Monday, November 06, 2006

Keeping Your Focus: Mark 1:32-39

As I studied this passage before, during, and in the days following my vacation, I have been encouraged and struck by two important points here that I want to elaborate on today. These truths have edified and encouraged me, and I believe that they need to be understood by others as well.

Let me remind us up front of the nature of the person at the center of this narrative. We are talking about Jesus here. Let there be no mistaking of identities. Who is Jesus? He is the eternal God of the universe, incarnate as a man. We call Him the “Son of God,” indicating that His nature is identical to that of God the Father, but by no means implying that Jesus is inferior or subordinate to God. He is God. I emphasize this because I am always alarmed at the number of people who identify themselves as Christians but who misunderstand this aspect of who Jesus is. The whole of the New Testament is a testimony to the fact that God came to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He wrapped Himself in a human body to come and dwell among us and to reconcile sinful humanity to Himself.

When Jesus spoke and when Jesus acted, those who saw and heard Him were understandably struck by His authority. It was unfamiliar to them, for though they regularly encountered those who were godly, in Jesus Christ, they encountered God Himself. More than a good man, more than a godly man, Jesus is the God-man. Therefore, when He spoke, He spoke divine truth with all the authority of His divine nature. When He acted, He operated without limitation being both the creator and sustainer of all that exists. We have seen in this gospel how the people were amazed at the authority of His teaching. We have seen how that authority was validated through His miraculous acts of healing and casting out demons. On a single Sabbath day, the people heard Him teach in the synagogue and saw Him deliver a man from demonic bondage. A small group of witnesses observed Him restore the health of an ailing woman in her home. And as word began to spread throughout the city, more and more people were coming to Him to seek His aid for their needs.

Mark says in vv32-33 that once the Sabbath restrictions ended, the whole city gathered at the door of Peter’s house, bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. He had earned a reputation already as being the one who could meet their needs. Many in this room can give testimony to the ability of Christ to meet our deepest need – that of salvation from sin – in addition to other needs that we have encountered in life. There are many others who find themselves often in the need-meeting capacity. I can honestly say that I don’t know of many churches where the members have given so selflessly of their time, their energy, and their resources to help those in need than Immanuel. Some of you have earned reputations of being need-meeters. That is a good thing – you are a lot like Jesus if that is the case. However, if this is the case, then you know all too well how easy it is for you to lose your focus in the midst of meeting the many needs that surround you. Now, if Jesus, the infinite God incarnate, took certain measures to make sure He kept His focus, then it is all the more necessary for us to do the same. So, how do you keep your focus as you serve the Lord? Let’s look at two points in these verses.

I. To keep your focus, recognize that what is good can be a distraction from what is best.

Jesus healed people, but He was not in the healing business. They brought to Him all who were ill and demon-possessed, and He healed many and cast out many demons, but not all. There was more He could have done, but He didn’t. Why? Because He had not come to be a Healer. He came as a Savior proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom and announcing salvation to those would receive Him. Jesus never went out looking for sick people to heal. He went out preaching and teaching. And in the course of it, sick people came to Him or else people brought them to Him, and because of His love and compassion for humanity, and to authenticate His claims, He exercised His divine authority and healed many of them. In Mark’s Gospel, we will read specific examples of His healing: We saw him heal a woman with a great fever; we will read about Him healing those with leprosy, paralysis, a withered hand, a flow of blood, a man who is deaf and mute, and two blind men. We will see Him cast out demons and even raise a girl from the dead. But His mission was not a healing campaign.

If Jesus had been on a healing campaign, there would have been no end to His work. Because of sin’s effect on humanity, there will always be sickness and suffering everywhere in the world. Healing is good, but it is not why He came. He came to satisfy the demands of the law, and then die in the place of sinners. And when He had done all of this, He was able to say on the cross, “It is finished.” The work of healing will never be finished until our bodies are transformed at the resurrection. But the work of redemption was accomplished perfectly and permanently at the cross. This was the mission He came to fulfill.

Because of Jesus’ work of healing, He had become the talk of the town, and all the attention was becoming a distraction to His primary mission of proclaiming God’s salvation. This hits home to us in a couple of ways. First, as I have already mentioned, many of you find yourselves in a position of helping others frequently. That is wonderful. I don’t know when we are more like Jesus than when we are helping someone in need. But, as followers of Jesus, we must keep in mind that the main thing is our mission to make disciples. That does not mean that we turn a blind eye, a deaf ear, and a cold heart to those who are in need. Jesus certainly did not do that. But it does mean that our efforts to help those in need must be kept in the context of our task of evangelism and missions, otherwise we lose our focus. There are many worthwhile causes for you to be involved in, and I hope each of you is involved in some way with helping those in need. If you are interested in feeding the hungry, for instance, you realize that your resources are limited and you can never feed them all. And you realize that if you feed that person today, they will be hungry again tomorrow. However, you have something you can give that person which will satisfy their greatest need and their deepest longing which will satisfy them permanently. That is the gospel. In John 4, Jesus pointed to Jacob’s well and said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

When Jesus said in John 14:12 that the ones who believe in Him would do even greater works than He did, He meant that we have the ability to proclaim His gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation. We can point people to His finished work at the cross as the satisfaction for their sins, and lead them to experience the forgiveness and eternal life that He offers. If we busy ourselves with much good activity, we risk being distracted from the best thing we can do – the “even greater works” that He spoke of – namely, sharing Christ with a lost world. We will have exhausted ourselves doing good, and forfeited what is best. So, I am not saying, “Don’t be involved in good and benevolent work,” but I am saying, keep the main thing the main thing. And the main thing is to make Christ known among the nations.

This is not only true in our lives as individuals, but also in our work here in the church. Every day, we have the opportunity to do much good, and we could do more than we do often times. But, as a church, we must prioritize the ministry of evangelism and discipleship. We can’t feed every hungry person in Greensboro and we can’t pay everyone’s power bill for them. But we can help them to know Christ, and in doing so we have helped them to understand and satisfy their greatest need. But what of their temporal felt need? When we can meet that need in the context of our greater ministry of the gospel, then we should. But we should not be ashamed to recommend to that person that they contact those secular agencies which specialize in those needs, but who can do nothing for that person’s soul. The government and charitable organizations can do much for those in need. They cannot lead the person to salvation in Christ. That is our mission. Our sole (S-O-L-E) business is the soul (S-O-U-L) business, and we must keep that as our focus in all that we do. If we are to keep our focus, as a church, and as individual followers of Christ, we must not allow that which is good to distract us from that which is best.

Now, I want to chase a rabbit before I get into the second point here on keeping our focus, but it is an indirectly related rabbit. Let’s say it is a cousin to this point about distraction. We have to deal with the mysterious statement of v34 which says that Jesus “was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was.” Why did Jesus silence the demons? Because they knew who He was. It was not because they would say something wrong about Him. After all, when the demon spoke in v24, it said, “Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are – the Holy One of God.” These are true statements. He is the Holy One of God and He had come to destroy the work of Satan, as we read in 1 John 3:8 – “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” But Jesus did not let the demons speak. This in itself speaks to His authority in that He can restrict the work of Satan and his demons.

But it also says something about the character and the content of their testimony to Him.

First of all, Jesus refused their testimony because of their character, their nature. He was not going to let demons, whose characteristic activity is stealing, killing, and destroying, give testimony to Him as the Son of God. Satan is a liar and the father of all lies. If he and his demons begin speaking about Jesus, then will it not be assumed that this would be a lie as well? It will discredit all that He has come to do and say. And then also, He silences them because of the content of their testimony. They would like nothing more than to popularize Jesus as a healer and worker of miracles, because this would distract from His message of salvation. And if they stir up curiosity and interest in Jesus, then opposition will arise that will disrupt His mission of redemption prior to His completion of His work on the cross. So Jesus silences the demons to prohibit them from distracting from His message and disrupting His mission.

We come now to the second point …

II. To keep your focus, you must diligently maintain your priorities (vv35-39)

Under a cloak of early morning darkness following this flurry of activity, Jesus disappeared from the crowds. He withdrew to a secluded place. Apparently it was not secluded enough – Peter and the others (presumably, Andrew, James and John) found Him there and said, “Everyone is looking for you.” Of course they were. There were more sick to heal, more needs to meet. But in the seclusion of solitude, Jesus was able to concentrate on His priorities.

A. The Priority of Personal Spiritual Intimacy (v35)

What was Jesus doing when they found Him? He was praying. Now, this is an enigma in a sense. Remember who He is – He is God. So who is He praying to? He is praying to God. Here the mystery of the Trinity is encountered in a full sense. God is the Father, God is the Son, God is the Spirit. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God. But there are not three Gods. There is one God in three persons. The Father is neither the Son nor the Spirit, the Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit, and the Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. But all are God: One God in three Persons. And, as One God, the three persons of the Trinity work in divine cooperation.

But we must not forget that combined with the mystery of the Trinity is the mystery of the incarnation. Christ was fully God, but He was also fully man. Not half-and-half, not some proportional split, but 100% God and 100% man. And as man, He was dependent on prayer as a means of cultivating intimacy with the Father. J. Oswald Sanders wrote, “Though truly divine, His deity in no way affected the reality of His human nature. His prayers were as real and intense as any ever offered. His prayer life bore eloquent testimony to this. So completely did He renounce the independent exercise of His divine powers and prerogatives, that, like the weakest of His followers, He became dependent on His Father for all. As we do, so He received His daily and hourly needs through the medium of prayer.”[1]

Annie Johnson Flint put it poetically:

Since Christ was God, why must He pray?

By Him all things were known and made,

Omniscient and omnipotent,

Why need He ever ask for aid?

Ah! but He put His glory by,

Forgot a while His power great,

Humbled Himself, took human form

And stripped Himself of royal state.

For Christ was also Man; to feel

Man’s strongest tempting, and to know

His utmost weakness, He became

Like other men and suffered so.

And touched with our infirmities,

For those few years like us to be,

He still remembers we are dust,

Since He was tempted like as we.

But well He knew the source of help,

Whence comes all power, strength and peace,

In blest communion with His God,

Care and perplexity would cease.

When all earth’s sorrow and its sin

Too heavy on His spirit weighted,

Quiet and solitude He sought

And to His Father prayed.[2]

Now here’s a question for you: If Christ, being God in the flesh, must take time away to cultivate the intimacy of His soul with the Father through prayer, then how much more so must we? If we fail to keep our focus, the activity of life and work in good things will demote prayer and our devotional life to a place of second stature, when it absolutely MUST remain a priority.

B. The Priority of Pursuing a Calling

With all of Capernaum looking for Him, Jesus surprised His disciples by saying to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby. Why would He want to leave when His popularity is at such a peak, and the demand for His miracles so great? He gives the reason: “So that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” He had not come to heal as many people as possible but to confront humanity with the promises, claims, and challenges of the gospel of salvation. He did not come to deliver men from sickness but from sin. He knew His mission, and He pursued it diligently as a priority. So they left, and verse 39 says that He went to synagogues all throughout Galilee preaching. As He did so, He encountered demons just as He did in Capernaum, and He cast them out. As we will see in the verses that follow, He also encountered sickness, and He healed them. But His calling was to preach the gospel of salvation to reconcile mankind to God, and this He pursued as a calling over all other activity.

As you follow Christ, you will be faced with many opportunities to do all sorts of things, many of them good and noble. But unless you know what it is that God has called you to do, then you will never be able to operate with focus, and you will see little impact made as you expend energies on all the other activities. Get alone with God in prayer like Jesus did. Ask Him to clarify the sense of calling He has placed on your life. Know what it is He wants you to do for Him, and do it with all your might, and with determination and diligence. It is not about how many things you can do, but how well you can do that to which He has called you. If you are His, then He has called you. He has called you unto salvation, and He has called you unto service. That is an undeniable biblical truth. It is your task to determine how He desires to use you, and then to pursue that as a priority in your life, cultivating your spiritual intimacy with Him as you do it. That is how Jesus kept His focus in the face of a flood of demands, and it is how you and I must keep our focus as well.

[1] J. Oswald Sanders, The Incomparable Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1971), 121.

[2] Cited in Ibid, 121.

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