The Healing Touch of Jesus

Jeremiah lamented Judah’s national sins by asking, is there no balm in Gilead? He suggested that Egypt go up to Gilead and obtain balm for healing of their national sins. We too need healing for national and personal problems. Does the Church have an answer?
Let’s understand why we and our nation need the healing touch of Jesus.
Sermon Plan
We will first look at Mark 5:21-43 and see how it applies to us.
21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus [Yairos] came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
The Woman with the Issue
One his way to heal Jairus’ daughter, a woman reached out to touch Jesus. She suffered bleeding. She had spent all she had on doctors but they could not help her. Old Testament health laws included not touching someone with bodily discharges. The word for this quarantine was “unclean.” It would have been a violation for her to touch Jesus as she did, but she did so in faith believing that as soon as she did, she would be no longer unclean. Some of us have what we call germophobia, and so we constantly clean our hands and some even overuse antiseptic fluids rather than risk sickness. In ancient Israel some observant Jews were as fastidious as our germaphobes about not touching any unclean thing. Jesus showed no such fear of disease but readily touched the sick to heal them.
The Healing Touch
When pastors baptize someone they lay their hands on them. It is a sacrament, whereby a spiritual blessing accompanies a physical act. God saves our unclean souls, the most important healing of our lives. Eternity is imparted to our mortal lives. James instructed that oil be used in a healing ceremony with the laying on of hands. It reminds us of the hands laid on us when we were baptized. It also reminds us of the hands of Jesus which touched the sick to make them well. What is the greatest sickness in our land? Is it heart disease, cancer or something else. Could our greatest personal and national sickness be sin? Could it just be that the real answer to our national ills is not in legislation or finances or military might, but in the healing touch of Jesus?
Quarantine and Segregation
Quarantine separates people. In the Old Testament it was the clean and unclean laws. Quarantine is segregation. Sometimes quarantine or segregation is right, such as for medical reasons or criminal activity. Sometimes it is bad, such as that based on race, social class, or other bigotries. Jesus called the woman who touched him daughter. Rather than being repulsed by her unclean touch, he immediately broke through the barriers that segregated them and used a very friendly term. Unlike the disciples in the boat who were saved by Jesus apart from their faith, this woman was healed because of her faith. She desired healing. He desired a personal relationship. How can we bring the healing of Jesus to others? Should we begin by establishing better relationships with our neighbors? Should we begin by asking Jesus to heal broken relationships?
The Woman’s Fear
If the woman with the issue had faith enough to be healed, why was it also mixed with fear? Mark 5:33 says she was trembling with fear when she was forced to admit that it was her who touched Jesus. Was it because she broke the rules of unclean people being quarantined? Was it because on her way to be saved from her sickness, she probably also touched many other people in the crowd? Are there social taboos that we willing to risk breaking on our way to be saved by Jesus? Being healed and saved are often the same word in the original Bible languages. Is there something here that also explains our fear of coming out of the closet as Christians? Like the woman, we came to touch Jesus. Why are we afraid of what others think?
Jesus was Glad she Came
When our lives are broken, we are often reluctant to go to church. Some people don’t attend because they have either experienced judgmentalism or are so ashamed that they avoid people altogether. Some of us don’t like people, perhaps because people say hurtful things and life has wounded us so deeply that we avoid the possibility of more pain. Perhaps the reason is that we are so ashamed of our lives and afraid that others will judge us. Perhaps that is why the woman with the hemorrhage approached Jesus secretly. Her covert approach did not bring condemnation from Jesus. Rather, he commended her for her faith in coming (Mark 5:34). Let us not be concerned whether or not we are wearing the right clothes, don’t feel like smiling, or that God might judge us. Our Lord is glad that we came for the healing touch of Jesus.
Jairus’ Fear
Why did Jesus also tell the leader of the synagogue, do not fear, only believe (Mark 5:36)? Was it because his daughter had died or that he was bothering Jesus or perhaps the commotion would cause embarrassment? It could have been all of these and more, but verse 35 seems to indicate that people from his house had suggested that he not bother Jesus, because the little girl was already dead. What about us? Do we live in fear of bothering God? Do we believe that it is too late for God to help us? Is that why God’s people do not pray enough? We should understand that God is never bothered by his children coming to him for any help. And with God it is never too late. Even death is not the end of possibilities with God.
The Messianic Secret
Jesus wants his miracles kept a messianic secret (Mark 5:43). Jesus never tells anyone to keep his death and resurrection secret, only his miracles. Do some contradict how Jesus wants evangelists to preach? Evangelists are to be bringers of the good news. The evangel, good news or Gospel is called various things in the Bible: the gospel of the kingdom, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of the grace of God, the gospel of God, the gospel of peace and the gospel of your salvation. Could it be that a gospel of miracles is the wrong focus, because it turns Jesus into a mere miracle maker and demeans his example of suffering? Could it be that a focus on miracles would diminish our calling to follow Jesus’ example of being willing to suffer in order to bless others?
Countries Sick & Hemorrhaging
America is like the little girl and the hemorrhaging woman. Our finances have been bleeding for many years. Even our most educated doctors have not be able to heal us. We have spent all that we have and instead of getting better we have only gotten worse. Some people have even believed that America is dead. Why bother with Jesus! Like the synagogue leader’s little girl, America is in many ways still young. Europe and China are old civilizations. We are like a young child, but our dream of freedom is as ancient as the Exodus. Though the church’s message has been weak and mixed with false gospels, we have heard about Jesus. Will we grab a hold of his cloak and openly invite Jesus into our homes to heal our land? Will we seek the healing touch of Jesus?
There IS a balm in Gilead. It can be found in the Church. That healing balm for you and me, for the Church and for the nation is the healing touch of Jesus.
Bible Quotes: New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Why are You Afraid?

When troubles come, how do we react? Are we fearful and anxious? Is there some way to calm the storm?
Let’s understand that there is someone who calms storms.
Sermon Plan
We will look at Mark 4:35-41 and what we can learn from a squall on Lake Galilee.
The Text
Mark 4:35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Crossing to the Other Side (Mark 4:35)
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”
What journey does Jesus invite us to make? Jesus crossed Lake Galilee to make disciples on the other side. Sometimes when we have a destination, just getting there can be a headache. A name for where the congregation sits in a church is the nave, coming from this very story where the disciples were on a mission in a boat. Unlike the disciples, we don’t have to travel far to find new converts. The unconverted masses are all around us. Jesus invites us across the street to talk to our neighbors about him. We could all just sit in the boat by the shore and create a boat club that never sails, but that is not our calling. We are to go across the stormy lake and make converts. So come on board. Let us go to the other side.
Leaving the Crowd Behind (Mark 4:36)
And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.
When we go on a journey with God, we leave the comfort of the crowd behind on the shore. We leave old associations behind, ways of doing things that we hold so dear, as we journey into the unknown with Christ. Church life is about change. Old traditions change. Is our faith built on the rock of Christ or the sand of human failures? When Abraham was 75 years old God asked him to leave a lifetime of investment and a crowd of friendships and acquaintances behind. Would we? Many leave Christ and return to the world rather than stay in the boat of the church. We are called, not to stay ashore in the comfort of the crowd but, to go on a journey with a small band of brave souls willing to follow Christ to the other side.
Taking Jesus Just as He Is
It is amazing how we like to create a Jesus in our minds to be just like we want him to be instead of just as he is. When the disciples took Jesus across the lake, they took him along just as he was. What would our churches look like if we took Jesus along just as he is? The way he lived wouldn’t fit in with some churches today. He partied with the rich and touched the unclean and marginalized. The way he spoke was sometimes offensive and blunt and sometimes mysterious and hidden. He often went against local religious customs and expected his followers to live lives of self-sacrifice instead of self-indulgence. How would our lives look if we took Jesus along just as he is? Though the winds of traditionalism are strong, he can calm the storm.
A Great Windstorm (Mark 4:37)
A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.
Sometimes when we follow Jesus we run into a storm. Converts from some countries and religions face death for following Jesus. Faithful Christians everywhere face the storms of life. Sometimes life is so out of control that it feels like we are swamped. Why does God allow these storms even in the life of a Christian? We need to learn in faith that whatever God allows is for our ultimate good. We may be angry at him for our suffering, but he does ultimately have a loving purpose. We don’t know the why, but we do know the end of the story, that God will wipe away all tears from our eyes; there will be no more death, sorrow, crying, or pain. (Revelation 21:4) And if there is no more crying, there will be no more reason to cry.
Jesus who Sleeps through Storms (Mark 4:38)
But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Why did Jesus sleep through a storm that had so frightened his disciples? Their ordeal took them to the brink of sinking and losing their lives. In the context we can guess that Jesus was totally exhausted from a day of preaching and healing. However, there is more to it than that. Are we tempted to ask if God has gone to sleep when we face terrifying ordeals? Are we tempted to ask if God even cares? Of course we are. Yet, we read of Jesus’ power over even the waves. We also read of his rebuke regarding the disciples’ lack of faith. We are no different and Jesus is also no different in character. He will often allow our circumstances to go to the point of sinking, but he is there and always has been to calm the storm.
Don’t You Care
Jesus! We’re dying here! Don’t you care! That was the cry of the disciples during a sea storm. Does God care about us? Joseph was falsely accused and imprisoned for 13 long years. Perhaps he had in mind that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) Job did ask the question though. He asked why he, a devout follower of God, should suffer. God does care. He created a world without suffering and chaos, but in love he created us with free choice. Humanity sinned and rejected him. We reap the consequences of humanity’s failures every day. Someday, suffering will cease and pale into insignificance compared to the glory that will be revealed us. (Romans 8:18) Let us not become bitter, but turn to God.
What do we do when we encounter fierce squalls on the sea of life? We live in a time when middle class wealth has dropped dramatically. We worry about health care, car payments, cancer, identity theft, immigration, industrial pollution, internet viruses, military conflicts, strange new religions, terrorism and taxes. Life can be wonderful one minute and we are faced with a terrible even the next. We are then tempted to ask, does God even care? The answer lies not in the disciples’ faith, which was obviously as weak as ours, but in the fact that Jesus was with them. If we open our eyes and look, we will see that God is with us too and always has been. Even as our faith is weak, God’s presence reveals how much he cares and Jesus is there to calm the storm.
Peace! Be Still! (Mark 4:39)
He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.
It was not the disciples’ faith that calmed the sea, but Jesus. Sometimes we think that if we just had enough faith, God would open up the Red Sea so we could escape the Egypt of our problems. But this story reminds us that it is not our faith that causes God to intervene. He intervenes when he sees fit. Deliverance from life’s storms does not depend on how much faith we have, but on Jesus. Jesus actually “rebuked” the storm, the same word used when he rebuked demons. This could allow us to personify the evil in the wind, giving a name to the dark storms of our lives. Church life too can be like being in a boat facing rough waters. As trouble from outside and inside affect the church will we ask Jesus to calm the storm?
Why are You Afraid? (Mark 4:40)
He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
How much of our lives are ruled by fear? Are we afraid of our finances? What about our health, crime, terrorism or bosses? Fear is everywhere in our society. Is our fear because we lack faith? Faith is trust in God. We trust that other drivers will keep to their side of the road, and that the sun will rise tomorrow, but do we trust God? Why didn’t the disciples ask Jesus for help? Why did they react so sharply and ask him if he cared? That’s what fear does. It makes us belligerent. Even being falsely accused, Jesus calmed the sea. God is merciful towards our fear. And then, the disciples fear Jesus and not the storm. Let us bring our fears to God and watch as he transforms them. God is so much bigger and filled with grace than we thought.
Who is This (Mark 4:41)
And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
The disciples were “very terrified” that even the wind and sea obey Jesus. Their journey across the Sea of Galilee was perhaps about 7 miles (12 kilometers). The lake has a mild climate but can experience sudden and violent storms which can create waves of ten feet (3 meters) high and can cause damage to lakefront towns. It was perhaps such a storm that tested the faith of the disciples. Jesus used the opportunity to challenge his disciples about their lack of faith. Though our faith may be small, we can ask Jesus to calm the storm. The disciples did not yet understand who Jesus was and the power of his kingdom. They asked who he was. Must the church learn the same lesson? In 2000 years we have had many storms. Must each generation learn the power of Jesus?
When Jesus does NOT Calm the Storm
When Mark wrote about Jesus calming the storm, many of his audience were facing martyrdom. It was a Christian holocaust that lasted roughly 300 years, as Roman Emperors attacked the church over ten periods of persecution. How could the story of Jesus calming the storm relate to those who would die in their own storms? How does it relate to us who face our own catastrophes today, such as losing a loved one, losing a career, facing homelessness, or to Christians in North Korea who face losing their lives to a modern day murderous Caesar? In such circumstances, when faith is tested way beyond its elastic limit, we can have calm in our hearts, knowing that Jesus will never leave us and even if we must die, he will carry us beyond the final storm of death into eternal peace.
Life is filled with storms, some of our own making. Jesus taught us to live by faith and not fear. He slept through a storm when we would react in fear. The world needs us to tell the story of Jesus who calms storms.
[All Scripture: New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

The Future of the Church

Do you worry about the future of the Church?
Let’s understand the growth of God’s kingdom.
Sermon Plan
We will look at Mark 4:26-34 and why optimism over the church’s future is valid, why the church will continue to grow as a hidden kingdom and why even the world’s greatest control freaks cannot control what is in God’s hands.
The Reading: Mark 4:26-34
26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
1. Scattered Seed
Mark 4:26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground
The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, where God rules. It is where God’s authority is accepted. It is also not a democracy. Democracy is our attempt at compromise in an imperfect world where we have Christians and non-Christians who want to make a society together and keep the peace. In the perfect world of God’s rule we need no other king but Jesus. He calls us to do a work. What is that work? It is to scatter the seed of the kingdom. Where? On the ground! What kind of ground? It does not say. It could be rocky soil, hard ground, thorny ground or good soil, but we scatter. Other parables show that God is happy with indiscriminate scattering of that seed. The important point is that it is scattered and not left in the seed bag.
2. While We Sleep
Mark 4:27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.
This parable is only found in Mark. The seed grows all by itself without human effort, night and day, while we are asleep or awake. If we worry about our church, God’s kingdom is still growing. If the church in North America and Europe is shrinking, God’s kingdom is still growing. If we try to use gimmicks to force the church to grow like false gospels or man-made legalism, still the true Gospel and God’s kingdom is still growing. The question is, are we willing to wait for God to do his work instead of trying to take short-cuts and manipulation of his plan by human devices? On the other hand, do we just sit around and do no work? That is not God’s will either. The church has many critics and advisors and few who are willing to work.
The Religious Experience
A popular but false concept is that we must always have a dramatic religious experience when the Holy Spirit intervenes in our lives. It does happen sometimes. But, if we understand Mark 4:27, then Jesus taught that it was not necessary or even normal. Like a crop in a field, the evidence of the kingdom of God in our lives may be totally unseen at first. This story also contradicts another popular idea, that we must exert extraordinary human effort to make God’s reign in our spiritual lives grow or to make our churches grow. The story explains that God’s kingdom grows whether we are awake or asleep, totally without our understanding as to how. Like the crop in the field, it is God’s action that makes his kingdom grow and human attempts to dictate that growth are often flawed.
The Hidden Kingdom
Mark 4:26-34 introduces to us the concept of the reign of God being a hidden kingdom. It is not recognized by the world around us. What is it? In modern terms we could call it the reign of God. Where is that? It is among those who submit to divine authority. Although some people have such wonderful discernment that they can possibly tell who is God’s just by looking at someone’s face, most of us would need to have more information than that. It is like a crop that grows in the field. Initial evidence can be like a small green shoot poking through the soil and may be like small spiritual changes in a person’s life. As God’s realm grows, it becomes increasingly evident that he rules a person’s life even though it may not be obvious at first.
3. Automatic Growth
Mark 4:28-29 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
We scatter seed, rest while God makes the seed grow, then participate in the harvest. Our job is not to worry about kingdom growth. The Greek word for “of itself” means the same as our English word automatically. A watered plant will automatically grow. An un-watered plant will not. God causes the growth. We simply submit to his power in our lives. Paul said a similar thing in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7. He planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. The farmer’s concern is not how to make it grow, but to create conditions in which it can grow, such as watering. What happens when we plant? We plow perfectly good green grass under. Do people who don’t understand, complain that we take perfectly good church programs and plow them under? Are we crazy, or preparing for new seeds?
Optimistic Church Future
Many Christians in the western world are pessimistic about the future of the church. While numbers have declined in Europe and America this past century, numbers in Africa and Asia are increasing. Did Jesus prophesy anything about this? This is one passage that speaks of the spread of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is where God reigns and God reigns in the church. There is no guarantee that our denomination or our local church will survive or that the church will always look like ours, but the future of the Christian church is very good. Even while we sleep, the church grows. The church will grow to be the largest entity on earth. In fact, today it is. Jesus seems to be ruling in the lives of up to a third of humanity. Now that’s a large kingdom.
4. Mustard Seed
Mark 4:30-31 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;
The mustard seed traditionally represents something very small. It may be our small faith. It may be our small efforts. Pastors can sometimes see their work as small when dramatic changes in people’s lives do not occur. Yet, Jesus encourages pastors and lay members alike that kingdom work is never in vain. The growth is often not seen for a time, perhaps not even in our lifetimes, but it is promised to be incredible. The growth of the kingdom has gone from one man, Jesus, to billions in our time. The phrase “smallest of all the seeds” is not literal, but hyperbolic conversation, like exclaiming, “Isn’t that just the cutest kitten!” An overly literal, critical spirit here would miss the meaning of the riddle. It takes eyes of faith to see the future of even the smallest of kingdom efforts.
Control Freaks Controlling the Uncontrollable
The Church has historically been a rather unruly flock. Romans 14 indicates an early controversy over worship days and dietary requirements. Our 2000 year long discussion of various points of view is encouraged by Jesus’ instructions to worship God with our minds. When Jesus symbolized the kingdom of heaven like a mustard seed (Mark 4:26-34) he was describing a rather unruly plant that was considered to be an obnoxious weed. Church leaders can be tempted to try to lord it over the faith of believers, but that is something Jesus did not want (Matthew 20:25-28). The kingdom of God will grow where God wants despite human politics. While control freaks may continue to try controlling the uncontrollable, God’s kingdom will continue to grow. Our job is to make sure we don’t rob ourselves of a place in it.
5. Mustard Plant
Mark 4:32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
A mustard plant is a shrub or even considered to be a weed in Middle Eastern landscapes. It can grow to 10 feet (3 meters) tall. Why did Jesus choose a mustard bush here instead of a majestic Cedar of Lebanon? Could it be that instead of looking for something big to happen for the kingdom, Jesus intends for us to see the kingdom in ordinary things, like a common weed of Israel. Though we may want to try and control it, it is beyond our control and still grows everywhere in Israel today. Is the kingdom of heaven also beyond our control? Though control freaks try to corral the church with man-made rules and authoritarianism, does God have other ideas? What some call weeds can be valuable herbs with healing properties. Is the kingdom of God also like that?
Church Growth
The Apostle Mark planted the first Christian church in Africa in Alexandria, Egypt. Their descendants are the Coptic Orthodox Church. How large has the church grown in Africa? It has grown from 9 million in 1900 to 380 million in 2000. Among the earliest churches in Asia were those established by the Apostle Thomas in central Asia and India. The Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew spread Christianity to Armenia and the Apostles Simon and Andrew planted churches in Georgia. Between the 9th and 14th centuries the Church of the East spread as far as China and India, but declined after persecution, disease and isolation. Christian growth has returned to Asia. In 30 years, Asia may have a larger Christian population than Europe. Jesus Predicted that his kingdom would grow. It is not always obvious, because it is invisible, a spiritual kingdom.
6. The Use of Parables
Mark 4:33-34 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
Jesus’ parables are riddles about the kingdom of God. Those who are not ready and willing to hear may not get the message. Those who are comfortable in this world may see the kingdom of God as a threat and dismiss it. Those who are ready to hear will delight in exploring the possibilities that parables open up. The message a parable is a teaching story. The riddle is a type of analogy. Jesus’ parables often present a moral dilemma. One makes the right choice and another, the wrong choice. Using everyday experiences, Jesus presents a contrast that teaches the difference between human thinking and divine. Parables invite us to use our minds. Parables have an affinity with the sacraments. They reveal a divine grace through common daily experiences as the sacraments provide a divine grace through common household elements.
Jesus foretold that the church’s future is unstoppable. It will continue to grow. It is God’s spiritual reign, and no one can stop the uncontrollable growth of God’s kingdom in us and in the world around us. Let’s make sure that we are a part of it.

All Scripture: New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Don't Miss out on the Real Deal

The commandment against lying protects a society’s integrity, provides confidence in the marketplace and steadiness for the economy. The destructive consequences of lying reach into every corner of our nation and our personal lives.
Let’s understand the necessity of allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us into the truth by looking at Mark 3:20-35.
Sermon Plan
We will look at sanity, loneliness, the lord of dung, shallow thinking, small mindedness, missing the real deal, Jesus’ family values, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, carelessness with the truth and the opposite of lying.
Is Sanity Overrated?
When Olympic athletes spend every waking hour training for gold, do people call them insane? When modern citizens spend an average twenty hours a week in front of a television, do people call them crazy? When people study obsessively and receive degrees with honors, are they nuts? If we go to church, read our Bibles and talk about God, why do some people say that we are out of our minds? Is zeal okay, unless it is for an unpopular cause like Christianity? In Mark 3:21 why did Jesus’ own family or friends describe him as mad? If God does exist and if He wants to get to know His creation would that not be the most important activity on the planet for everyone? If that is insanity, then should more of us engage in this glorious madness? Is sanity overrated?
Loneliness of Faith
A seminary professor once said that if your family thinks that you are either out of touch or crazy you might just be a pastor. Do Christians who are sincere about their faith occasionally suffer the loneliness of faith that Jesus also experienced (Mark 3:21)? Depending on the translation, either his friends or his family thought that he had lost his senses at one point in time. The Greek phrase literally means those belonging to him, which is probably family, but could also include friends. Do Christians sometimes feel totally alone, even in their own families, as they are ostracized, belittled or otherwise shown contempt? In a faithless world, why should it be a surprise that the faithful are sometimes looked down upon? While we wait for natural family to come to God, do we have a church family?
Lord of Dung
The Jews mocked Beelzebub (lord of the flies) with the name Beelzeboul (lord of dung), which is the original word used in Mark 3:22. Some Bibles mistranslate this as Beelzebub. Some experts also define Beelzeboul as lord of the temple. The author then explained how the Jews were using this term to mean the prince of demons and later Jesus made it quite clear that they meant Satan. Some scribes accused Jesus of casting out demons by satanic rather than divine power. Jesus argued as to how unlikely Satan would be to cast out one of his own. He further argued that if he can enter a house belonging to a strong man to plunder it then he is stronger than the owner (Satan) and able to bind him. The unstated conclusion is that Jesus’ strength was from heaven.
Were religious leaders who accused Jesus of having a demon just an ancient example of small-mindedness. Are there small-minded Christians? In theology we call it exclusivity. Only those who have certain narrow opinions are included and everyone else is excluded. What are some reasons for exclusion? Do clothing, tongues, alcohol, baptisms, worship days, music, authority and thousands of other nuances of doctrine excuses to doubt the work of the Holy Spirit among others? Was that the accusation leveled against Jesus in Mark 3:23? He did not fit the narrow criteria of mere human beings and his work was falsely accused of being of Satan. Yet, a third of humanity believes the teachings of Jesus. We may disagree on many things, but dare we exclude any whom God has included? In so doing are we also dangerously close to the unpardonable sin?
Shallow Thinking
Is political campaigning almost entirely about the failures of candidates on the other side? Are Christians who know the truth also tempted to take sides, painting one candidate as good and the other one as evil, when the truth is that all people are fatally flawed? Is this Satan’s game? Does it also enter church politics? Is it that the church is sometimes the Great Whore of Babylon and sometimes the Bride of Christ? Do we easily fall prey to Satan’s tactics? Is his game to expose the weaknesses of human beings, pretending that doing so will protect God’s glory? Is this the root of the accusation in Mark 3:22? Was there a hasty conclusion that because Jesus taught different than accepted traditions, his actions must be evil? Does such shallow thinking cause us to miss what Jesus is doing in the world?
Even the most intelligent people and the most highly educated on earth are tempted to self-deception due to emotional involvement. Science is hampered by tradition just as much as religion. Medicine is hampered by emotional attachment to established ideas just as much as politics. Ideas which challenge our founding institutions face their greatest obstacle, not in intelligence or education, but emotionally vested interests in earthly crowns. In Mark 3:22 Jesus faced this obstacle as well with the political-religious establishment around ancient Galilee. Their self-deception was not caused by lack of intelligence or education, but by the emotional investment in Jewish tradition. Is the truth often lost to Christianity because of our traditions? Are we more interested in protecting our interests than we are in learning from Jesus Christ? Will we lay down our crowns when confronted by the truth?
Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit
When comedians make fun of the phrase Father, Son and Holy Spirit I cringe. Why? Because blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the one unforgivable sin (Mark 3:28-29). Let’s read about the unforgivable sin in its context. First why did Jesus say this? We can easily answer that question, because it states clearly why. They were saying that Jesus had an unclean spirit, attributing the power of the Holy Spirit to that of the devil. Who were those who said this? They were scribes, teachers of religious law, who should have known better. And so they did not falsely confuse the Holy Spirit with the spirit of evil out of ignorance, but out of malice. We need to note that Jesus did not directly say that they had committed the unpardonable sin, but they certainly were in danger.
The Deadliest Sin
The sin against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-29) destroys life. How did Jesus describe this sin? The Pharisees said that the good Jesus was doing was evil, and that he cast out a demon by the power of the devil. Did they swap good intentions for evil and evil for good? Were they so spiritually sick that even Jesus could not cure them? Did they even want Jesus to heal them? Were they so bitter that they could no longer see goodness in the world? May we never become so bitter and twisted that we no longer see goodness in people! May we never become so filled with hate that we refuse to believe that the Holy Spirit can move in someone we hate! God forbid that we are so hard hearted that the Holy Spirit himself cannot enter!
Missing the Real Deal
How is it that trained religious leaders like the scribes could end up missing the real deal when they were confronted by Jesus (Mark 3:28-30)? How could Jewish religious training have missed such an important issue like the coming of Messiah? Could a Christian education also miss vital truths? Did Jesus summarize what he expected Christian education to cover in Matthew 28:19-20, teaching our disciples to obey all things that Jesus had commanded his original disciples? When religious education misses or minimizes that vital ingredient it is deficient and produces leaders of the church who are no better than the teachers of the law. Only when Jesus and the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels are made central to our preaching and teaching will we have healthy Christianity. Only then will we not be missing the real deal.
Careless with the Truth
When Jesus warned against blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, it was a warning to teachers of the law, who were careless with the truth (Mark 3:30). Is it also a warning to us? Do we always know all the facts, and are we too dogmatic about our opinions? How many of us have held onto an opinion perhaps even for decades, only to find out in later life that we were dead wrong? Do we wish we had been more careful about the truth? It takes guts and humility to admit that we don’t quite know all the facts. Is dogmatism often a symptom of ignorance not knowledge, because those who know more are more cautious about expressing their opinions? Are teachers of the law still rather hasty today and are teachers of grace more cautious with the truth?
Jesus Defines Family Values
What family values are Christian? The Bible defines family in a number of different ways. Every Christian is pictured as an adopted child into God’s family. Anciently, an adopted child had just as many rights to inheritance as a natural born child. Have we made family names and genetic lineage an idol to be worshiped? How can idolatry be defined as a conservative value? Have family names been used to oppress those It seems that Jesus’ own family were calling him crazy for his religious beliefs. Did Jesus go one step further and change family values? Does this make a conservatives or an extreme liberal on family values? Are not true family values those of Jesus and not the world? Jesus replied that those who do God’s will are his family (Mark 3:34-35). That's how Jesus defines family values!
Self-deception is rampant in our society. It affects science, politics, medicine and even the church. Self-deception is a mild form of insanity. It causes us to lie and miss out on the real deal. In its extreme it can even lead to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Let us follow the way, and the truth, and the life, Jesus. Don’t miss out on the real deal.