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Sermon blog: Reach out!

January 24, 2018

Mark 3:1 -12

On your Marks

January, it has to be said, is a good time to study Mark’s Gospel, as you are.

Let’s face it.

Mark hasn’t really had a look in over Christmas. Matthew and Luke have cornered the market on Mary & Joseph, angels, Bethlehem, shepherds, wise men, and the Baby.

John is rather more poetic in his description of the events, gloriously taking us on a journey back to the very creation of heaven and earth.

Mark is generally thought to be a major source of research for Matthew and Luke as they wrote their biographies of Jesus. But they certainly didn’t get the Nativity from Mark.

The reason of course that no one reads mark at Christmas is that he does not talk at all about those events.

Is he the original Ebeneezer Scrooge?

A big “Bah humbug!!”?

I don’t think so.

He just has different priorities to the others.

Adult Jesus

He begins instead with the adult Jesus at the beginning of his ministry.

Mark goes headlong into the drama surrounding Jesus.

Healings and controversy.

By the time we get to this reading the scene is well and truly set.

The dividing line

Opinion is hugely divided.

Where Jesus is concerned it always has been. And always will be. There will be opposing views when people talk about Jesus.

Chapter 3 finds Jesus in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Exactly where a Jewish man would be expected to be, especially one who was already gaining some renown as a religious teacher.

Presumably there was a good number in, but Mark records only 2 of them:

Jesus.

And a man with a shrivelled hand.

Actually there are some other people, simply described as “some of them”.

Some of the people were not just there that Sabbath to worship. Some of them had an agenda that day.

We probably now look back at the life of Jesus as a wonderful thing. A good man, a healer, a wise teacher. What was there not to like? We can imagine the word getting around, and his popularity growing.

Mark though is certainly not going to give us the idea that this young rabbi had any kind of honeymoon period. As we said Jesus divides opinion, and after 2 chapters it is fair to say that Jesus already has enemies.

Because of the way the gospels are written, I am not going to be accused of spoiling the story, to say that the opposition Jesus experienced would lead ultimately to death at the hands of his enemies.

The events of the cross we remember at Easter, and call the passion. Some have gone as far as to say that Mark’s gospel is just a passion narrative, with a very long introduction.

It is worth recapping that in chapter 2 Jesus was doing all sorts of things that, whatever his purpose, had the effect of putting certain people’s backs up.

Firstly he was accused, by the teachers of the law, of blasphemy. For claiming to forgive the sins of a sick man. Only God can do that! It barely mattered that the man was healed.

Secondly he ate with unsuitable people. Tax collectors and “sinners” as the teachers labelled them. If Jesus was a teacher like them, he needed to behave like one of them.

Thirdly he didn’t encourage his followers to keep to religious good habits. “Why weren’t they fasting?” asked the Pharisees.

Finally he allowed his disciples to work (by the Pharisees’ strict definition) on the Sabbath, in breach of God’s law. Jesus claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath.

So we can safely understand that the “some of them” we read about in chapter 3 contain some of those Pharisees and teachers.

We are told they are looking for a reason to accuse Jesus. They have already been asking some hard questions but now they are looking for some concrete evidence, something that will prove that he is not in their inner crowd.

Watching

Are they there to worship?

Who knows.

But first and foremost they are there to watch Jesus.

One thing they knew already is that Jesus healed people. That doesn’t seem to be in dispute. From the events of chapters 1 and 2, the Pharisees and teachers of the law seem to have no doubt that Jesus can heal.

That is not their question.

They have also picked up a slightly unconventional approach to the observation of the Jewish Sabbath, the day that God had plainly ordained as a day of rest.

Healing a few sick people on a Wednesday lunch time would be one thing. But would Jesus heal someone on the Sabbath?

To their mind, interestingly, healing was work.

Planted?

One suspects therefore that the main reason Mark knew of the presence of the disabled man, might be that the teachers and Pharisees had planted him there. Laid as a trap for Jesus.

Yes he is a healer, but surely this young teacher will know that there is a time and place for healing. And the Sabbath is certainly NOT that time.

And so as eyes watch and ears listen, Jesus singles out the disabled man.

“Come and stand at the front”.

The man comes forward slowly, uncertainly.

“This is it. Is Jesus about to walk into our trap?”

But just at that moment, there is no healing.

Rather the young teacher speaks. He asks them a question.

“What is LAWFUL on the Sabbath. What is the RIGHT thing to do?”

“Do you do good or evil?”

“Would you be better to save someone’s life, or to be a killer?”

In your eyes

Eyes fixed on Jesus turn to each other. Confused, questioning eyes.

The lights don’t seem to come on so Jesus’ enemies can only keep their silence. What could they say?

Some eyes gaze at the floor, other eyes are fixed on Jesus.

And his eyes return the stare.

In their eyes he sees accusation, confusion, maybe some amusement at the thought of what he might be about to do.

But his eyes…

In the eyes of Jesus his opponents see anger.

Anger and distress.

Anger and distress that the Pharisees and teachers, the so called experts, don’t have an answer.

Can they REALLY not make a choice between good and evil, life and death??!!

Stubborn, stubborn hearts.

The waiting is over.

Jesus has one thing to say. To the disabled man.

Reach out

“Stretch out your hand”.

Jesus simply tells him to do something. Something impossible.

This hand does not stretch.

And yet…

Is it an instinct? Is it faithful obedience? Is it the look of encouragement in Jesus’ eyes?

In a moment it is over. The hand stretched. Complete healing.

Jesus chooses to do good and to give life.

He’s nailed his colours to the mast.

Horror!

And there is much horror.

How COULD he do this? On the Sabbath?

In that moment, amazingly as it might seem to us, Jesus is public enemy number 1.

He needs to be got rid of.

And the Pharisees waste no time in going out to plot his death, which of course they WON’T be doing on the Sabbath…

Their chosen allies are the Herodian party. This was a political party loyal to the Herodian dynasty. If you think about that nativity character King Herod, there had always been a desire to get rid of Jesus, a threat to the king of the Jews.

The Lake

As for Jesus, it is time to get away, with his followers off to the lake.

There is no suggestion that this is an escape from the Pharisees, but rather it is an escape from the crowds.

Throughout the gospels we are shown those times where Jesus wants to be alone with his disciples. To teach them. To pray. To rest.

On many of those occasions, as here, those plans appear to be thwarted.

All that happens is that a crowd follow him from Galilee. They have seen the healings. Perhaps they loved what he just did in the synagogue. He stood up to those Pharisees. They could just feel the electricity.

What would he do next? What will he say now?

“Let’s go along for the ride”.

And the crowds are coming from Galilee. And Judea. And Jerusalem. And Idumea. From across the Jordan.

And even from Tyre and Sydon – gentile areas from beyond Israel’s borders. People to be avoided maybe.

Fame has spread.

Jesus is box office.

The boat

And so Jesus encourages his followers to get him into a boat. Is he trying to escape? A quick get away?

It doesn’t seem to be. Rather it seems to be Jesus’ way of getting some elbow room. Everyone wants to get close to him. This man is a healer!

Those with all sorts of sicknesses are looking to crowd in on him, ready for the miracle.

Jesus though would on occasion use a boat as a pulpit, to teach the gathering crowds. Although we are not told on this occasion what he had to say, we can assume that he did take the opportunity to address the crowds.

Perhaps too there was a further time of healing. We are not told.

What we do learn is that there is another encounter.

Evil spirits

There are other enemies present. Impure spirits.

It seems that at least some of the sicknesses represented on that day are caused by the activity of evil Spirits.

It’s not always something we find easy to understand. Some people like to see the devil in everything. We link certain illnesses to evil spirits, causing distress in the process.

Or on the other hand we see the devil in nothing. There is no such person. Both are dangerous.

The late Keith Green sang a song putting into words the devil’s point of view:

“I used to have to sneak around, but now they just open their door. It’s getting very easy now, ‘cause no one believes in me anymore.”

We need the discernment that God’s Holy Spirit gives us.

Whereas the teachers and Pharisees have failed to see the evidence in Jesus actions, these evil Spirits are immediately aware of his true identity.

They bow down in submission to him, recognising his authority. And they are not quiet.

“You ARE the Son of God!!”

Jesus responds to them with an order. This is to be their secret! No one else is to know.

They must keep the reality of his identity quiet.

Tell no one. It seems Jesus’ following is not to be dictated by these sort of events.

Seeing?

So as you read, where do you see yourself in the narrative?

Who do we see?

We see the religious people of Jesus’ day. Teachers of the law and Pharisees. Religious, devout in their keeping of the law and encouraging others to do the same.

And yet.

They can’t even see what the evil spirits so clearly see.

As the son of God stands in front of him they cannot even see him. They are so bound up with their petty interpretation of God’s law that they miss that God stands in their midst, reaching out in love as God does.

Their plans are to get rid of him at all costs.

There are challenges there for us as Christians.

Are we strong believers, committed to the church, regular attenders? But can we actually come to a worship service and fail to see Jesus? Are we truly knowing what it is to worship?

Don’t just be filling the pews!

Are we so content with the way things are done in our church that we fail to see what God is doing? We don’t want anything to change.

Could we even be guilty of the sort of legalism that the Pharisees displayed, bending the law of God to absurd extremes? Burdening people with rules and regulations rather than helping to set them free?

Getting in the way

Unfortunately we Christians are all too often the worst adverts for the Christian faith. We are better at turning people away from Jesus than we are at bringing them to him. At other times Jesus disciples even blocked a tax collector’s view of their master, unkindly turned children away, or rebuked an elaborate worshipper for wasting money.

Do the things that I do or say, the things that we do as a church, make Jesus attractive to others or are we getting in the way of his love? Let’s pray that’s not the case.

Spectators

There are other people there too surely. Apart from the “some of them”. Those who were also present. Were they worshippers? Or were they just spectators? On the outskirts just wanting to see what was going on, but not really getting involved. Let’s pray we are not like that.

More likely though we will be those who accept Jesus or reject him, experiencing that same dividing of opinion that Jesus always brings.

Happy days!

Outside the synagogue building the activity continues. Jesus’ attempts at a getaway are frustrated.

There is a crowd who just want to see more. They’ve seen the healings and they want to see more. They want to be part of the action. Perhaps understandably they want to experience Jesus’ healing power for themselves.

Jesus, as much as he gains opposition, is also garnering a great deal of popularity.

Oh to follow Jesus and see miracle after miracle, prayers answered in their hundreds, life being wonderful in every respect.

But Jesus was never looking for a fair weather following.

Not to be the winner of a popularity contest.

Could we ever be people who are all too keen to follow Jesus, when everything is going well? When the worship is spectacular when the church is booming, when God blesses us with health and wealth and happiness?

The way of suffering

In time Jesus would tell the crowds that his way was to be a way of suffering. The way of the cross. Not just for him but also for those who would follow him.

Yes there were healings. Signs, to those who could see, of his God-ness.

But the way of Jesus is the way of sacrifice. Our greatest blessing is sealed through his death.

This news would in time cause many to turn away. It was too hard.

Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. We don’t know what that will ultimately mean for any of us, but we can trust our lives into the hands of the Son of God.

The Apostle Paul is an example that we can learn to be content whatever our experience of life. Riches or otherwise.

Healing

Or maybe you are that man back in the synagogue. Standing before the crowds. You might be baffled by all the conversations going on around you.

You just know.

You need Jesus.

And when he calls you?

You stretch out your hand.

And you receive the healing, the forgiveness, the life that he has for you.

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From → Christianity

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