Messages

MESSAGE FOR SUNDAY, 2024/02/25

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Reading:
Mark 2:13-17

Text:
Mark 2:14: “As He walked along, He saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me’, Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed Him.”

Message
In this passage we’ll see that Jesus reached out to and called very unlikely people to follow after Him as His disciples, people no one else would have chosen, people who were unlovely because of their sinfulness. We come across unlovely people every day, rough and unkind people, people who reject Jesus and anyone who talks about Him, people whose lives are corrupted and controlled by sin, people whom it’s difficult to show love and kindness to. Do you know anyone like this? As we look at how Jesus showed love to these kinds of people we can imitate our Saviour and ‘Learn to love the unlovely like Jesus did.’

As Jesus walked beside the sea, He saw Levi sitting at the tax booth and He told him to follow Him. Levi gets up from the tax booth and follows Jesus and he drops everything. Levi was sitting at a tax booth. Tax collectors were despised. The Romans who occupied the land taxed the Jewish people heavily and they did not use Roman officials. They used Jews to collect the taxes from their own people. The tax collectors would also collect extra taxes and so they become rich. So the Jews hated the tax collectors because they saw them as traitors and stole from their people. So the tax collectors were lumped with the lowest of the law sinners like prostitutes and therefore no self-respecting Jew would ever be caught dead with a tax collector. The tax collectors were not merely doing their job of collecting taxes. They were dishonest and cheats.

This is the environment that Jesus lived in.

Now Jesus calls Levi to follow Him. Everyone knew this man and everyone hated him, but in His amazing grace and love Jesus just called him to be His disciple. People’s jaws must have hit the ground and Jesus’ current disciples must have been flabbergasted. Jesus wanted this notorious sinner, this traitor to be His disciple? This was an absolute scandal, but Jesus didn’t care what people thought. Jesus saw past Levi’s exterior to his heart that was broken by sin and He loved Levi and called him to be His disciple. Levi got up from his tax booth and followed after Jesus. This man who had everything the world could offer, wealth, clothes, a nice house, power and a successful career, left all of it to follow after Jesus as His disciple and found a new life in Him. The response of Jesus’ disciples to his calling is a picture of what happens when He calls us to salvation. We turn away from our old life of sin and we trust in Jesus to save us, and He gives us a new life to follow after Him as His disciple and we love, serve and live for our Saviour Jesus. Our lives become all about Jesus, just as Levi’s did. Now with these things in mind let us see what happens next.

Jesus is now in Levi’s house for a meal. But Levi and Jesus are not eating alone. Many tax collectors and sinners were reclining at the table with Jesus and his disciples. Notice verse 15 closely. Many tax collectors and sinners are the ones who are following Jesus. Jesus does not have just five followers: Simon, Andrew, James, John and Levi. Jesus comes to Levi’s house and there are many tax collectors and sinners there. Why are there many tax collectors and sinners there? The reason is given in verse 15. These tax collectors and sinners are following Jesus. This presents a conflict with the scribes. Listen to what they say “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus is in a tax collector’s house eating with tax collectors and sinners. What was Jesus doing? But we need to see that this is an arrogant question, only a person who does not think they are sinners would ask such a question. It is like they are saying “We know how sinful these people are and we would never be around the likes of them.” Then Jesus spoke a powerful truth to them, verse 17 “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

“Healthy people do not need a doctor” was a common proverb in Jewish and non-Jewish circles. Jesus takes the proverb and applies it to his own ministry. Jesus has not come to call the righteous but sinners. The Pharisees thought there were two categories of people, the righteous who obeyed God’s laws and honoured Him and the unrighteous and sinners, but they were wrong. There is only one category of people in this world. We are all broken in our sin and rebellion against God, disobeyed His holy commands, rejected His will and done our own, built our kingdom instead of God’s and sought glory for ourselves, not for God. There is no righteous person in this world except for Jesus Christ, the holy and righteous Son of God. Our sins make us unlovely, corrupt sinners who are cut off from God in this life and for all eternity. But praise God that Jesus Christ, the Holy Son of God came to this world to seek and save those who were lost.

We need to see that Jesus is not saying that some people are sick and some people are well. The message of the gospel is that everyone is sick, everyone is under condemnation. There is none that is righteous. But notice what Jesus is doing. Jesus is in Levi’s house eating with these tax collectors and sinners. Jesus does not merely preach repentance. Jesus befriends sinners. This kingdom is a kingdom for outcasts. This kingdom is a kingdom for people who know they are spiritually sick and are looking for treatment. The kingdom is not for people who are pretending to be fine and do not need a doctor. The kingdom is not contaminated by sinners. The kingdom brings restoration and healing to sinners, reconciling them to God. The message of sin, grace, and transformation must be brought to the world. Doctors cannot help the sick if they hide in clinics behind locked doors. Self-admitting sinners are the ones who are in this kingdom. How did the Sermon on the Mount begin? Blessed are the poor in Spirit, the Kingdom of heaven is theirs. This is the big key that Jesus is teaching. We are reading about the refusal of the self-righteous to see themselves in need of forgiveness from the one who had demonstrated the authority to grant it. Those who are saved are those who are self-confessed sinners. This is the scandal of the gospel that we often can struggle with. Forgiveness is not based on how good you are, but how much you understand who you are in God’s sight.

Paul writes in Timothy 1:15 “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the greatest”. Who did Jesus come into the world to save? Sinners! Jesus came to save sinners. Jesus did not come to save the righteous. People must think about this amazing truth. Jesus did not come to save the righteous. Jesus came to save sinners. If we think we are doing fine spiritually, then we are the ones who are self-righteous and do not see our need. We are never spiritually fine. Jesus does not call the people who think they are doing well. Jesus calls the people who will not lift their head to the sky, but simply say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). It is so easy to forget. You are not forgiven because of how good you are. You are forgiven because you realize how terrible your sins are.

Why did Jesus call Levi? Why are tax collectors and sinners following Jesus? Why is Jesus befriending tax collectors and sinners? Why is Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners? Because Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. The righteous think they can heal themselves. The righteous think they are healthy. The righteous think they are doing good. The righteous think they can make themselves right before God. Sinners know how utterly sinful they are, bow their knees to Jesus, knowing that there is nothing we have to offer except our humble sorrow and complete brokenness. It is these that Jesus forgives.

We need to ask Jesus to help us to see people as He sees them so that we will look past their exterior as Jesus did with Levi and saw his heart. To love people unconditionally as He loved us and that we will share His gospel with all people even the unlovely. We can tell them that Jesus is the One who can save them from their sins, the One who can heal their broken hearts and give them a new life of worship, love and peace with God. The Spirit of God will use our loving acts to give us opportunities to share Jesus with unlovely unbelievers and call them to repentance of their sins and to saving faith in Jesus.

When you are broken by your sins so that you think that you cannot do this, that you cannot be good enough or be what the gospel has called you to be, that is when Jesus says to you that you are exactly where he wants you to be. The law is to humble us so that we will seek the mercy and grace of Jesus. The law was not given so that you would think that you are good enough. The law came so that you would plead and make your appeal for the mercy of God. If you are trying to be good enough, you need to stop because you can’t be good enough. You are pursuing a path that leads away from salvation. Instead, be cut to the heart by your sins and let God’s grace change you from the inside out. The more we see how much we have been forgiven, the more we will love the Lord our God and love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 7:47).

MESSAGE FOR SUNDAY, 2024/02/18

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Reading:
Mark 1:9-13

Text:
Mark 1:11-12 “And a voice come from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased. At once the Spirit sent Him out into the desert.”

Message

Did you notice that immediately after the Baptism of Jesus He is not led but driven into the wilderness by the same Spirit that just earlier had descended upon Him and conferred to Him God’s profound blessing. The Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness, that place of challenge and struggle and purification and testing and temptation. Life is full of its high points and low points. It seems one day you’re on top of the mountain, and the next day you’re back down in the valley. And it can be easy to lose sight of God in the midst of life’s changing circumstances. The danger when you are doing well is that you will forget God, and the danger when you are going through tough times is that you will reject God. Both are equally dangerous, and we need to recognize that God is in control of our lives both in the good times and the bad times and continue trusting him no matter what.

In our passage this morning, Jesus went from the high point of his baptism in the Jordan to the low point of his temptation in the desert. Yet we will see that God was equally involved with both experiences. And God is also there in the high points and low points of your life.

I The Baptism of Jesus (High Point) (verses 9-11)

When Jesus came to be baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist, John said the following. Now why did Jesus have to be baptized by John whose baptism was one of repentance because Jesus had no sin so did not have to be baptized by John. So why would Jesus be baptized by John, especially when John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins?” Jesus had no sin to confess, and therefore he did not need forgiveness. So why be baptized by John? Jesus was baptized for three specific reasons: 1. To identify with us, 2. To demonstrate his mission to us, and 3. As an example for us.

So when Jesus was baptized He identified with us. Romans 8:3 says that Jesus comes “in the likeness of sinful man with a true human body subject to temptation and weakness like anyone else. We read the Bible that Jesus came to bear our sins on His own body. We also read in 2 Corinthians 5:21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Here we see that Jesus took our sins upon Himself. So Jesus was baptized for our sins. Jesus came not a Lord it over us but to take our sins upon Himself and give His life as a ransom for us. We therefore see Jesus as our Saviour but also we see that He is the Christ at His baptism.

Look at verse 10: “As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” (Mark 1:10) The act of Jesus’ baptism was so significant that it had a corresponding action in heaven itself. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he saw heaven torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. This was the Spirit’s testimony that Jesus was the Christ or the Messiah. Here we see that Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit for His work here on earth. Then we hear the voice from heaven verse 11: “And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased”. Here we see a clear testimony from God the Father was pleased with Him and loves Him.

Because by submitting to John’s baptism in the present, Jesus was committing himself to the cross in the future. Jesus knew what the baptism represented, his own death on the cross, and he accepted it without reservations. God sent his only Son into the world to die on the cross for our sins; the Son obeyed the Father and willingly came. Jesus was baptized out of obedience to the Father; at Jesus’ baptism the Father expresses his pleasure in his Son. Now this has got to be what we call a mountaintop experience for Jesus. Here Jesus is anointed for ministry by the Spirit and affirmed as God’s one and only Son. This is definitely a high point. But then the Spirit from this high moment drives Jesus into the wilderness.

II The wilderness and temptation

Mark 1:12-13 Talk about going from the mountaintop to the valley! Jesus goes straight from the Jordan to the desert, from the high point of his baptism to the low point of the temptation in the wilderness. Why did Jesus need to be in the wilderness? Did this wilderness period of struggle and temptation provide something essential to His ministry or accomplish some end that isn’t immediately apparent.  One fruitful approach to this text might be to assume that indeed the Spirit’s prompting wasn’t random, that the Spirit drove Jesus to the wilderness with some purpose. And if we can imagine that, then might we also look at some of the wilderness places we have found ourselves in recently and wonder the same.

Our periods of trials, temptation and struggle. We don’t choose them to happen to us. Even when the challenges in front of us are of our own making – let alone those put upon us by others or the fortunes of life – we rarely want or actively seek such hardship. But can we possibly imagine that the Spirit might make use of us during these challenges? That’s a whole other question. At this point, I want to be absolutely clear: I am not suggesting that God causes us misery or suffering. Not to teach us something, and definitely not to punish us or put us in our place. Notice that the Spirit doesn’t tempt Jesus, but rather drives Jesus to the wilderness. Similarly, I don’t believe that God even wants us to suffer, let alone causes us to. But I do wonder if we can imagine that perhaps God is at work both for us and through us during our wilderness times. These questions shouldn’t be asked lightly, especially when the struggles we face are major. God wants only good things for God’s children.

Jesus was about to enter a time of great trial but it was just as much God’s plan for Him as the glory of His baptism. The Spirit sent him into the desert, but it was Satan who tempted him. Jesus was in the desert, but God was not against him. It was Satan who tried to entice him with sin. It was Satan who wanted to see him fall. The same is true for us today. God may test us when he sends certain trials our way, but he never tempts us to sin. The book of James says, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.”(James 1:13) God is on your side. He doesn’t want you to fall but to stand. He allows trials into your life to help you grow, not to knock you down. God is for you; Satan is against you. When the Spirit sends you into the desert for a season, never forget that God is with you, he is for you, and he is on your side. The main point here is that although the Spirit sent Jesus into the wilderness, it was Satan who tempted him. God does not tempt anyone to sin. Jesus was in the desert with wild animals and angels, verse 13. This mention of wild animals in the desert to emphasize the danger and isolation of the wilderness for Jesus. Yet, even in the midst of danger and trial God did not abandon Jesus. The angels protected Him from all danger and cared for Him.

God may send you into the desert for a season, but he will also give you what you need to survive. He will strengthen you for the trial and help you to stand up against temptation. 1 Corinthians 10 says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Conclusion

And yet struggle, trial, even misery – that is, wilderness times – abound. And I wonder if we can look at the struggles around us in light of this story and ask, “Even though I did not wish for this, how might God be at work through this difficult period? What can I get out of this? How might God use me to help someone else?” These kinds of questions aren’t meant so much to redeem struggle and suffering – as if that’s our job! – but rather to remind us of God’s presence during those wilderness times that leave us feeling stretched beyond our abilities. Because, you know what? The same Spirit of God that descended upon Jesus at Baptism and drove Jesus out into the wilderness also accompanied him during that time and brought him back again.

So also, God will not abandon us during our sojourns in the wilderness but might even, from time to time, drive us there for our benefit or that of someone around us. God is, after all, in the business of taking that which seems only to cause death and somehow wring from it resurrection life. And that’s not a bad thing to remember at the beginning of Lent. So I want our people to be able to look at their struggles, hear the promise of God’s presence with them, and then look for God at work in and through them for the sake of this world God loves so much. This passage might just help us invite our people not just to survive the wilderness times of their lives but to emerge from them renewed in hope, faith, and confidence.

In the wilderness we become even more aware of our dependence on God and we learn to trust God’s way of being. And then the last thing has to do with trials and temptation. When God takes you from good times to hard times, don’t stop believing. God is still there. He still hears your prayers. He will bring you through this trial as we said before, the danger in the good times is that we might forget God. The danger in the bad times is that we might reject God. But God is in control of all aspects of your life. He will be with you from the Jordan to the desert. You can trust him at all times.

MESSAGE FOR SUNDAY, 2024/02/11

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Reading:
Mark 1:40-45

Text:
Mark 1:41 “Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing’ He said, “Be clean!”

Message
How often do you and I say, “We are not going to pray about it because we would not want to pester God”. “It is not important”. This comes from that others and family members are too busy to listen to our appeals and complaints and God must be busier. So when we come to God in prayer, we come with a few politely worded and carefully time requests. We feel that God has a whole universe to care for, and our issues, though significant to us, are not that significant in view of the larger perspective. But God is not like that, God is always available and ready to listen.

So we read in today’s gospel reading where Mark tells us that Jesus and his new disciples are setting out on a preaching tour of Galilee: “Let us go on to the neighboring towns.” Jesus says, “so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” Off they go to spread the Good News. And that is when Jesus meets this leper. Jesus was filled with compassion. Now that is interesting. Jesus has set out on a plan to preach when He is interrupted by this man with leprosy, asking for healing.

Do we not all recognize the plight of this man? Have we not all had those moments when we wonder why God “hid his face” and left us in shoes similar to this man afflicted by leprosy – when we were in poor health or perhaps with unexpected indebtedness or maybe with family distress or possibly in deep depression over this or that problem that seemed insurmountable? Surely much of the misery of this man was the fact that he remembered better days here in this lonely place from which he emerges to plead for the help of Jesus. When he said, “If you will, you can make me clean,” it is as though he said, “Let me again see the face of that goodness that once shown on me and that now seems to have hidden its face from me.”

His diseased condition had, by the laws of that day’s culture, isolated him from every human contact except, perhaps, the company of other lepers in the same condition as that in which he now found himself. We are not told of any companionship whatsoever here, however. He was alone out in this desolate quarantined isolation test he contaminated others in the community.

Jesus could have responded with impatience and said to Himself. “I don’t have all day. I have a sermon to write! I have to get to Tiberias!” But besides impatience, there are other reasons that Jesus might have been angry at that moment. For this man is a leper, and in Jesus’ days lepers were excluded from society and had to live in leper communities outside that of society and where not allowed even to touch them. For Jesus to speak to this man, let alone touch him, sets Jesus in opposition to the powers that be, as he breaks the rules of a social system that kept clean and unclean separate. Jesus risks shame and judgment because of His compassion.

Also Jesus could have felt He would have to deal with continued interruptions. So Jesus was perhaps realizing that this was going to mark His life being surrounded by a host of needs of people all around Him. For the rest of His ministry we will see all kinds of people with all kinds of needs. Jesus had to do so much with so little time. We live with continual interruptions too, don’t we? There is always something coming up, something clamoring for our attention. As those interruptions arise, we struggle to balance them: a stranger whose car needs a jumpstart when we’re already late for a committee meeting or a daughter’s soccer game. A child who enters our home, filling our hearts with joy even as our lives change forever. A church member weeping in the pews on Easter Sunday because she was just diagnosed with cancer. The story of Jesus interrupted on his preaching mission teaches us something about how to handle those interruptions, how to live with the uncertainty of changing schedules and shifting priorities. Jesus may become angry for a moment – it is only natural to feel frustrated or disoriented or, yes, even when our hopes and intentions are thrown into chaos. But Jesus does not let that first emotional reaction control his response. Yes, Jesus reaches out with compassion. There is nothing we need to do to earn God’s attention or God’s love.

Jesus moved by compassion Mark says This phrase strikes a warm place in our hearts, does it not? Jesus’ response is “I am willing, be clean” and Jesus reached out and touched him. Jesus should not have touched him because he was unclean, think about the horrible sight and smell because of all the sores on his skin. The Jewish law of the day, if you touched a leper you yourself were considered unclean. The touch made Jesus a fellow leper. Jesus put Himself in this category. Jesus’ response is not what those around Him may have expected. Jesus says, “I will be clean”. Jesus did it by simply touching him.

He considered the man cleansed because he, who had taken up the leprosy into himself, had not only absorbed it, but had handed his own health back to the man whom he touched! And instead of both being diseased, both were now well! This, surely, became evident to all around as they watched this scene unfold before their very eyes! And again must we not wonder whether Mark is telling the story in such a fashion that he is giving us a “foretaste” of that which is to come. Is this not ultimately the story of the cross? The cross is where the “well person” touches the “sickness of the world” to either be contaminated by it and go to a death of no return or else to convey his “wellness” to the “sick of the world” confirmed by his resurrection from the dead!! In and through the cross the Father touches the sin-sick world under the form of his Son in order to heal it from that which would otherwise drag it down into the cold grave of death!

Jesus looked on the man with compassion. When you and I get sick and come begging before God, the Lord God will look on us with compassion. And Jesus did what he wasn’t supposed to do. He reached over and touched – touched the leper. Yes, Jesus touched the untouchable. And Jesus touches our lives as well. Jesus said to the leper, “I will heal you. Be clean.” And the man was cleansed. We too will experience God’s healing during our lives. At the very heart of the story for today, the Bible says “Jesus moved with compassion.” God, when the Lord sees us in our diseases, whether it be cancer, or heart attacks or AIDS, Our God is moved with compassion. And although the culture may not be moved with pity, our God is always moved with pity, for ours is a God of healing and compassion. The Lord does not like disease in any form. Jesus is telling us that our God, the Lord, is a God of compassion and healing.

Why did Jesus tell the leper not to go to tell anybody? Jesus did not want people to follow Him for the wrong reasons. Why is it that Jesus told the leper not to go and tell anybody? I think that one explanation is this: It is that Jesus didn’t want to be known as a walking hospital, and thereby having people following him for the wrong reasons. He knew that anybody would follow him temporarily if he were a bread king – if they were starving. He knew that anybody would temporarily follow a healer – while they were sick. And Jesus didn’t want to have people temporarily following him for the wrong reasons. That is – we don’t know if this leper actually became a disciple of Jesus. He was healed by Jesus, but that doesn’t mean that he actually became a follower of Jesus. Do you remember the one time Jesus healed the ten lepers? How many of them came back to say “Thank you”? One. Did the other nine disciples come back and say “Thank you”? Because they were healed, did that mean they became disciples of Jesus? No. We know very well that healings do not guarantee discipleship. The healing of a leper’s skin is no guarantee that God has healed the leper’s heart.

Now where were all of those countless people that Jesus healed earlier during his lifetime when he was betrayed, brought to trial and finally crucified? Where were all those people Jesus healed on Good Friday? Were all those people Jesus healed at the foot of the cross? No, only a few women were there and some of them may have been healed. Jesus is seeking a deeper healing than the healing of the skin. Jesus wants to heal the heart. He wants to make us disciples. Many people are willing to have their skin transformed without their hearts being transformed.

They want their skin to be healed but not their hearts. Jesus comes primarily to heal our hearts so our hearts love God and walk in the way of Jesus. This leper came to Jesus because he knew Jesus’ heart and asked Jesus to heal him and Jesus had compassion for him, reached and touched him and he was healed. The crowd were amazed. He also healed the leper’s heart and he went to tell others of God’s and Jesus’ healing powers.

The promise of this story is that Christ is always ready to turn toward us. On that Galilee road, with so many limits and demands on his time, with so many consequences for stretching out his hand, Jesus chooses to touch and heal because, to Jesus, each one of God’s children matters. Each one of us is a beloved and beautiful child of God. Each one of us is unique and precious. The good news of this story is that you matter to God.

The challenge of this story is to go and do likewise. The challenge is to approach those interruptions and disruptions, those unexpected intrusions and inconvenient crises, those times of uncertainty and change, as moments of opportunity. The challenge is to set aside everything we think we know about God’s plan for us, all or our rush and hurry, all of our ideas about who and what is important, and to turn toward our neighbors to bless and heal, to be blessed and healed. Because when we do that, friends, when we take a moment, take a breath, and turn towards each other, we see Jesus, with us on the road.