February 29, 2012

Two Unscrupulous Priests - Feb 29, 2012

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This Lent our theme is, "Portrait of Our Suffering Savior, Painted by Numbers". Basically, what we're trying to do is understand Jesus better by looking closely at the events, characters and things that led to His death by crucifixion.

Tonight we examine two characters, Annas and Caiaphas: Two Unscrupulous Priests.

John 18:12-14 (ESV)

12 So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. 13 First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.

Right off the bat I'm going to grab hold of that one word, "expedient". Expedient is a great word to use in connection with Annas and Caiaphas because it pretty much sums them up.

The dictionary says that if an action is "expedient" it is an action that is convenient and practical, although possibly improper or immoral. That was Annas and Caiaphas in a nutshell.

These men had no scruples. No moral convictions that might get in the way of their plans.

My first impression of Annas and Caiaphas was that they were a lesson in hypocrisy. After all, Caiaphas was the reigning high priest of the Temple of Jehovah, and yet it appears that all he really cared about was money and power. He was a hypocrite.

But as I began to read more, I realized that these guys weren't very good hypocrites. They didn't cover their true selves well enough. Annas and Caiaphas were more like kingpins in a religious mafia than they were hypocrites.

Seriously, as I read about Annas and Caiaphas I kept thinking about "The Godfather", and other gangster movies.

Annas had a long and illustrious career. But for much of it he moved about in the shadows. Orchestrating his plans from behind one puppet-high-priest or another.

Did you know that Annas was the reigning High Priest when the twelve-year-old Jesus first visited the Temple? Annas only held the office for nine years, but after that five of his sons and one son-in-law held the position. Annas and Caiaphas were still in power when the apostles left Jerusalem to share the Good News of Christ with the world.

The Bible doesn't describe the wealth of Annas and Caiaphas, but other sources make it clear that they were immensely wealthy. And with great wealth comes influence.

The Talmud (an ancient record of what Jewish teachers thought and taught) accuses Annas and company of being "whisperers". You know, whispering like serpents into the ears of high ranking officials. Making back room deals. Getting judges verdicts to fall where they wanted them. Perverting justice and corrupting the powers that be (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. 1, p.263).

Let me read one story which helps us to see how these men thought. This takes place right after Jesus raised a man named Lazarus from the dead. It's from John 11...
"45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death" (John 11:45-53 ESV).
The thing that sticks out to me about this account is that Annas and Caiaphas have nothing to do with true religion. Nothing to do with God. And when you read through the other places where Annas and Caiaphas appear in Scripture, it's the same. They're never concerned with the truth, with worship, or with serving the true God.

In the account I just read, Caiaphas is completely transparent and to the point. If you're worried that Rome is going to come down hard on us because of Jesus, then there's really only one solution - get rid of Jesus. And then Caiaphas plays the fear card just to convince any in the council who might hesitate to plan a man's death. He says...
"...it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish" (John 11:50 ESV).
The death of this man, or the death of your nation guys. Those are your choices.

Caiaphas didn't have any scruples about murdering Jesus, not because he really cared about the Jewish nation, but because his God was money and power. And the religion of money and power doesn't have a moral code. Everything goes.

These aren't the only things that Annas and Caiaphas have in common with a crime family. They coached witnesses at Jesus' trial, a trial which was held for the purpose of finding what they were going to accuse Jesus of before the Roman authorities.

When Jesus didn't answer one of Annas' questions in the way expected, a thug stepped forward and smacked Jesus across the face and said...
"...Is that how you answer the high priest?" (John 18:22 ESV).
And when Jesus finally admitted that He was Messiah, the council led by Annas and Caiaphas pronounced Him worthy of death and then proceeded to spit in his face, to hit him, even to blindfold him and slap him, asking him to prophesy which one of them had hit him.

Luke 16, verse 13 says...
"13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money" (Luke 16:13 ESV).
Annas and Caiaphas chose money.

Now, we're not here just to learn about Annas and Caiaphas. We want to see our Savior. After all, our theme is "Portrait of Our Suffering Savior, Painted by Numbers" not "Portrait of a Jewish Crime Family."

So, we're going to look at how Jesus responded to them when he came in contact with them. We've already seen their true colors, now let's see Jesus' true colors.

The first color I'd offer to add to our canvas is RED for righteous anger. When Jesus came to the Temple in the first year of his ministry, he found all sorts of shops and merchants making a dollar off the worshipers who had come to Jerusalem. And these men had set up shop right in the temple courts. Much of the money that was made here found its way into the bank accounts of Annas and Caiaphas, and Jesus would have none of that.

Full of righteous anger, Jesus drove out both the animals that were for sale, and the merchants and the money exchangers. This was supposed to be a place of prayer, not a place of business. God's people are supposed to worship God and use money, not use God and worship money. Jesus wouldn't tolerate the love of money in His Father's Church.

And neither should we. Money is a tool, and a powerful one. But it's nothing compared to our God. When have we considered money matters more important than spiritual matters? May God forgive us for those times.

The second color is not so bold as red. The second color is STEEL GREY for strong restraint and focus.

Annas and Caiaphas belonged to a group called the Sadducees. This group liked to argue with the Pharisees. The Sadducees didn't belief in the resurrection, in angels or in spirits. Jesus didn't have much time for their questions because when the Sadducees came asking, they didn't actually come to learn. They came with some hidden agenda to push.

Listen to Matthew 16:1-4...
"And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed" (Matthew 16:1-4 ESV).
Jesus had done plenty of miraculous signs which validated His message. No matter what he did here they would have twisted it around to fit their agenda. And Jesus knew it. So he didn't say a thing.

And the same was true when Jesus stood before Annas and Caiaphas and the whole council of elders. They asked questions, but he remained silent. They weren't asking for knowledge. So, Jesus steeled Himself and took the verbal beating of lies and accusations thrown His way. He was fulfilling His Father's plan. He didn't need to play their games. He wasn't a manipulator Himself, but Jesus understood their methods. And He wasn't about to BE manipulated.

And here's where we see another one of our sins. We manipulate people just like Annas and Caiaphas. Sometimes we don't even realize it. Think about it. When have you been less that straightforward about something because you wanted a certain outcome. When have you candy-coated something or fed it through your own personal filter in order to make your words or your actions seem better than they actually were. We even do this to ourselves. We even manipulate ourselves, telling ourselves that our motives are cleaner than they really are. May God forgive us for each time we've manipulated instead of simply speaking the truth in love.

There's one more color I'd add to our suffering Savior's portrait tonight. That color is clear. CRYSTAL CLEAR for a warning that was plain and to the point.

Jesus refused to play word games with men like Annas and Caiaphas. But when He did speak, He went straight to the point and spoke a warning that was CRYSTAL CLEAR.

On one occasion, the Sadducees quizzed Jesus with a story about a woman who had a husband who died. Then she remarried and that husband died also. This happened with seven different husbands till she finally died. Their question was, "In the resurrection who will she be married to?".

Jesus said...
" 29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching." (Matthew 22:29-33 ESV).
Jesus points out the source of their problem clearly. Your problem is that you don't know what the Bible says, and you don't trust God's power to actually save and bless you.

And this convicts us too, doesn't it. We have not always been eager to spend time in the Bible. Sometimes we bristle and reject what God teaches there. Sometimes we hold tightly to our own ideas instead of letting them go, and clinging to what God says is true.

And even when we admit with our words that we KNOW God is in control, sometimes inwardly we doubt the power of God. Or the decisions that He makes in our lives. May God forgive us for neglecting His Word, or failing to trust Him completely.

We started our study tonight by talking about Two Unscrupulous Priests. Two men who were about their father's business in the Temple. Too bad that their chosen father was the almighty dollar.

Our suffering Savior was also about his Father's business though. And His Father's business was the business of saving sinners. Jesus was never greedy. Never a lover of money. He didn't even have a home to rest in! At the cross the soldiers divided his possessions. Some clothes. Our Jesus never manipulated people to fill his pockets. He always spoke the truth in love. Sometimes sharply and in warning to sinners, but always in love.

Our Savior was the perfect High Priest. He was sinless. Holy. He offered Himself for the sinful people. And because of Him, our sins of greed and hypocrisy stand forgiven. Trust in Him.


February 26, 2012

Using the Cross - Feb 26, 2012

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Genesis 22:13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.


Throughout the Old Testament there are specific prophesies about our Savior. He would be human and God. He would be a descendant of Abraham. He would be born in Bethlehem. He would perform miraculous healings. He would be crucified to earn forgiveness for all sinners. He would rise from the dead in victory.

Besides specific prophesies like these, God also wove little previews of the Savior into the very history of the Jewish people. We find one such preview of the Savior in the story of how Abraham offered up his son Isaac.

Throughout the whole story it looks like Isaac is done for. His father has been instructed by God to slaughter his own son as a burnt offering. But Abraham doesn't tell anyone what he is about to do. And when the wood is finally arranged on the altar, the narrative turns chilling in it's simplicity. It says, "...[Abraham] bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar..." (Genesis 22:9 ESV).

But then, out of nowhere, God puts the sacrifice on hold, and substitutes a ram for Isaac. And while Isaac stand rubbing his wrists where the ropes had held him so tightly, the ram bleeds out and dies in his place.

Just like the ropes that bound Isaac, our sin and guilt make it impossible to escape our fate. No matter how hard we try, we can't get off the road to hell. Nothing good we do today can erase a single sin we've done in the past. God's wrath is coming, and it looks like we're done for.

But then, out of nowhere, God gets involved. We are taken off of the altar, and someone else takes our place. And because He dies, we get to live.

Jesus is our "ram caught in the thicket". He is our substitute.

This is the most important foreshadowing found in our Old Testament reading. But there is another image left for our learning. Abraham is the pattern of a faithful Christian.

This man had been told to leave his extended family and travel West. God promised him that even though he was old, God would give him many descendants, and a good land that would be their own. Abraham believed God, and so he went West.

Then, after God had blessed Abraham with Isaac, he tested his faith. God told Abraham to kill his own son, and offer him as a burnt offering. Abraham didn't waste any time. The next morning he packed up and went where God had told him to go. He did not understand how God could keep his promise to give him many grandchildren if he ended his son's life, but Abraham trusted God, so he went.

When Abraham's actions made his faith in God obvious, God put an end to this test and reaffirmed his promise to bless all the nations of the world through one of Abraham's descendants. That descendant was Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Dear God, make us like Abraham. Soften our sinful and arrogant hearts so that we simply trust in you. And make our actions flow from that trust, and not from our own wisdom. When our own sinful hearts tell us that we have to save ourselves, help us to remember the mountain where you provided the sacrifice. Mt. Moriah, where you provided the ram for Isaac, and Mt. Calvary, where you provided your Son for every nation of sinners. Amen.

Mark 1:12-13 12 Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. 13 And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.


How would you respond if I suggested we all go without food tomorrow? Not just for fun, but in order to feed others. What if I suggested we fast tomorrow so that we can give all our meals to people who don't have as much food as we do?

We don't like to go out of our way for much, do we? It's not really in our nature to give up what is ours for someone else.

Jesus was very different than we are. When He went out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, he didn't eat. He prayed, and he fasted for 40 days.

In the past, some have used fasting as a worship tool during Lent. If fasting is done in private, between a person and God, it can be a useful expression of repentance over sin. During any part of the year, fasting can help us remember how much Jesus went without to save us from hell.

Just think about it. Jesus went without His fully glory as the Son of God every day that walked this earth. He went without food quite often because He was busy tending to the spiritual needs of the people. He went without justice, all the way to the cross, carrying our sins, suffering our pain, so that we could have life and forgiveness.

And on the cross He went without the Father’s presence. He felt the darkness of being truly and completely alone. And He did all this so that we wouldn’t have to. So that we could know the loving embrace of the Father when we leave this world of sorrow.

Maybe that’s why Jesus never commands us to fast. He’s done our fasting for us already. But, if you decide to fast in your worship this Lent, remember to do it for the Father’s eyes only. And if you don't fast this Lent, find something else to do that will turn your thoughts to all that Christ gave up for you.

Mark 1:14-15 14After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”


The Greek word which is translated repent in Mark 1:15 is made up of two Greek words put together, roughly after + think. Or as we’d say in English, “Think again.”

The people to whom Jesus preached to were encouraged to consider their sins and “think again,” and so are we.

This past Wednesday the season of Lent began. Lent is the time in the church year when we consider our Savior’s suffering and all of the events that brought Him to the cross.

When we really get to the heart of the matter we see that the true cause of our Savior’s suffering and death was not the scribes and Pharisees. It wasn’t the soldier who scourged Him or the soldier who drove the nails. Jesus’ suffering and death was made necessary by our sins.

The events that brought Jesus to the cross were the events of your life and mine, events that are thoroughly laced with dark deeds of sin. The death of God the Son was necessary because of the evil that we have done, and the good we have failed to do.

Because of this, a seriousness and a sadness seem to descend on the season of Lent. But listen again to what Jesus preached: “Repent and believe the good news!”

Sure, Jesus directs us to look inside ourselves to see our sin, but then He calls us to look back to Him and see our Savior.

Think God wants us to be sad during Lent? Think again.
It is during Lent that we are brought to see the dark depths of our sin, but it is also in Lent that the unfathomable depths of God’s love for us is revealed and forgiveness shines on us with greatest intensity.

Romans 8:32 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?


Lent is a time to think about our own sins. Lent is a time to think about all that Jesus went through to take our sins away.

The purpose for examining our own sins is to take stock. See how we're doing in reforming ourselves. See how we're doing in reprogramming ourselves to do what God wants us to do and not what Satan wants.

The self examination that can happen during Lent is not meant to be a self punishment. Jesus suffered on the cross, and endured hell in my place. He doesn't want me to suffer. That much ought to be clear. He didn't suffer and die on the cross to show me how to do it. He suffered and died on the cross so I don't have to.

When I find that I've done a horrible job of following God's directions in one area of my life, I just need to bring those sins to God and ask for forgiveness. He'll give it. And I can move on - taking special care in that particular area from that point on.

Some people see the cross as a sad place. A place to come and torture yourself. They say, with each sin I commit I'm heaping more sins on Jesus. But the problem with that thinking is that Jesus' suffering is finished. He said it Himself. He is not sorry about what happened on the cross. He's not bitter about taking our sins and carrying them all the way to the grave. He did it for the joy of redeeming us. The joy of opening heaven to us. The joy of making it possible for sinners to be reborn into God's family.

Lent is a time to think about our own sins, and to think about all Jesus did on the cross to take our sins away. But, the cross is not a black hole of sorrow and guilt for us. For those who know WHY Jesus hung on the cross, the cross is a source of POWER.

You want to know why I can say this? Because when you look at the cross in the New Testament, it's not connected with guilt and sadness, but with freedom from sin because of Christ Jesus. It's connected with God's love, and peace with God and forgiveness and security.

In Romans 8:32 it says...
"32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32 ESV).
Basically, Paul stands us next to the cross with God the Father and says, "Okay, the Father didn't spare his Son. You can see that. He's right there, being crucified to take your sins away. So, if the Father is willing to do even this to rescue you from something you got yourself into, than what in the world are you worried about! He's obviously willing to do whatever it takes to bring you home to heaven. Trust Him".

Now look at Romans 8:34. There Paul says...
"34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (Romans 8:34-35 ESV).
Who's going to condemn you? That's the question Paul asks. Who's going to accuse you and get you convicted. After all, Jesus stepped in and took the hit for you. He went to the cross and died. Then, since His voluntary and perfect sacrifice was accepted, God raised Him from the dead. And now, He is STILL working for you. He's interceding - talking to the Father on our behalf.

Horrible suffering couldn't make Jesus abandon us. Death couldn't keep Christ away from us! So, what are you worried about! Nothing can pry us away from the love Christ has for us. In fact, the only way we can be separated from Christ is if WE push Him away. And even then, it's not HIS love failing, that would be us walking away.

The cross means God the Father and God the Son are invested in you. The cross means power and forgiveness and freedom from guilt.

On the Wednesdays of Lent we're going to continue going through the history of Christ's suffering and death. And we're going to feel sorrow. But there's good reason for this.

When we see Jesus being abused, we naturally feel empathy. He's a human being. We're sinners, but still most of us don't like seeing people suffer. We feel empathy.

And we know that Jesus is innocent, so we feel empathy even stronger. Our empathy is mixed with a sense that justice isn't being done. An innocent man is being beaten and punished, and that's not right!

When we see Jesus being crucified, we imagine how excruciating that kind of death must have been. That's where the world "excruciating" comes from. It means "out from + the cross".

And finally, when we listen to what the Bible says, we realize that all this suffering came on Jesus because of our sins. Because He wanted to rescue us, He had to feel this for us.

This is going to naturally produce a feeling of regret and sadness over our sins. But don't let that sadness last. Jesus wants that sadness to be burned away by the thought of His glorious resurrection. Three days after the cross came the empty tomb. Came the victory March.

The cross is power because it says, "God will provide the sacrifice". The cross is power because it says, "Sorry, Satan, the sacrifice has been made and you can't undo it." The cross is power because it stand to give forgiveness to any and all who the Spirit brings to it.

The cross means God the Father was willing to give up anything to save you.

The cross means God the Son was willing to endure anything to wash your sins away.

The cross means God truly loves you. Not in a mushy, sentimental way. But in a rugged bloody knuckles and blistered hands way. God the Son loved you in word and in action. And still does.

This Lent, don't use the cross to beat yourself up. Use the cross to beat down your guilt. Use the cross to beat down that sinful nature that still rears up inside you. Use the cross to silence the accusation of the Devil.

The cross means you debt is paid. All glory be to Jesus.


February 23, 2012

Midweek Lent: One Soul-Distressing Hour - Feb 22, 2012

To the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever, Amen. The text upon which we'll base our meditation today comes from the 22nd chapter of the Gospel of Luke, beginning with the 39th verse, as follows:

Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. 40 When He came to the place, He said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation." 41 And He was withdrawn from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done." Thus far our text.

In the Name of Christ Jesus, Who followed the will of the Father all the way to the cross, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

You almost have to be of a certain age to know what “paint by numbers” is. It was a hobby phenomenon that blossomed in the early 1950’s and exploded in the decades thereafter. Following WWII, people had more money, and more leisure time in which to spend it. So an art supply company called Craft Master got the idea of marketing “paint by numbers.” It was a kit with a pattern on it, each little compartment of which contained a number. The numbers corresponded to the little containers of paint that came with the kit. If you took the time to painstakingly fill in the compartments with the appropriate color paint, gradually a beautiful picture would take shape before your eyes. A Japanese garden…a western sunset…the head of Christ.

It’s that last picture that concerns us tonight. This evening, and throughout the season of Lent, Pastor Schaller and you and I will be building a portrait of our Lord's Passion, one number at a time. Each week we’ll fill in another portion of the pattern, adding color and depth and texture to a story whose outlines we already know. The number tonight is ONE. Join me then, as we begin:
A Portrait of our Suffering Savior, Painted by Numbers:

I. In which Christ's call to prayer went unheeded
II. In which Christ's own prayer was answered
In tonight’s portion of the picture, the colors are vivid and easy to imagine. Dusk was turning to a deep blue twilight as Jesus and his disciples stepped through the Lion's Gate in the Eastern Wall of Jerusalem and started down the dusty road. In the gathering darkness they could hear the gurgling water of the little brook Kidron as they crossed it silently and started up the Mount of Olives. They all knew where they were going - to the Garden of Gethsemane, at the top of the hill. They had often come here with the Master. It was peaceful under the green spreading branches of the old olive trees; like a quiet park, where Jesus came to teach them, or to meditate, or simply to rest. Tonight He needed the solitude of Gethsemane for a different reason -- He needed to pray. As they reached the edge of the Garden, he took Peter and James and John, and went in.

Every difficult experience seems more difficult when you're alone. Perhaps that's why Jesus took these three closest of His disciples with Him. Facing the most crucial hour of prayer in His life, maybe He felt it would be a comfort if these friends were praying, too. So, When He came to the place, He said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation."

At the beginning of certain special services there is a liturgical form called "The Invitatory;" these words that the pastor says are a call to worship, or a call to prayer. That's what Jesus was doing on that Thursday evening in the Garden of Gethsemane - calling his disciples to prayer. He was calling on them to pray for strength. To pray that God would preserve them from temptation in the dark hours to come. But that call must have seemed strange to them. Surely Jesus was the one who was facing the most danger. He was the one the Jewish leaders were out to destroy, not them! What temptations would they, the disciples have to face?

-- Jesus knew. They would soon be tempted to desert their Master in the face of the Roman guard. Peter would be tempted to deny he even knew Jesus to the servants in the courtyard of the high priest. When Jesus was killed, they'd all be tempted to despair, tempted to cower behind locked doors in fright and faithlessness. They'd be tempted to forget that Jesus had promised to rise again! Yes, Jesus knew His disciples. That's why He called them to prayer.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, that call went unheeded. The parallel Gospel accounts tell us that Jesus, three times, went off a little distance to pray, and each time returned to find them sleeping. We read in Matthew, "Then He came to the disciples and found them asleep, and said to Peter, 'What, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Mat 26:40-41. Three times, the call went unheeded. They did not watch. They did not pray. Instead they slept.

My Christian friends, in the midst of this Lenten season, Jesus is calling us to prayer. And what’s the number we’re filling in again tonight? Oh yes, the number ONE. Jesus is calling upon you and me to watch with Him ONE hour. It doesn’t seem like a lot to ask. Our Lord doesn't have to tell us again that "the flesh is weak;" we know that our sinful flesh is weak! We've skipped too many prayers, avoided our family Bibles too many times, given less than our best to the Lord too often not to know that. Jesus is calling us to pray that we might overcome that flesh. Especially during this Lenten season, our Savior wants us to "watch" - to be alert, to wake up and pay attention, because something very important is happening. Jesus is carrying out the will of the Father. Painful as it is, Jesus is carrying through with God's plan to save mankind!

The disciples did not pray in the shadows of Gethsemane that night -- but Jesus did. Our text tells us, He was withdrawn from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done."

If that prayer sounds familiar, it should. "Thy will be done." I imagine most of us here today have rattled through those words of the Lord's Prayer many thousands of times. I wonder how often we've sincerely meant what we've said, though. I wonder how often we say to God on Sunday, "Thy will be done," and then, on Monday, go right on making sure that my will is what gets done in my life! How often do you have the faith to sincerely place your whole life and future in the hands of your Heavenly Father? In our case, I'm afraid its all too seldom. But that's exactly what Jesus did in His fervent prayer that night.

There's a trick question I always ask of my confirmation students when we reach the Second Article of the Creed.. True or false - "Jesus was part God and part man." The answer, of course, is false; Jesus was all God and all man at the same time. At this moment, on His knees in the Garden of Gethsemane, His powers as God allowed Him to see all the forces of Satan that would be unleashed on Him in the next 18 or 20 hours. And because He was true man, as well, He was afraid. Satan had tried to turn Him from His mission before. In the wilderness, on the pinnacle of the Temple, on a mountaintop overlooking the riches of the earth, the Devil had tempted Him to sin, and Jesus had driven him back with the sure Word of God. Now it wasn't the riches of the world that were spread before Him -- it was the awful agonies of hell. A cup had been filled for Jesus. It was a bitter, bitter cup. It was the cup of punishment for every sin that you or I (or anyone else!) ever committed. In a very few hours, Jesus would have to drink it.

So our Savior prayed three times to His Father. Each time, He asked that, if possible, He might be spared the suffering to come. But each time He qualified the desperate request by saying, "Nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done." There was a tremendous struggle going on within our Savior. Here, in this peaceful place among the olive trees, all the forces of darkness were lined up against the forces of light and love. God's plan of love called for Jesus' suffering and death. But Satan whispered, "You needn't drink that cup of suffering - why give Your life for sinners who want nothing to do with You?" The struggle grew fierce. Verse 44 tells us that Jesus, "...being in agony, prayed more earnestly. And His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground."

Finally, our Savior's prayer was answered. He had put His life in the hands of His Father, and His Father's will was made clear. God's will was that Jesus should die in our place, so that we might live. As the chief priest Caiaphas unwittingly put it, "It is expedient for us that one man should die for the people." Jesus had the answer to His prayer. He emerged from the Garden, gathered His disciples, and calmly went to meet His end. In His love for us, and in obedience to His Father's will, He was determined to drain the bitter cup of suffering to it's very last drop.

That obedience, that determination, that love -- those are qualities of our Savior that you and I will be praising for endless ages in eternity! Even as we once again fill in all the dark details of the picture of Christ’s Passion – a picture that so clearly reveals to us the awful consequences of our sin - we're reminded that the finished product, the final outcome, will be beautiful. Yes, we're going to the cross. But our journey won't end there. The journey may begin in the Garden of Gethsemane, but it ends at the Garden Tomb! The resurrection of our Savior on Easter Sunday assures us that His suffering was not in vain. The victory has been won. Your sins and mine have been atoned for in full, and eternal life has been reserved as our inheritance. As Paul says in I Corinthians, "Now is Christ risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive!" -- 15:20-22.

There's a religious custom that has sort of fallen by the wayside in recent years - a custom some of you might remember. Years ago, people used to "give something up for Lent." Meat for instance, or pastry, or sweets. Perhaps we should revive that custom. I suggest that, this year, we give up sleep for Lent. Not physical sleep - rather, let's abandon our spiritual drowsiness, and keep alert. Rather than simply falling into the spiritual sleep of "just another Lenten season," let's stay awake -- to watch and pray with our Savior. Rather than letting our senses be lulled to sleep by routine, let's follow Jesus' Passion actively, with family devotions and personal Bible study. Each Thursday evening we'll be spending an hour here at church to view our Savior's love for us. Will you be here? Something important is happening - our salvation is being won. Let's fill in the rest of the beautiful colors together. In Jesus' name, AMEN.

February 19, 2012

Transfiguration Revelation - Feb 19, 2012

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Throughout the season of Epiphany, we’ve been reading little stories from Jesus’ early ministry. Each story has revealed some part of his character.

At Jesus’ baptism, a voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, whom I love: with you I am well pleased”. So, we see that Jesus is the sinless Son of God.

By the shores of Galilee we saw Jesus call fishermen to be part of his teaching team. He came to rescue common sinners, and to reach them he would use common sinners.

In the synagogue of Capernaum Jesus explained God’s Word with intellectual authority, and he cast out demons with supernatural power.

Through numerous healings we have seen that Jesus was both compassionate, and powerful to heal physical disease.

Through all of these accounts we’ve seen that Jesus was wise and also dedicated to telling the masses that forgiveness of sins comes through faith in the promised Savior.

Today we end the season of Epiphany with a bang as we read the account of Jesus’ transfiguration. This account shows us that Jesus’ life was the single most important event in all of human history.

Jesus wasn’t just another political ruler. He wasn’t just another social reformer. He wasn’t just another religion inventor. He was the Savior foretold who was here to earn forgiveness for the thousands who had waited for his arrival and trusted that he would come. He was the Savior foretold who was here to earn forgiveness for the thousands who would come after him up to this present day.

Mark 9:1-10 (NIV)

1 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

Just about every year we use the transfiguration account to transition from the season of Epiphany to the season of Lent.

Epiphany is the season where we study how Jesus was revealed to be the promised Savior of the world. Lent is the season where we consider our own sins, and what Jesus endured to take them away.

Like I said, we use the transfiguration story just about every year to transition from Jesus’ revealing to Jesus’ suffering. And I think we do this for two reasons.

First of all, the transfiguration account is like an exclamation point on the end of Epiphany. In a way superior to any other story from Jesus’ early ministry, the transfiguration account shows Jesus to be the Son of God and the Savior that the whole Old Testament was looking forward to.

Let me explain what I mean.

First of all, let’s just look at the plain facts here. Peter, James and John accompanied Jesus up on a mountain where they were alone. There Jesus was changed before their very eyes. That’s what “transfigured” means. His appearance was altered. The glory that he had as the eternal Son of God burst out of him in a way that he had not permitted before. Our reading from Mark says that Jesus clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.

Jesus was not a normal carpenter’s son from Nazareth. That much was obvious. Jesus was supernatural.

But that wasn’t all. Next to him were two men. Men who had not been seen on earth for over 850 years. Moses and Elijah. Moses was the man who brought the Ten Commandments off the mountain from God. Elijah, was the chief prophet of the Old Testament. Moses had been dead for over 1,400 years. Elijah had been swept up into heaven in a fiery whirlwind 850 years previous. But here they were.

Any student of the Old Testament Bible would understand the significance. They stood as representatives for all the believers who had been waiting for the Messiah. From Adam and Eve until the time of Jesus.

Jesus was no new religious teacher building his own cult. He was the expected Messiah. He was the fulfillment of God’s promise to sent the human race a savior from sin. He was the fulfillment of all those Old Testament prophesies.

This is what Jesus had been teaching throughout Galilee, that the Savior was coming. That the people should trust in him. Listen to what Jesus told Nicodemus…
“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17 NIV).
And on that mountain where Jesus’ glory erupted, the voice of God the Father also erupted from the sky. Our reading says that after Peter blabbered a bit about setting up tents and staying a while, and then a great cloud enveloped them. And then a great voice spoke from that cloud saying, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7 NIV).

Jesus wasn’t just another Jewish teacher gathering followers from the villages of Galilee. He had God the Father’s endorsement on his message.

To review, the transfiguration shows Jesus was supernatural, the expected Savior that the Old Testament Bible predicted and that he was endorsed by God the Father by megaphone from heaven.

This is Jesus. God’s promise of salvation in the flesh. The Savior from sin. That’s what Mark is telling us.

Now, I said that we use this account to transition from Epiphany to Lent. The second reason why we use this account to transition from Epiphany to Lent is because the transfiguration account shows us how dark Jesus’ suffering really was. How much he gave. How much he held back when he suffered in our place. If we can keep the image of Jesus’ GLORY in mind as we read about his SUFFERING and DEATH on the cross, then we’re going to appreciate his sacrifice to a greater degree.

Just look at the contrast between the transfiguration and what is coming up.

Here Jesus stands in visible glory as Son of God. Light streams from his face and clothing. It’s so glorious that the disciples are too afraid to think clearly.

But soon, Jesus will be praying with his face to the ground in the garden of Gethsemane. He will be sweating blood, and struggling through the agony of expectation as he considers the suffering required to erase our sins.

On the mountain Jesus had Moses on one side and Elijah on the others. What greater place of honor could a Jew imagine? And not only that, God the Father spoke out and testified that this was His Son whom he loved!

But soon, Jesus will be flanked by two violent criminals on a very different mountain. Hanging from a cross. Soon, the approving voice of God the Father will fall silent and the only voices Jesus will hear will be voices that mock and insult.

On the mount of transfiguration the disciples finally got to see Jesus in glory. They had been waiting for this. They believed he was the Messiah, the one that the Old Testament prophet Daniel had called, “The Son of Man”. But they hadn’t understood why he wasn’t coming in glory just yet. Now they had a taste of that glory.

But soon, they would have a taste of bitterness and disappointment. Soon Judas would betray. Guards would arrest. Romans would scourge and spit. Soldiers would crucify and mock. All glory would be gone for a time, at least in their eyes.

The same Jesus who showed his glory on the mountain top could have shown his glory at any point during his suffering on the way to the cross and the grave. But he didn’t because he knew it had to be this way, he had to suffer all if we were to be released from our sin’s just punishment.

As we move through Lent and see all the suffering of Jesus once again, let’s think of the glory he had on the mountain. Let’s keep that in mind. And let’s thank Jesus for being so strong, dedicated and compassionate – that he would be humbled like this for our salvation.

Jesus knew that he had to suffer and die. He said as much to the disciples in verse 9
“9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mark 9:9 NIV).
You see, the kingdom of God was not going to be any earthly rule. The Kingdom of God is the reign of God in the hearts and minds of people like you an me. This reign of God comes begins with faith. When people believe that their sins truly have been erased by Jesus’ life and death. When people believe they too will rise from the dead because their Savior did, and promises them the same.

Jesus’ life was the single most important event in human history because through that life Jesus paid for the sins of the world. All the Old Testament people that never got to see the Savior, but who trusted in the promise that he would come, they have received His forgiveness and eternal life. People today who have not seen the Savior, but who trust in the promise that he came, have received His forgiveness and eternal life.

In all our stories about Jesus this epiphany we’ve looked back at his life to see who he was. In the transfiguration account we do something else. We look forward to what being with Jesus will be like someday for us in heaven. Where his glory will not be dimmed. Where he will be hidden from our sight.

May God bless our souls so that we trust in Jesus until the day we die. And may Jesus receive our souls into paradise, beside the souls of Moses and Elijah, Peter, James and John. Amen.

February 12, 2012

Jesus Knows What He's Doing - Feb 12, 2012

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“I hope you know what you’re doing”.

Have you every said those words to somebody? It’s kind of a risky phrase.

We use this phrase when someone is about to do something that we think is a bad idea. But, we also think this person is no dummy. So we wonder, “Does he know something I don’t know? Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut.” But for one reason or another we can’t, so we throw out this little questioning statement, “Ahhhh, I hope you know what you’re doing.”

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark, we find a couple of times that the people surrounding Jesus may have wanted to say, “Whoaaaaa Jesus. I hope you know what you’re doing”.

Mark 1:40-45 (NKJV)

40 Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”
41 Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” 42 As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. 43 And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
45 However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction.

The Leper who threw himself at Jesus’ feet was in a terrible condition. There was no cure for leprosy back then. Because of the progressively degenerative effects that it had on the body, people called leprosy, “the living death”. Many thought that this disease was so horrible, that it HAD TO BE a direct judgment from God because of some sin the person had committed.

This same incident is recorded in the Gospel of Luke. Being a medical doctor, Luke reports that this man was in the later stages of leprosy. Luke’s account says that he was “filled with leprosy” (Luke 5:12).

While we are not given a point by point description of his appearance, we can assume that his flesh had been eaten away in places and his skin was scaly and raw. No doubt sores covered much of his body.

One of the most terrible things about leprosy was that it left the leper’s mind relatively unaffected. The leper got to consciously observe as their body degenerated further and further, with nothing they might do to stop it.

In Jesus’ day, the leper’s social condition was also as good as dead. The Old Testament lays down the following regulations in connection with this disease:
“45“The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ 46As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46 NIV).
Contracting leprosy meant alienation from your family, separation from your friends and quarantine from the healthy.

Leprosy then also meant separation from the Temple of God and from worship services. A leper was a constant reminder of all that is rancid, sinful and evil. Regardless of his character, a leper’s condition rendered him ceremonially unclean and thus forbidden to enter the Temple of the Holy God.

All of these details make Jesus’ reaction to the leper astounding. Falling down before Jesus the leper says,
“…If you are willing, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40 NKJV).
And what does Jesus do? He reaches out HIS HAND toward the leper…

This is where the record skips, the background music cuts out and someone from the surrounding crowd says, “Ahhhhh, Jesus? I hope you know what you’re doing.”

I mean seriously. You’re gonna touch this guy? He’s full of leprosy. You touch him and you’re gonna be ceremonially unclean. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What if you get what he’s got? There’s a reason why they have to warn everyone on the road by saying, “Unclean! Unclean!” I’m just sayin’ you might not want to touch this guy.

But Jesus knew what He was doing. He knew that this man wasn’t used to people entering his personal space. Jesus knew that this man’s first reaction to someone touching him would probably be to shrink back, not wanting to give his leprosy to someone who didn’t know better. Oh, Jesus knew what he was doing.

Jesus understood that touch was what this poor sinner needed. Touch which communicated the compassion that Jesus felt for him. Touch, and a word of compassion, “I am willing, be cleansed”.

And as we’ve seen before, Jesus’ compassion was followed by an effortless flexing of his almighty power. In an instant, the living death is gone. In the blink of an eye, the leper’s nightmare has come to an end. The leprosy is gone. His flesh restored.

This is Jesus: compassionate and powerful.

But let’s rewind for a moment and see the leper again. This time let’s look beyond his disease and see his soul. Mark tells us quite a bit in the first verse of his account.
“40 Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean” (Mark 1:40 NKJV).
This man had watched his death approaching at a snail’s pace for a long time. His situation had grown desperate. This was his last hope.

He knew what other people thought. That leprosy was God’s judgment on the really bad sinners. No doubt his mind must have poured over his life in search of that sin. What great sin had he done that God was punishing him for? Was there anyway to make amends?

Sifting through his life, he must have found what we find when we examine our lives in the light of God’s commands. We find a life full of broken promises. A life of unkind words and unclean thoughts. The life of a sinner. Maybe we’re not any worse than the next guy, but when we compare our thoughts, words and actions with God’s high standards, we have to admit that we have fallen tragically short of what God expects.

Luke tells us that the leper fell on his face in front of Jesus. He didn’t have anything to offer. Nothing to barter with God for his life. He knew that God didn’t owe him anything. And so he simply appeals to God’s grace. He says, “If You are willing, You can make me clean”.

He doesn’t say, “I’ve tried to be good”. He doesn’t say, “I’m better than my next door neighbor”. He doesn’t say, “I promise to ______________, if you heal me.” He just says, “I know you can heal me if it is your will to do so. You have the power to make me clean again”.

It was an expression of simple faith.

This is how WE aught to pray. Knowing we are sinners who cannot heal ourselves. Knowing we cannot escape hell on our own. Conscious of the insults we spit at God with every evil thing done and every good thing left undone.

We aught to pray like the leper. Kneeling before God. Acknowledging that He doesn’t owe us anything for. But also believing God’s promise to cleanse all who ask forgiveness in the name of His Son.

Yeah, Jesus knew what He was doing when he reached out to that poor leper. He was showing him that God forgives sinners. He was showing him that where you find the Son of God, you find forgiveness and healing.

In the first half of our sermon reading, Jesus shows himself to be compassionate and powerful. In the second half his whole tone changes. Let’s read those verses again. Verse 43
“43 And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
45 However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction” (Mark 1:43-45 NKJV).

This time it wasn’t someone from the crowd that might have spoken up, it was the cleansed man. This time Jesus’ hand wasn’t slowly extending toward the leper, it held up before his face in that familiar gesture that says, “Shhhhhhh. Be quiet!”

And this is where the record skips again, the background music cuts out and the leper says, “Ahhhhh, Jesus? I hope you know what you’re doing.”

I mean, why should I be quiet about this? Shouldn’t I tell everyone that you can heal leprosy? I mean obviously you’re the fulfillment of the Isaiah prophesies. You know, Isaiah says the Messiah will be a healer of all sorts of physical ailments (Isaiah 35:4-6). I’m just sayin’ maybe it’s a better idea if I share my story with everyone that I meet on the way to the Temple.

But Jesus knew very well what he was doing. He turned from compassionate and gentle to strict and stern *snap* just like that. And it was because he had a plan.

Jesus wasn’t trying to keep this healing a secret indefinitely. He was already known as a miracle worker, and with the way that he had been openly healing diseases and casting out demons in Capernaum, he obviously didn’t mind being known as a miracle worker. (Mark 1:32-34)

What Jesus wanted was to save more sinners by bringing them to rely on Him. One group of people that were particularly hard to convince were the Temple priests. Jesus figured this cleansed leper was just the right preacher for them.

Jesus wanted the man to keep quiet about how he was healed - for now. He wanted him to go to the Temple in Jerusalem, and go through the procedure for being declared clean from his leprosy. This procedure is found in Leviticus 14 if you want to read about it. But basically, it amounted an eight day period at the Temple during which the cleansed leper would be examined by a priest, would offer certain sacrifices and finally be declared cleansed and free to enter society and worship once more.

If Jesus’ plan had been followed, the man would have spent eight days at the Temple. And only AFTER this time, when he was declared clean, would the priests have found how he had been healed. That it was JESUS who had healed him. And that would have been a powerful “testimony to them” that He was the Messiah sent from God.

But the leper thought he knew better. Why keep quiet? Jesus can’t be right. The best thing to do is tell everyone what just happened.

Uhhhg. Doesn’t this sound familiar. Don’t we do this ALL THE TIME. We wreck Jesus’ perfect plans for us by thinking we know better. By out-planning the almighty God.

Like Eve in the garden of Eden we think, “I know that God said about this tree, but I think it’ll be better if I just have one little bite…

Like Peter in the garden of Gethsemane we think, “I know that the Lord said this had to happen, but it doesn’t fit with my plans, so I think I’ll take a swipe at this guy with my sword.”

The know-it-all Christian has a bad habit of wrecking Jesus’ plans by adding his own ingredients to the recipe or leaving out others.

Instead we aught to just keep it simple.

First, believe the promise God makes: Trust in My Son. In Him your sins are completely forgiven. You stand cleansed.

Second, do what he says. Not more. Not less. Let’s just follow the simple map he lays out for Christian living.

“I hope you know what you’re doing”.

When we say those words to someone, we usually get one of two responses. We either get rewarded, “Oh, yeah, thanks for reminding me. I should shut the electricity off before messing with these wires.” Or, we get that one-eyebrow-raise that means, “Seriously? You’re going to ask me if this is safe or not? I’ve been an electrician for 40 years. Of course I shut the power off first.”

When it comes to Jesus, we ought to know better than to say, “I hope you know what you’re doing”. He loves us. He is the all powerful Son of God. He is smart, knowledgeable, wise and shrewd. The Bible lays out example after example of his compassion, his power and his wisdom.

Yeah, Jesus knows what he is doing. May God give us faith to trust wholly and completely in the most trustworthy man who ever lived. God give us faith to trust the man who suffered and died for us, taking the punishment for our sins away forever. And may God give us faith to live our earthly lives according to His direction. Amen.

The peace which rises above all human wisdom and understanding will guard your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus.

February 5, 2012

What a Savior - Feb 5, 2012

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My dad used to help organize a backpacking trip into the Porcupine Mountains of upper Michigan. This was a joint camping trip. Pastors from other congregations would bring youth groups and they’d all hike into the mountains together.

Before each trip, the pastors would hammer out their “Bible study focus” for that year’s set of devotions. I got a chance to look at some of these notes once, and a particular thought stuck with me. My dad wrote something like…

“I don’t want the kids to go away from these devotions thinking, ‘Man, I’ve gotta be a better Christian.’ I want them to go away thinking, “Wow! What a Savior”.

That’s what I want you to focus on today. As we read about Jesus’ early ministry in the book of Mark, there’s going to be times when he serves as a great example to follow. But I don’t want you to focus on how you can be like Jesus. I want you to focus on the man himself.

This is Jesus. That’s what Mark is trying to show us. Yes, these stories impact us, they have truth to impart to our lives. Yes, these truths will alter the way we live. But Mark’s words aren’t primarily about us. They’re about Jesus. They reveal what kind of a person he was, and is.

Do you know Mark got his information? Or who Mark was? He wasn’t one of the apostles. Strangely, the book of Mark doesn’t even contain the name “Mark”.

We get the information about this book’s author and where he got his information from an ancient church leader who lived in the second century AD (Papius c. A.D. 140). Papius is his name. Papius tells us that Mark was a close friend of the apostle Peter, and that he got the material for his Gospel from listening to Peter preach and talk about Jesus.

How’s that for a source. The book of Mark is like “Peter’s diary” about Jesus’ ministry.

Peter was there. He remembered what happened clearly. He told Mark these things. Mark wrote them down.

In today’s reading from Mark, we’ll look into the life of Jesus and see that he wasn’t just another good example for people to follow. He was a Savior to trust in. Compassionate, powerful and real.

Mark 1:29-39 (ESV)

29 And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Our first little story happens in Simon Peter’s house. We’re told that this house belongs to Peter and Andrew. We’re told that Peter is married, and apparently his mother-in-law is not only living with them, she is currently sick with a fever.

When these Galilean fishermen arrived at the home of Peter, they were probably still buzzing about what had happened at the synagogue. It was the Sabbath day. Saturday. The Jewish day of rest and worship, and Jesus and company had gone to the synagogue Bible class.

First Jesus awed the people with his teaching. Then a demon possessed man shouted at Jesus, and Jesus awed the people again by telling the demon to be silent and to leave the man alone - which the demon promptly did. And then they left for Peter’s house.

It’s not surprising that these men would mention Peter’s sick mother to Jesus. Obviously, they had seen that he was powerful today. Powerful in explaining and teaching the Bible. Powerful in casting out demons. Perhaps he could do something for Peter’s mom.

And he did. That’s not so surprising. But what is unusual is the way that he did it. Verse 31 simply says,

“…he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her…” (Mark 1:31 ESV).

With this gesture, this simple reaching out to help this sick woman sit up, and stand, Jesus shows compassion. Sure he could have healed her with a word from the living room, but he didn’t. He stretched out his hand and helped her up.

And there’s something else that is surprising here. We’ve got a miracle going on, but there’s no fireworks. No flash of power. No even the hint of concentration in the description that Mark gives us. There’s no magical incantation, not even a prayer for God the Father to heal her. Jesus just helps her up and all of the sudden the fever is gone.

Prophets pray for their miracles, but Jesus is more than a prophet. He just does miracles. There’s no “Harry-Potter-like” struggling and focusing with a magic wand. Sometimes Jesus doesn’t even say anything to make a miracle happen. He just does it. That is power.

And here’s the greatest thing about this power of Jesus. It’s still at work today. If what the Bible says is true, Jesus is still just as powerful today as he was back then.

The Bible says that Jesus suffered and died on a cross. It say he did this to make restitution for our sins. To suffer our hell sentence, and set us free from eternal damnation once and for all. After that, he was raised from the dead by God the Father to proclaim to the world that Jesus’ sacrifice was accepted, and our sins are paid for.

Jesus lives on today, and promises that where two or three are gathered together in his name – he is there. Be at peace. The same compassionate and powerful Jesus that healed Peter’s mother without a word, reaches out to us today through the Good News of sins forgiven in his name. And by faith we hold onto his powerful hand.

Let’s move on to the next little story.

Mark tells us that after supper, after it got dark. Then, when the Sabbath day was officially over – the whole village showed up at Peter’s house to see Jesus. They brought the sick and the demon possessed to be healed. The word about what Jesus had done in the synagogue had spread fast.

And that brings one detail to mind that shouldn’t be overlooked. Jesus’ shift was over. He had already spent the morning at church, teaching. And if teaching wasn’t stressful and exhausting enough, one of his Bible class listeners had been possessed by a demon, whom Jesus had to cast out. Then, he went home to Peter’s house where the whole city later turned up for some more healing.

But Jesus doesn’t care. Or, I guess I should say, he does care. About people. He doesn’t mind that it’s after dark. He doesn’t mind that it’s been long day already. He doesn’t turn the people away, but puts in the overtime with a smile.

Once again, we see that Jesus is compassionate. He cares about people. He takes the time to see them, and to help them.

And with each miracle healing we are reminded of his power. But there’s one particular flexing of his God powers that is notable here. Verse 34 says that Jesus...
“…would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him” (Mark 1:34 ESV).
That’s control. You can just imagine the frustration of these demons. They had exercised such control over their human subjects up to this point, but now here comes Jesus. And all the sudden they can’t even speak. They want to rant, they want to yell and scream at Jesus, but they can’t. He has decided that his ministry will progress just fine without help from demon speakers.

Jesus silences these demons so easily. Just like the healing of Peter’s mom, there’s no effort. He just does it.

How hard it must have been for Jesus to refrain from using his powers. How hard it must have been when he was hungry, or tired – with just a thought he could have refreshed himself. But he didn’t. He was here to live a normal human life.

How hard it must have been to refrain from using his powers when the Roman soldiers began to beat him and mock him. How hard it must have been to hold back as they drove those nails right through his wrists and into the beams of the cross.

It’s good to remember that Jesus was God, but that he was also human. He got tired. He got hungry. He got so exhausted carrying his cross to the place of execution that he dropped it and physically couldn’t continue to carry it.

At each and every one of these moments Jesus could have done a miracle and ease his path, or at least his pain. But he didn’t because that wouldn’t do if he was going to save sinners from hell by suffering hell in their place.

This is why we can’t afford to lose our Savior by seeing him as just another moral teacher. Just another example to follow. He’s so much more.

There are plenty of good examples. People to aspire to be like. People with good qualities to emulate and imitate. But there’s only ONE man who suffered hell on earth and died our death on a wooden cross. In Jesus we have much more than an example, we have a Savior who bought our release and gives forgiveness freely, through faith in His blood.

There’s one more little story in our reading for today. One more story that shows us our Savior. Let me read it again.

Verse 35 says…
“35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons” (Mark 1:35-39 ESV).

Okay, get this. Jesus has an exhausting day preaching at the synagogue and casting out a demon. Then he heals Peter’s mom, and spends the evening healing and casting out more demons for a little overtime work. Then, when everyone is sleeping the next morning, Jesus tip-toes out the door and finds a place away from town to pray.

And what’s on his mind to pray about? Well, we’re not told directly, but we sure get a good clue. When Peter and others find him, Jesus says, “I’m glad you’re here. I’ve been waiting out here so we can take off for the next town. I’ve got a message to share”.

Jesus could have been king of Capernaum. But that’s not the kind of thing he cares about. He wants to bring the message of sins forgiven through the promised Messiah to other villages of sinners who need to hear it. He is passionate about saving sinners by creating faith in their hearts by the Gospel. And he’s ready to work hard to do this. He’s ready to use his God-powers to heal others, and to just suffer along through his own pain and fatigue.

This is Jesus.

But here again we find something different. One more thing worth noting. Jesus has come out of this town, to make their exit to the next town easier. He knows Capernaum isn’t going to want him to leave. He knows how hard it is to say good bye and how many other things could use his attention there. But he’s on a mission. And he understands it’s not his mission to listen to everyone who wants something from him. His mission, his ministry it to preach the good news all over Galilee. And so he shrewdly exits in the early morning hours, and spends his time praying while the others look to find him.

Our culture likes to depict Jesus as a helper. A listener. A person who is so loving that he’s loving to a fault. Na├»ve. Gullible. Weak. But the real Jesus was shrewd and focused. He knew how things work in this world, and he used that knowledge to get his work done.

Jesus was compassionate, powerful and real. He was also, shrewd, dedicated and focused on saving sinners.

I began this devotion by saying I didn’t want you to focus on how you can imitate Jesus, but rather just on seeing his character. Seeing the real Jesus that Mark presents. But in this last little story, Jesus does leave us an example worth following every day.

Jesus prayed.

He walked the dark and deserted morning streets of Capernaum to meet with His heavenly Father privately in prayer. If our Savior felt this was crucial to his life and ministry, then perhaps we too should value the open line of communication to God that Jesus has opened up to us.

By prayer we hit the reset button on a bad day. By prayer we unload the burdens we know we can’t carry. By prayer we touch base with our Creator, and call in the heavy artillery on our problems. Through prayer we are reminded of the rest that we have in Christ Jesus.

So, let’s pray in our own lives. And lets pray right now to close our meditation time.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for being so compassionate, so powerful and so real. Thank you for going to the cross in our place. Jesus, when we read about you, help us not to miss the point by turning everything you do into some kind of veiled command for us to follow. Help us instead to just say, “Wow ! What a Savior I have.” Help us to rejoice in the peace that your cross gives. Help us to remember that your power is just as effective today as it was back then. Help us to run to your word and your sacraments to renew and strengthen our faith in you. And remind us to meet with you often in prayer. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.