søndag 26. august 2012

Mark 4:35-6:30 Obedience is the evidence of faith

In 2008 the Lord made it clear to us, in various ways, that he wanted us to move to Norway. Being strong, mature Christians, trusting in the Word of God, the Power of God, rejoicing in our life with him, and having seen the blessings that come from obeying him – we promptly went in the opposite direction, bought a house in a nice suburb in Cape Town, began to make plans for long-term ministry in the local churches, and gave a vague affirmation to God’s command “we’ll go in a few years, 5, maybe 6. Definitely before the kids have left home....” 
Needless to say, less than 12 months later we were standing in the snow outside my parents house. 
Our faithless actions were, by His grace, overridden. And they were faithless – we did not obey God’s obvious and clear command. 

A couple I once knew had been dating for a few months. They claimed to be Christians, and so knew that sex was out of the question. But they wanted to have sex, but didn’t yet want to get married. What to do? They decided to pray, and “seek the Lord’s face” in this matter. They prayed and prayed, and amazingly God said “sure, no problem, have sex. You clearly love each other, so go for it”. Yes, God overrode his written, infallible word, with a message to two hormone-filled “pray-ers”. 
Yes, we laugh, but how often do we pray similar prayers? They ignored God’s clear teaching in his word – in fact, simply avoided reading it or hearing it so they could delude themselves and disobey God – because they wanted to sin.

In this section of Mark from 4:35 to 6:30 there’s a growing strong emphasis on faith and obedience. In fact, we see that obedience is the evidence of faith.

In the first story (that we looked at last week) we have the disciples facing a storm – and instead of trusting in Jesus (that is, faith) – they are afraid. The disciples are afraid of the storm – terrified that they are going to die! 4:38 “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus saves them, and then rebukes them for their lack of faith “Why are you so afraid [of the storm]? Have you still no faith?”. They should not have been afraid of the storm at all – Jesus was in the boat.

The funny thing is, they are then even more afraid of Jesus! 4:41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
And in one sense that fear is right. A respect or awe of God is not wrong when he clearly is awesomely powerful!

Then in the next story, that of the demon-possessed man “Legion”. The demons are afraid of Jesus, and beg him to send them away, and not to “torment” them. 5:7 “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”

The people (Gentiles) in Garasenes are afraid of Jesus, and respond without faith. 5:15 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. ...17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.

The formerly demon-possessed man, by contrast, responds in faith. He desperately wants to be with Jesus. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 
 But Jesus says no, and instead gives him a task to do: “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 
This unclean, demon-possessed man, the dregs of society, is commissioned as the first Christian missionary! (The disciples are only sent out in the next chapter!)
And he immediately obeys Jesus. 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marvelled.

Then we have a bleeding woman who has faith, faith that Jesus can make her clean (as her flow of blood would have made her religiously and in society “unclean”). Perhaps she’d heard of the leper – the unclean that Jesus touched and made clean. Faith that even a touch of his cloak would make her clean. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” But then FEAR as Jesus calls her forth – only to be commended for her faith. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith [in Me] has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

And, of course, Jairus, who is called on to not fear, but have faith in Jesus even in the face of death (36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” Have faith!), vs the crowd who laugh at Jesus (39 he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him.) So she was definitely dead – the mocking laugh tells us that.

Jesus sends them away, enters the room where the little girl lies dead, and taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl (or Daughter or “Lamb” or Dear One – Talitha was a term of endearment), I say to you, arise.” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. Who is this man, that even has power over death!

Jairus sees his daughter raised to life – the crowd are sent away, and see nothing – as do the people in his hometown, who take offense at him, and therefore see no miracles, receive no salvation, and Jesus leaves them.

Faith – faith in Jesus.

Without faith, we are lost.

But what is faith? Faith simply means “trust”, to depend on, to act on the basis of a belief. Faith is active – it changes how you live. Faith is not some mysterious spiritual exercise – we all have faith everyday in everyday things. For example, I have faith in this chair to support me. I put my full weight on it when I sit down, trusting that it won’t collapse! I believe that the chair will support me, then I exercise that belief in faith (active belief) by sitting on the chair.

But a chair is passive – it makes no demands on you, it just...is. It waits for you to sit on it. Jesus is different. Jesus demands your allegiance, because he made you. You belong to him. He calls you to listen to him and obey him. The essence of faith in Jesus is obedience.

Obedience is the evidence of faith. Look at King Herod and John the Baptist. Although Herod knows what’s right (he protects John from his wife, Herodias), he delays because he does not want to obey, repent. He fears men instead of God.

And eventually kills God’s prophet – and we find the result is that he is afraid and thinks Jesus is John come back to life and misses out on Jesus!

If you listen to Jesus and obey him, trusting that his words are true – you see the unclean become clean, you see dead girls raised to life, you see a legion of demons cast out at a word, you see storms stilled, demons silenced, paralytics walk, sins forgiven and you know the truth about the kingdom of God. And it is good.

But if you lack faith, or believe but don’t obey, you miss out. Jesus leaves. Jesus left them. Jesus went to the other side. Jesus went to the (other) villages teaching.

So, what about you? Do you trust Jesus? Do you obey his word, the Bible? Do you love listening to him? (It’s helpful to block off church and Bible study in your calendars – they should be immovable dates, the most important events in your weekly schedule.)
Because his words are the words of life.

Do you avoid his word?
Or run to hear his voice?

What do you find difficult to obey?
Where do you find you lack faith – the willingness to trust God’s Good Word?

Maybe it’s his claim that he is the ONLY way to God. There is no other way to be saved. It’s easier to ignore that, since then we don’t have to evangelise (tell others about him). But what do you think people would rather hear? The truth which leads to life or a lie which leads to death?

What about his views on human sexuality? He made us, so he knows what’s good for us. Sex is for marriage, a husband and a wife, and nowhere else. It’s designed to bind the husband and wife together – it’s their private love language, a true unity. Jesus has a high view of sex, a high view of the value of our bodies, the value of our sexuality. It is not to be trampled underfoot in pornography, adultery, pre-marital sex, or homosexual encounters.

What about his claim on ALL of life? That you are not your own, not the captain of your destiny? That you belong to HIM, and exist to please him and not yourself. Oooh, that hurts doesn’t it – hits right at our pride.

Whatever it is – kill it. Whatever or wherever you are refusing to obey Jesus (and avoiding the truth is also disobedience – we often avoid reading the Bible to avoid obeying!) – kill it.
Put your pride and foolishness to death and obey Jesus.

Because faith without obedience is no faith at all.
Inside with Jairus seeing the miracle of life and the power of God? Or shut outside with the mocking crowd?

Now you might be sitting there thinking – I’ve blown it. I’m no good. My faith is worthless. Jesus will leave me.
I know, because I was thinking that when preparing this.
And it’s wrong! 
Remember what Jesus said in chapter 4 “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Hey, I’m a sinner! Woohoo. Jesus has come to call me!
So, confess your disobedience with a joyful heart because Jesus has already paid the penalty for your disobedience, and accepts you with open arms. Confess your sin, and turn away from it, and turn toward obedience, because obedience is the mark of true faith.
And faith, in Jesus, leads to life, and life in abundance!

søndag 19. august 2012

The Kingdom revealed (Mark 4:35-5:20)

The Kingdom revealed

Mk 4:21–23 (ESV) And [Jesus] said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? 22 For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” Jesus has come to reveal the kingdom.

4:35 On that [same] day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”

Why? There was no reason: he was teaching the crowds, they were listening, he was in Israel. There was no reason to go across to the “other side” the Gentile (non-Jewish) side of the lake. Except there was a reason: an appointment with Legion, and two massive demonstrations of Jesus’ power – or rather, two revelations of the King of God’s kingdom: Jesus. Jesus has come to reveal the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of God is centred on him.

 1. He is Lord of Creation 

36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Can you imagine the scene? Caught out on the Sea of Galilee, the wind blowing, waves crashing into the boats. Panic on the faces of the experienced fishermen as they begin to realise that they could be killed. It’s dark, the wind is howling, the boat is being flung up intot he air and then CRASH down again on the waves. And Jesus? Jesus is asleep on a cushion in front of the boat. A crisis of his making. A crisis to reveal his power and teach the disciples about faith in him.

Now there’s been lots of talk about this passage being about Jesus leading us through our storms in life, and we don’t need to be afraid, blah blah blah. Let’s not allegorise this too quickly. The point is not that Jesus can take us through storms in our life, though he can. It’s not even that often those storms are of his own making in order to glorify himself in our lives and strengthen our faith in him. Those may be truths about our relationship with God, but that’s not the point of this passage.
The point of the passage is this: Even the wind and the waves obey Jesus! Who is this man?
This is not like Moses, who prays to God, and then God tells him to raise up his staff, and then God causes a wind to blow, and God parts the sea. No. Jesus simply speaks to the sea and ORDERS it to be calm.
It is without precedent in the Bible (it has never happened before). In all other cases of control over Creation the Bible has always been at pains to ensure that God gets the glory, that it is God’s power at work – here it is Jesus who gets the glory, Jesus who has the power to simply speak a word of command to the storm – and it obeys!

Psalm 107, a Psalm about the redeeming love of God, it says of God: 28 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. 29 He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.

And in case we missed it, he even says “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Faith, not just in whatever – but faith in Jesus.
God Almighty is in the boat – what is there to fear?!
Except, perhaps, the fact that GOD ALMIGHTY IS IN THE BOAT!!!
The disciples knew well that no-one could approach the Holy God and live. “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips” said the prophet Isaiah. Uzzah touched God’s Ark of the Covenant and dropped down dead. And anyone venturing into the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem would drop dead. Like darkness destroyed by the brightness of the light, unholy or sinful men cannot be near the Holy God. No wonder they were filled with great fear!

But Jesus came to suffer once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God 1 Pet 3:18. He is the new Temple, the meeting place between God and mankind. He has come, not to judge, but to rescue. He is the doctor, come to save the (spiritually) sick.

Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

It is God Almighty, in the flesh, come to redeem a lost world.

1 Jn 3:16 (NIV84) This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ (God Himself!) laid down his life for us. 

 Fall at his feet and worship! Praise him with great praise! Listen to Him and obey him. Be filled with awe and wonder at the Lord of Creation, who speaks to the wind and the waves and they obey him, and who calls to you to follow him, to know him, to be with him, to obey him.

And that invitation is for everyone, without exception. There is nothing that can keep you from God, no sin which is too great (except rejecting Jesus) – no social status, or family connection, or bad habits, or dark past that can keep you from Jesus. And we see that with our next character: Legion.

2. Jesus can make the unclean, clean.

5:1 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. 3 He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, 4 for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. 6 And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. 7 And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8 For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea. 14 The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marvelled. 

Let’s deal with the pigs first. Lots of people get all hung up on the pigs! Never mind that 1.5 MILLION of pigs are slaughtered every year in Norway for our food!

I may as well ask why does anything bad ever happen? In this chapter, why does Jesus allow a bunch of pigs to panic and run into the sea? Or delays just long enough so that a sick little girl dies - only to be brought back to life? Or a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years? Or a storm to rise up and almost kill the disciples? Why does God allow storms and disasters, and murders and theft and all other evil in this world?

Short answer: to bring him glory. All things are created to bring him praise and glory, and even evil will have to bow the knee to Him and give up praise and glory. How?

Firstly, His patience in delaying punishing evil now, gives us a chance to be saved. Think about your friends, family members, work colleagues, neighbours, who are destined for destruction. And if you’re a Christian, imagine if he had judged evil before you had accepted Christ? God is merciful in delaying judgement on evil, and we glorify him for that.

Secondly, He allows evil so that we see the consequences of abandoning him, so that we can turn and be saved. If life was perfect, who would ever repent and turn to God? We would not know that we had rebelled against him, and in our ignorance would eternally perish. So he allows a limited expression of evil in this world – and it is limited, because “no one is righteous, no, not one” (Rom 3:10) and “every inclination of every thought of the heart of man was only evil all the time” (Gen 6:5) – this world could be, and should be, much worse. God limits our evil (in fact, Revelation says that what we see is only a third of the evil we are capable of) in his mercy, allowing just enough for us to turn to him. Think about how closed people are to God here in Norway. Life is good, so they turn from God, and head for eternal damnation. Suffering can be a good thing to turn us to God. A limited amount of suffering here is a worthwhile price to pay for eternal paradise!

Thirdly, he could simply have destroyed us (humanity) immediately. Condemned us all to an eternity in hell. But he did not. Instead he became a man, a human being, lived amongst us, shared our hurts and pain, our joys and laughter, our ups and downs, revealing himself to us, the Heart of the Universe on display – in the boat, commanding the waves, on the shore teaching the people - and, supremely, on the cross, taking our place, absorbing the result of evil in his own body (propitiation), and opening the way to paradise through him. Heb 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Jesus identifies with us. He knows us. And through his death evil is swallowed up. In eternity, what nothings these temporary temporal sufferings! They will be turned to praise for the great God who can turn death to life, suffering to praise, and demonic destruction to glory to him.

For the demons meant to destroy the pigs in a meaningless death – but instead their deaths ring out through time to glorify Jesus!
 They show his power over the unclean spirits in a visible way – you can SEE that they left the man, who now is sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and went into the pigs who rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea. This was not some psychosis or mental illness. This was spiritual.

They show the destructiveness of the unclean spirits. They immediately drive the pigs wild, and destroy them.

They show the number of the unclean spirits, and therefore again magnify the power of Jesus. He truly is the stronger man who can bind up the strong man, Satan (remember chapter 3 – only someone stronger than Satan can cast out Satan). A reminder again that Satan is no threat to God. He is not God’s enemy, but ours. And when his time is up, he will gather a vast army and come against God’s holy city – and God simply throws him and his army into the sea of fire, the place of torment. Read about it in Revelation chapter 20.

Still with me? Let me tell you a story how in my own life Jesus turned horrible sadness into great glory. Kai Sverre. Found body. Face to face with death. Smashed away everything else. Realised only thing in this life is Jesus. He was foundation - everything else chaff blown away. Horrible experience – but I am so grateful for it. Who knows where I would be now if God had no shown me how I was building my life (selfishly!)? I would probably be destined for destruction. Sometimes God’s hammer blows are painful. But they are always good. 

Here we have a man in a horrible situation. Everything says that he is beyond hope. He is an unclean man, with unclean spirits, living in an unclean place (tombs were unclean: if you just touched a dead body you were unclean for 7 days), in an unclean area (Garasenes was a Gentile area), with unclean animals (Jews were not permitted to eat pork).

Nothing about this man qualified him to know God.

There was nothing good in him, nothing moral, nothing upright. Yet Jesus travels across the lake to meet him. Here was a man who “No one had the strength to subdue him” – the demons / unclean spirits were immensely strong. But Jesus is the stronger man, and with a word of command orders them to leave. 2000 powerful evil spirits, grovelling before Jesus, and obeying his commands. Who is this man, that even a legion of evil spirits obey him?

It’s a great reminder that we don’t have to reach some level of holiness before we are acceptable to God. We come, as we are, to Jesus. However you are dressed, whichever country you are from, whatever your religion or ideas about God; whether you are demon-possessed, or a liar, or gossip or adulterer or murderer or thief or pornography addict or drug abuser or wife beater; whether you are hetero- or homo-sexual – whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, you can come to Jesus. He came to seek the broken, to bind up our inner wounds and make us whole, restored, in right relationship with him and each other. By grace alone.

søndag 5. august 2012

Mark 4:1-34 The King of the Kingdom speaks

How good are you at listening? How easy is it to be corrected?
Even by an expert? Difficult isn’t it. It hits at our pride. Particularly difficult when our cultural norms are being challenged. Jesus turns them upside down. Power shown in weakness. The hidden being revealed. The small and insignificant taking over the world.

What words of Jesus do you find most difficult to accept?

We’ve just come from chapter 3, a chapter where we saw growing hostility towards Jesus, particularly from the religious leaders; we saw the crowds fawning over him – but not for his teaching, but rather what he could do for them – healing, power, the spectacular, the show. Not for his words of life, forgiveness of sins - true spiritual power, and their greatest need. But for the sideshow of healing, something that he can do with the slightest of effort.

How often are we caught up in the same folly? We miss the wood for the trees. We want to see spectacular displays of God’s power – and miss it at work in our own lives (we’re still Christians), in the wonder of creation all around us (Notodden is a beautiful place), and supremely when someone crosses from death to life, from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of Jesus – that took even the very death of the God-man Jesus Christ. There is the power of God! Not in a healing. In salvation.

So, let us listen to Jesus as in three short stories sketches out the beauty, the wonder, the glory of the kingdom of God. The King is amongst us, describing his kingdom –and it is good. Will you listen?

1.    The secret of the Kingdom is Jesus. (v1-14)

Again he began to teach beside the sea... 2 And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 “Listen!...9 “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God... 14The sower sows the word.

The seed that is sown is the word of God (v14). But it’s worth asking “what word is that?” What word must we hear? Listen to?

What word of God have we seen in these first few chapters of Mark?

That’s right – it’s all been the word about Jesus – the good news of the arrival of the King of God’s Kingdom. He is the Lord who will come suddenly to his Temple (amongst his people). He is the Lord whose way was prepared by John the Baptist. He is the One who can be baptised in our place to fulfil the righteous requirements of the law – he who knew no sin identifying with sinners in order to save us. He is the one who can heal at a word, who has power over evil spirits (we who are in Him need never fear curses or spells or ancestors or black magic or voodoo – He has power over all that). He is the stronger man who can bind up the “strong man” (Satan). He has power over the Law – his touch cleanses the leper and makes him lawfully clean – Jesus is not made unclean. He is the Lord of the Sabbath, the Lord over the Law. He is the doctor of souls who came for sinners, and will never turn aside those who ask him for help. He is the one who can stand and proclaim “your sins are forgiven”.

So who is he? Indeed. For he certainly takes liberties! He acts as if he were the Creator himself – Yahweh, the covenant God.

Could it be true? Those whom he chooses to call follow him, like Abraham. He does not choose the great and powerful, but the ordinary, like Abraham, and Israel. A small, ordinary tribe. And then, in chapter 3, in the midst of foolish responses to him, we see him stand upon the mountainside, and call forth 12 men, the new 12 tribes of Israel reforged. The new people of God, who would fulfil the promise to Abraham of all nations and peoples being blessed.

Who is he? He is not a prophet or an angel, or he would take great pains to ensure that the focus of attention was NOT on him, but God. For what prophet or angel would even allow the charge of blasphemy?

In fact, the whole of chapter 3 was about responding to Jesus, not simply his message, but to him personally. His actions, his person, his words, all must be responded to rightly. Every one of us must answer this question: who is Jesus?

And Mark says: he is the embodiment of the kingdom, the King himself standing before us: the ultimate revelation of the mystery of God. What was hidden is now revealed in Jesus. 21 And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? 22 For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. BUT – you must listen. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.

The secret of the kingdom, the Word of God, is Jesus.

So, how do we respond?

2.    The only right response is to gather around Jesus and listen (v9-14)

9 And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” 10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.” 13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

There is only one response, only one that bears fruit: those who hear the word and accept it. Those are the ones gathered around Jesus, asking him “what does it mean?”. Tell us more. 24 Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. 25 For to the one who has, more will be given.
And they are given more – even the very secret of the kingdom of God.

The others, however from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

The religious leaders from Jerusalem, full of the words of Moses – but their hearts are hard, their ears closed to the truth, and when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. They embody the quote from Isaiah 6 (Isaiah’s call to prophesy): “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven”.  In chapters 1-5 of Isaiah we’re introduced to rebellious Israel, refusing to listen to and obey the words of God Almighty. Israel’s leaders are particularly singled out for their hard-heartedness and rebellion. Sound familiar? Same situation as here in Mark. They will not repent because their hearts are so hard. Isaiah’s job then was to confirm them in their unbelief, and show them the horrific truth: they now have become enemies of God Most High, and he will fight against them. A short while later, Jerusalem lay in ruins, and the people of the land were carried off into exile.

Be careful, then how you listen to the parables. For you too may be left with old Israel, the old religious order, ending up as the enemies of God. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
Don’t close your heart to the truth. For Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown.

Then there’s the fickle crowd, the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. As soon as Jesus challenges their selfish lives, their set religious order, calls them to a new path, when it becomes costly to follow him – they fall away, abandon him, disown him, reject him, shout “crucify him”.

And there are others, those who are among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things (idolatry) enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 

Which soil are you? Hard path? Rootless? Choked by worries and idolatry? Or fruitful?

Now I could say that:
you must be the fruitful soil!
You must work hard at obeying Jesus!
Pray more.
Read the Bible more.
Evangelise people.
Do more for Jesus.
And although there is some truth in that – it is wrong.

It is not the gospel.

We are not the fruitful soil and we can never make ourselves the fruitful soil. To carry the parable a little further: only the farmer can plough the land, remove the rocks, fertilise and water and do whatever other magic things farmers do to soil to make it fruitful.

Because, if we’re honest, we often feel like the path, or the rocky ground, falling away when things become hard, or choked by worry, loving other things more than Jesus.

Thankfully, Jesus did not come for the spiritually superior, the “good people” the ones who’ve got it all together spiritually and can do it in their own strength thank you very much. He came for the sick – the sinners.

To strive, to achieve, to do it in your own strength – that leads to blaspheming the Holy Spirit: setting up another path to salvation other than Jesus. Only Jesus, the King of Gods Kingdom can save you. Nothing and no-one else can, not even you.

I want you to leave here tonight not filled with a to-do list, filled with guilt – but filled with praise and glory and wonder for the Lord Jesus. Listen to him, for his words are truth. Trust him – for he is at work, in you (if you belong to him) transforming you and changing you. For the kingdom of God is at work, unseen, in you, and in the world.

3.    The kingdom of God is at work, with unseen power, in you

26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

V25: For to the one who has, more will be given – the one who LISTENS to Jesus (that is, accepts the seed) – well, that seed takes root in him, and grows and grows. We know not how, but “all by itself” (that is, not by human effort) the kingdom will grow until harvest-time. The Spirit is at work.

Christian, the Lord is at work in you. The seed is growing. As Philippians 1:6 says I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (that is, Christ’s return). Do not fear, but trust. Listen to him, and obey him in joy for he is at work in you, and you will see a harvest of righteousness, you will see fruitfulness if you trust in him. Only he can change a heart, so trust in him to change yours.

Remember the story I told about Kaleb a few weeks ago? 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."

That is trust. That is the grace of God, at work, in Kaleb’s heart, in Debby’s heart – and in yours and mine. The seed keeps growing.

But this parable is more than just the individual believer. And to help us understand it, let’s look at the next parable as well.

4. The kingdom of God is at work, with unseen power, in the whole world

30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

Indeed, the church is growing, surging forth in the world. We do not know how, but 2000 years on, the church spans the whole world. From a tiny seed in a backwater Roman jurisdiction where an unknown Jewish trouble-maker was crucified, spread this enormous empire spanning centuries and engulfing the whole world – every people-group, nation, and tongue. The church is the greatest empire the world has ever seen.
It is the great empire of Ezekiel 17, which Jesus is referring to, where the prophet Ezekiel sees this vision the Lord God takes a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar...and...plants it...23 on the mountain height of Israel..., that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest....I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.
The kingdom of God will flourish because our Sovereign Lord wills it. He has spoken and he will do it. From the beginning of “sprig from the lofty top of the cedar” (Jesus, the descendant of King David, the “lofty top” of the cedar, Israel), to the mountain height of Israel (Jesus crucified in Jerusalem on top of Mount Zion), to birds (nations) nesting under its shade.
The invisible church, with invisible power going out among all the nations. Note I said invisible as not all of the visible “church” is indeed part of the kingdom of God. For who is it that belongs to the kingdom? Who are Jesus’ mother and brothers? It is those who do the will of God: listen to Jesus.

And that is helpful for us here in little Rock International Church. For our job is to be faithful to the words of Jesus. To listen to him. To help others listen to him. And then to trust in the unseen power to bring growth. We will not grow either in numbers, or in maturity, in any other way. We must listen to Jesus. No strategies or methods or techniques or music or styles of preaching or hours of prayer or technologies or whatever else. No, we humble ourselves before the word of Jesus, and trust in his unstoppable power.

For he is the King of God’s Kingdom. He is the secret revealed. He is the word spoken.

And we respond by listening, and in joy receiving the word, trusting the Lord of the harvest to do his work, and produce a harvest within us.

Christian, rejoice and praise the Lord of the Harvest.

Non-Christian, repent of your unbelief, and accept the word of the King as truth.

Praise Him with great praise! Amen.

torsdag 2. august 2012


"if we obey God’s law without a belief that we are already accepted and loved in Christ, then in all our good deeds we are really looking to something more than Jesus to be the real source of our meaning and happiness. [idolatry]"
We ARE accepted and loved in Christ. Isn't that Good News!
Let's live it out in everyday life, joyfully, resting in that perfect acceptance, not striving to "perform"