Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What Great Things the Lord Has Done: Mark 5:1-20

One of the strongest arguments that Mark’s Gospel was written first, and that Luke and Matthew may have borrowed from him, is that when a story is found in two or three of these gospels, even though Mark is significantly shorter, it is nonetheless more detailed in its telling of the story. That is certainly the case here, with this account being nearly three times as long in Mark as it is Matthew. The details are near cinematic, though certainly, if it were a film, it would have to be rated R at least. Were Mark’s account of this episode to play out on the silver screen, there would be strong language, graphic violence, horrific terror, and disturbing indecency. But it is not a tragedy, though it starts out that way, for it has a happy ending. Truly the primary character in the story experiences the merciful compassion of Jesus, and is able to testify that Jesus had done great things for him, to the amazement of all who heard. But before that ending unfolds, the plot passes through three acts. In the first we see the destructive strategy of Satan. In the second we see the corrupted reasoning of man. And in the final act we see the merciful plan of God.

I. The destructive strategy of Satan (1-9)

We are told in this passage that when the boat reached the Eastern side of the sea of Galilee, immediately (Mark’s favorite word) Jesus was met by a man with an unclean spirit. Indeed, we find in v9 that the man is not inhabited by one unclean spirit, but rather by a Legion, saying, “for we are many.” The word “Legion” was used to describe a Roman military regimen ranging in size from 4,000 to 6,000 infantrymen, plus 120 horsemen. While it is not incumbent upon us to believe there were that many demons inhabiting the man, neither can we rule out that it was this many or more. Suffice to say that here is a man who is possessed by a vast multitude of demons. He is not the only case of “multiple possession” we encounter in the New Testament. Mary Magdalene is described as one from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons. Yet in this instance, it seems we encounter demon-possession in its most grotesque and extreme form.

Now it seems foolish to some for us to talk about the effects of being inhabited by 6,000 demons, when they doubt the possibility of being possessed by even one. An article in the 1910 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica said, “Science has explained so many processes of outer nature and of the inner life of man that there is no room left for Satan.”[1] Well, if that is how the Western mind thought nearly a century ago, how much more have we explained away these dark episodes of the supernatural realm today? However, we must not be too hasty in light of the unequivocal testimonies of Christians around the world who claim to have seen these things first hand.

Clay Coursey, a retired missionary whom I know and with whom I worked in 1997. Clay is not a fanatic. He is a well-educated, reasonable, and theologically sound man who, with his wife Pat, invested 30 years of life in Kenya. Clay once told The Commission magazine of one occurrence which took place just months after he arrived in Kenya in 1970. “A man we were witnessing to fell down, writhing and foaming at the mouth.” When the Kenyan pastors began praying and asking his name, “they were answered by an unearthly voice. That went on for 45 minutes, and when they commanded the demon to leave, something that looked like a green liquid came out of his mouth; then the man relaxed, stood up and praised the Lord.” Coursey said, “I … accept what the Bible teaches over everything – including my own ideas and even though I may not understand it all. … I don’t understand demons, but neither do I think Jesus was just accommodating local beliefs when He cast them out. In the United States perhaps we’ve educated ourselves beyond a belief in such things.”[2]

G. Campbell Morgan made the same point about England 80 years ago when he wrote, “Admitting … for the sake of argument that we have no such manifestations in our own land as those which the Gospels describe, the question arises as to whether this also is not a method of Satan. … In such places he has girded himself as an angel of light, seducing men by evil spirits that come to them, as if they were spirits of God.”[3] Just because we don’t see possession taking place in the form of what we see in Mark 5 does not mean that Satan and his demons are not at work deceiving humanity and warring against God in the world today. He does not need you to believe in him for him to be real and at work.

Jesus said that Satan is a thief who is out to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10), saying also that Satan desired to sift Peter as wheat (Lk 22:31). Peter says that he prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Pet 5:8). Morgan writes that demons are always intent to find an instrument through which they may carry out these purposes. When in the New Testament do you read of a spirit possessing a person for good, other than the Spirit of God who comes to dwell inside a person’s life at conversion? When unclean spirits, or demons, inhabit a person, it is never for their enlightnenment, healing, or uplifting. It is always for destruction.[4] And if that is the purpose when one demon inhabits a person, what more when thousands take over? Therefore this man’s extreme condition serves to illustrate to us the destructive strategies of Satan and his demons.

Notice that the man had been dwelling among the tombs (vv2-3). Society had given up on him and cast him out to dwell in the burial caves of the hills in isolation. What did God say when He created man and placed him in the garden? He said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). That is the first thing we read in the Bible which is described as “not good.” We were not created to be Lone Rangers, and we must always remember that even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. Alone, a human being goes unchecked by accountability, unrestrained by positive influence. In this case, by isolating the man, the forces of evil are able to take complete control over him.

You see also that the demons had driven this man to an uncontrollable state (vv3-4). In the past, others had tried to restrain him with shackles and chains, but they were no longer able to do so. The demonic powers within him gave him a supernatural strength to tear apart the chains and snap the shackles into pieces so that no one could subdue him. The wording there in verse 4 is used elsewhere to describe the taming of a wild animal. It is possible to capture a wild animal, and through training and reinforcement, tame that animal into subjection. But all such efforts were vain toward this man. He was uncontrollable.

And then notice that he is robbed of his dignity (v5). His ceaseless activity was running through the mountains and tombs screaming. Luke tells us that this man had not put on any clothing for a long time (Lk 8:27). Naked, screaming, wandering aimlessly in the hills and caves, this man was a social outcast of the highest order.

Finally notice that the demons are bent on destruction. First, we see that he was gashing himself with stones, presumably in an attempt to end the reckless and miserable existence of his living hell. Matthew tells us in his account that this man was so violent that no one could pass by his way. The destruction of human life is a high priority for Satan and his demons, for human life is something precious to God, bearing His very image. Since Satan is powerless to strike God directly, he and his demons seek to go after that which God loves by destroying His image in humanity.

The man is literally a walking pandemonium. That word pandemonium consists of three parts – the suffix ium describes a locale; demon you recognize; and the prefix pan means “all.” So a pandemonium is the locus of all demonic activity – and here within this man a vast army of militant spirits is working in concert to carry out the destructive strategy of Satan. Eugene Lowry summarized the man’s condition in the first person, saying, “I feel like 6,000 soldiers inside of me … sometimes they all march left, sometimes right … sometimes in all different directions. I’m pulled one way, then another. There’s an army inside me, and I think I’m losing the war.” Internally, the man is so conflicted that at the first glimpse of Jesus, he runs to Him and prostrates himself low before Him, but the demons will not easily relinquish their grip.

It is a pitiful sight. But we must be careful not to see such an extreme case as the only one in need of divine deliverance. The merciful intervention of Christ is not only needed by the derelicts and frothing lunatics of society. We must see ourselves in this man. We are just as battered and tormented, though we tend to make a better show of it. Rather than running naked, we cover our scars with fine clothing. Rather than living among the tombs, we live in well-kept homes. Rather than screaming incoherently, we cover our anguish in smooth vocabulary, diagnostic labels, and the like. We do not have to be possessed by an army of demons to fall prey to Satan’s destructive strategy. Every one of us needs to run to Jesus as He lands on the shores of our lives.[5] Only through Him can we find the grace and mercy needed to restore us to the life God intends for us.

How vividly is the picture painted of the destructive strategy of Satan, but I want to point out now another great tragedy in this account …

II. The Corrupted Reasoning of Man (10-17)

The demons knew who Jesus was. When they call him “Jesus, Son of the Most High God,” they use the most significant Christological title we have seen thus far in Mark’s Gospel. They knew that they could not do battle with Him, and soon this man would be liberated of their control by the authoritative decree of Jesus. And so, for reasons we are not told here, they began imploring Jesus not to send them out of the country. In Matthew, we read that they said, “Have You come here to torment us before the time?” This tells us that they knew there was fixed a day in which they would experience a full and final judgment. Luke tells us that they were imploring Him not to command them to go away into the abyss. So, they also knew that their destiny was in that eternal place of torment – Hell. These were undeniable and inescapable facts. So they implored Jesus to send them into the swine which were feeding nearby on the mountain. And Jesus granted their request.

No one can read this without wondering why Jesus granted this. And unfortunately, we are not told specifically. Any attempt to explain His purposes here would be only speculation. But we must not conclude that He had no reason at all, for I can think of at least three possible reasons why He would let the demons inhabit the swine. Much has been made over the issue of the biblical uncleanness of pigs in dealing with this passage, but I think those discussions are futile for us, because this takes place in a Gentile territory. But other possible explanations exist. First, might Jesus have allowed this to happen in order to demonstrate that the demons had left the man? The sudden and immediate plunge of the swine into the sea, simultaneous with the instant restoration of the man would testify to the crowd that a miracle had just taken place. Second, perhaps this was to demonstrate that the man himself was not responsible for all the chaos and destruction with which he had been associated, but rather the demons were. That would have been evident in that, no sooner than they ceased destroying him, they destroyed the pigs. Third, perhaps Jesus intended to demonstrate the superior value of human life in light of the presence of the image of God in man.

We don’t want to think of Jesus as being the effective cause of the destruction of 2,000 pigs. We like pigs – Porky, Miss Piggy, Babe. They’re cute. And they’re good for a lot of things: bacon, sausage, barbecue. But, is this not the same Jesus who said that God knows when a sparrow falls to the ground? Indeed. But His point about the sparrows is that if God knows and cares about sparrows, which aren’t worth a half a cent to humanity, then how much more does He care for us, since we are “more valuable than many sparrows” (Matt 10:29-31). So from Jesus’ perspective, the life of this deranged man is of infinitely greater value than the lives of 2,000 pigs. Ah, but here is the rub – and here is where we see the corrupted reasoning of man.

When the demons caused these 2,000 pigs to plunge themselves to their deaths in the sea, the herdsmen ran away to report the matter in the city and the country. And a multitude of people came back to see for themselves. Now, when they saw the man there, seated, clothed, in his right mind, they became frightened. We’ve seen this reaction to Jesus before, even among his own disciples. But when they began to hear how it all took place in v16, something happened within them. Notice that v16 says that they were told, not only about the man, but also about the pigs. And when the matter of the pigs came to rest in their ears, what did they do? Verse 17 says they began to implore Him to leave their region.

People don’t mind a little religion, as long as it doesn’t start interfering with their lifestyles or their profit margins. We see this in Acts on two occasions. In Philippi in Acts 16, when Paul cast a demon out of a slavegirl who had been making big bucks for her masters as a pseudo-psychic, the Bible says they “saw that their hope of profit was gone,” and they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities. Again in Ephesus in Acts 19, when people were abandoning idolatry and turning to Jesus, a silversmith named Demetrius gathered together the other craftsmen of the town for a meeting. They had been getting rich off of the sale of idols, and Paul’s preaching was bad for business, and they started a riot!

You know, the folks across the street at the Players’ Club don’t mind us being here. We don’t bother them at all. It is not a problem for them if we preach the gospel and sing our little songs and do our thing here on Sundays and Wednesdays. But, if their clientele, or their employees, start getting right with God and turn away from that place, we will have their undivided attention. Drug dealers around here don’t mind what we do. But when their customers begin to be transformed by the power of the gospel we preach, then it will be a different matter altogether. Folks in the country of the Gerasenes don’t mind if Jesus wants to come and do a little preaching and cast out a demon or two. But when He starts shutting down the pork industry, He’s got to go.

You see their corrupted reasoning – they would rather deal with the demoniac. Oh sure, he’s a bit of a nuisance, but business is good (and for there to be 2,000 pigs on that mountain, business had to be good). But you bring someone in who has the power to turn all that around, and it doesn’t matter how good it is for the man released from his torment – it’s bad for business, and we can’t have that.

Perhaps you saw the film, “Amazing Grace,” recently which chronicled the efforts of William Wilberforce to abolish slavery in England. Wilberforce was driven by Christian conviction to rid his nation of a great injustice, and God gave him victory. Much slower was the change in America – and it was not brought about so much by spiritual conviction as by the bloodshed of the Civil War. You have heard of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but you have probably never heard of her husband Calvin Stowe. When she was touring through England, her husband, being a professor of religious studies, was invited to speak to a large crowd gathered for the observance of Anti-Slavery Day. That crowd was a little taken aback when Calvin Stowe called them all hypocrites. They were so proud that they had rid their country of slavery, but gave no thought to the fact that eighty percent of the cotton picked by slaves in the southern United States was being purchased by England. Stowe told them that an English boycott of American cotton would go far in ridding America of slavery. He said, “Are you willing to sacrifice one penny of your profits to do away with slavery?” And at that the crowd booed him.

Which is more valuable to God – the life of one human being, or the lives of 2,000 pigs? We see very plainly here that the human life is of much greater value to God. But which is more valuable to the people of the land? Obviously, they have much more concern for the pigs than for the man. We see this still today in our own land. The leading voices of the animal rights movement are some of the same figures leading the charge of the pro-abortion movement. For these, the images of an abused dog evoke more compassion than the image of a dismembered fetus. The devaluing of human life, the prioritizing of profit-making, and the total disregard for the things of God demonstrate now as much as then the corrupted reasoning of man.

Isaiah 65 gives us a prophetic glimpse through seven centuries to this scene which is unfolding before us here. Look at Isaiah 65:1-5a &.

1 "I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, 'Here am I, here am I,' To a nation which did not call on My name. 2 "I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts, 3 A people who continually provoke Me to My face, Offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on bricks; 4 Who sit among graves and spend the night in secret places; Who eat swine's flesh, And the broth of unclean meat is in their pots. 5 "Who say, 'Keep to yourself, do not come near me.’”

People cry out today saying they want to see Christ manifested among us in our own day, but are we ready? Are we willing to endure the cost of such a manifestation? Do we even realize what it might mean for each of us? Jesus has gone from preachin’ to meddlin’, and for that, the corrupted reasoning of man says that He must leave.

Now I said that this story is not a tragedy, though it has two very tragic acts in it. We must come to the ending to see the silver lining in these dark clouds, when we see …

III. The Merciful Plan of God (15-20)

What can God do with a man driven by an army of demons to the lunatic fringe? He can do great things! This man has been transformed from derelict to disciple according to the merciful plan of God.

Notice first his transformed position: He is seated at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind. When was the last time any of these things could be said of him? Could anyone recall a day when he wasn’t running to and fro, screaming and gashing his naked body, tearing apart the fetters that bound him? What no chains or shackles could do, Christ did by the authority of His word. He settled this man into His right mind and brought His life into accord with God’s merciful plan. Now we find him in the position of a true disciple – seated in the presence of His Savior.

Notice also that the plan of God for this man includes transformed desires. Before, he had been bent on destruction. Now, verse 18 tells us he only wants to be with Jesus. Perhaps he feared that the demons would return or that the people would retaliate. So he implored Jesus that he might go with Him. God has placed into this man’s heart the unquenchable desire for the presence of Christ. That desire overrides all others. Though it would mean that he must forsake all that is comfortable and familiar to him, he would gladly depart if it meant he could enjoy uninterrupted fellowship with Christ. This is the desire of a true disciple. Whatever the cost, we would gladly suffer it to be with Him.

Now the response of Jesus here is surprising. I want you to focus on the repetition of the word that the NASB translates implore in this chapter. The English word varies in other English translations, but the underlying Greek is the same throughout. In v12, the demons implored Jesus that they might inhabit the pigs. A strange request, and one we must confess ignorance about to some degree, nonetheless Jesus granted it. In v17, the crowd of people implored Jesus to leave their region. And He granted their request. But here, this man, with perhaps the purest intentions, implored Jesus to take him with Him, and what did Jesus say? He did not let him (v19). Does that throw you for a loop, that Jesus here grants the requests of demons and pagans, but not this man whose life has been so radically transformed? Why would Jesus respond this way? Because, in addition to a transformed position, and transformed desires, in the merciful plan of God, Jesus has given him a transformed responsibility.

He tells the man, “Go home to your people.” How long had it been since they had seen him? Would they even recognize him? Would they be afraid of him? But Jesus says to go and “report to them what great things the Lord has done for you and how He had mercy on you.” This is the responsibility of a true disciple – to go and tell what the Lord has done. The region might rid themselves of the personal presence of Christ, but there is an abiding testimony of His saving grace left behind in this man, who went to the Decapolis – ten different cities – and proclaimed the glory of Christ to the amazement of all who heard him.

Think about that for a moment: What would it be like if Jesus were among us today? He could only be in one place at any one time preaching the good news of salvation. But in His departing from us, and transforming us through the renovation of life that takes place as His Spirit comes to dwell within us, He has made the testimonies of His glory abound. And now there is a testimony for Christ everywhere a transformed life is found. You go and tell what great things the Lord has done for you, and you go and tell, and you go and tell, and you go and tell, and what He’s done for you, He will do for others, and lives will be changed as He delivers people from their bondage and implements His merciful plan in their lives.

Has the Lord done great things for you? Have you gone and told? That is our call to commitment today. If you have never experienced the life-changing mercy and grace of God in your life, then you can today as He offers you forgiveness of your sins, freedom from your bondage, and eternal life through His death and resurrection. Will you receive Him, or will you implore Him to leave you alone? Our prayer today is that if you don’t know Him, you will call on Him to do for you what He has done for this man, and for me, and for many others here in the room today. Let Him be Lord and Savior of your life.

And for those of you who have been transformed by His mercy and grace, go and tell. Go to your homes, go into the city, go into ten cities, and declare the great things that Jesus has done for you, that all may hear, and all may know, and all may likewise put their trust in the God of our salvation.

[1] John P. Newport, Demons, Demons, Demons (Nashville: Broadman, 1972), 14.

[2] Craig Bird, “Spiritual Warfare: Reflections from Kenya.” The Commission, February-March, 1991, p28.

[3] G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1927), 118

[4] Morgan, 115.

[5] David E. Garland, The NIV Application Commentary: Mark (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 216.

Two Questions for Jesus: Mark 4:35-41

(mp3) Listen or download this message from 6.17.07, based on Mark 4:35-41.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Brad Williams' Latest Post

The Sojourner, Brad Williams, has done it again. He has hit a homerun with his recent post on church planting and traditional churches. I hope you'll read it here.

You gotta like a guy who is willing to stare the frog in the face. I have no idea what that means, but I couldn't think of anything else to say about his picture.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Mark 4:35-41 > Two Questions for Jesus

Having spent the last week in San Antonio, I am more intrigued than ever by the story of the battle of the Alamo. It is a tragic chapter in American history, played out on the silver screen many times, though certainly no film can do it justice. Inside the fortress were fewer than 200 men, determined to fight the vast army of Santa Anna for the independence of Texas. Knowing that they could not withstand the thousands of Mexican soldiers which were surrounding them, William Travis sent out dispatches to Sam Houston and James Fannin asking for reinforcements. Due to numerous circumstances, neither were able to respond to Travis’s request. Knowing that the odds were not in their favor, the Alamo fighters stood their ground and died heroic deaths defending the Alamo, allowing time for Houston to marshal the forces which would defeat Santa Anna at San Jacinto.

I tell you this story today because it is fresh in my mind, and because it provides a suitable introduction to the passage before us today. Like Travis and his men, the disciples are faced with a sudden storm – not one of cannon balls and rifle fire, but a literal storm of wind and waves. Like those Alamo soldiers, the disciples knew that they didn’t stand a chance in their present situation unless help arose from some other quarter. For Travis, that help was sought in Houston and Fannin, who were unable to respond. For the disciples, help was sought in the person of Jesus Christ, who was asleep in the boat. I would imagine that in their most honest moments of reflection on their circumstances, William Travis, David Crockett, and Jim Bowie all wanted to ask of Houston and Fannin the same question the disciples asked of Jesus – “Do you not care that we are perishing?” In a letter to Jesse Grimes on March 3, 1836, Travis said, “I am determined to perish in the defense of this place, and my bones shall reproach my country for her neglect.”

Do you not care that we are perishing? That was the question of Travis to all America from the Alamo in 1836, and it was the question of the disciples to their Lord in the midst of a stormy sea 1800 years earlier. The story of Jesus stilling the stormy sea is a familiar one. It occurs in three of the four Gospels and is the first of four successive miracle stories in Mark’s Gospel. This scene has often been depicted in Christian art through the centuries.

Here in this passage, we find much action and little dialogue. The details given bear the distinct flavor of an eyewitness account, which is to be expected since the early church recognized Mark’s gospel as coming from information provided by Peter. So vivid was this event and the lessons learned from it in the memory of Peter that he was able to recount the story with near cinematic detail. Among those details are two questions that Peter recalls asking. One in verse 38: Teacher, Do you not care that we are perishing? Another in verse 41: Who then is this that even the wind and the sea obey Him? I believe these questions serve as two great focal points for us in the study of the text today as we seek to understand and apply God’s word to our lives and to the church today. Like the disciples of old, we are faced with many storms in life, both literal and figurative, and if we are to survive them, we must learn the lessons they learned from the Lord in the midst of their great storm.

I. Teacher, Do You Not Care? (v38)

After a long day of preaching and teaching, Jesus calls the disciples to withdraw to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Verse 36 says that He was already in the boat – in newer translations, you will see the phrase “just as He was.” That phrase points us back to 4:1 where Jesus got into the boat and used it as a floating pulpit. Now, without going ashore to prepare for the journey or gather supplies, He says that they should head across the lake. We aren’t told why, unless, the phrase “leaving the crowd” gives us a clue. Perhaps it was to escape the crowds, or perhaps to expand His ministry to those on the other side. The detail that there were other boats with Him serves no purpose in the story other than to indicate that He could not escape the crowds. Although He may have tried to withdraw from them, many followed Him in other boats.

During the journey, this question is asked: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” What precipitates this question? Several factors:

A. A Sudden Storm (v37a)

The Sea of Galilee sits in a depression, 700 feet below sea level, surrounded by hills and mountains. Mount Hermon is just 30 miles to the Northeast, rising to 9200 feet above sea level. Violent warm winds from the southwest enter the basin from the southern cleft and mix with the cold air from the Northern mountain region producing tempestuous storms that arise and subside suddenly and in quick succession. This still occurs commonly today, as resident fishermen readily testify. It is especially dangerous when those storms arise at night. Today, fishermen on the Sea of Galilee refer to these evening easterlies as “Sharkia."[1]

This storm is a severe one – the Greek word used to describe it is the same word used in ancient times for hurricanes, squalls, and other furious storms. The NASB calls it a fierce gale of wind. The NIV calls it a furious squall. No seasoned sailor would take his boat out in those waters knowing that such a storm was brewing. This storm arose suddenly, a factor leading to their questioning of Jesus.

Did He not know that He was leading them into a storm? If He knew, then did He not care that He was leading them out into deadly conditions? Just as frequently as storms are likely to arise on the Sea of Galilee, so too storms arise frequently in the lives of Christians. Jesus does not promise “smooth sailing or cloudless skies. Even when we are very near Him … the tempests burst; circumstances seem against us,” the waves threaten to engulf us and the skies grow dark.[2] When Jesus told the parable of the house built upon a rock in Matthew 7:24, His point was not that those who hear His words and act on them would be exempted from storms. The same storm strikes the house build on a rock that strikes the one built on sand. The difference is that the house built on a rock withstands the storm. So the life built on Christ will experience sudden storms in life, but God has promised that the storm will not overtake us if we cling to Christ in the midst of it. The sudden onset of storms in your life is no cause to question whether or not the Master cares! Rather it is cause for us to cling to Him and to His word in faith that He will see us through.

But the sudden storm was not the only factor that led to the questioning of Jesus. Notice another factor:

B. A Sinking Ship (v37b)

Mark tells us that the waves were breaking over the boat so much that it was filling up with water. The wording here implies that the waves were beating upon the boat, and throwing water over the boat. This word used for filling up is the same word Mark uses in 15:36 to describe the filling up of a sponge. It is the word John uses to describe the filling of water pots in Jn 2:7. You want to fill up sponges and water pots, that’s fine. You go filling up boats, and that’s a problem. The boat is going to sink.

The shape of the typical Galilean fishing boat was especially vulnerable to high waves. In 1986, a boat of this kind was unearthed at Ginosaur. These boats had low sides to enable the fishermen to drag their full nets over the sides into the boat. The one found in 1986 was about 26 ½ feet long, 7 ½ feet wide, and less than 5 feet deep. The boat would have had two rowers on each side, and would hold about 15 people. We know it is typical of fishing boats of that era, because it corresponds to a well-preserved first century mosaic. Carbon dating places the boat between 120 BC and 40 AD. With such a shallow hull, it would be easy to take on water, especially in the tumultuous conditions described here.[3]

With their boat on the verge of sinking, the disciples cry out, “Teacher, do You not care?” There are times in our lives when the wind whirls around us and the waves wash over us, and we wonder if we will stay afloat. The poet e. e. cummings said, “King Christ, this world is all aleak, and life preservers there are none.” It seems in those moments that we will drown in despair as we question the Lord of His concern, or seeming lack thereof, for us. This is true, not only in our lives individually, but for the church of Jesus Christ as well. Those boats, used for so many centuries for successful fishing in the Sea of Galilee, sure don’t seem like they were crafted for such conditions. And when one considers Christ’s church and the storms it has endured for two millennia, we often think the same. With all of the forces of academia, politics, science crashing over us, we wonder if the boat will sink. After all, the church, Paul says in 1 Corinthians, consists of not many wise, not many mighty, and not many noble. But the ship stays afloat. We have taken on water, at times of our doing, and other times from without. It was Voltaire who said that he would rid the world of Christianity and the Bible, and yet after he died, his very house became home to a Bible publishing house. In our day, it seems that every time we turn around, there is some new conspiracy theory about the real Jesus that the Bible has hidden from us, or some new book or documentary that threatens to shipwreck the Christian faith. But we do not despair, though others claim that the boat will sink – Christ is in the boat with us, and He will not let it go down. He has said that He will build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

There is yet another factor, the most obvious one in the text, which gives rise to the question of Christ’s care. Not only is there a sudden storm, and a sinking ship, but we read on and find …

C. A Sleeping Savior (v38)

On those ancient fishing boats like the one discovered in 1986, the bow and stern both appear to have been covered with a deck where someone could sit or lie down. On the boat, there would be either a sandbag used for ballast, or a seat cushion for the rower, or in some cases a pillow kept for the comfort of those not involved in rowing or fishing. Whichever was the case on this particular boat, the Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head for some shut-eye on one or the other of these “cushions.” It is interesting that this account (and its parallels in Matthew and Luke) is the only time we read of Jesus sleeping in the Gospels. That does not mean it is the only time He ever slept, but it is the only time His sleeping is recorded.

Why would Jesus sleep? Firstly, because He was fully human. He was more than fully human, as we will see momentarily, but being fully human, He needed to rest His body as much as you and I do. God did not give the command of a Sabbath arbitrarily. Our bodies need rest. We need to work, and work hard, but we need to rest also. Without that needed rest, we are limited in the work we can do. Secondly, He slept because He was tired. Now I know you may think, “Why was He so tired? All He’d been doing was preaching.” Let me tell you from my experience, preaching is exhausting. I am never more fatigued than at about 12:15 on Sunday afternoon. It takes deliberate resting through the afternoon to build up strength to do it again on Sunday nights. And Jesus probably wasn’t preaching half-hour sermons. Add to this the constant demand of the people upon Him, which we saw in Chapter 3 was hindering Him from eating, so it is no stretch to imagine that it hindered Him from regular sleep as well. But thirdly, I think we can say with confidence that Jesus slept because of His abiding assurance that His Father was in control of everything that was going to take place. One writer speaks of the “untroubled serenity of divine omnipotence.”[4] He needed not fear what might happen if He closed His eyes. God’s sovereign and providential control of the affairs of this world is just as constant whether Jesus is asleep or awake. When you are confident of that, you can sleep sound.

Jesus must have been sleeping soundly. Have you ever slept on a boat? We took the San Antonio River Cruise two times last week, and Salem slept through them both, and she was none-too-happy about missing it. But the gentle rocking of the boat, and the tranquil lapping of the water lulled her into slumber within a few minutes. But Jesus was not on a river cruise. This boat was getting hammered by wind and waves, pitching back and forth in the storm, but Jesus kept on sleeping. Water was spraying across the boat, perhaps even pooling around Him, yet He slept on. None of this woke Him – the disciples woke Him with their question: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Their assumption is apparent – surely He knew there was a storm, surely He felt the rocking of the boat and the splashing of the water. But the fact that He did nothing to help, not even man a bucket to dip the water out must mean that He could care less if they all drown there. They presume that He was neglecting His duty to protect them and come to their aid. Their word perish means destruction or ruin, indicating the vividness of their turmoil. These were experienced fishermen who had weathered many storms, but never anything quite like this. How can He be silently sleeping when all this is going on around us? Surely He does not care!

In the midst of overwhelming storms, are we not often quick to join them with this question? When God doesn’t arise immediately to alleviate our distress, we are quick to assume that He is indifferent to our need. And in our cry to Him, there is that subtle tone of rebuke – “Jesus, how dare you slumber when I need you now!” And there is that demand of entitlement that says, “You owe me deliverance,” wherein we mistake the benefits of His grace as a debt that we deserve to collect.

He may be silent. You may deem His response to be slow in coming. You may feel slighted by His seeming indifference to your travail. But this does not mean that He does not care for you. Even in that state of soul despair, we ought to do exactly as these disciples did, and cry out to Him, but we must not seek to rebuke or reprove Him as these did. We must do so with humble faith, and a recognition of our own state – we do not deserve His aid. If He gives it, and He often does, it is of grace and not merit. We do not deserve His providential intervention in our circumstances. Thank God, He does not always let us suffer what we deserve. In His grace He will arise, in His own way and in His own time, and come to our aid just as He does here.

There is this question: “Do you not care?” Oh, yes, He cares. And we must not let sudden storms, sinking ships, or the silence of a seemingly sleeping Savior cause us to think He doesn’t. But there is another question asked in verse 41.

II. Who Then Is This? (v41)

Verses 39 and 40 contain statements of Jesus. In verse 39, He speaks to the wind and sea. In verse 40, He speaks to the disciples. Both statements are rebukes. And both give rise to this additional question of the true identity of Jesus.

A. He Speaks to the Wind and Sea (v39)

He speaks with rebuke, demanding silence and stillness. There is here a repetition of two words used in 1:25 in Jesus’ dealing with an unclean spirit. He speaks to this storm in the natural realm the same way He speaks authoritatively over the demons of the spiritual realm. R. T. France says, “He rebukes the wind as if it were an animate being, and addresses the lake as if it were an unruly heckler.”[5] “Be still” here is our translation of a Greek word meaning “to silence or muzzle.” It is a passive perfect command, and might be rendered, “Put a muzzle on and keep it on!” John Calvin points out that the lake did not have any perception, but rather Jesus speaks in this way to demonstrate the power of His voice reaching even the elements.[6] Just as God took what was formless and void in Genesis 1:2, and formed it and filled it by the power of His Word, so here, Christ speaks stillness and silence, and “the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.”

Now there are those who do not accept the miracles found in the Bible as authentic, historical events. For example, 19th Century German theologian Heinrich Paulus said Jesus did not speak to the sea and order it to be calm, but rather cried out, “What a dreadful storm! It must be over soon!” And then the disciples misunderstood His words to be the effective cause of the sudden calm.[7] However, I would rather take the word of those who were there, and those who were experienced fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Some of these men had spent years fishing every day on this lake, and had seen storms come and go, but what they saw happen when Jesus spoke was no natural occurrence. What they just saw and heard gave rise to the question of verse 41: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

Who is He? Well, we saw in His sleeping that He was fully human, but we said that He was much more than that – and here we see how much more. Turn in your Bibles to Psalm 107 as we read verses 23-30:

Those who go down to the sea in ships, Who do business on great waters; They have seen the works of the Lord, And His wonders in the deep. For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, Which lifted up the waves of the sea. They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths; Their soul melted away in their misery. They reeled and staggered like a drunken man, And were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, And He brought them out of their distresses. He caused the storm to be still, So that the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they were quiet, So He guided them to their desired haven.

So who is this? Is He just a man? No He is so much more than that – He is fully human, therefore He sleeps in the stern. But He is fully GOD, therefore He silences the storm and stills the sea with the power of His word. Yet His rebuke of the sea is perhaps not so intense as His rebuke of His disciples which we see in verse 40 as …

B. He Speaks to His Disciples (v40)

When Jesus says, “Why are you afraid,” the word He uses for afraid is a totally different Greek word than the one found in verse 41. This one has to do with the fear of a coward. When the Bible was translated into the Uduk language of Ethiopia and Sudan, they used the idiom “shiver in your liver” here. Why do you shiver in your liver? Why are you cowards? Do you still have no faith? He doesn’t rebuke them for their lack of knowledge – of that they should have plenty. They have been with Him day by day for some time now. Yet, after all they have seen Him do and heard Him say, they still don’t realize who He is. Though they may be insiders, they follow Him with an imperfect understanding. They still lack that practical faith in the power of God which enables them to respond to a crisis with confidence.

But in the face of this divine revelation, Mark tells us that they became very much afraid. You don’t have to be a Greek scholar to pick up on this: he uses the words phobon megan. Literally, they feared a great fear. That is a common construction in Hebrew used to intensify something, and here Mark just brings it into the Greek language. It is ironic that their fear in verse 41 is more intense than the fear of verse 40. And so we will see this kind of fear in response to Jesus four more times in Mark’s Gospel. Indeed, the presence of the supernatural is more frightening to humanity than the most destructive natural disasters we may face. These disciples are better able to handle the possibility of their own death at sea than the possibility that God Himself is standing in their midst.[8]

“Who then is this?” they ask. It is the one question that makes faith possible. In Exodus 14:31, after coming through the Red Sea and seeing the Egyptians perish there, the Bible says that Israel saw the great power which the Lord had used against the Egyptians, and the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord. When God reveals Himself to humanity, the only appropriate response is one of awe, reverence, and fear. Rightly directed, that fear produces faith. It did for Israel. But the question here becomes, “Will that fear produce faith for these disciples?” and “Will that fear produce faith for you and I?”

Mark’s original readers were the Christians in Rome who were suffering intense persecution under the pagan dominion of Nero. Seeing their brothers and sisters in the faith crucified, beheaded, and tortured in countless other ways on a regular basis, they too may have been tempted to believe that God was indifferent to their suffering. But this story gave them assurance that though the storms were brutal and the sea was turbulent, Christ was in the boat with them, and they were safe in His care. Just as the battle cry, “Remember the Alamo” spurred the patriots in Texas on to victory over Santa Anna, so the ancient church employed the symbol of a boat on a perilous sea to remind themselves Jesus was in the boat with them, and there was no need to fear.

Perhaps today, you find yourself in the midst of a sudden and severe storm on the sea of your life. I have but one question for you – Is Jesus in the boat with you? Mark has told us that there were other boats out on the sea that dark and stormy night. But he does not tell us what became of them. He does tell us that those on board with Jesus were saved. The storm never has the last word. Christ always does. So why take your chances on a ship where there is no Savior? Much better off will you be to have Christ on board with you, even though it may seem He is sleeping at the moment, He will arise and save His own. He will not always calm the storm, but His presence is enough to calm our souls so we can know that He will bring us through. So, is He in the boat with you? If not, then I would urge you with all that is in me to jump ship and swim for your life to climb aboard with Him by calling out to Him as Lord and Savior of your life. And if He is, then fear not. The storms will come, and at times He may be silent, but He cares, and He is able to speak to the storm, to the sea, or to your soul words of peace and calm if you trust in Him in the midst of the storm.

[1] See William L. Lane, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 175; James R. Edwards, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 149.

[2] Charles R. Erdman, The Gospel of Mark: An Exposition (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1945), 77.

[3] Edwards, 148.

[4] R. T. France, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 223.

[5] France, 224.

[6] Calvin, quoted in C. E. B. Cranfield, The Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to St. Mark (Cambridge: Cambridge, 1966), 174.

[7] Quoted in David Garland, The NIV Application Commentary: Mark (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 194.

[8] Edwards, 152.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Church Planting

Jonathan Dodson, a church planter in the Acts 29 Network, offers an honest and insightful look inside the "missional" church-planting movement and points out that it is just as likely to become myopic as any other expression of Christianity. Much of what he has to say resonates with my own perspective on the movement. In particular, I want to highlight several quotes.

Daring to disagree with missional guru Ed Stetzer (warning to Dodson -- it seems to me because of all the hoopla that disagreeing with Stetzer might put you under a ban from using the word "missional"), Dodson says (remarkably):

"while I agree that being missional includes being culturally alert and active, church planters often appropriate this idea monoculturally. Our notion of being culturally aware is often radically ethnocentric, primarily restricted to American culture. As missional people, we can become so committed to reaching our own culture that the cultures and peoples of the rest of the world end up taking a backseat. As a result, "missional" becomes a codeword for Western, ethnocentric, monocultural church planting, which leads to churches that aren't fully missional. In turn, this missional short-sightedness produces churches and disciples of Jesus that are not shaped by the insights and challenges of the global church."

In the most substantive portion of the article, Dodson says:

"Numerous examples of missional short-sightedness could be adduced; however, I will provide just one critique that cuts to the heart of the missional movement-our growth methodology. Contemporary methods of church growth have often focused on growth as the purpose of mission, attraction as the power of mission, and strategic planning as the plan of mission. Missional churches, unless they are stitched into the missio Dei, are just as easily lulled into such skewed notions of the purpose, plan and power of the church.

"Although church planters are susceptible to measuring their affectivity based on the number of people who attend their church, they face another straying purpose for their existence-numbers of church plants or being a part of a church planting movement. If we are not deliberate, the purpose of mission can subtly degrade into planting more churches, instead of cultivating diverse, global worshippers of the triune God. To put a spin on a familiar phrase, church planting is not the ultimate purpose of the church. Worship is. Missional activity exists because worship doesn't.[3] Without worship as the ultimate purpose of missional activity, we will end up making quantifiable converts, not worshipping disciples.

"Whenever we depart from the missional purpose of God, our missional plans become man-centered and narrow-minded. ... Whenever our primary concern becomes how many missional community churches we can plant and what forms of church we need-building, music, service, website design-we demonstrate a warped missional ecclesiology. Moreover, when the concept of missional is reduced to connecting with our culture in order to reflect its forms, from urban professional to rural cowboy, we reveal our missional short-sightedness. By obsessing over North American contextualization, we are in danger of neglecting the global mission of the church.

"When narrowly conceived missional methodology takes priority over missional theology, the power of mission is reduced to pragmatics, abandoning the missio Dei and dishonoring the many-faceted, multi-cultural gospel of God."

Find his entire article here. Whether you are missional or not, or if you are like me and find yourself wondering just whose definition of "missional" you want to accept, Dodson's article is a much needed call for reasonable, biblical and theological thinking about the movement, both from within and without.

HT: Justin Taylor

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Human Face of Homelessness

Jeri Rowe, of Greensboro News & Record, puts a human face on the problem of homelessness in urban Greensboro in his recent article, "On the Arm of Wheelchair Man."

Jeri is the same writer who did the piece a while back on the High Point Rd./Lee St. Corridor that featured our church.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Contrast of the Kingdom (Audio)

Audio of sermon from 6/3/07, The Contrast of the Kingdom, Mark 4:30-34, is now available for download or on the podcast.

A Case for the Virgin Birth

We have now uploaded audio from the December, 2005 presentation of my case for the virgin birth of Christ. This presentation was made to a small group in the IBC Chapel. It is available for download or on the podcast.

Monday, June 04, 2007

God's Plan for Growing His Kingdom (Audio)

Sunday sermon from 5/27/07, "God's Plan for Growing His Kingdom" (Mark 4:26-29) is now available for download or on iTunes.

Mohler: The Great Challenge of the Cities

Albert Mohler offers insight on the recent Economist report concerning the explosive growth of urban centers in the world. This is important reading for those of us doing ministry in urban settings.

Find it here.

The Contrast of the Kingdom -- Mark 4:30-34

I have this friend who is a traveling evangelist. He spends much of his time away from home preaching from church to church. He told me once how he came home after an extended time of travel, and said to his youngest daughter, “I think you’ve grown a foot since I saw you last.” He said his little girl looked down, puzzled (maybe even alarmed), wondering if she now had three instead of two.

You have probably heard the old saying, “From little acorns, great oaks grow.” When you look around at those big shade trees in your yard, it is hard to imagine sometime that they began with a little acorn. Having been tied up with family matters for the last few weeks, I got around to mowing the yard finally last Thursday, and it was covered with acorns. Its hard to believe that every one of those things has within itself the potential to become a huge tree. Nothing about the size of the acorn suggests anything about the size of the finished product.

Jesus spoke similarly about the Kingdom of God. He said its like a mustard seed. And in the imagery of this parable He presents the radical contrast of the Kingdom.

I. The Meager Onset of the Kingdom

Jesus says in v30, “How shall we picture the kingdom of God or by what parable shall we present it?” Well, there would have been plenty of suggestions among the crowd for how they would like to see it presented. For centuries, the faithful men and women of Israel had been longing for God to bring forth His Anointed One, the Messiah, to establish His Kingdom and end the bondage Israel had suffered throughout its history. In their minds, they envisioned a day when some mysterious stranger would come riding in on a white horse slaying their enemies, overthrowing their oppressors, and establishing days of shalom for Israel—days of peace, prosperity, and well-being. Some had made efforts to do so, and gotten the hopes of Israel aroused, only to fail and usher in disappointment and discouragement. Along came one called Jesus, who claimed to be the Anointed One of God. But His coming was not like they had imagined. There was no white horse, only a donkey. There were no rousing nationalistic rallying cries, only teachings about sin and redemption, and enigmatic parables. And when He spoke of what He planned to do for the people, He didn’t say anything about slaying the enemy. Instead He spoke of His own death as the ultimate triumph of His Kingdom. So, for many in first century Israel, the sentiment was, “Well, that is an interesting approach Jesus, but I think we’ll hold out for something a little more, you know, uh, successful maybe.”

With so many notions swirling about concerning swords and stallions, what is one to make of one who comes talking about seeds and soil? And when He speaks of the growth of the Kingdom, He doesn’t talk about the mighty cedars of Lebanon or the great and mighty oaks; instead He’s talking about mustard. I imagine there were more than a few who said, “Uh, no Jesus, what we need is some kind of Savior, not something savory. We need a coup, not a condiment.” But nonetheless, He says the mustard seed captures the idea of the growth of the Kingdom He wants to convey.

Those who heard Him knew about mustard – they used mustard seed for oils and seasoning, and the leaves of the plant for vegetables. But it is not the uses of the seed that Jesus was speaking of – it was the meager size of the thing. The mustard seed, Jesus says, is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil. Now some have taken issue with this, saying that botanists are aware of some seeds that are actually smaller than mustard seeds, but that is not the point. It probably was the smallest seed His audience knew of, and in fact, it was sort of a proverbial name for tiny things in ancient days. And they were tiny seeds. It would take 700 to make a gram.[1] How many of them could be trampled underfoot without even knowing they were there? You could be looking right at them and not even see them. They were tiny little things; very insignificant and unimpressive. Just like what people saw when they looked at Jesus.

He was not the kind of Messiah they had hoped for; and the Kingdom He talked about establishing was not the kind they had longed for. If only He would mount up with force and overthrow the oppressors by force, then He would have a real following. But as for this going around and preaching and all that stuff, well, He’ll just have to be content with this misfit bunch of fishermen and tax-collectors and the like. But like that mustard seed, we must not misjudge the Kingdom of God by what appears to be a meager onset. We must not despise small beginnings. Looking at the meager size of the mustard seed, one sees no indication of the final product. And looking at the meager onset of the kingdom, one cannot grasp …

II. The Magnificent Outcome of the Kingdom

In comparing the Kingdom of God to the mustard seed, Jesus says two things about its remarkable growth.

A. The Size of the Kingdom

That tiny little mustard seed, just 1/700th of a gram, grows to be “larger than all the garden plants,” Jesus says. In fact, from that near microscopic seed, the mustard plant would grow sometimes to ten or twelve feet in height, and produce a nice, shade-giving plant one can rest under. This says to us, in effect, that though the beginning stages of the Kingdom, in the teaching, preaching, and even in the sufferings of Jesus, be obscure and seemingly unimpressive, from these things a great and mighty movement will flow.

Who would have thought that beginning with a ragtag band of 12 ordinary men that, 2000 years later, that this movement would still be growing? We have the blessing of looking at it from hindsight and seeing the tremendous size to which this mustard seed has grown. In Jesus’ day, His audience only saw the seed. And they did not see it with the eyes of faith that could envision the ultimate size to which His kingdom would grow. They saw, as it were, a man sowing seeds, thinking surely it would never amount to much. We know differently. In 2000 years of Church History, earthly kingdoms have risen and fallen, ideas and schools of thought have entered and exited. But God is still building His Kingdom, adding to it another citizen every some sinner bows the knee to Christ as Lord and Savior.

Who can measure the size of His kingdom? God announced to Abraham that His descendants would be as the stars of the sky and the dust of the earth, which no one can number. Paul tells us in Galatians 3:9 that it is those who are of faith in Christ who are the true descendants of Abraham, and when John saw them gathered together in heaven, he said it was a great multitude which no one could count. From the tiny mustard seed of Jesus Christ, His life and teaching, His death and resurrection, a Kingdom of unfathomable size has been established. And thus it will continue until Christ returns for the consummation of His Kingdom.

But not only does Jesus mention the size to which the Kingdom will grow in this parable, but also He says a word concerning …

B. The Scope of the Kingdom

Jesus says in v32 that the mustard seed forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade. The NIV says here perch, but that is not quite accurate. A bird perches here and there, wherever it finds a place sturdy enough to alight. And birds are so lightweight, that it doesn’t take much strength for them to perch on tiny things. But the Greek wording here does not imply perching, as in a temporary landing place. The idea is nesting, dwelling, pitching a tent, making for oneself a home. The birds don’t just come and go to this mustard tree, they make a home there.[2]

The entire phrase here, “The birds of the air nest under its shade,” is an echo of Old Testament imagery. In both Ezekiel and Daniel, we find an image of a tree which becomes a home to the birds, and in both that image is understood to be people from all nations of the earth. And so by employing this phrase here to describe the Kingdom of God, Jesus is saying that it will encompass those from every nation under heaven. This would have been scandalous in the ears of Jesus’ original audience, for they thought Israel had a monopoly on God, and that He would establish His kingdom for their benefit alone. But here Christ echoes that heartbeat of God that throbbed undetected by most throughout the entire Old Testament – that God was God of the entire world and not of Israel only. Israel was commissioned by God to be a light to the Gentiles so that they would come to know Him, but they failed at that task becoming more and more myopic in their view of God. But Christ has come to say that the doors of this Kingdom are wider than Zion, open to all who will recognize Christ as the true King, regardless of their ethnicity, their heritage, or the geographical boundaries.

From a tiny seed, God is building a great and massive Kingdom, and when it is finally consummated, John tells us in Revelation that the multitude who enter into it will be innumerable, and will come from every nation, tribe, and people, and tongue. We must not make the mistake of ancient Israel and think that God is the God of America or the Western World only. He is the God of the whole world, and He has commissioned us as His ambassadors to go and extend the invitation to enter His Kingdom to all peoples of the world.

“How shall we picture the Kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it?” Jesus asked. When it comes to its size, its scope, and the great contrast between its beginning and end, perhaps no image is more suitable than the mustard seed. Tiny and unimpressive are its beginnings. Unfathomable and limitless will be its end, outgrowing all earthly powers, and encompassing those of every nation and tribe who enthrone Christ as Lord over their lives.

Not everyone understood that parable when first it was delivered. Mark tells us in v33 that Jesus spoke parables to the people, as they were able to hear it. Some aren’t able to hear it. To some these things are meaningless. But to others, they are the source of eternal life, and for those who forsake everything for Christ, He welcomes them into His Kingdom and “explains everything.” (v34).

Are you discouraged that His Kingdom seems slow growing? Don’t be – He is building it in His way, in His time, and you can be a part of that by sowing the seed of His word into the soil of some lost person’s heart. Are you blind to the vision God has for the scope of His Kingdom? Do you view Him as an American God only, not realizing His desire and worth to be worshiped by all peoples? Repent of such a narrow view of God, and ask God how He might use you to usher the birds into the branches by reaching out to the nations with the Gospel. Do you find yourself today hopping from perch to perch in life, with no real place to nest? Come into God’s kingdom today and abide there. Build your nest in the branches of His Kindgom. Come to Christ and find deliverance from the bondage of sin that separates you from God. Find new life in Jesus, and new citizenship in a kingdom that will never end. He died for your sins and rose again to give you eternal life and reconcile you to your Creator, and if you will acknowledge Christ as Lord and Savior of your life you will be saved.

[1] R. T. France, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 216.

[2] D. Edmond Hiebert, The Gospel of Mark: An Expositional Commentary (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1994), 121.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Brad Williams on Church Planting

Brad Williams, of the "Sojourner" blog, has stepped up on one of my soap boxes on the issue of church planting. He promises more to come. For starters, read his initial thoughts here. Regular readers of this blog and those who know me well know that I am in 100% agreement with everything he has said in this post.

I'd love to get Billy Belk chiming in here in the comments section -- in case you don't know, Billy has suspended his blog because Dennis Conner told him to. Just kidding! He had commendable reasons. But seriously, Billy is a deep thinker on these issues of Church life, and I open the comment section up to him to wax eloquent on the matter for us all.