This past Sunday I had the privilege of preaching during the Sunday morning service. I decided to preach a message that I had already preached with the youth, and a message that I had written about on this blog (follow the tag at the bottom to see those posts). If you are interested in listening to the message, you can catch it here. I should be added to the podcast our church has, but last time I checked, that hadn’t been updated in a couple of weeks.
Last night I spoke on Mark 5:1-20 and was struck with the illustration that the demon-possessed man and the Christian. The two things that jump out at me in the passage is, first, the power of Christ displayed in verses 1-13. This was a man that no one could subdue. No one could control this man. No earthly power, neither man nor metal, could bind him. But immediately when Christ showed up, the man and the demons inside automatically submit themselves to the power of Christ.
The second thing is the mercy of Christ that we see in verses 14-20. The people were more concerned with the livestock than with this man. They cared more that they lost 2,000 swine than that this man was healed. Christ had compassion upon the man. He tells him to go back to proclaim the power and the mercy of the Lord. Another thing jumped out at me here. This man was called to return back to the place where they had just kicked Jesus out. Imagine what may have gone through his head. “ok, they just kicked Jesus out, the man who healed me…. why would they listen to me?!” But the man returned, proclaimed the power and mercy of the Lord, and Mark says “everyone marveled.” No other Gospel includes this, just one of the great little comments that Mark adds to the narratives.
So the great illustration is that Christ exercised His power upon the demons and not the man. The power was casting the demons out and the mercy was sparing and delivering the man. When Christ had power of the sin in our own lives, he did not condemn or destroy us, but showed mercy upon the sinner. Obviously the breakdown comes when you realize that this man may have not voluntarily given himself over to these demons, but we voluntarily serve our own desires and sin. Besides that, it was powerful to see the mercy that Christ showed to the sinner, while still dealing severely with the demons within the man.
Today, or yesterday (depending on when you read this), was Palm Sunday. Just like a good pastor, Steve spoke about Palm Sunday and the entrance of Christ. He really hit it from the standpoint of Christ entering the city and walking to His death. He spoke of how He knew what the Pharisees were thinking. He knew they wanted to kill them. Jesus knew that when He entered into the city, He would incite a huge movement among the people and that they would want to make Him king. He knew that the people would clamor for Him to become king and kick out the Romans. And He knew that this would force the hands of the Pharisees.
Here are a couple thoughts on the sermon:
1. Through Jesus’ entire ministry, you keep hearing Him say, “This is not My time.” He was continually preserving Himself until it was time to turn Himself over. This is just a bigger thought of Him willingly walking towards the cross, and voluntarily giving Himself up. No one took His life. No one forced Him to the cross. Not only did He walk to the cross, but he purposely arranged the environment so that they would be forced to do it. For me.
2. The other thing is how much was available to the people that they had no clue about. They wanted Jesus to come and rule their country, their people. The people’s desire was to have Him take the throne of their kingdom. But what Jesus wanted to do what rule their hearts. he wanted to take the throne of their hearts. So much more was available, but they were settling for an earthly ruler. They were settling for a political Messiah, when Jesus wanted to be the Messiah of their individual lives.
This got me thinking about how our country pretty much does the exact same thing. When anything happens, such as 9/11, people’s reaction is to say “God Bless America!” What do they mean by this? Well, I imagine the blessings they have in mind are monetary wealth, safety, and power. People cry out for God to give us blessings to make our country better, but there is so much more available. God doesn’t want to be God of the country. He wants to be the God of your heart. He wants you to join His kingdom.
It seems that sometimes even we are so short cited when it comes to the blessings that God wants us to experience. Our minds immediately go to the budget, the house, the car. We’re crying for God to bless us, but I don’t know if we are desiring the right blessings. It is easy enough to look at the Jews and say, “Wow! They had no idea what was available to them!” Its another thing to make the same mistake in our own lives.
After Christ chose to heal the man by touching him, something no one was willing to do, he gave the man a stern warning. The verb that he used is somewhat of an obscure and difficult one to precisely define. What we can know is that Jesus was serious about the following charge. He had a deep emotional tone and manner in the following charge. Jesus sent him away and charged him to say nothing to anyone until he talked to a priest. The charge to not talk to anyone before talking to a priest was so strong, Jesus uses a double negative, giving it emphasis in the Greek.
Why would he do that? I believe Christ is continuing to hide his messianic identity for the masses. Mark has a theme of secrecy where Christ commands demons, those who he healed, and even his disciples, eight times throughout Mark. Jesus had such a sense of His own identity and job, He did whatever He had to to hide his true identity. As we will see, Jesus was afraid that what ended up happening would happen.
Jesus commands the healed leper to fulfill the law and present himself to the priest, as proof. This proof is two-fold, I believe. The first is the traditional proof that he was cleansed. When a leper was cleansed, the Levitical law commanded that they must present themselves to a priest to make it official. But I think the second purpose was even more significant. The word ‘proof’ has an idea of evidence. I believe Christ was telling the healed leper to present himself as proof of His Messianic identity. Jesus was very specific in who He revealed Himself to, hence why He would begin to speak in parables. This man would be walking proof of Christ’s Messianic nature.
Well, as we can see in the text, this man disregarded his request. I don’t know how much I can blame the man. he just couldn’t contain his excitement. And what was the result of this? Jesus had to retreat from society because so many people were flocking to Him to witness the power that healed this man who had been a leper. It is interesting to note that at the beginning of the narrative, it is the leper that is isolated, and at the close Christ finds Himself alienated from society. This was not a surprise to Him. I believe He knew, if not from some level of God-inspired knowledge, then from human nature. Jesus knew this was the price to show compassion. He knew it would put Him at an inconvenience.
To leave this text without asking ourselves some questions is to miss the entire point of the passage. Jesus did not ignore the opportunities to serve those that were considered unclean. And not only did He choose to serve them, but He did it in a manner that communicated a deep compassion.
So let us ask ourselves? Who are the unclean that we find it difficult to minister to? Who are the ones that our society chooses to shun, but Christ chose to touch? Who are the people to which our automatic reaction would be to turn away from? I think the obvious is the homeless, the diseased, or the underprivileged. I think it is easy for us to think of every reason in the book why we should refrain from going out of our way to help someone. “I just don’t have the time.” “They’ll probably spend the money on booze.” “They need to hear the Gospel more than they need a meal or shelter.”
The fact is that compassion is to be a characteristic of the Gospel itself. Our salvation itself is a product of compassion. And when people think of Christians, compassion should be one of the first characteristics on their tongues. I don’t know when we began to think that it is better to share just the Gospel and if we have time, show compassion. I’ve heard the phrase said many times, “Preach the Gospel. And if necessary, use words.” Obviously, the Gospel is words, logos. But it is also a mindset and lifestyle. It is a lifestyle lived out loud in the life of our savior, and how dare we ignore it in our lives.
Evangelical Christianity is not always represented well. Unfortunately, when an American thinks of a Christian, a negative picture pops into their mind. Maybe they think of people screaming with signs that spew hatred at funerals or abortion clinics. Maybe they think of a greasy looking preacher with a nice smile that only has his own interest in mind. Maybe they think of a conservative Republican whose convictions and platforms make them incensed. If anything, there are have been plenty of people who have claimed the name of Christ, but have failed to exercise the compassion of Christ. Too many churches have become content with concentrating on people who look just like them and witnessing to people who think like them. Churches have left the hard inner city for an easier suberb.
And then there are churches that are operating today under the title of ’emerging’. It is very easy for us to look down our nose at them, but often times they exercise more compassion on the lost than the average church. Certainly they have their problems, but they have such a heart for those that the church has lost track of.
Look around your churches. Look up and down the rows. What do the people look like? Do they look a lot like you? This is something that I have been really convicted about. What would my church look like if I reached out to the people that the rest of our country is ignoring? What would it be like if we had a homeless guy in the back of our church? Would the smell bother people? Would his or her appearance make us uncomfortable?
This past week I preached a message on the compassion that Christ exhibited with his life. I would like to take this time to include the observations from that message. Since there is a lot, I will split it up into multiple posts. The first section is on Mark 1:40-45 and the story of Jesus cleansing the Leper.
40. And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41. Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44. and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof them.” 45. But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.
Before we get into the text, I’d like to say a little bit about leprosy. Most of us are familiar with the malady itself, but I’d like to share some things that I read that just reminded he of the horrifying effect of leprosy. Leprosy is a skin disease that was difficult to diagnose and heal. It would attack the extremities first, rotting away the skin until things like fingers, toes, your nose or ears, fall off. They were commanded to separate themselves from society because they were unclean according to the Mosaic Law, and anyone who came into contact with them would also be unclean.
The scribes counted as many as 72 different conditions that were defined as leprosy. Those who had leprosy were required to make their appearance as repugnant as possible so people knew that they had leprosy and knew to stay away from them. They were subject to superstition and fear and they were seen as being punished by God. People would look at them and think, surely this man has greatly sinned! It was described as a living death whose healing was equivalent to being raised from the dead. Lastly, it would ultimately rob you of your name, your occupation, your habits, your family and fellowship, and your worshiping community.
The first thing we see in this passage is that the leper exercises some faith. As I said previously, anyone who had the infliction of leprosy was to separate themselves from society. They were under no circumstances to come and approach people. But here we see the leper disregard the law for the pursuit of Christ. He recognized that Christ was greater than the law. The leper comes before Christ in an act of submission, begging him for a solution for his sickness.
Notice something very significant about this man’s request. He never questions Christ’s ability to heal him. He is exercising faith in the very fact that he knows Christ is able to do it. The question is he does not know if Christ is willing. And he was not seeking a temporary relief from his condition, but knew Christ was able to make him completely clean.
In verse 41 we see Christ’s reaction. This word ‘pity’ means a strong compassion, almost with a tinge of anger. Jesus wasn’t showing anger at the man, but at sin itself. He looked upon this man and saw the effect that sin has in man. This leprosy may not have been a direct result of sin, but it was certainly an effect of the fall. Jesus ached to see man suffering because of sin.
Jesus’ reaction of healing is also very interesting. Jesus certainly could have chosen to heal this man by commanding the disease to depart verbally. He could have had him dunk himself in a river. Jesus could have healed him from a distance. He could have done any number of things to heal this man, but I believe he specifically chose to touch the man with his hand. Put yourself in this man’s shoes (or sandals). Who knows how long it had been since he had experienced the human touch. This is something that we take so for granted. This man could not kiss his wife. He could not hold his children. He could not hug a friend. This man had not been touched in years, and Christ chose that very action to cleanse the man from the disease that had robbed him of his life.
to be continued…