Sunday Sermon Notes: March 12, 2023

Mark 5:1-20

Parallel Texts: Matthew 8:28-33; Luke 8:26-39

Right after Jesus completed His teaching in parables, He and His disciples began to make their way across the Sea of Galilee, where they encountered a fierce storm that threatened to swamp their boat; Jesus calmed that storm. Their journey comes to its destination on the far shore, and immediately Jesus encounters a storm of a different sort, much more fierce and dangerous, for He encounters a storm of the soul in the form of a man tortured by unclean spirits. More often than not, this text is taught by getting into the details, how many soldiers in a legion, the man was naked, chains couldn’t bind him, he cut himself, how many pigs were there, everyone was afraid, the guy lived in the tombs…

I’d like to focus on the big picture instead.

If you haven’t read the passage, I’d suggest that you do so now; take your time and get the whole picture in your mind…

To really get the full impact of what is going on, you need to remember that Jesus just calmed the storm, and to keep in mind that in prophetic passages, the sea is often used to represent this world; always churning, tossing and tempestuous. The winds came, the waves tossed and Jesus spoke the Word and brought peace. Not only can He intervene in Nature with authority, He will bring calm to this world in due course. Then, after calming the storm, He arrives at the shore in a region inhabited primarily by gentiles, and a crazed and demon possessed man comes running.

Mark goes into great detail showing us just how far gone this fellow was, and how he was uncontrollable. He is dirty, naked and crazy. He lives near the unclean pigs and in the unclean tombs, oh yes, he pushes all of the Jewish buttons for “unclean” and is inhabited by unclean spirits!

You could almost say that this man represents the reasons for the tempest-tossed and always churning seas… as though this was representative of the spiritual causes of the condition of this world. Into all of this comes Jesus and His Kingdom Tour; we might expect a clash, right? A war, Armageddon, thunder, lightning, fireworks, armies of angels… all that apocalyptic stuff. And what to our wondering eyes should appear?

Surrender of all forces hostile to the Kingdom in Jesus’ presence.

We should reflect on this!

It turns out that the man was inhabited by many demons. How many, whether dozens, hundreds or thousands, I don’t know, the text says “many” and all of the numbers in the commentaries are speculative, but they were all surrendering to Christ, and they were driven into a herd of pigs and drowned. Of all creatures, pigs! Of course, the people in town were afraid, that seems a rational thing to me, for who could grasp the full picture of what was going on at that point? Isn’t it interesting that Jesus told the man, now restored, to go home and give his testimony?  Yes, that is another interesting piece to the puzzle.

When this story is viewed in its context, there is so much more than we usually hear about. The context is: 1) Kingdom Tour, Jesus announcing that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and demonstrating certain aspects of it as we have already seen. 2) Jesus has just calmed the storm, showing He has command over both Nature and this world. Now, He confronts the storm within the human soul and His enemies immediately surrender, and the human soul is restored to wholeness… and sent out to share his testimony with others. This, dear reader, is a picture of redemption and the age to come; that age is the one in which you and I are living.

Our adversary is cunning and dangerous, and we must not take him lightly. Yet, we must also not over-estimate his strength, for greater is He who is in us that he who is in this world. I always like to add one more thing here: We are also the ones who are on the offensive while our enemy is on the defensive, desperately trying to hold on to what he has, in a cause he knows will fail.

Mark 5: 21-43

Parallel Texts: Matthew 9:18-26; Luke 7:41-56

In this section, Jesus responds to the plea of a synagogue leader in Capernaum to go to the man’s house to heal his 12-year-old daughter who was seriously ill. On the way, the crowd is pressing against Him and moves slowly along, when a woman who has been suffering for years with a bleeding disorder reaches out to touch His garment believing that she would be healed if she managed just to touch it… and succeeds. She is healed immediately.

Jesus, sensing this wants to identify who had done this, and the terrified woman kneels at His feet. Jesus tells her all is well, and then receives the news that the little girl He was going to heal has died.

When He finally arrives at the scene, He tells the people there that the girl is only sleeping, but they do not believe that. He goes in with the girl’s parents and a few disciples to the girl’s room, takes her hand and bids her to stand, which she does, fully restored, and asks her parents not to discuss what has happened.

It’s all in a day’s work on the Kingdom Tour.

On this tour, Jesus has created quite a sensation. He has preached the Kingdom, repentance and righteousness. He has healed scores of people, forgiven sins, chased out demons, and now brought a dead girl back to life.  As spectacular as this is, it’s only a foretaste of what is to come. Yes, the Kingdom is at hand, but only at hand… just wait!

You might recall that when sin entered the world, there were consequences. The man and woman were cut off from God’s presence, and now the Son of God was walking in their midst. Adam and Eve would experience suffering and pain, and now the Son was healing and removing suffering and pain. Adam and Eve had been influenced by the serpent, and the Son is now chasing away demons. Adam and Eve were cut off from the Tree of Life, but Jesus just raised a dead girl to life. Humanity carried the guilt of sins, and Jesus was forgiving sins.

The Kingdom of Heaven would undo what was done in Eden all those centuries before, the people who were following Jesus from place to place were witnessing the most amazing developments of all history, and yet did they quite understand what they were seeing?

Not exactly.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: February 26, 2023

Mark 4:35-41

Parallel Texts: Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-25

Right after Jesus wrapped up His teaching in parables, He was tired and ready to leave, so the disciples joined Him in the boat, and they began to cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. As they were rowing, a storm came up and the boat was nearly swamped by the waves, as Jesus slept.

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

Mark 4:37-38

We might expect that the disciples of Jesus would have been exempt from storms, drowning and danger, but they weren’t. We might expect that the Son of God is never hungry, thirsty or exhausted, but He was; He was tired enough that this great storm didn’t wake Him up. In the midst of the storm, the disciples, filled with fear for their very lives, did a smart thing; they awakened Jesus and brought the situation to His attention― I’d say we can learn from this.

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

Mark 4:39

Jesus, so entirely human in the last couple of verses, was now entirely divine and intervened in nature. He was human, He was divine, and now as the Word that caused all of creation to come into existence, rebuked the storm.  Pretty smart of those disciples to take their storm to Jesus, wouldn’t you agree?

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Mark 4:40-41

I think Jesus’ remark is less a criticism of the disciples, and more an underscore of what He spent the day teaching about the Kingdom. In that little boat was the Kingdom Incarnate, along with the very men who would take the Kingdom to the world. Can’t they see that God’s eternal plan isn’t going to fail because of a storm? Well, maybe they didn’t have the whole picture just yet, but we do have the whole picture.

Here we are, little mustard seeds for God to use in a mighty way to further His Kingdom. We will endure storms throughout our lives, but those storms will not divert us from our purpose… will they? If our purpose and God’s purpose are in sync, we have nothing to fear.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: February 19, 2023

Mark 4:21-25

Parallel Text: Luke 8:16-18

 This brief section contains two more short parables, the Parable of the Lampstands and the Warning for Hearers. First, let’s talk about lamps…

Lamps and lampstands are used several times in the New Testament as references to Truth. Certainly, the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ was something that had been hidden since the Garden of Eden, which is probably why Paul referred to it as a mystery. The time was soon to come when everything would be made known, and Jesus’ Apostles were the ones who would make it known fully, beginning at Pentecost.  Clearly, His message is that there will be no secrets when the time comes.

The second short parable is slightly more difficult to catch the meaning of. We should see right off that when Jesus says that “whoever has will be given more…” in verse 25, Jesus isn’t talking about material possessions.

“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

Mark 4:24-25

The “measure” mentioned in verse 24 is the care you use in considering what you hear. So, “Consider carefully” what you hear means that we should listen very carefully and really consider it; great care in consideration of what we hear will yield great benefits to our understanding of the truths that we will shine for the world to see about His gospel. If we take little or no care in this, the truth will do us no good at all, and that could have tragic results.

Thus, we can see that whoever has (truth) will be given more (truth).

Have you ever listened to a sermon that was really great, and had the guy in front of you, who spent the whole time fidgeting and looking at his watch, then comment how much he got out of the message?

How about those times when you were busy fidgeting and looking at your watch? Were those the times you left feeling as though you really got something wonderful from the message?

Well, maybe you have, but I haven’t! No, not when I wasn’t paying attention.


Parable of Seeds

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Mark 4:26-29

Parallel Text: None

When I was in school, I was pretty good in science. When it was time for the test on seeds and plants and how plants grow, I could recall all the answers to the questions. I could say that the cells in the plants grow and divide, and that the DNA of the plant determines how they will grow and what parts form and all of that, but can I say that I understand how all of this happens; really understand? No.

Maybe you understand it, but I don’t, even though I could explain what I learned about it. Maybe you noticed the subtle difference between knowing about and understanding…

In this parable, Jesus is talking about the Kingdom; after all, He is on the Kingdom Tour… He’s talking up the Kingdom.  I know a lot about the Kingdom, and even though there are those who know more about it than I do, I know more than most. Yet, can I say I fully understand it? No, not at all, for there is a component within the Kingdom that I cannot begin to understand fully, even though I know about it: The life power of God.

Down through the years, I have planted a great many seeds. I’m not sure that I fully understand it, but I know that if you and I plant enough seeds, a crop will grow, and if we keep our eyes and ears open, we will see and hear evidence that tells us that a portion of the crop is ready for harvest. Hopefully, we’ll decide to get involved in that harvest and help to bring some of it in, along with unknown numbers of others all around the globe, for this is how the Kingdom works. I have harvested many in whom others planted the seeds, and many others have brought in a harvest from seeds I planted; it’s all good!

This is what Jesus is trying to teach here: Plant seeds, lots of seeds. Pay attention, and bring in the harvest when and where the time is ripe. We don’t really need to understand every detail; we just need to plant, pay attention and harvest.


The Mustard Seed

Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.

Mark 4:30-34

Parallel Text: Matthew 13:31-35

The Parable of the Mustard Seed is one of the best known of Jesus’ teachings; we cite it often as a teaching on faith, but that is not what this parable is about. The faith connection comes from Matthew 17:20, which is not a parable. Rather, the Parable of the Mustard Seed is about the Kingdom.  I doubt that Jesus was intending to give a lecture on botany here, but He clearly used frames of reference His listeners were familiar with: Mustard seeds are tiny, yet they grow into very large plants.

That is the point of the metaphor, tiny seed becomes very big plant. How does this apply to the Kingdom?

If I was an atheist, I would be asking myself how it is possible that an obscure travelling teacher from first century Galilee is still a controversial figure all over the world twenty centuries after his death. Yes, that’s right, a carpenter’s son born in a stable who grew up in flyover country became the most influential figure in history, yet He never traveled more than a hundred miles or so from His birthplace.

After His death, a ragtag bunch of misfits from the provinces, just a handful of them mind you, unleashed a revolutionary idea in the minor provincial capital of Jerusalem. They were opposed by the greatest power the world had ever seen, and Mr. Atheist, you are still opposing this teaching today. How could this have happened? It’s simply incredible!

As Jesus told us, the Kingdom is like that. A tiny seed grows into the largest of garden plants, big enough to give shelter to the birds; it just wouldn’t seem likely at all… but there it is.  It isn’t reported in the text, but I have a hunch this is what Jesus explained to His disciples. Yes, they were obscure, true, they weren’t important big shots from famous and powerful families, and they were young, very young.  Yet, in spite of all outward appearances, they made a huge mark on history, and more importantly, they made a huge difference for God’s salvation plan, in spite of all apparent circumstances.

Don’t you suppose that Jesus would tell us the same thing?

You and I are mere mustard seeds in a sense, small, not really noticed in our celebrity crazed world, yet full of life’s power and potential. Should we allow it, He can and will do a mighty work in and through us and His Kingdom will grow and flourish in spite of all the odds, in spite of the naysayers, and in spite of the guffaws of others. Why?

That’s an easy one: Because the Kingdom is like that!

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Sunday Sermon Notes: February 12, 2023

Mark 4:1-20

Parallel Texts: Matthew 13:1-23; Luke 8:1-15

With the beginning of chapter four, we see a shift in Mark’s narrative to a battery of parables. Parables are interesting things, little stories that teach a moral lesson. They are not literal, and the stories themselves are not intended to be understood literally; they are instead, metaphors. The literal interpretation, for literalism fans, of a parable is that it is a metaphor… just so we are clear.

Teachers use parables to teach moral lessons in a non-threatening way, so that each listener may perceive the part of the parable that applies to his or her situation, without the teacher needing to point fingers at any certain individual, which enables the lesson to sink in more deeply than if it needed to be filtered through a defensive perimeter. Jesus made frequent use of parables, but He is certainly not alone in doing so; there are parables in both the Old and New Testaments, used by multiple writers, as well as in secular history. In American history, Abraham Lincoln is especially famous for his clever us of parables in both legal and political argumentation. Indeed, modern-day speakers still use parables in their teaching; Ronald Reagan was known to make frequent use of them, for instance.

The parable of the Sower is the first in this series and is commonly known in churches today. For our purposes, I’ll let you read the text and then we’ll talk about Jesus’ explanation when you get back…

Jesus explains His parable to a smaller group after His teaching session from the boat beginning in verse 10.  Isn’t it interesting that He begins to explain by quoting Isaiah 6? Jesus ties all of this to His preaching on the Kingdom. For those who are outside of His Kingdom, these matters will be a mystery, but for those within His Kingdom, they will be plain.  Doesn’t this remind you of Paul’s discussion of how the things of God are but “foolishness” to the world, and the wisdom of this world is but foolishness to God?

Jesus goes on to elaborate on His metaphor, by describing the various soils that the farmer’s seed contacts, how the birds gobble up the seed on the path, and the lack of roots in the rocky soil and how that causes the seed to sprout quickly and then shrivel and die when the hot sun shines down on the young plants. Then He points out how the seed that falls in good soil develops roots and withstands the sun, growing to maturity.

I’ve heard countless sermons that focus on the rocky soil and that have gone on to discuss those who come to faith, are very excited and then fall away. I haven’t had the pleasure of listening to very many who actually noticed the fact that in verse 11, Jesus tied this into a Kingdom context. His focus wasn’t so much on the products of the rocky soil, but rather on what happens in good soil: Those seeds grow to maturity, and then produce more seeds. Some seeds produce 30 new seeds, or 60, or even 100. These are His disciples, who in turn produce more disciples for the Kingdom, some 30, some 60, and some 100. Disciples who make more disciples are the object of all of this, not the rocky soil and falling away…

What kind of soil are we planted in? Can a mentor (disciple) work with that soil and remove the rocks that are in the soil of a “younger” brother?

Interesting question, wouldn’t you say?

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Sunday Sermon Notes: January 29, 2023

Mark 3:7-12

Parallel Text: Matthew 12:13-21

With the plot to kill Him underway, Jesus and His disciples go to the Sea of Galilee, followed by ever-growing crowds of people. Many, maybe hundreds pushed to be close to Him, hoping to be healed, and security became an issue with the pressing of bodies and precautions had to be taken, so great was the rush of the crowds.

People possessed by impure spirits became a problem, as the spirits within them cried out that He was the Son of God, and Jesus silenced them. Can it be any wonder that both the Pharisees and Herodians wanted Jesus out of the way? Neither Herod nor his partisans wanted him deposed and replaced by a legitimate king. The Pharisees, pose another interesting question for us to consider.

It has long been my view, that the Pharisees, of all people should have known exactly who and what they were dealing with in Jesus of Nazareth. As I’ve mentioned before, they knew the prophecies and they knew the timing; they saw the prophecies playing out with Jesus, and though it may sound odd to point this out, they not only had the testimony of John, but that of the impure spirits regarding His identity.

It seems apparent to me, however, that they did not see the Messiah they wanted in Jesus, for they could care less about redemption, they wanted power. Jesus was not the king who would defeat the Romans and rule a powerful and influential Israel with the Pharisees being the center of Jewish life. No sir, they saw a Kingdom that was not an earthly one developing before them, one that would undermine their position instead of strengthening it, so it had to be stopped at all costs.

We all might be well advised to carefully consider what lessons God has for us today in all of this…

Mark 3:20-35

Parallel Texts: Matthew 12:22-37, 46-50; Luke 11:14-23; 8:19-21

After Jesus appoints the Twelve, things start to become strange; something isn’t quite right in this story.

Jesus and the disciples are in a house, and the crowd pushes in, there are so many people, Jesus and His party can’t finish their meal. Jesus’ Mother and brothers hear He is there and set out to “take charge” of Him, for they are sure He’s crazy. His family might have something in common with my family… but this isn’t the picture most of us expect to hear at this point; Jesus out of His mind? Why right now, He’s a rock star! (figuratively speaking)

But wait, there’s more!

And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

Mark 3:22

You know, these guys really should have thought about what they said before they said it…

So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

Mark 3:23-29

This is a masterpiece, a classic of rhetorical discourse, a thing of utter beauty.

Borrowing from this paragraph, Abraham Lincoln crafted his most important speech, the one that lost him the senate in 1858, but won him the White House in 1860. Lincoln isn’t the only one who has ripped this little bit or oratory off in the centuries since.  Not only did Jesus annihilate their accusation, not only did He crush their credibility with those they spewed this foolishness to, He showed them that they would spend their future in very warm climes.

He also has taught us that we should avoid attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to the work of the devil. Mark makes this clear in the next verse, pointing out that these guys had claimed Jesus was possessed by an impure spirit.

There is one more odd thing in this story. Remember, Jesus’ family was on their way to “take charge” of Him… well they’ve arrived. They send someone inside to tell Jesus they were outside, and Jesus doesn’t come running:

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

Mark 3:33-35

This is a tough few verses, but we should understand this concept. I don’t think it would be fair to say that Jesus didn’t love His earthly family; Jesus loves everyone and died for all of us, so great is His love. Yet at that moment, well-meaning as His family was, they were working against God’s will. In Christ, we are God’s sons and daughters, we are Jesus’ brothers and sisters, members of the family. Outside of this context, we place ourselves in opposition to Him; not good.

We know that this changed, and His family came to become His followers, so this isn’t like what He told those teachers of the Law earlier, but it is something we should be aware of and guard against.

Well, for me anyway, this has been an odd passage, as though there is more going on that would have met the eye on that occasion.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: January 22, 2023

Mark 2:23-28

Parallel Texts: Matthew 12:1-8; Luke 6:1-5

Mark has shifted the scene to the countryside. Jesus and the disciples, and apparently some Pharisees, are walking through grain fields on the Sabbath. They are hungry and the disciples pluck a few heads of grain to eat as they go along, and the Pharisees object, for it is unlawful to harvest a field on the Sabbath. The law on this point is contained in Exodus 20:10 if you’d like to read it just to bring in a little context. By the way, if you do look it up, you will notice that the law doesn’t say this. It says you shall do no work. Were the disciples actually working? Well, that is the real question.

As the years went by, it became apparent that Exodus 20:10 was subject to interpretation, and many well-intentioned leaders believed that there was a great potential for misunderstanding Exodus 20:10, so they adopted a very long list of additional rules to help people avoid an unintentional violation of the Sabbath. This list of rules is not actually part of the law, but as more time went by, it was treated as if it were the law itself; this is what the Pharisees were actually referring to.

In verses 25-26, Jesus cites a well-known example of David feeding his men food reserved by the law for the exclusive use of the priests when necessity required it, with the implication that necessity required the disciples’ actions that the Pharisees were objecting to. He concludes His answer in the following verses:

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27-28

I wish I could have been there to see the look on the faces of those poor Pharisees when they heard that!

As you know, there are those critics out there who claim that Jesus never said He was divine. Even if that were true, He sure implied it strongly on many occasions, and this is another of those.  If the Sabbath was made for man, and that makes the Son of Man the lord over the Sabbath, then it is because He’s also the Lord over Man.

Mark 3:1-6

Parallel Texts: Matthew 12:9-14; Luke 6:6-11

After the scene in the last section where Jesus announces that He is the Lord of the Sabbath, Mark recounts another Sabbath scene, this time in a synagogue, where Jesus heals a man with an injured hand. It seems that there were some present who were interested in causing problems, and Jesus, no doubt being aware of this, asked the injured man to step forward:

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

Mark 3:4

I’m guessing they also remained hopeful…

Jesus healed the man.  Mark tells us in verse 5 that Jesus was angry and distressed at the hard hearts of those who sought an excuse to act against Him… and afterwards, they began to plot to kill Him. Mark tells us that the group consisted of Pharisees and Herodians, who were of the party of Herod, the Vassal king of Judea, son of the guy who slaughtered the infants in Bethlehem. When you consider the fact that the Pharisees and the Herodians were sworn enemies, their sudden alliance in a plot to kill Jesus should raise some questions, don’t you think?


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Our Good Shepherd

I don’t know about you, but for me, the idea of God as our shepherd is one of the most comforting and inspiring images of being in relationship with Him.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—

John 10:14

Just sit back and think for a moment: A domesticated sheep is completely dependent on the shepherd. If the sheep is separated from the flock, out in the wild, it is vulnerable to attack by any predator, likely to starve, and should the sheep fall over, it’s probably unable to get up on its own. A shepherd keeps it safe, fed, and secure… and that is precisely what our God does for us.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Psalm 23:1

In our daily lives, He will see to our needs, provide us with the strength we need to face the challenges of life, guard us against the attacks of evil, of danger, and of temptation if we ask Him. In His presence, our Good Shepherd will take on our burdens of life, of guilt, shame, doubt, and worry; He will even protect us from our own thought process if the need arises. He guides us in His righteous paths, He leads us in the ways of peace and love― He makes us whole. Yet like the sheep, we must remain in His loving care. We mustn’t just take off and run away from Him, for that is where the dangers lie, out there, on our own in the wilderness of life.

Even so, like the Good Shepherd that He is, when we wander off and are found once again, He rejoices with us, happy in our reunion with the flock as He holds us close in His loving arms.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: January 15, 2023

Mark 2:1-12

Parallel Texts: Matthew 9:2-8; Luke 5:17-26

In this passage, Jesus has returned to Capernaum from His Kingdom Tour, and the people are excited to have Him back in town. During this period, Capernaum is His ‘home base’. As the crowd grew with the usual curious listeners, sick and damaged people, it became impossible for everyone to gain entry into the house where Jesus was staying as He preached, and a very enterprising group of men climbed up to the roof, bringing a paralyzed man on a stretcher with them. They opened the roof door which was a common feature in those flat-roofed houses, and lowered the paralyzed man into the room where Jesus was teaching.

When Jesus saw this, He went over to the man on the stretcher and told him that his sins were forgiven.

There was a group of teachers of the law in the room, who may have come from Jerusalem to investigate the report that had reached the city about the Kingdom Tour, and these guys were pretty amazed at what they saw. It occurred to them that Jesus had just made a mistake in telling the unfortunate man his sins were forgiven, because only God can forgive sins: Blasphemy… Gotcha!

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

Mark 2:8-12

I love this part! Jesus, knowing their thoughts goes over to these guys and asks a question: So boys, what’s easier, to tell this guy his sins are forgiven, or to tell him to get up, pick up his mat and walk?

Who says Jesus had no sense of humor?

Then, He went back to the paralyzed man and told him to get up, take his mat and walk… and that’s just what the guy did!

I can just imagine what those old boys from Jerusalem thought then… hilarious! Boy, did they have a report for the bigwigs back home.

Of course everyone was amazed at what they had witnessed, but I wonder if they fully comprehended the scene. Right in front of the teachers of the law, Jesus had forgiven a man’s sins, the teachers were correct in what they were thinking, for only God can forgive sins. Jesus read their thoughts; a little miracle nobody seemed to notice, and went right for the jugular, so to speak. He told a paralyzed man to get up and walk, and the man was made whole again, and did just that. Thus, Jesus had taken upon Himself God’s role to forgive, and then backed it up by making the man whole physically.

Wholeness, spiritually and physically: Jesus removed the consequences of sin, at least symbolically, right in front of their eyes. To state what happened in another way, Jesus had just shown the whole crowd that He was the Son of God… and the teachers of the law, by definition if nothing else, would have had to know that.

So, what do you think was in their report to HQ?

Mark 2:13-17

Parallel Texts: Matthew 9:9; Luke 5:27-28

Still in Galilee, Jesus calls another disciple, and this time He has a questionable choice: Levi (Matthew) the tax collector. Tax collectors are none too popular in our day, but back then they were outright crooks in most cases. They would be informed of the amount they had to collect, and whatever they collected over and above that amount would be theirs to keep. Oh yes, this was all nice and legal under Roman law. So, say you are a tax collector and you are supposed to collect $100.00 from 10 people. Let’s see, if you can get $10.00 from each one, you could turn the money over to the authorities and be done, but your family would go hungry. If you collected $ 12.50 each, you’d make $25.00 and maybe that would be fair, but if you could force them to pay $150.00 each, even better!

Jesus called Levi to discipleship, and then they go to a party with tax collectors and other unsavory characters: The stage is set for another round with His critics.

Notice that once again, Jesus called a disciple, and the disciple followed, leaving everything behind immediately to do so. In this case, Levi, who was well-to-do threw a dinner party for Jesus that night, inviting all his friends. Jesus did not tell Levi that he had to attend class, do penance, or somehow work his way into favor; Levi did not need to get his act together before he could follow Jesus, instead Jesus called, Levi obeyed.

Then, this dinner party!

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.  When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:15-17

I can well imagine, and even sympathize with the thinking of the Pharisees, after all most of us are quite used to this kind of thinking; Levi and his friends weren’t “suitable” people at all; they were at the very bottom of the social order.  Yet Jesus came that such as these could be saved; in our day, these are exactly the ones who need to hear about Jesus.

Here’s a question: If you and I don’t reach out to “tax collectors and prostitutes” with the message of Christ, then who will; the Pharisees? From this text, it would seem that Pharisees are not likely to get the job done.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: September 25, 2022

Matthew 24:35-51

Unlike the section we’ve been studying, the last part of chapter 24 is not difficult to understand as long as we remember to keep it in its proper context. As we discovered back at the beginning, verse 34 signals transition from the first part of the question that the disciples put to our Lord in verse 3 to the second. Verse 35 then picks up with a new subject: Jesus’ coming and the end of the age.

The Day and Hour Unknown

Jesus makes very clear the fact that nobody knows when He will return. There will be no signs, no check lists, and no way to discover when He will return until it happens. The section from verse 35 through verse 41 uses the days of Noah to show a comparison to His coming; people will be surprised. Notice also that for those who are not prepared to enter into the ark, for those who have not heeded the call to righteousness, this will be a day of doom. Verses 40 and 41 use the picture of two people; one is taken and one is left. This has caused some problems with interpretation, but when taken in the context of the entire passage (35-51) it becomes most likely that Jesus is indicating that one will be taken to judgment, and the other left alone. This seems to be the strongest interpretation in context, even though many commentators liken it to a “rapture” scenario seeking to apply 1Thessalonians 4 here. A case can be made, and you are free to choose your favorite. The most important point is to remember that Jesus will return, and we will all be surprised when He does.

Verses 42 and following repeat and reinforce the fact that Jesus’ return will come at a time when it is not expected, and begins to assert the imperative of readiness on our parts. This will be the entire theme of chapter 25, and goes on to a major covenant priority: our need to keep the terms of the New Covenant to live our lives as Christ would live. If we keep faith with our Covenant, we will be surprised and delighted at His coming. If we do not, then when He comes, we will be surprised and horrified.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: September 18, 2022

Matthew 24:5-15

So much has been written of this passage! It’s kind of troubling, isn’t it? Wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes… what does it all mean?

Surely this is talking of the present day. Surely, we need to worry that the end is coming; what will we do?

First of all, don’t forget CONTEXT.

Second, why must we arrogantly assume that everything is about us? (It isn’t)

This is a great time to quote one of my boyhood heroes:

The only thing new in the world is history that you don’t know.”

Harry S Truman

Many recent authors and speakers have made much of this passage to attempt to put Matthew 24 into the future, and out of context. Almost to a man, they write about these verses saying that they refer to a time when there have been the most wars, the most earthquakes, the most famines and so on…

Kindly take note of the less exciting fact that Jesus simply didn’t say that! And… try to force yourself to keep the context in mind: “When will these things happen…?” (The destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem)

Were there wars, rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem? Were the faithful being persecuted during this time? Were there false teachers during this time? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES!

When the Roman Emperor Caligula ordered his statue erected in the Temple and the Jews of the city reacted by rebelling against the Romans, do you suppose they weren’t talking about a war when the news got back to Rome? According to the first century historian Josephus, they were so concerned that many neglected to even till their fields.

Nation will rise up against nation… When the Jews and Syrians clashed in Caesarea, the Syrians drove the Jews from the city, and the death toll amongst the Jews was staggering, which is one of the reasons that the Jews attacked in Syria. Before the Roman garrison could respond, the killings numbered in the hundreds of thousands, and Josephus has recorded it all for your reading… This was not the only example of war, rumors of war and nation rising against nation in the region of Judea during this period. Also, during this period, during the short reign of Claudius, there were the beginnings of civil war in Italy and elsewhere, which would obviously make the “evening news” in Judea.


Acts 11:28 is interesting to remember: “One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)” This fact is confirmed by Josephus, Tacitus and Eusebius among others.

Earthquakes? During the period between the Discourse and the fall of Jerusalem, history records quite a few, maybe even a record number in the Roman world: All in all, there are 15 recorded during this time, in places such as Rome, Italy, Judea, Syria, Asia Minor and Crete among others.

Persecution? OK, don’t even pretend that persecution didn’t take place during this period! It is well documented in the New Testament, along with the false teachers and the rest of it. Note verses 13 and 14:

but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Verse 13 gives the main point: stand firm in all things, and you will be saved. In the last lesson we saw exactly how that took place; Jesus was good and reliable in His words.

Verse 14 takes us back to the Covenant priority: and the Gospel will spread throughout the world, even though there are to be difficulties.

Finally, the end will come: remember the context: the end is that of Jerusalem.

 Matthew 24:15-28


In this section, Jesus tells the disciples what the people of God will need to know when Jerusalem is besieged in 70 AD. Verses 15-16 give a sign of warning to the people regarding the time to flee the region, giving a reference to Daniel’s prophecy; that will be discussed below. When this sign appears, the people in Judea are to flee to the mountains, and along this route, they can travel through the back country all of the way to Lebanon behind the Roman advance to safety.

Verses 17-20 underscore the need for haste in their flight from the region. It is important to note that he said “in Judea” and not in Jerusalem which is the capital of Judea. This is because by the time they see the sign he referred to, it will be too late for Jerusalem, as we shall see.

Verses 21 and 22 detail just how horrible the coming siege will be, and gives the believers the hope that the horror will be cut short so that they may be able to escape destruction. In verses 23-25, Jesus warns the believers not to be fooled by rumors, and urges them to stick with what he is telling them, ending with the note that they will be spared from Jerusalem’s doom. In verse 25, He reinforces the thought that He is giving them advance warning of the situation. Our text ends with a curious section from 26-28, where Jesus warns that some will be fooled into thinking that the destruction of Jerusalem is the end of the world and the time of his coming. This is clearly not the case, and the believers mustn’t be fooled, for when He does come, it will not be in secret.

The Sign

The sign in our text is “the abomination that causes desolation,” and is used by Daniel in describing military attacks on Jerusalem in chapters 9, 11 and 12. To a Jew, “abomination” would be something that defiles something that is holy. A Gentile army surrounding the Holy City would be a possibility. “Desolation” means emptiness, so what we are looking for is a gross defilement that results in emptiness.

Looking to the Olivet Discourse as recorded by Luke, we find the answer:

When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

Luke 21:20-24

By comparing Matthew 24 to Luke 21, we see that the sign they were to look for was when a Gentile army surrounded the Holy City of Jerusalem, and this happened in 66 AD. A question may arise as to why Matthew refers to Daniel, and Luke does not.

Remember that Matthew’s Gospel is the Gospel written for the Jews, and Luke’s was the one written for the Greeks. Frequently, Matthew refers back to prophecies that are fulfilled, while Luke just spells out what happened. This is because the Jews were aware of the prophets, and by reminding them of the prophecies that are fulfilled, Matthew is lending credibility to Jesus Messianic claim. Luke’s audience is largely ignorant of Jewish tradition, and such comparisons would be of little value to those readers; Luke spells things out that Matthew relates to Scripture. Thus, we come to see that what Jesus is giving as a signal to flee the area is the Roman siege at Jerusalem; those outside the city are to flee immediately, and those within the city will have to wait for another sign for deliverance…

This signal comes in verse 22: those days will be cut short!

History of the Siege

At this point, it is useful to give a brief synopsis of the history of the siege of Jerusalem. This history is told by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus who not only wrote the history of the Jewish people from Genesis to the time shortly before their last war of destruction, (65-70 AD) Antiquities of the Jews, but another volume entitled The War of the Jews which gives his eyewitness account of the entire Roman campaign against the Jews, including his eyewitness account of the siege of Jerusalem. The war began when the Emperor Caligula commanded that his statue be erected in the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem. This so outraged the Jews that they flew to arms and began to attack Roman outposts, beginning in Syria, and spreading throughout the region. A large Roman army under Vespasian began its counter assault in that region, and then moved through Galilee destroying all Jewish opposition in its wake. After ravaging the north, Vespasian returned to Rome, where he participated in a coup that overthrew Caligula (who was insane) and was replaced by Cestius, who was the general who began the siege. Josephus tells of the horrors of this period, and to read his account is truly disturbing. The believers trapped in the city, recalling the words of Jesus must have wondered how they were going to be able to flee as the conditions grew steadily more desperate; then a miracle― The Romans suddenly withdrew!

According to Josephus, while the Jews celebrated their divine deliverance, the Christians fled to the hills and escaped.

What had actually happened was that the general Titus had arrived in the region with reinforcements. Cestius withdrew, joined up with Titus, and with Titus (the higher-ranking officer) in command, they soon returned to finish the job, only this time there were no Christians in the city: they had all fled because they had been forewarned by none other than Jesus Himself! “See, I have told you ahead of time.” (Matt. 24:25)

As Josephus tells the story, and he was no supporter of the Christians, not a single Christian died in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. The Jewish deaths were over 100,000.

By the time the Romans launched their final assault, there was no resistance, and they had only a mop up operation; murdering the last of the survivors who couldn’t get away. According to Josephus, the Romans discovered to their delight that the Temple itself was full of gold. In fact (as we know) it was inlaid with gold within the wood framework of the stone construction. To render the gold from its structure, Josephus tells that the Romans set it ablaze, and then pried the stones loose from one another to get at the melted gold that had fallen, leaving not one stone upon another. (Matt. 24:2

Putting it all together

We have at this point completed the first section of the Discourse, and a fairly awesome picture is before us:

  1. There will be difficulties, these are normal and a regular part of life on this earth. There will be wars, famines, earthquakes, calamities and persecutions; even false teachers, but hold firm in your faith, and you will be delivered. Most importantly, the Gospel of the Kingdom of Christ will go forth. (5-14)
  2. When the day of God’s judgment comes, our Lord will see you through its peril. If you are in the countryside, when you see the sign, get out. Flee through the mountains to the north. If you are in the city, hang in there for the Lord will deliver you, too. When the time comes, flee to the mountains of the north. Those who are followers of the Lord will be saved; those who are not will be judged. (15-28)
  3. When God’s judgment against those who have refused to follow Him comes, it will be terrible to behold for it will be sure and complete. Those who claim to follow Him, but who do not really, will be devastated, for God will not be mocked, nor will He be fooled by performing the old rituals after they have been rendered obsolete by the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. (29-33)
  4. This will all be completed within the natural lifetimes of those who heard Him say it, even though that is not necessarily mean they will all live to see it. (34)
  5. Even though this has all been accomplished by the end of the year 70, there are lessons for us to draw from this text as well. What could they be? Well, for that you’ll need to wait for the next lesson!
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