Sunday Sermon Notes: May 28, 2023

Mark 8:1-13

Parallel Texts: Matthew 15:32-16:4

Once again, we are near the Sea of Galilee with Jesus, the disciples and a very large crowd of people. Apparently they have all been there for quite a while, because Jesus feels that the people need to be fed. As He says, some have come from a long distance and need nourishment before they head home.  In this, He shows His compassion for these people who have come to hear His teaching, and yet as the disciples point out, there was simply not enough food for such a large crowd; there’s four thousand people out there!

Have they forgotten that Jesus had no problem with five thousand?

As He did before, Jesus had the disciples gather up their supplies and directed it be distributed to the crowd, and when their provisions were passed, everyone had their fill and they had more leftovers than they had started with. After they had eaten, Jesus sent the people home, and He and the disciples crossed the Sea again. Note that Mark doesn’t record any conversation between them at this point.

Later, Mark doesn’t specify exactly when, Jesus is chatting with some Pharisees.

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.

Mark 8:11-13

In John’s account of Jesus feeding the five thousand in chapter six, those same people, on the very next day ask Him for a sign. Here, in Mark’s account of His feeding of the four thousand, the Pharisees ask Him for a sign. I’m reminded of a story; you’ve probably heard it too:

A man heard that a great flood was coming, so he went up to the roof of his house. As the waters began to rise, his neighbor comes along in a boat and tells the man to get in, but the man declines saying that he knows God will save him.  A few hours later, with the waters several feet higher, someone else comes along in a boat, but the man gives the same reply. Still later, with the waters creeping up the roofline, a helicopter comes by with a lifeline to pull him aboard, but the man maintains his position that God will save him. Finally, with the floodwaters waist-high and standing at the very highest point of the roof, in desperation the man calls out: “Oh Lord, I have faith that you will save me, when will you deliver me?”

Suddenly, the man hears a loud and booming voice from above the clouds saying unto him, “Man I have sent you two boats and a helicopter already. What do you want from me!?”

After all of the miracles and miraculous signs that Jesus has provided, and after just having fed four thousand people miraculously, the Pharisees ask for a sign… as if one more would make any difference!

Gee whiz, this reminds me of another story; lucky you!

There’s a scene in Herman Wouk’s book War and Remembrance in which a group of men are sitting around a table in occupied Europe during the Second World War. These men have all seen and heard things, enough for them to understand what the Nazis are up to and they have been trying to get word out about the Holocaust, but nobody will listen to them. Why? Why won’t anybody listen or look at the evidence? One of them utters what is possibly the most brilliant line I’ve ever read in modern literature: “They have the will to not know.”

Did you catch that? It’s very subtle… the will “to not know.” It isn’t that they don’t understand, it isn’t just that they don’t want to be bothered, it’s that they want to remain ignorant. Jesus was there because God so loved the world that He was preparing to sacrifice His one and only Son, and Jesus was willing to be that sacrifice; He wanted all men to be saved by it. Thus, we must conclude that if one more sign would save these Pharisees, He would have given them a sign. He knew, however that they wanted to not know who He was, and as a result no amount of miracles would change anything for them because they didn’t want it to.  These Pharisees were not confused or unconvinced; they were working for the other side.

Jesus left them where they stood and got back into the boat.

What do you suppose God is showing us in this passage?

Mark 8:14-21

Parallel Text: Matthew 16:5-12

In this passage, they are out in the boat when Jesus who, apparently out of the blue, tells them to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod. (Matthew recalls it as “Pharisees and Sadducees”)

The disciples have no idea what He is talking about, and assume He is referring to the fact that they only had one loaf of bread.  Jesus reminds them of the fact that He can make that one loaf into thousands if He wants to and seems incredulous at their lack of understanding. By now, you should see that there is a pattern here: Jesus has an entirely different point of view than everybody else. He isn’t concerned about the merely physical, about the things of this world. The disciples, on the other hand, see things the way everybody else sees them; physical, practical, earthly, here and now.  They don’t understand where Jesus is coming from most of the time, and frankly who can blame them?

Don’t most Christians think the same way the disciples were thinking?

“Of course, Jesus is at the center of my life, yes I am following Him wherever He leads, absolutely I would do anything to help build His Kingdom… but right now I’m too busy.” “Well, I don’t think He means I should have to do that!”

No, they didn’t understand what He was talking about.

Matthew tells us that Jesus was referring to the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees in 16:12.

The disciples might have stopped to think about what yeast represents in Scripture: SIN!

But Mark mentions Herod, was Herod a teacher? In a way he was, just like President Biden is in a sense a teacher. He was their political leader, and held great influence with many people, as does President Biden (or whoever might hold office). We have already seen how the Pharisees and Herod viewed Jesus as a threat to their positions, and the Sadducees would be right there with them… this guy needs to go away!

Think about the conversation Jesus has just had: After feeding the 4,000 by a miracle, the Pharisees wanted a sign. That demand was itself a sign, for it announced in a clear and unambiguous way that they were going to oppose Jesus and the Kingdom everywhere they encountered it.  They would use their influence, along with that of Herod (strange bedfellows indeed) to stop Jesus at all costs. Beware the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod!

It’s time to get a clue boys!

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Sunday Sermon Notes: May 21, 2023

Mark 7:24-37

Parallel Text: Matthew 15:21-37

A quick reading of this text will tell us that Jesus heals someone’s daughter, but quick readings don’t always yield the whole story, for there are those times when we are better off slowing down just a bit; this is one of those times.

This is the first time that Jesus has entirely left the country, as we would say today, for He is in Lebanon. It would seem that He has withdrawn entirely from Galilee with His disciples after more than a year of frantic activity and ever-growing crowds. It is to be a time of rest, and can I say it? A vacation or “retreat” of sorts. Yet He has become famous, and even in this Gentile land, His presence will not be a secret for very long. Mark goes to great lengths here to make it clear that the woman who approaches Jesus for help is a Gentile. He tells us that she is a Syrian of Phoenician extraction, rather more personal information than is really necessary, but he does so because her being a Gentile is the point of the story.

She asks Jesus to help her daughter, for her daughter is possessed by an unclean spirit. Jesus responds to her plea with a strange remark:

 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

Mark 7:27

So, is He telling the woman that He can only help the girl if she’s just eaten? No, I don’t think so. The woman sure had a comeback…

“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Mark 7:28

It was not uncommon in those days for people to have dogs as pets and as workers in the fields. In those days, they didn’t have a special aisle in the grocery stores for all of the various kinds of dog food, and so the dogs ate table scraps. After a meal was finished, they would feed the leftovers to the dogs. During the meals, the dogs would have to wait, but if crumbs fell from the table, the dogs would snatch them up. Jesus and the woman were using a metaphor.

Jesus is telling the woman that He has come to preach the Kingdom to the Jews (children) and the Gentiles would receive the message after the Jews have had the first opportunity for salvation, for this is what God had promised. The woman, being a Gentile, would have to wait. This was one sharp lady who fully comprehended what Jesus was telling her, and expanded His metaphor to the dogs snapping up crumbs that fall from the table, as she entreats Him to help her child.

Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

Mark 7:29

This Gentile woman demonstrated more faith and understanding than the religious leaders of the Jews ever did! As a result of her faith, she was able to snatch up a “crumb” from the table, and the demon was gone from her child… and the child wasn’t even there.

An amazing story: Jesus demonstrated another aspect of the Kingdom He was preaching: The Good News would be preached first to the Jews and after a time, it would be taken with power and authority to the Gentiles, for all Nations would be blessed by the seed of Abraham, as God had promised so long before.

This also marks the beginning of a new phase in Jesus’ ministry, for from here forward Jesus will be highlighting for the disciples, the marked contrast between the traditions of Jews as taught by the religious leaders, and the reality of the Kingdom of heaven in their midst. He did so in this scene by 1) talking with a Gentile woman (which a Pharisee would never do) and 2) by responding to her faith and healing her child, which a Pharisee would also never do. These contrasts will continue as Jesus’ foreign tour moves on to its next stop…

After some days in the region of Tyre, Jesus and the disciples moved on in the direction of Sidon, crossing into modern-day Syria, making their way finally to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee where they were confronted by large crowds; many were healed. Mark tells the story of the healing of one man in particular, a man who was both deaf and nearly unable to speak.

Jesus took the man aside, away from the commotion, and began His work. In so many cases, just touching Jesus’ garment brought about healing, in others, Jesus spoke and the job was complete, but in this case, the recipient of the healing was deaf, so Jesus made plain to the man what He was doing in other ways. First Jesus put His fingers in the man’s ears, picture in your mind what this would look like. Then Jesus spit! Apparently, this was a sign for the man to stick out his tongue, because Jesus was able to touch it. If you have the picture in your mind, Jesus has a finger from each hand in the guy’s ears, and probably one or both thumbs on his tongue.

At this point, Jesus looks to heaven, sighs deeply and says in Aramaic, “Be opened” and the man can hear and speak; he is healed.

Let he who has an ear hear, let him who has a tongue praise God.

It would be a matter of conjecture for me to explain why Jesus sighed deeply or why He didn’t just say “So ordered” when He was asked to heal this man, for the text itself does not say.  It could be that Jesus thought of all of those who were deaf and mute who would not be healed that day. It might be that He took the effort to use His hands so that the man would be aware of exactly what was going on so that he would know that Jesus had done this… maybe.

Then Jesus once again goes the next step and asks the man not to tell anybody what happened. Of course, that people would see this man hearing and talking would make the question of what had happened inevitable, and it would be pretty much impossible for him not to say.  Why did Jesus make this request?

Earlier in Mark, we were told that He wanted to keep the numbers in the crowd under control, but it was a little late for that now.  The text doesn’t tell us, so I don’t know. Yet, I can offer an observation: Jesus had become a rock star at that point, but He wasn’t like the rock stars we might think of. Jesus was our role model, or better put, Jesus IS our role model!  He was not healing and restoring people to wholeness to get His picture in the papers, He was fulfilling God’s will on earth.

What are we supposed to be doing? Aren’t we supposed to be leading people to Jesus so they might be made whole again? Are we supposed to be self-promoting in the process, or are we called upon to be humble as He was humble?

If nothing else, I should think it’s something to ponder.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: May 14, 2023

Mark 7:1-23

Parallel Texts: Matthew 15:1-20; John 7:1ff.

Mark’s account changes it’s focus at this point, as does Matthew’s and Luke’s, for from this point forward up to Jesus’ final arrival in Jerusalem, Jesus focuses on training His disciples. Here, He begins to demonstrate the differences between the Kingdom and the traditional religious teachings of His day. Our first glimpse of this change of focus begins when Jesus and the disciples return from their sojourn to the other side of the Lake.

This is a great story… we could spend a week going over it piece by piece. A group of Pharisees have come up from Jerusalem and in our first glimpse of them they are looking for a fight. They approach Jesus complaining that His disciples are eating before they have gone through the proper hand washing ceremony… of all things. Jesus is having none of that:

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

Mark 7:6-8

It didn’t take Jesus very long to come to the point; He calls them hypocrites in the first sentence. The point is that they, who are such great law-keepers, just ask them and they’ll tell you, are pushing customs and traditions that aren’t in the Law. First, He quotes Isaiah 29:13 to set up His counter-charge, and then goes right to the point:

And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother.  Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

Mark 7:9-13

Here He quotes the commandment, and then reminds the nice Pharisees of their tradition. A man could set aside part of his property as a gift to God (Corban) and be relieved of his obligations to his elderly parents… and the Pharisees are perfectly fine with that, which of course defeats the purpose of the commandment. And here they were, trying to use one of these idiotic traditions to condemn His disciples! Well, now… we’re making friends today aren’t we?

Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” 

Mark 7:15

It didn’t make any difference whether His disciples did the traditional hand washing before eating their meal; what good is a ritual? The food would not make them unclean in any way, they would swallow it and nature would take its course. It’s what comes out of a person that makes them unclean, for what comes out of us reveals the condition of our hearts. If a man sees a beautiful woman, the sight of her does not make him a sex-crazed maniac… unless a sex-crazed manic was already inside of him.  If a person performs all of the right rituals and ceremonies and goes through all of the perfect motions on Sunday morning… so what?  Those will not cause anyone to love God and love their neighbor unless the love of God was already within their hearts.

Oh, sorry, did I make this about us instead of about those dastardly Pharisees?

Dear reader, all too often, we are the Pharisees!

So let’s see, what do we have here? Not only was Jesus some kind of a revolutionary preaching this new kingdom of His, not only was He healing the sick and lame, making the blind see, chasing out demons, forgiving sins and even raising the dead, and not only did He give out free food to His fans, now He was attacking the status quo by which the elites kept everyone in line:

Here’s another report back to Jerusalem that I wish we could read together!

Yep, those Pharisees were looking for a fight, and Jesus didn’t disappoint them.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: April 30, 2023

Mark 6:30-44

Parallel Texts: Matthew 14:13-21; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14

Mark jumps back to Jesus and the disciples, who have just returned after their journey through Galilee, giving us the impression that Herod’s musings about who Jesus was had gone on during the mission of the twelve disciples. Jesus hears their stories and suggests they withdraw to the other shore of the Sea of Galilee, to a place Luke identifies as Bethsaida. Mark has them heading there later that night, but either way, they’ve crossed the border. It strikes me as interesting that Mark has the story of Herod and John the Baptist inserted here, because as soon as the “away team” returns to Jesus, He leads them out of Herod’s jurisdiction…

Of course, the crowds have anticipated their destination and arrive first.  That is also interesting; did Jesus have a staff leak? Maybe I was in politics too long, but I can’t help wonder about that. Mark’s reason for their withdrawal was that the crowd was so big, they couldn’t even get a bite to eat, then the crowd, on foot, gets all the way to the other side of the Sea of Galilee before they can row straight across.  Jesus, never letting an opportunity get away from Him, begins to teach.  The disciples, seeing that it’s late in the day, ask Jesus to send the crowd off to get food, and what does Jesus do?

He tells the disciples to feed them. Of course, the disciples object citing the cost, and Jesus has them gather up what food they have and there are five loaves of bread and two fishes. You know the story, with five loaves of bread and two fishes they feed five thousand people and have more leftover than they started with.

So, let’s take stock: Jesus teaches the Kingdom, heals the sick and lame, makes the blind see, chases out demons, forgives sins, raises the dead and now provides free meals?  If you are a priest, a Pharisee or Herod, your political problems are getting worse!

Mark 6:45-56

Parallel Texts: Matthew 14:22-36; John 6:15-21

After feeding the five thousand, a murmur went through the crowd: “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”  Jesus knew they were about to seize Him and make Him king by force. (John 6:14-15) This is why the politicians, Herod, the Pharisees and priests, were so concerned about Him. They had two problems, first, they didn’t want to be replaced by Jesus, and they couldn’t have cared less if He was really the Messiah. Second, they had to be concerned about the Romans. Rome did not permit rebellion. They would allow a considerable amount of local autonomy and local rule, which as it turns out, was the secret to their success as an Empire. Rebellion, however, would be crushed with a brutality that had become well-known. Yes, these political types were in a tough spot.

Jesus sent the disciples across the lake in the boat and sent the crowd home; all things considered, that might have been another miracle. Then, He went off to pray alone. That He did so is probably material enough for an entire lesson, for please take note: If Jesus had intended any sort of a Kingdom in this world, He could have had it right then and there.

During the night, another storm comes up out on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus knowing that the boys were struggling against the elements walked out on the Sea in their direction shortly before dawn.

One can hardly be surprised that they mistook Him for a ghost… or something… after all I haven’t seen a guy walking across a lake in the midst of a storm, and if I did, would I think it was Jesus when I first saw him? Well, that might not be the first thought to pop into my mind, and I have heard of this; they hadn’t. They cry out in fear, Jesus identifies Himself. According to John, Jesus calls Peter out to walk on the water, which he does until he thinks about what he is doing, and then begins to sink; Jesus rescues him. Mark, however, didn’t mention this detail, and says Jesus climbed into the boat and the winds were still.  Here’s an interesting thought: Mark, who left Peter’s incident out of the story, is thought by most scholars to have written his gospel under Peter’s supervision: Hmmm…

Matthew recounts something interesting when they reached the shore that Mark only hinted at. Mark says that their hearts had been hardened, but Matthew goes on to say that when they arrived at the shore, the disciples worshiped Jesus, saying that surely, He is the Son of God. (Matt. 14:33). This is the first time they realize this, even though they should have understood it when He fed all those people, and from time-to-time, they would seem to forget it in the months ahead.

They reach the shore after sun up, and are immediately recognized, and the people begin to bring their sick and lame for healing, and many were healed as the Kingdom Tour resumes, and the Pharisees are on the attack…

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Sunday Sermon Notes: April 23, 2023

Mark 6:14-29

Parallel Texts: Matthew 14:1-12; Luke 9:7-9

The real “meat” in this text is found in verses 14-16, the part most commentators discuss and teach is in 17-29, unfortunately. Thomas Jefferson had a painting of John’s head on the platter hanging in his dining room, and I can attest that it is still there, yet the important part is not in what happened to John, it’s what people were saying about Jesus at this point in His ministry.

King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

Mark 6:14-16

“King Herod had heard about this” “This?” What was “this?”

In context, this passage in Mark’s gospel follows immediately the passage about Jesus sending out the twelve, it is relating to the Kingdom, and we know that news and accounts of Jesus’ activities had spread like wildfire throughout the region; the Pharisees had already begun to consider how they would kill Jesus, and they were exactly the ones who either knew, or with reasonable diligence they should have known that Jesus was the Messiah. Herod Antipas was another matter. Recall that he was the son of Herod the Great who had slaughtered the baby boys of Bethlehem upon hearing of the birth of Jesus. He was the Vassal-king of Judea, serving under the Roman Emperor, a marginal Jew at best in a secular administration, who one day would have his own problems with the Romans.

Who was this guy up in Galilee?

Nobody could figure that out for sure, but there were rumors.

Elijah? A prophet? No, John the Baptist has been raised from the dead!

It’s clear that on some level, John had gotten to Herod. It’s also clear that as a result of a stupid party stunt, Herod has randomly had John murdered. If you are Herod, and you are feeling guilty for what you did at that stupid party because you shot your mouth off… probably after a few drinks, and you think that John the Baptist has come back from the grave with miraculous powers, how do you feel about this new situation?

This guy is a rock star, the people are loving Him… and He has miraculous powers and you think he is the resurrection of the one you had murdered. What do you do now?

You could repent and beg forgiveness, but how would that look in the morning papers on the Emperor’s desk the next day? (so to speak) How will that play on the nightly news? What will your approval numbers do with the people? (Remember, this guy was a politician in a tough spot)

Is there a way you could try to kill him again? But he doesn’t stay dead!

What you really need are powerful allies, and sooner or later He is sure to catch wind of a plot against Him. I have a strong hunch that we might see Herod’s fingerprints later in the story!

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Sunday Sermon Notes: March 26, 2023

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith. Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.

Mark 6:1-6

Parallel Texts: Matthew 13:54-58; Luke 4:16-31

The gospel is spread through relationships; we need relationships with other people if we are going to reach them for Christ. Yet there are times when our relationship with someone might be too close to reach them, and Jesus runs into this odd phenomenon in Nazareth.

He speaks in the synagogue, the people are amazed just like the people have been all over the rest of Galilee, and then they remember who He is… the carpenter’s kid. How can the carpenter’s kid announce the Kingdom? No, that’s nuts… it can’t be! ‘Remember the time he and those other boys…?’

Verse 3 is controversial in some circles, naming Jesus’ four brothers and mentioning that He also had sisters. It seems clear to me, even though some see it differently; another example of the role played by presuppositions, because if your presupposition was that Mary and Joseph had no other children, then you will find a way to change the meaning of the words to maintain your presupposition.

It is often difficult to reach our own families and close friends for Christ because the relationship is too close. Yes, this can be an advantage, but just as often it’s a disadvantage, and this is troubling for many, even heartbreaking.  Yet we can still maintain influence, even though someone else may bring in the harvest. This frequently is maintained simply by our quiet example of faith, rather than our clever words. We don’t have great detail on this, but we do know that Jesus’ family, or at least many of them, came to faith later in the gospel story, and that should give us hope for our own family members who may be less than responsive to our pleas.

Mark 6:7-13

Parallel Texts: Matthew 9:35-38; 10:1. 5-12; 11:1; Luke 9:1-6

It is very interesting that Mark puts this immediately after the previous section. Remember that we have just looked at what happened when Jesus brought the Kingdom message to His home town of Nazareth for the first time; they rejected Him. Now, He leaves Nazareth and sends out the twelve for the third circuit of Galilee in what almost seems like a dry run of what would happen later, after Pentecost.

Jesus was rejected in His home town, and uttered the famous line: “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”  (v. 4)

All through His early Galilean ministry, Jesus has preached the Kingdom, healed the sick and lame; He has driven out demons, forgiven sins and even raised a girl from the dead. During this time, He was showing what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about: Restoring people to God by the forgiveness of sins, making us whole again, chasing away the influence of evil and bringing eternal life and relationship with God.  After being rejected in Nazareth, a new picture emerges of what was to come.

Jesus preached to His own and they rejected His message, then He sent His disciples out to the farthest parts of the region to proclaim the message there, and they would be better received.  After Pentecost, the Apostles would first preach in Jerusalem, then in Judea, but even though some came to faith, their own would, by and large, reject the message, and then it would be sent to far corners of the globe, where it would be better received.

After this time, there will be more contact with the authorities, more and more they will oppose Him, and the drama will increase as the time begins to grow shorter. But first, there will be news from Judea.

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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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