søndag 30. september 2012

Mark 9:9-50 True greatness

Mark 9:9-50

I have to admit that tonight’s passage really puzzled me. As I was working on it I realized that it didn’t say what I thought it said, and then I realized that I didn’t actually know what it said. And I’ve got to teach this in a few days time! Panic! Pray!

But how often do we just “read” something without reading it. Our brain is extremely efficient – it likes to create heuristics: shortcuts for familiar tasks. The first time you drive to a new job, you notice everything along the way. You focus on the road. You notice the view. You see the flowers and trees and shops and people and everything. 3 weeks later you register none of that. You arrive home and you don’t remember the drive. Your brain has shifted into “repeat mode” (heuristics).
The danger is when we do that to the Bible. It takes effort to read the Bible because our brain is lazy and just sees what it thinks is already there – it takes the short-cut! That’s why God repeatedly urges us to work hard, stay awake, beat our body into submission, make every effort. To hear his voice takes active effort on our part! The Holy Spirit doesn’t swan down and deposit wisdom in our minds! That’s why the apostles in the early church devoted themselves to teaching and preaching (and prayer!).

The big theme here in this section from 8:22 (the miracle of the blind man receiving sight in two stages) to 10:46 (blind Bartimeus receiving sight) is true greatness in the Kingdom of God.
What does it look like to follow Jesus? What does it mean to serve in the kingdom?

The disciples are being trained to follow in Jesus’ footsteps: how should they act as his representatives.
And what Jesus does is turn everything upside down (or right way up). True greatness is seen in service. Leadership is sacrificial love. Kingship is being treated as a slave. Victory is achieved through defeat, salvation for everyone through death of one man, Jesus. Christus Victor (the victorious Christ) is the one who is “suffering many things” and being “treated with contempt”.

Restoration of all things comes through things getting seemingly worse.

 1. True greatness starts with a declaration of humility: prayer 

We see this in v29 And [Jesus] said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

What is prayer? It is talking to God. It is asking him for things. It is acknowledging that he is greater than I, that he is more powerful than I am, that he is the Creator, the King, and I am a creature, a subject in his Kingdom.

We’ve got quite a cast of characters here in this story: The disciples, the demon-possessed boy, the father, Jesus, the crowd, and the scribes (teachers of the Law, religious leaders). When Jesus comes down the mountain there is a massive argument going on. The scribes are arguing with the disciples, and the reason is soon apparent – they were not able to cast out the demon (v18). We don’t know what the scribes were saying, but they were probably calling out the disciples as fakes, fraudsters. And, in this case, the scribes were right.

Listen to Jesus in v19 O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.

What was the disciples’ problem? They were trying to do this miracle by themselves. They thought that by virtue of their position as Jesus’ disciples that they had power. It was idolatry: they replaced Jesus with themselves as their authority and power. Just as in Exodus when Moses comes down the mountain after seeing God’s glory, Peter, James, John come down the mountain after seeing Jesus’ glory. The difference is that this time God is with them as the true Moses, coming down the mountain with the words of God – and faces the same issue: idolatry. The Israelites were worshipping a Golden Calf; the disciples worshipping their own power and position.

If that seems to you a bit of a stretch, or a bit harsh on the disciples, have a look at the context of this story. 8:14 Don’t be like the Pharisees. 9:34 the disciples argue about who is greatest. V38 John silenced someone because they weren’t following them! 10:35 James and John want to have the top positions. 10:13-17 the contrast of the rich young ruler depending on his own efforts for salvation, and the children dependant on others.

They could not cast out the demon because they did not pray. They did not declare their dependence on Jesus. They did not ask him to do what they could not. They were like the rich young ruler, like the Pharisees, great in their own eyes – instead of like children, asking Dad for help.

In contrast, the father of the demon-possessed boy, prays. Where? Have a look at v24. Jesus has just called him out on his lack of belief v23 ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes. And the man cries out “I believe; help my unbelief!”

That is prayer! “I believe; help my unbelief!” I can’t do it. I need help. That is why prayer is so vitally important. Not to give God information, like God’s sitting up in Heaven waiting for the daily news bulletin from Daniel, with no idea what’s going on! This is the Creator and sustainer of the Universe we’re talking about, the one who rules by absolute decree, where a he knows the number of hairs on your head, and a sparrow does not fall without him knowing, where he knows the words that you are going to speak even before you speak them. Prayer is not for God’s sake, to impress him or whatever. No, prayer is for our sake.

Every time we pray we declare to ourselves, to the spirit world, to the watching universe, to those around us, that we are dependent on God. We cry “I believe; help my unbelief!” Jesus, we need you.

In the Batman movie “The Dark Knight” we find a couple of people dressing up like Batman to take on criminals. Of course, these guys aren’t Batman. They don’t have the training, they don’t have the gadgets, they don’t have the skills. And so, when they go up against the baddies, they lose. They’re not Batman. They might have a similar costume, they might be pretending they’re Batman – but they are not. They need the real Batman to come and rescue them! The disciples here are dressing up like Jesus, pretending they’re Jesus. But they’re not. They need the real Jesus to come and rescue them.

If the disciples had prayed, declared their dependence on Jesus, they would have been able to cast the demon out. They would have been great! But they were arrogant, tried to do it in their own strength, and so were caught out.

Application: If we want to be great in the Kingdom of God, do great things for God, we need to start by humbling ourselves in prayer before the only one who truly is great: Almighty God.

Impossible application: We don’t need God to be great in his kingdom. I can live a good Christian life without God.

Possible application: Find times for regular prayer. Set aside time each day to read the bible and pray. Pray after dinner with your children. Pray with your wife. Have times of extended prayer (I’ve found walking in the forest helps me to concentrate. Notodden is great for this – so much beautiful nature!). Plan to pray – make it part of your schedule, otherwise you won’t.

2. True greatness is humbly serving, not bossing people around 

There is great irony in this passage, we should see the humour! In v31 Jesus is describing his supreme act of service: the Son of Man, the great figure in Daniel 7 being given all power and authority over all the earth, a kingdom without end; this Son of Man stoops down to serve, even to death on a cross. Wow. “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.

But the disciples? They are arguing about which of them is the greatest (v34)! Doh! They do not want to serve, but to be great. Jesus says to be great in His Kingdom, you have to serve: 35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

Last week we heard Jesus say , “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”. If that is true of every follower of Christ, how much more of the leaders of the church!

Because here they are acting like the Pharisees! Arrogant, self-righteous, think they deserve reward and recognition because of their position. They are not considering themselves as servants of Jesus, but princes in his kingdom.

So Jesus shocks them out of their grandiose daydreams by taking a child – a child! – and saying you need to serve such as these. 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

This would have shocked the disciples! Grown men “receiving” a child?! Treating a child like an honoured guest. You must be mad Jesus! Children were not exactly at the top of the pecking order in society. Deny yourself. Be the last of all. The servant of all. The least in society you receive, because the way you treat others, whatever their status, is the way you treat me.

In South Africa friends of ours adopted a little girl called Poppy Honey. They are white, she is black. They are rich, she is poor. They are healthy, she is disabled with Cerebral Palsy. She is utterly helpless, utterly weak, a burden on society. Yet Ross and Lindy Andersen are looking after her. Feeding her, clothing her loving her. Using time and energy and love. Why? Because to receive such as these is to receive Jesus.

What we do with others reflects how we feel about Jesus. The disciples are called to honour Jesus in their lives so much that they are willing to be last, willing to serve even the lowest in society. And so are we.

Impossible application: We can be great in the kingdom by refusing to serve, by standing on our rights, by lording it over others.

That’s why John’s response is so hilariously inappropriate. It is an absolute clanger! Irony! He completely misses the point of Jesus’ words and proceeds to proudly tell Jesus how he put this guy in his place. How dare this guy go around casting out demons when the disciples, the Twelve Apostles, Jesus’ closest followers, couldn’t do it…. Perhaps a bit of embarrassment lay behind the disciples wanting to stop this guy? It was certainly selfish – listen to what John actually says “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name (what they should have been doing!), and we tried to stop him, because he was not following [what would you expect here? Jesus. But, no, he says:] us.
The man was obviously a believer, he was dependant on Jesus (praying), and the demons were obeying, so the man wasn’t simply invoking Jesus’ name as a chant but really trusted in Jesus. But the disciples are angry, not because the man is not following Jesus (because he is), but he’s not following THEM. He’s messing up their neat little organisational Chart of Greatness that they were drawing up on the road.

Jesus’ rebuke is stark. Your desire for power, your wanting to lord it over people, your arrogant assumption of authority, your bossing people around - can lead people to hell. V42 Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

3. True greatness is pointing people away from hell, and to Jesus 

It may seem to us that Jesus is overdoing this point a little bit. Ok, we get it, but 2 chapters of “Kingdom greatness is seen in service” seems a little much. But in vv42-50 we see why it is so essential. Because if they get this wrong they could be condemning people to hell.

Christianity is not just a bunch of intellectual doctrines – it is a complete change of lifestyle. From self-service and self-centeredness to Christ-service and Christ-centeredness, which is shown in how we treat others. You see, the way we act has consequences. As someone has said “You may be the only Bible people ever read”. You represent Jesus.

Here in Norway we have a fantastic society – the best in the world. It is built on values of compassion, other-person-centeredness, service of the weak. It is built on a thousand years of Gospel witness shaping and changing our society: men and women modelling the Upside-down kingdom.

Nowhere in world history is compassion seen as a strength in leaders – except for areas influenced by Christianity. Our natural instincts are to make ourselves great, to use our strength to crush, to intimidate, to rule with the iron fist. But if we do that, if we do that particularly in the Christian church, we soil the message, we destroy the work of Christ, we rubbish the Gospel. Cut it out, cut it off, throw it away -. Whatever causes you to sin, get rid of it. For your sin can cause others to stumble and fall into sin.

Dear friends, we have a responsibility to follow Christ. In our own town our churches have terrible reputations amongst non-believers, because of Christians squabbling among themselves, trying to be the greatest. Too often have I met people who want nothing to do with the church because of Christians. Too often have I met Christians deeply scarred by the sins of other Christian leaders. Brothers, this should not be so!
Our town, these people, our neighbours, our brothers and sisters, are a gift to us. Notodden is a gift. Let us honour Christ in Notodden. Let us shine like lights in Notodden. Let us be salty salt, being at peace with each other (not fighting, trying to be great), eager to serve, eager to do what is right.

Why? Because the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.
Jesus has made us right with him. He is the Messiah, the rescuer. We are right with God. We are made as righteous as Jesus. Let us act like it. And we have declared our dependence on him, declared him as our Lord – so let us obey him. Let us throw away our “rights” and our demands for how our life must be, and serve wherever He sends us, and whoever is there.

This is not just applicable to the church, but wherever we are. At work, we serve our boss, the shareholders, our customers by working hard – for Jesus. At home we serve our wives, our children, our husbands – for Jesus. We open our home to people – for Jesus. We invite the lonely to join us – for Jesus. We look after orphans and widows – for Jesus. We witness – for Jesus. We take every opportunity to tell people about Jesus – for Jesus.

No matter the cost. Who cares! Who cares about our reputation ("people think I’m a God-botherer, a fanatic"). Who cares about how much money it costs to support Gospel work. Who cares how hard it is to walk away from the flirtatious woman at work. Who cares how weird people think we are for our stance on sexuality. Because we belong to Jesus. And if we have to “cut off” our hands or feet, reputation, rights, desires we will do so! (Just to clarify: Jesus is using an illustration here, we're not actually called to start literally cutting off arms and legs and eyes)! Whatever is causing you to sin, and therefore mislead others, cut it off. For it is better to enter life “crippled” than to keep hold of that which we think is oh so valuable and go to hell where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.

Impossible application: We can lead people to Christ while seeking for self-glorification, while bickering over who’s the greatest.

To be great in the Kingdom is to reflect Christ. We follow in his footsteps: the Servant King.
We pray, declaring our dependence upon him.
We humbly serve people instead of bossing people around.
We lay aside our rights and our demands in order to lead people from the precipice of hell and point them to Jesus.

 May God grant us the grace to show Jesus in our lives to those around us.
May we be an advert of grace.
In Jesus Name. Amen.

torsdag 27. september 2012

Mark 8:29-9:13 The cost of following Jesus is “your” life

Mark 8:29-9:13

I love Communism. It’s a system based on sharing, where everyone is equal, where people work out of the goodness of their heart for the benefit of their fellow man, rather than for selfish motives. It’s a great system. But it’s also a stupid system. Utterly foolish. Because it presumes that people will act for the good of others. It presumes that central leaders with unsurpassed power will not act selfishly or corruptly. Capitalism assumes that people are selfish and greedy, and harnesses that selfishness to make the system work. It is sad that communism fails, and capitalism succeeds. It tells a sad story about us.

The fall of Communism and the (relative) success of capitalism confirms what the Bible says about people: we are utterly selfish, devoted only to our own well-being. We need a saviour. We need someone to change our selfish hearts into selfless hearts. We need a rescuer: a Messiah, a Christ.

1. “I see people, but they look like trees”

Mark 8:29 is a watershed moment in the gospel of Mark. The first 8 chapters have all been leading up to this point: WHO IS JESUS? Who is this man who can walk on water, heal the sick, who has obvious awesome power, and yet is humble and kind and compassionate and never strikes back at his enemies or detractors? Who is this man filled with power and authority?
 Ding! The lightbulb goes off, and Peter finally declares: You are the Christ!

Now if you look for Christ or Messiah (the Hebrew word for Christ (“kristos” is Greek, the language the New Testament was written in)) – if you search for the word Messiah in the Old Testament you won’t find it. Because Messiah just means “anointed” (oil poured on a person or thing to set it apart as holy). People anointed for service were the priests (working in the Temple, performing the sacrifices for the people before God – mediators between the people and God); the prophets (who spoke God’s word); the kings (rulers of God’s people).

The Messiah, therefore, was a prophet, a priest or a king, or perhaps all three! Someone set apart for the service of God. The Old Testament (Hebrew portion of the Bible) looked forward to an “Anointed One” who would come: A prophet like Moses; A king like David; The anointed Servant of Isaiah (e.g. Is 53).

The dominant thinking in the time of Jesus was the “king like David” Messiah. A political liberator. The Jews were ruled over by Rome, and they wanted salvation. They wanted power and influence and prestige like they had in the days of old. They wanted to be out from under the boot of Rome, and their puppet king, Herod. Herod’s taxes were heavy, and the soldiers and tax collectors often took much even more than the already heavy taxes. Life was hard, unfair. The Jews were reduced to an insignificant part of a vast Empire.

So when Peter declares “you are the Christ”, that’s what he has in mind: a warrior King like David. But he has forgotten the other pictures of the Messiah: the leader of the Exodus, Moses, and the Suffering Servant from Isaiah. And Jesus rebukes him - For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.
Peter’s words are the words of Satan, tempting Jesus to take the easy road, paved with instant glory, instead of the hard road of suffering and death.
I know which way I would have gone. But not Jesus. For he knows who he is: the Messiah. Not just the warrior king like David, but also the Prophet, Suffering Servant. Indeed the way he wages war is with the words of his mouth (Rom 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation for all who believe), and through his suffering and death.

Jesus IS the warrior King like David, the one who will fight death and sin and defeat it, the one who will overthrow the works of Satan (which means “the Adversary”/”the Enemy”), and will be seated on his throne, high and lifted up, glorious and powerful. But he does this in a way beyond the disciples’, and indeed our, comprehension. He will achieve this by dying.

31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly.

In Halifax, 1917, a munitions ship was on fire and about to explode in the harbour. The train station was right next to the harbour, and the incoming passenger trains were unaware of the imminent explosion. But for one man, hundreds would have died. Vince Coleman, a train dispatcher, stayed at his post in order to broadcast a message to stop the trains coming into the city He was killed in the explosion, but saved hundreds of lives. His last words (via Morse code) were "Hold up the train. Munitions ship on fire and making for Pier 6... Goodbye boys." 

Many people, like the disciples, do not understand Jesus’ words here. Many who call themselves Christians try and explain away the cross – or even deny it. Some feel sorry for Jesus. But this is the heart of the Gospel! This is where we see God’s awesome love. This is how God can forgive sinners – by bearing the cost himself. This is love: that Jesus lays down his life for us who believe in him.

1 Co 1:22–25 (ESV) For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. And therefore he must die, for there is no other way he can save his people throughout time and space. He is the faithful servant, the glorious warrior king, who dies to save us – and then demands that those who follow him must die too.

2. Following Jesus means he lives and you die.

Jesus uses shocking language here. We’re kind of used to it, so we miss the impact this would have had: 34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me". 

Crucifixion was the worst punishment the Romans could dish out. It was reserved for enemies of the Roman state and for the worst criminals. No Roman citizen could be crucified, it was that bad. Follow him on that path? The path of rejection, humiliation, even death?

Well, if you want to be a follower of Jesus, that is what you must do. It’s choosing to follow Jesus, wherever that path may lead. For some of disciples it led literally to crucifixion. They were called upon to die for Jesus, to be crucified for him. But that’s not just what it means – it doesn’t mean we all have to get on a physical cross. No. look at verse 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

We are called to “lose” our life – not on nothing, but for Jesus’ sake. In other words, live our life as if it belongs to Jesus, and not to us. To make friends for Jesus. To work for Jesus. To serve our families for Jesus. To use our money for Jesus. We’ll talk more in the next weeks about what it means to live for Jesus.
Randy Alcorn: "“Taking up your cross” means 10,000 little sacrifices, a lifetime of often unnoticed loving acts, which cumulatively become huge" – for Jesus. It’s not just big acts – it’s all the little moments which mark you out as a follower of Jesus. Not grand gestures, but a way of living, every moment as a son or daughter of God.

Because that’s the only way to live! “This day, choose life” said Moses, the prophet of God, to the people in Deut 30:19. Jesus, the true Prophet, the better Prophet, the better Moses leading the better Exodus (rescue) is saying: “Choose life!”.

Why? Because to live any other way leads to death. Even if, by ignoring Jesus, you could gain the whole world, what a waste because you lose your very soul. V36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? Steve Jobs was on top of the world. He’d rebuilt Apple into the biggest and most successful company in the world. But he died. And he died rejecting Jesus. What a fool, says Jesus. Do you think he can offer Apple stock to God? He owns the Universe! For what can a man give in return for his soul?

Only Jesus can save us. Only his blood is sufficient to be a perfect sacrifice. Only Jesus is enough. Nothing else will work.

On Friday we received “Inspirasjon” the magazine from the local state church. The magazine goes out to the whole of Notodden, reaching thousands of non-Christians. I read it, and was firstly astounded to read that there was no gospel in it at all. No explanation that we are sinners, saved by grace, through Jesus’ death on the Cross. But then I was even more astounded when I realised that in this Christian publication, issued to every household in our town, whether non-Christian or Christian, the name Jesus was not mentioned once. Not once. Now I’m not saying that the people who made the magazine hate Jesus, or aren’t Christians – but they have forgotten what or who is of primary importance. They forgot why we exist as a church: to give glory to Jesus. They forgot how people are saved: only through the gospel of Jesus (Jesus Christ our Lord). They sent out a message that being a Christian is being friendly and good and sociable, and Jesus is irrelevant. They may not have meant to send that message, but they did.

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

Let your life reflect your devotion to Jesus. If you have been rescued by him, let your joy shine through. Christians should be talking about Jesus, excited about Jesus, waiting for Jesus’ return, praying to Jesus, preaching about Jesus, teaching about Jesus, telling their children about Jesus, giving their money for Jesus, giving their time for Jesus, making friends for Jesus, choosing where they will live and work for Jesus. Our lives should be one big advert proclaiming JESUS! I am saved by his grace. Put your puny ambitions to death, your foolish plans for you life to death, and follow Jesus on the road to humiliation, to death, and to eternal GLORY, eternal life.

3. Following Jesus is a secure investment

We’re called to bank everything on Jesus. Being crucified does not involve holding something back for yourself! Losing your life is pretty final. These are the words Jesus uses. You cannot be a Sunday Christian.

Jesus is Lord of all, or not Lord at all. There is nothing in all Creation over which Jesus does not say “this is mine!” – there is nothing in your life over which Jesus does not say “this is mine. This belongs to me”.

So, it’s a big risk. Are the promised rewards of eternal life, real life now, the best life now, the only way to live – are these backed up by anything?

If you pull out a kr100 note it’s backed by bank of Norway. If I’d pulled out a Zimbabwean dollar bill, you’d feel a little less secure. Or the bank of Greece or Spain! Can Jesus back up his promises? Is he right about his view of the Messiah?

3 [Jesus] led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus… a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

Jesus is revealed in all his glory on the mountaintop. With him stands Moses, the Law-giver, and Elijah, the greatest of the prophets: “the Law and the Prophets” being a way to describe the Old Testament. Them appearing with Jesus is saying “We testify to Jesus”. The Old Testament, the Holy Scriptures, say that Jesus is right. This is my son, listen to him.

Additionally, Elijah and Moses are the only two people to whom God revealed himself. Both on mountains, God passes before them and reveals himself. And here Peter, James and John are led up onto the mountainside to see the glory of Jesus revealed. Jesus is Almighty God, revealed in his glory before them. Here then is the Name of God, his very nature, standing before them in human form.

Jesus is God, LISTEN TO HIM. What he says about the Messiah is right. What he says about his death and resurrection is true. His words bring life, since he is the One who speaks life into existence. Listen to him.

I started off by saying that looking around at this world reveals that we need a saviour. The Jews, the disciples wanted a political saviour, a Barak Obama to swoop in and rescue them – but they misunderstood the problem. The problem is not circumstances, but deep in our heart. Jesus did not come to rescue them (or us) from physical oppression, but spiritual oppression. They saw the burden of Rome, but not the burden of sin! Jesus came in order to rescue us from our sin, taking the punishment upon himself, the warrior King, fighting by dying, the suffering servant upon the cross, faithful to the end.

The rescue is available to everyone, but the cost is a change of allegiance – instead of the kingdom of ME, you know belong to the kingdom of God. Instead of you pretending to control your life, you now bow to Jesus and let him control your life. You die to self and live for Christ. You are not your own, you belong to him.

But that’s worth it, because he is the life-giver. In Jesus, and him alone real, joyful, free, life is found; eternal life. And he can guarantee it because he is the Creator God, maker of heaven and earth, vast in his glory and majesty – yet so full of love and compassion that he becomes as nothing, the servant king, willing to suffer and die in order to rescue a people for himself. If you belong to Jesus, bear his name with joy and gratitude, and live for him, no matter what the cost.

tirsdag 25. september 2012

Year Planner - What's happening at Rock International

Note that the “year planner” tab has been added to the homepage (top right), although we’ve only planned to January!. This gives you an idea of what’s coming up in the next few months. 

Highlights include: 

NEXT SATURDAY 6 October: (NEWSFLASH: POSTPONED UNTIL BEFORE CHRISTMAS) Cooking demonstration . Invite friends, neighbours etc! Anne Hay will demonstrate how to cook some traditional Norwegian dishes. It will be held on the farm (Tinnegrend 446). More info to follow.  

The Saturday 13 October is a MEN’S BREAKFAST. Please start praying for that! May the Lord bring many men, and may their hearts be turned to obedience to the Lord God. 

Church Bible Studies are up and running for men and women every Wednesday at 7:30p.m. We’re exploring the fantastic book of Romans, laying out what Christians believe, and how that affects our life. The group meets at Harald Bjerkesgate 26 (Daniel & Debby’s house) at 7:30p.m. 

Public launch of the church happens 28 October (date subject to change!) together with a change of venue (to be announced). We want to make a big evangelistic push with this: flyers, posters, invitations, etc. We will be inviting representatives from the other churches as well to join us, to thank them for the work they have done in spreading the gospel, to pray of them and encourage them not to lose heart, but to trust that the gospel (Jesus making us right with God through his death on the Cross) is the power of God for salvation for all who believe (Rom 1:16). Let us be unashamed of the power and Lordship of Jesus! 

Teaser Trailer for next sermon series…: in January we’ll start looking at what the Old Testament prophet Amos has to say. We’ll find that he’s surprisingly relevant to us, and has a great deal to reveal about the Lord Jesus Christ. Amos will also help you to understand the Old Testament, particularly the prophets. It’s all about Jesus! It’s all about our glorious, awesome, to-be-feared, merciful, loving, generous God! Please pray as we prepare this, that the Holy Spirit would speak clearly through His Word.

søndag 16. september 2012

Evidence that demands a verdict: “Who do you say that I am?”

Mark 8:1-29

There is a strange assumption in the Western world today that “Christian” is another word for gullible. I have often had people expecting me to be interested in whatever pseudo-spiritual New Age crystal healing human-centred philosophy they happen to be flogging. Oh, you’re religious, therefore you’ll be interested in this.

Well, quite frankly I’m not. I am, by nature, a sceptic.
I need evidence, convincing evidence, robust evidence, scientific evidence, before I believe. I don’t believe in crystal healing, chakra, horoscopes, aura energy, “angels”, avatars, outer-body experiences, etc. etc. Why? There’s no evidence. Just a mass of emotive words backed up by...nothing.

For the same reason I find other religions completely unconvincing. Bhuddism, Hinudism, Zoroastrianism - none of them have a concept of truth. It doesn’t matter if Bhudda actually existed or not – all that matters is the path to enlightenment. Hinduism has thousands of gods- take your pick. It also has Holy Scriptures, but they are written in a language no-one understands! It doesn’t matter. There is no evidence, just believe.
Islam, likewise, has no evidence. Mohammed received revelation from the angel – believe it on faith. Joseph Smith also received revelation from an angel – believe him, and you can be a Mormon. Mohammed and Joseph Smith both fulfilled no prophecy, did no miraculous works, and both died (Smith was killed by a mob after he was accused of treason). With all these religions, you just have to have faith. There is no evidence to back up that faith. If you like it, or are born into it, then simply trust that this is the way the world works.

This is NOT how Christianity works. This is not how the God of the Bible expects us to respond. It is not how Jesus expects us to respond. We respond with faith on the basis of evidence.

I am a sceptic, but also a deeply committed Christian. Why? Because I cannot get away from the overwhelming evidence that Jesus is who he says he is. And he proved it by rising from the dead. That’s something you can’t fake. And if he is who he says he is, if he truly is God almighty, who can create something out of nothing (like food for four thousand out of seven small loaves of bread), then I have to believe it. I am not rational if I simply ignore the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. I am a fool. I’m living in as much of a fantasy world as every other New Age guru claiming to be in touch with Mother Earth.

Christianity has always been about the evidence. That is what the early Christians proclaimed. That is what we proclaim.
Christ crucified, Christ risen, Christ will come again.
Investigate the evidence, and believe on the basis of evidence. There is no emotionalism, no manipulation, no trying to pull the wool over your eyes. It happened.

Who do you say that I am? Disciples, you’ve been with me for over two years now – who am I?

And what have they seen? Power over evil spirits, even 2000 at one time. Power over sickness – even at a word, even over great distances! Power over creation, storms lie flat at his command, and he can walk on water as if it were dry land. And power to forgive sins.

Who is this man?

“You are the Christ”.

Let’s take a closer look at tonight’s passage, and see what it tells us about Jesus.

1. Evidence of great power – even over Gentiles

Why another feeding miracle?

Firstly, he’s not in Israel, with Jews – he’s in a Gentile region, with a crowd of Gentiles – and does the same Exodus-type feeding miracle. Gentiles, now, are included in this true Exodus. The “unclean” can now be made “clean” (that is, holy) through Jesus.
We saw last week that unclean food was declared clean (7:15 it is not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out of a man) – now an unclean people are declared clean.
Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod – beware of the old way of thinking that will poison your mind and make you unable to see the truth. The disciples are so dull. They don’t understand! They need a miracle to open their eyes, to free their mind, to let them see the evidence that is so clearly before them, but they’re too wrapped up in old ways of thinking.

Jesus is able to take seven loaves, and feed everyone with seven baskets left over. Seven is symbolic for completeness, fullness, holiness. It’s a further indication or confirmation of Jesus’ masterwork: declaring the unclean, clean, the unholy, holy. 7:37 He does all things well.

Secondly, his power is not territorial. He’s not a God of Israel only, but of the whole world. He proved it with Legion, proved it with healing the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter as we saw last week, proved it by walking on the water. He is Lord over all peoples, all nations, all territories, all countries. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, he is Lord and Master – and can declare you holy. (That’s why we’re Rock INTERNATIONAL Church!)

He is, indeed, the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One who would fulfil the Abrahamic Covenant, to be a blessing to all nations. He is the King, the fulfilment of the Davidic Covenant, the eternal king who will rule forever. And he is the fulfilment of the Mosaic Covenant – the one who chose life by following the Law, then gave up that life in order to give life to others. He is the better Abraham, the better David, the better Moses, the better sacrifice, the better Temple, the better leader of the Exodus, the one true Saviour, Almighty God.

There’s a fantastic story in the Old Testament, when the Philistines beat Israel, and take the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s presence with his people. Now God had done this to warn his people because of their continued rebellion – but the Philistines thought their god, Dagon, had beaten Israel’s God. So they took the Ark and put it in front of the idol of their god. When they came into the temple the next day, Dagon had fallen off his pedestal and was lying face down before the Ark of God! Oops. So they dutifully picked their god up, and put him back on the pedestal. Needless to say, God knocked Dagon down again, and the next day when the Philistines came in, Dagon once again lay face down before the Ark, and this time his hands and head had broken off! God is not God of a nation, but of the Universe. Nowhere is beyond his power, no-one beyond his reach, and no god is greater than our God, Father, Son and Spirit. 

Application: Be thankful that Jesus can save anyone, no matter their background, ethnic group, family, sexual orientation, past history, nationality, religious belief (or lack thereof), language group, colour, or anything else

Impossible Application: I am beyond Jesus. My friend is beyond Jesus. My sins / their sins exclude them. Jesus doesn’t have power over Norway/Sudan/wherever.

Possible application: Spend time in prayer, asking God to save your friends, family, work colleagues, neighbours. And tell them the gospel (Jesus Christ our Lord). And invite them to church.

2. Evidence from the signs 

Verse 11 is rather strange, don’t you think? The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.
How many more signs do you want?! Good grief! There’s more than enough evidence to convince them, but they don’t want to be convinced.

“I’ve made up my mind – don’t confuse me with the facts” says a humorous poster… but that’s exactly what the Pharisees are doing. They have made up their mind about Jesus, and nothing, not even mighty miraculous works which show how wrong they are, will change their mind. “I’ve made up my mind – don’t confuse me with the facts”

But that’s not just a first century problem is it? How many people today have the same attitude to Jesus? Resurrection is impossible. There’s no such thing as God. The Bible’s full of errors. Christianity’s just a crutch for the weak-minded. They operate from the “scientific” basis of a closed system – forgetting what any true scientist knows: that the closed system is an assumption, not a fact, and subject therefore to being overturned in light of the facts. Don’t make up your mind before you’ve heard the facts!

And that’s kind of the warning Jesus is giving the disciples as they Duuuuh talk about forgetting bread. Beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod. Don’t be caught in the judgement of Isaiah 6 (back in Mark 4) “They shall be ever-hearing but never understand, seeing, but not perceiving

The Pharisees, like Herod, do not see because they are in love with their own power. They will not repent, and so are exiled from the Exodus.

Jesus’ words here echo the judgement warning in Isaiah, where he predicted the destruction of Jerusalem because of the people’s idolatry, and the leaders’ hard hearts. They claimed to love God with their lips, but their hearts were far from him. Jesus is leading the new Exodus, the new people of Israel, but their hearts are far from him.

This quote also echoes Jeremiah 5:21 and Ezekiel 12:2 (in fact, more directly than the Isaiah quote, although in Mark the Isaiah echoes are stronger). In both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, rebellious Israel is in view – hard hearts, rebellious actions. In Ezekiel the rebellion is by the exiles! They have learnt nothing from their punishment. Is there any hope? Is there any hope for Israel?

Well, not for the Pharisees, it seems, as they have stopped their ears, and refuse to listen to Jesus. And so comes his terrifying judgement in verse 12b : “No sign will be given to this generation” And he left them.

But who is still with him? The disciples. The faithful remnant of Israel. Yes, they may be just as dull and uncomprehending as the Pharisees, but they’re still with Jesus. And with Jesus is where the miracles happen.

In movies like The Pelican Brief, Murder at 1600, and Clear and Present Danger, our heroes stop at nothing to uncover the truth, no matter what the cost, no matter how unpleasant the truth (Gasp! Not the White House! Surely the President couldn’t be involved). They are heroes because they don’t give up. The truth matters. How much more when it comes to our eternal destiny. The truth matters. Don’t be a close-minded fool, but seek the truth, no matter how unpleasant the revelations about humanity, or how fantastic the revelations about grace! 

Application: There is evidence enough for the open-minded to see that Jesus is God.

Impossible Application: There is no evidence.

So? Trust the truth. Trust Jesus. Trust the evidence that reveals that he is God. He is the Messiah, the Christ. He is the Saviour and he is strong enough to be saved, so if you trust in Him you are truly saved. No need to fear! And he is strong enough to save those you know, too.

3. Evidence is not enough

Last week we saw the real problem behind Israel’s rejection of Jesus: the heart. Our hearts are evil and rebellious, it is what comes out of us that makes us unclean. So, although the evidence is there, we reject it, our friends reject it, the media reject it – because we are sinners, and want to go on sinning. We want to justify ourselves, call our wrongs right: It’s love. It’s just business. I had to. I had no choice. He was going to do it anyway. Everybody’s doing it.

It’s a spiritual problem, and requires a spiritual solution. And only Jesus can provide that solution.

Why do you think there’s a strange two-stage healing miracle sandwiched between Jesus saying “Are you so dull” and Peter suddenly making the good confession “You are the Christ!”

What caused the sudden change?

Having eyes, [Peter], do you not see (v18). No, he is blind, and he needs Jesus to open them - which is exactly what Jesus does. Again we see a spiritual reality reflected with a visible miracle. Previously we saw a paralysed man get up and walk to demonstrate that Jesus has the power to forgive sins. Now we see a blind man receive his sight – and the disciples suddenly see with spiritual eyes: You are the Christ! You are the Christ!

This is a typical technique of Mark’s, where he sandwiches three stories together – the centre (meat) explaining the two slices of bread. How do blind people see? Only through Jesus.

Yes, the evidence is compelling, but if we want our friends, our work colleagues to see Jesus, we must be praying for them. Only Jesus can change their hearts. Only Jesus can open their eyes.

I was raised in a fantastic Christian home. I had one of the most privileged upbringing one could have- in all possible ways, including spiritually. I knew all the right answers, read my Bible dutifully every day, but I was a dull as a brick. My lips professed faith, but my heart was far from God. My life gave little evidence of my belief in Jesus. Until one night, in the autumn of 1995, God laid his hands on me, challenged my unbelief, and commanded me to repent. It was a miracle. The next morning, the world was the same, but it was as if the previous day it was grey and faded, and today it was filled with sunlight and colour, everything bright and wonderful. I could see! Suddenly I could see. 

Jesus is the Christ, the promised rescuer, the faithful servant, Almighty God. The evidence is there for those who are open-minded. It is intellectually defensible.

Jesus is the Saviour, and he is powerful to save. So trust him. If you believe in Him (that means, place your life in his hands and seek to live by his command, not to earn salvation but because you are already saved and that’s how saved people live!) - if you believe in him, trust that you are saved.

And if you don’t believe? Well, have you looked at the evidence? No? Well, keep coming on Sundays at 5pm as we work our way through Mark – eyewitness testimony to Jesus’ life. And come to the Church Bible Studies on Wednesday nights at 7:30pm as we read the book of Romans together, which lays out exactly what Christians believe and why.

And if you’ve examined the evidence and understand that Jesus is God. Then repent of living for yourself, ask Jesus to be your Saviour and Master, and live for him, in the freedom of forgiveness.

mandag 10. september 2012

Mark 7:1-37 “The problem with the world is me.”

Almost everyone agrees that Jesus was a good man. I mean, who can’t like “turn the other cheek” and the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Treat others with love and compassion, the way you want to be treated? Yes!

But why, then, is he universally hated, mocked, ridiculed? Why is his name a swear word? Why do his followers get murdered, beaten, attacked, or in Norway, politely ignored?

In tonight’s passage Jesus gives us the answer: the problem is a heart issue. Our hearts are bent, foul, diseased. Evil thoughts, evil actions come from within – and that is why we rebel against God, and his anointed servant, the King Himself, Jesus.

And the problem of the heart is not one that can be solved by religion, by law-keeping, by strenuous discipline or intense effort. That just leads further down the path of self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, self-absorption; instead of reliance on God, accepting God’s righteousness, and loving God.

And here we have the true example of this. The Pharisees were the good guys, the righteous ones, the upstanding in the community, well-respected. They went to synagogue daily, read the Scriptures, followed the law, tithed everything, even their garden herbs. These guys were the best of the best. Yet all their “goodness” drives them to hate Jesus.

They need a miracle. They need to be saved from themselves. They need their deaf ears opened to change their arrogant hearts into humble hearts. They need to approach Jesus in humility and beg him to heal them, acknowledging that they have no right to ask him this, but simply trusting in his mercy.

1. We hate Jesus because we are sinners 

The Pharisees are the best of the best: upstanding citizens, devoted to good works, well respected, loved the Law of God, and knew it very well. They were über-Jews – the cream of the crop of the Jewish nation. They had gone as far as it is possible to go in the direction of obeying God’s Law. They even had new laws to make sure they didn’t break God’s Law – like a glass case around a priceless treasure, they had these laws around God’s Law. And these were the laws Jesus kept breaking!

“They’re not washing their hands before they eat” is the complaint. V5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” They thought that external dirt – dirty hands – could make you spiritually, inwardly, unclean. And therefore, by washing externally you could make yourself inwardly, spiritually clean.

You see, the Pharisees are making a common mistake: they think that by their actions they can make themselves holy. This kind of thinking was stated most clearly by the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, but it’s a trap that we all fall into. Righteous actions will make me righteous. It’s a trap even the church falls continually into, especially so just before the Reformation.

But righteous actions don’t make us righteous. They make us arrogant and superior, if we think we’ve done it – or make us depressed and angry if we can’t achieve the standard of righteousness. Martin Luther, as a monk, dedicated his life to serving God, but found that the more he did for God, the more he strove to please God, the more he hated God because his demands were so high, so impossible.

Let’s say I hate grannies. That’s my problem (hypothetical!): I hate grannies. They’re so slow. So I go to these Pharisees and ask them “how do I learn to stop hating grannies”. What would be their solution? Well, like Aristotle, like the Catholic Church and many other “Christian” churches today, even in Norway, they would say “Help 10 grannies across the road. The way to love grannies is to do granny-loving acts.” The problem is that while helping grannies across the road I will be so enraged by their slowness that the hatred I feel for them will be growing more and more, even as I am outwardly loving them. That is why “religion” is not a solution to loving God. Going to church, serving God, helping in soup kitchens, praying good prayers, reading your Bible, tithing regularly - is all worthless, and dangerous, if not motivated from within, from the grace of God. Otherwise we are like Martin Luther, trying harder and harder, but finding ourselves further and further from God, hating Him instead of loving him. 

Application: You cannot be right with God by following the law, by external acts of righteousness, by being good.

Impossible application: I’m the exception, I can be right with God by following the Law. I’m good enough and perfect enough. It is impossible, because we are sinners.

2. The problem is sin. Sin lies within us, and destroys everything good 

Sin has always been the problem. It’s nothing new for God’s people to reject God – it’s been happening the whole way through the Old Testament! Jesus’ rejection is not, therefore, unsurprising, and is certainly not evidence that he isn’t God! God has always been rejected by his people – and Jesus shows them that by quoting from Isaiah the prophet, who was speaking to the Jewish leaders of his time (about 740B.C.), and applying it to them. 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “ ‘This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ (quoted from Isaiah 29:13)

Isaiah was warning of a terrible judgement because of their hypocrisy – claiming to serve God outwardly, but inwardly, and by their actions hating him. It’s people who claim to love God, but then lie and cheat and steal and pursue money, sex and power like everyone else. Norwegian has a great word for this “skinnhellig” – literally skin holiness.

And the result of this behaviour, this honouring with lips but not with heart? Jerusalem was ransacked, the Temple, the symbol of God living with his people – was destroyed, smashed to the ground, and the people of Israel were carried off into exile. Skin holiness doesn’t cut it. God is not fooled by outward appearances of holiness.

And Jesus is bringing the same damning words against the scribes and Pharisees in his day. ’ 8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

They claim to serve God – but what really motivates them? God, or their own ideas about God. They claim to know the Law, here represented by Moses – but Jesus says in verse 13 “You nullify the word of God by the tradition that you have handed down”. It’s the garden of Eden all over again – we want to be like God determining what is right and wrong. We decide. We ignore God’s law, and come up with our own. Even the best of us, the most religious, the ones who appear to seek God fall into this trap.

Why? Listen carefully, for this is the reason: 14 “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” … 20 “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Why do we hate God? It’s because we are inwardly defiled, inwardly rotten, inwardly rebellious, inwardly evil. The roots of sin and rebellion are deep, to the very core of our being. That’s why being good and moral does not work – it merely papers over the cracks.

And this explains the world! It explains why good and decent people do such terrible things. It explains why we have a world full of the Utøya massacre, 9/11, 20 years of war in Sudan, Apartheid, murders, theft, adultery, broken families, sexual abuse, abandoned children, etc. etc. We are not morally neutral people, standing above God and choosing between him and evil behaviour.

No, our deepest desire, our underlying longings, are to be our own master, to rebel against God and his good laws of love and self-sacrifice and honour and respect – and so we cannot do anything except choose ourselves. This is what the bondage of the will means. We are free to choose – but we will always choose what we love, what we desire most – and we do not desire God, we do not desire what is good.

We had a dog called Murphy – a big Red Rhodesian ridgeback. Beautiful dog. But sometimes he would roll in horses manure, and would need a bath (which he hated). Ears would go back, and he’d get what we came to call the “Murphy face”. Anyway, eventually we’d manage to get him to stand still for his bath – and while washing him, as he became clean, he suddenly turned into a majestic horse. He would neigh and stamp his foot, then I would leap upon his back and ride for miles. A noble steed. 
How many of you believe that he turned into a horse? Of course he didn’t – he was just a slightly cleaner dog. The horse-transformation is clearly nonsense. But if we won’t believe THAT story, why do we so readily believe that we can change our own hearts by doing good deeds. As Luther famously said on this matter of good works, you can wash a pig – but it’s still a pig. 

Not convinced?

(Gen 6:5 NIV) The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 

(Eph 2:1-2) As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 

(Ro 3:10–12) 10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” 

Jesus speaks the truth plainly. He does not sugar coat it. To make it hit home, I’m going to read it again, with my own name – put yours where mine is in your own mind.

20 “What comes out of Daniel is what defiles Daniel. 21 For from within, out of the heart of Daniel, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile Daniel.”

Application: We are spiritually unclean, evil, rebels against God, sinners to our deepest core.

Impossible application: I’m the exception. Unlike everyone else, I’m not a sinner in my inmost being. I can choose to obey God. I can do what is right. I can earn my salvation through my own efforts.

Possible application: What are the ways in which you’re doing that right now? Maybe it’s your attitude to church? Come if I want to – not understanding that it is your lifeline. Gathering together with other Christians to hear God’s Word is the most important thing you can do – because your heart is bent, you need regular corrective spiritual surgery!

Or maybe there are certain doctrines in the Bible that you disagree with – not remembering that your reason, your mind, is infected with sin, and the Bible is not.

Or maybe you are deliberately sinning, but reckoning that God will forgive you, or excusing it away as not really that serious. Maybe it’s viewing pornography, or reading trashy romance novels; or gossiping about other people (even the “stars”); or being discontented with your life or your house or your husband or your wife; or cowardice in sharing the gospel.

Whatever it is, recognise it as sin against Almighty God, and humble yourself to come and confess it.

We are sinners before the almighty God, unable to save ourselves. We are not the exception. We cannot choose to obey God.

What hope is there? Only Jesus. Jesus brings hope. For he is the one who can heal the unclean, who can rescue the undeserving, who can open the ears of the spiritually deaf, so that we who see but [can] not perceive, and...hear but [can] not understand, [can] turn and be forgiven.
Only by grace. Call out to him for healing.  

3. Only Jesus can save us from sin 

Praise God for these two stories after Jesus’ devastating words to the religious elite of Israel, where he declares a new exile for them and the coming wrath of God (which takes place as they reject Jesus and kill him, and 30 years later the Temple is utterly destroyed and in the 2000 years since, never rebuilt).
Jesus leaves Israel for the Gentile, unclean, region of Tyre and Sidon. There he is sought out by an unclean Gentile woman. She is utterly undeserving of attention by the Messiah. In contrast to the arrogant Pharisees, she does not take offense at Jesus’ words, she does not demand he behaves a certain way, she does not stand in judgement over him, but simply falls at his feet and begs him to help her. That is true faith!

Jesus tests her by using a traditional Jewish word for Gentiles “dogs”. He says, quite rightly, “you are undeserving”.
Her response is humble “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” I am indeed undeserving – but even a crumb of your mercy would satisfy me.

She realises her helplessness and For this statement you may go your way. She receives forgiveness, where the Pharisees, wrapped up in their own arrogance, not realising their spiritual bankruptcy, got nothing, and Jesus left them.

Jesus then moves on to another Gentile area, the Decapolis (where we met the man with a Legion of demons). What hope is there for Israel? What hope for the world that is deaf and dumb to God?

33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

For those of us locked under the judgement of Isaiah 6, a people deaf and dumb to the voice of the Anointed Servant, there is hope. For he can, in his mercy, declare “Be opened!”

Application: We need Jesus to open our spiritual ears. We need to approach him in humility, fall at his feet, and ask him to help us.

Impossible application: I am deaf but I can hear.

Why do people reject Jesus?
Because we are sinners, deaf to the voice of God.

We must understand we are sinners, undeserving and throw ourselves on the mercy of Jesus, asking him to open our ears so that we can hear his voice, and be transformed. The alternative is to try it on our own, striving so hard to be good enough, and falling short, bitterness and anger and depression consuming us.

lørdag 8. september 2012

NEW TIME SLOT! 17:00 (5 p.m.)

Summer is winding down and autumn is on the way, so the summer evening meetings are going the same way... from THIS SUNDAY (9 September) we will be meeting at 17:00 on Sunday evenings.

Same place, same teaching, same service, just new time.
See you on Sunday morning at our house, Harald Bjerkesgate 26 (now a bright red house!), near the playground in Tinnebyen. 

Church is the gathering of God's people gathered around God's word. Join us for church every Sunday at 17:00 as we gather to listen to the words of Almighty God. Truth ablaze!

søndag 2. september 2012

Mark 6:30-54 Jesus is the true shepherd of the true Exodus

One of the great iconic moments in history, told and retold, in movies such as The Ten Commandments (1956), The Prince of Egypt, Moses, and parodied in Bruce Almighty, is Moses holding his staff up at the shores of the Red Sea, a crowd of 1 million or so Israelites behind them – this, the final part of the great and miraculous rescue from slavery to freedom.

The Exodus! God, hearing the cries of his people, and remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God saw the people of Israel, and God knew. (Ex 2:24-25).

God demonstrates his awesome power, through ten plagues, successively worse, ending up in darkness over the whole land (the 9th plague, symbolising judgement), and then the death of the first-born son for every house that had rebelled against God. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, who believed himself to be God, had to admit that he was not God, that God was God, and that he had to obey the word of the Lord to let the twelve Tribes of Israel go.

Off they go, leaving Egypt, laden with riches and gifts from the Egyptians, heading towards the Red Sea. When they get there, God commands Moses to raise his staff, and causes a great wind to blow, parting the waters. Moses leads the people, walking across the sea. He leads them towards Mt Sinai, where God meets with his people, the great “I am”, Yahweh the God of the covenant, teaching his people what it means to be his people. He saved them, but that’s not all – he saved them to be with him, to walk in the good works that he prepared beforehand. They belong to him and He to them, now they need to know how to act like the people of the Holy and Majestic God of Hosts!
Keep the Exodus story in mind as we study tonight’s passage – you’ll notice many, many connections!

1. Jesus is the true Shepherd 

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.

Jesus is the good shepherd because, despite his weariness, he has compassion on the people. He is their leader, and so he leads, no matter the cost to himself. He is a selfless leader – the kind of leader we want. He’s the Nelson Mandela of the 1st century!

But it’s more than that – the phrase “sheep without a shepherd” would have been a familiar one to any Jew, or indeed anyone who knew the Old Testament at all. For Israel’s leaders were frequently said to be shepherds (either good or bad!) for God’s people (the “sheep”). In 1 Kings 22:17 Micaiah prophesies death of the King of Israel – says that then Israel scattered like sheep without a shepherd. The King of Israel is the shepherd. And in contrast to Herod, the titular King (he has the title “king”) who has abused his people, killed the prophet John, fears men (and women!) and not God, and doesn’t have a clue who Jesus is – Jesus is the true King, the good King, who has compassion on his people and leads them.

Israel’s spiritual leaders (the Pharisees, scribes, and teachers of the law) have failed Israel. Israel’s king has failed Israel. But Jesus – Jesus is the better priest, the better prophet, the better king. He is the true King, the true Shepherd, the Good Shepherd.

And did you notice how this Good Shepherd shepherds his people? And he began to teach them many things. Through his Word.

Today, the Good Shepherd teaches us many things through his word. And what he teaches is good, because he has our best interests at heart. And he is the King, speaking with authority,. His words are True, true truth. Do you believe it? Do you believe in the words of Jesus against the words of society, or your friends, or the media, or your teachers, or your co-workers, or psychologists or scientists, or even your religion. Don’t be fools! Their words are empty of wisdom because they are tainted by, affected by, sin. There is always self-interest in every word uttered by human beings.
Do not trust to some human institution, some person – not even the church, not the Pope, not your pastor – only Jesus. Only his words in the Bible are infallible truth.

So what do you struggle with? Maybe, for example, it’s Jesus’ views on sex that you want to re-think? Too prudish, too narrow. If people love each other, why shouldn’t they have sex? The Good Shepherd says: because it hurts them. It is destructive.
Look around – what has the sexual revolution cost us? Broken marriages, lonely people. Children living in two, three, even four different homes. Women being continually used and abused, selling their bodies for “love” at age 16, 15, 14 even. Nude pictures circulating cellphones at junior school. Men addicted to pornography, their minds warped so they can’t even think of women and women but only as sex objects – and, ironically, unable to have real sexual intercourse.
Never mind the huge epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, women finding themselves sterile because of sexual encounters at high school, and, of course, our unwanted products of sexual intercourse being discarded like so much trash: unborn babies, made in the image of God, inifinitely precious in his sight – being tossed on the garbage pile.
So, how’s that working for you? Sexual revolution? Sexual freedom? Nope. It’s sexual rebellion. Sexual bondage. A destructive spiral of self-harm and loneliness.

The point of all this is twofold:

1. We are sinners, rebels against God, breakers of God’s law, cut off from relationship with our Creator. We are NOT able to fix things ourselves. We are dumb, like sheep, and need a Good Shepherd to lead us out of the mess we’ve got ourselves into. Praise God that he is that good shepherd, and in his mercy offers us that rescue – and more than that, shows us how to live now that we ARE rescued.

2. Jesus’ words are good. Because we are evil (that is rebels against God), his words sound harsh and wrong to our ears. But imagine for example, if everyone honoured God in the marriage bed. Imagine a world with no sexual sin, where men and women loved their spouse and only their spouse. No pornography. No affairs. No sex at schools. No rape. Only husbands and wives committed to each other for life sharing the joys of God’s good gift of sex with each other. Ugh, sounds awful doesn’t it?! How can the church be so stoopid! (sarcasm!)

That's just an example - whatever it is that you struggle with, that you doubt God's word, give it up, and listen to the Shepherd. 
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who shepherds through his powerful, life-giving word.

2. Jesus is the better Moses 

The phrase “sheep without a shepherd” was not just used of the king, but was first used of Israel’s greatest leader: Moses. In Numbers 27:15–18 Moses said to the LORD, 16 “May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community 17 to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” 
Moses asks for a new leader for Israel, a new leader of God’s people – a new Moses. Although Joshua followed Moses and lead the conquest of the promised land, he was not like Moses. He did not receive direct revelation from God. He did not speak to him face to face. In fact, he was called to remember the book of the Law that Moses had written on Mt Sinai, dictated to him by God.
At this point we are still waiting for the promised “prophet like Moses”: in Dueteronomy 18:15 it says (Moses speaking) “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen. And we waited - until now.

For suddenly here is one who shepherds the people with the word of God. Who teaches with authority. Who commands the wind and the waves. Who calls the 12 to him on the mountainside. Who feeds the people, sitting in groups of 100, 50, in the wilderness, miraculously. And, if we hadn’t understood about the loaves, like the disciples, we are told “they picked up 12 baskets”. 12 = 12 tribes = Israel => Israel being miraculously fed in the wilderness = the new Exodus of the new Israel. Or rather the true Exodus (salvation from sin) of the true Israel (those who belong to Jesus).

35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

Jesus is the better Moses, teaching the words of God, feeding the people miraculously, establishing the new people of God. He is the fulfilment of the promise of the new Exodus in Isaiah. He is the warrior king, the suffering servant, the one afflicted in order to save his people. Jesus is the better Moses, because he does what Moses could not – he offers his perfect life in order to save his people. He is the Passover lamb, the lamb that was slain on the night before the Exodus. Instead of darkness covering the Israelites on that night, the darkness covered Jesus on the cross. And instead of their firstborn sons dying, God the Son, the firstborn, the heir of all Creation, tastes death upon the cross. His death shouts out a message of hope to the whole world, a message that the heart that beats at the centre of the universe is one of undeserved mercy and love.

Do you know him?

3. Jesus leads the true Exodus 

45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

Again, we see the Exodus motif. Just as Israel walked over the sea, so too Jesus walks over the sea. But there is more: Jesus is not just the Son of God as Israel was called, but he is also God the Son, the second person of the Trinity.

In Ex 33:19 after Israel’s rebellion with the Golden Calf, Moses asks God not to abandon them but to be with his people, and to reveal himself to Moses, to show his glory, to reveal his name. And in chapter 34 God does that, placing Moses in cave in a rock and passing by him, and declares that he will be in the midst of his people.
Jesus, too, passes by in the boat, then, when they cry out, he steps into the boat, into the midst of them. And announces his name: I am. Literally he says “Do not be afraid, I am” ἐγώ (ego = I) εἰμι (eimi = exist). (NLT gets closest with “I am here”). “I am” was the name God proclaimed when he met Moses at the burning bush. “Say to Pharaoh “I am” sent you”.
So this is no mere Moses, no mere Exodus – this is the true Exodus, lead by the true Moses which the other Exodus and other Moses merely foreshadowed. And great as that Exodus was, it pales into nothingness when we see who leads this Exodus: the great “I am” himself, Israel’s covenant-keeping God Yahweh.

Jesus is no mere man, not just gentle Jesus meek and mild. He is the warrior God, the covenant keeper, the one who raises kings up and brings them down, the one who holds stars in his hands, the one who sits on his throne and laughs at those who would rebel against him (Ps 2).

Do you see his glory? Do you see why this is no cheap grace, to be accepted and then to go on sinning? Do you see why once you meet Jesus your life cannot be the same again?

He is the Holy, Awesome, Almighty, Other, God, perfect in his glory and goodness. And yet says “come to me, for I have paid the price”.

Like the Israelites crying out for help in slavery to the Egyptians, we cry out in our slavery to sin, death, and Satan. And God hears, and knows.

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54 And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.

And here is fulfilment of the Exodus promised in Isaiah 61 – the lame walk, the deaf hear, the sick made well. Is 61:1 (ESV) The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God.

Jesus is the fulfilment of all God’s promises, he is the YES! to every promise made (2 Cor 1:20). The whole Bible is centred on Jesus. He is the grace behind forgiveness – his death is what makes it possible for God who is Just to forgive sinners. Repeatedly we see people sinning against God, and repeatedly we see God show mercy and forgiveness? How? Only through Jesus – his death on the cross took sin from all of time from all those who belong to God, and absorbed it. He was the Passover lamb whose blood covered the elect of God and so death and judgement passed over.

Praise Him with great praise!

He is the true shepherd, the true Moses, leading the true Exodus, paying himself the penalty to lead that Exodus, and opening the door to freedom to anyone who will listen.

Praise Him with great praise!