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.

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