Calvin is powerless against Mo – he’s so much bigger and stronger. Help! Calvin needs someone bigger than Mo to protect him against Mo.

And that’s what we have here. Only Jesus is big enough to protect us from Satan and his forces. Only Jesus can command the evil spirits at a word – and they obey immediately. Satan is our enemy, not God’s!
Jesus has power over evil spirits.

How do we respond? Well, we can take our chances with the forces of evil, or we can shelter in Christ.

The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel!

4.    Jesus has power over sickness (v29-31)

Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

Instantly healed! She was up and about, making tea, offering them cakes, whatever the first century equivalent was!

Is there any limit to this man’s power? Even sickness is no obstacle for him. Without a word Simon Peter’s mother-in-law (which means Peter had a wife, Catholics, and therefore the whole celibacy thing is wrong) is healed.

Who is this man, who commands people to follow him, who teaches with authority, who rules over evil spirits and sickness, who acts as our representative? Who is this man? Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.

Last week we read Mark 1:1“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

So what’s the gospel about? Is it about family? No. Doing good? Being Polite? Nice? Which country you come from? No. Being sincere in your religious beliefs? No!

It’s the gospel of Jesus, which means it’s both about Jesus (not us), and based on Jesus – his work secures our salvation.  It is about a relationship with the living God, revealed in the Bible. If you are a Christian without the Biblical Jesus, then you are not a Christian. 

The gospel of Mark opens with good news! But also a warning. The Lord will appear suddenly in his Temple (Malachi) – the Lord will arrive amongst his people (Isaiah). Prepare the way of the Lord! The King, the King is coming! Be ready! 

The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.

søndag 1. juli 2012

Mark 1. Chapter 1:1 to 11 "Superhero"

Mark 1:1-11 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way (Mal 3:1), the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ (Is 40:3)” John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.(Mal4:5) And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

If I was to describe Superman as “the story of a man who wears his underpants over his trousers”, or Batman as “a man who dresses up as a bat”, what would you think?

Well, the descriptions are right, but totally miss the point! Superman is the Man of Steel, Defender of Justice. He can fly, burn lasers out of his eyes, stop a speeding bullet – and he uses these powers for good, standing against evil and injustice. Batman also fights for honour and justice using fear against criminals and others who use fear to make people do the wrong thing. In a corrupt world, Batman is a symbol of hope.

Likewise, we could describe Christianity as being about us. About God fulfilling our deepest longings. Even about getting salvation and heaven. Those are all good things but none of them are what Christianity (the Gospel) is about.

Let’s turn in our Bibles to Mark 1:1 and read what it says.  
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

  1. The gospel is primarily about Jesus.

Look again at verse 1. The gospel (which means “important good news”) of Jesus. It is news of or about Jesus.
 Firstly, the gospel is about Jesus. It is not about us. It is not about our family connection, or about which country we come from, or about our church, or about our religious performance. Christianity is not about any of these things. It is about Jesus.
It is not a religious ritual, or a collection of laws to follow. It is not about friendships, or social work, or counselling, or looking after old people, or looking after poor people, or about being kind, or nice, or polite, or working hard, or attending church meetings.

It is about Jesus. The gospel of Jesus. It is about a relationship with the living God. If you are a Christian without Jesus, then you are not a Christian. And we’re not free to make Jesus into whatever we want – like he’s an empty jar we can fill with our own ideas – a design-your-own Jesus. No. He’s very clearly defined for us, both in verse 1 and throughout the gospel of Mark. He is:

Jesus of Nazareth, the man, son of Mary and Joseph.

Christ, the promised saviour of Israel, the great prophet, warrior, King who would restore Israel to glory, and fulfil the Abrahamic covenant by blessing all nations. In the prophet Isaiah we also find that this great warrior King is called the Suffering Servant: a man of sorrows who bears the sins of the world. It is indeed significant that Mark quotes from Isaiah 40:3 which is at the beginning of the section in Isaiah (ch 40-55) dealing with God restoring Israel after 40 chapters of judgement and gloom. Who is the great rescuer in 40-55? The Suffering Servant – the chosen one of God who deals with the problem of sin. And what does Jesus do? Deals with sin by bearing it upon the cross.

Son of God, this is a title given first to Israel, then to the king of Israel as Israel’s representative. Jesus is the Son of God, that is, the King of God’s Chosen People. But, as we quickly see, he is not just the Son of God (Israel’s representative) but also God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity. God is one God, in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We see this dynamic at play in his baptism.He is baptised, first as a representative of God’s people, the elect he will save through his death on the cross – but the words of God from heaven are deeply personal “my Son, whom I love”. There is an extreme closeness here – and in chapter 2 when we see Jesus acting as the creator God, forgiving sin, ruling supremely over creation, casting out demons, we understand why: he is divine, the second person of the Trinity, God the Son.
There’s a movie called “Kick-Ass” about a teenager who decides he wants to be a superhero. He gets a costume, dresses up like a superhero, and goes out to fight crime! Yes! But, unfortunately, he is no superhero. And his first encounter goes horribly wrong, and unlike the superheroes, Kick Ass ends up in hospital with major injuries. Pretending you are the hero, does not make you the hero. 

We are not the superhero in our story. We are not the superhero in Christianity. We are not the superhero in the world. Jesus is the superhero of Christianity, of the world, of our lives, not us. Jesus is the hero in every situation, every relationship, every word spoken, every action done – he is both the hero and ruler of all.

 2. The gospel is based on Jesus 

It is the gospel of Jesus, which means it belongs to or finds its root in Him. (εκ pronounced: ek a primary preposition denoting origin (the point whence action or motion proceeds), from, out (of place, time, or cause). Jesus is both the content and the origin of the good news of Christianity.

Christianity is based on the work of Christ. Not us. If we are Christians, we are Christian because of his work, not our own. If you think you are a Christian today because of your own efforts – or even that you contributed towards it, then you are sorely mistaken. This is not the gospel of Jesus Christ and Daniel Garratt. No, it is gospel of Jesus. Unless, of course, you have found a way to live a perfect, sin-free life, to fulfil every word from the mouth of God the Father, to load up upon your back the sins of every elect person from all of time and space, and bear that on the cross, to the grave and back out again. When you have descended to hell and defeated death and destroyed Satan’s power, and raised yourself back to life again in accordance with your own words – then, then you can claim some part in your salvation!
 Until that time, marvel with me at the glory of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Be awed by the love that beats at the heart of the universe – a love that is stronger than law-keeping, a love that is more costly than the wishy-washy God who just loves everyone but it costs him nothing. No, this is the holy, eternal, incredible, OTHER God – who enters our world of rebellion and hatred of him and conquers it with love at supreme cost – his own life. Praise to our God eternal, invisible, immortal, the God upon the Cross! Amen!

As we move through Mark’s gospel we will see that only Jesus could rescue us. Only he, the God-Man could do what is impossible for men, but possible for God: rescue the souls of rebellious men and women from eternal destruction.

‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’

Only Jesus, the Lord (Kyrios (Greek) or Shaddai (Hebrew)) meaning Mighty Ruler, or in the context of Isaiah, God the Ruler; only Jesus, who here Mark is saying is God Himself, can do this. The gospel is sure because of what it is based on: the unshakeable work of Jesus, and his matchless grace. This is why it is GOOD news: we do not become a Christian, nor do we remain Christians by our own efforts. It is all God’s effort, all his mercy, and therefore all his glory.

 But what joy! What matchless joy that we cannot save ourselves. For if we were capable of doing what is right, then we would have to do it, then we would struggle and strain, never sure of our salvation, never sure if we’d done enough. But that is not Christianity. That is Islam. Or Bhuddism. Or Hiduism. Or African Traditional Religions. Or New Age. Or Atheism. Wherever your efforts become the means for salvation or living a better live, or attaining a better plane of existence. Every other religion or world philosophy says “do, do, do” – with no assurance of arrival. Only Jesus says “It is finished”.

Who here likes going to the beach? Who likes building sandcastles? How strong are those sandcastles? Not very, they’re built of sand, on sand! What about a sandcastle carved out of rock? Do you think you could knock that down? 

Building our lives on our own righteousness, our own ideas, on what we can do is like building sandcastles. Only Jesus builds from immovable imperishable stone. You cannot destroy what he builds.

 3. So, where do I fit in? 

Have a look at verses 2-3. It is attributed to Isaiah, but is a composite quote i.e. two quotes stuck together. Since both (Malachi 3:1 (Lord will suddenly appear in his Temple) and Isaiah 40:3 (40-55 restoration of Israel after Judgement)) and are fundamentally concerned with the purity of Jerusalem and the temple, Mark’s climactic confrontation in Jerusalem is hardly unexpected. Indeed, the references to Malachi’s and Exodus’s messenger (1:2) and Isaiah’s rent heavens (1:10) intimate an element of threat should an unrepentant nation be unprepared for Yahweh’s coming.

John was sent in order to prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. And what was that preparation? Look at verse 4: proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. They needed to publicly admit that they were sinners, in need of forgiveness. John could only baptize with water, but Jesus was coming.

As Luther famously said (to paraphrase) “performing righteous acts in order to become righteous is like washing a pig expecting it to turn into a lamb. However much you wash a pig, it’s still a pig.”

Doing right things, attending church, being good – none of this will help you. You are washing the pig. Your heart is still a pig.

Only Jesus can transform the pig into a lamb.

Let me end with an story about my favourite boy in the whole world, Kaleb. While I was away in England, one day Kaleb had been having a bad day, and was being an absolute terror. A battle had been raging for four hours, with him throwing things, being rude, saying he "hated" Debby, etc.. In exhaustion she went up to our bedroom and prayed "Lord, I don't know what to do. Nothing can make him obey. Please would you change his heart. Amen".
15 minutes later a small face appeared at the door and said "Mummy, Jesus has changed my heart. I'm very sorry Mummy."
She was absolutely flabbergasted - what an answer to prayer!
And he proceeded to be the nicest, kindest, most obedient boy you've ever met for the rest of the day.

We are all like Kaleb – we need Jesus to change our hearts. And thankfully, the gospel is about exactly that. It’s not about us, having to change our own hearts – it’s about JESUS who paid the price so that our hearts can be transformed from stone to hearts of flesh - alive to the living God, forgiven, free. Praise God.