Monday, September 24, 2007

Mark 7:1-13 The Religion of Hypocrites

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Some of you perhaps know what it’s like to work in an place where you get occasional visits from those in the home office. Usually, it goes like this – in a staff meeting, you are informed that next week, the reps from the home office will be visiting, so we must spend the rest of the week cleaning and straightening things up, and making sure all our employees are aware of the quality control standards and risk management protocol, so that when the home office folks come they will see that we have all the “i’s” dotted and the “t’s” crossed. Others of you perhaps know the manic frenzy that erupts when those home office folks drop in unannounced. Before entering the ministry, I was the manager of a sporting goods store at Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem. The store I ran was a small shop with a lot of merchandise in it. On that day retailers refer to as “Black Friday” – the day after Thanksgiving—I was short staffed and had a store full of customers. It was a mad house. I literally had an employee standing in the middle of the store on a ladder to reach things that were high up in the store, and people were throwing things around. It was crazy. In the midst of all the chaos, I noticed a well-dressed, white-haired gentleman just standing in the back corner of the store taking it all in. I made my way through the mob and said, “Can I help you sir?” He told me his name, and he said, “I own the company and I thought I would come down and see how things are going here today.” It’s kind of funny how much can pass through your mind in just a matter of a couple of seconds – how much I would have done differently had I known he was coming, and all that. But it was too late. I just looked him right in the eye, and said, “Look, I don’t have time to impress you today. But since you’re here, why don’t you go man the cash register so I can free up my employees to sell more stuff.” And then I just kind of recoiled, thinking, “If it weren’t Black Friday, he’d probably fire me for saying that.” But instead, he said, “I’d be glad to,” and he jumped right in. At the end of the day, he told me that it was one of the best in-store visits he had ever had, and we had a great relationship from that day forward. Of course, the fact that we broke every sales record in the company that day didn’t hurt the case any. I am sure some of you have had those kinds of visits at your place of business. You know how it is.

In the passage we have just read today, Jesus got a visit from the folks at the religious headquarters in Jerusalem. Now, if we had been in Jesus’ shoes, we might pull the disciples aside and say, “Listen fellows, the higher ups are here today, so let’s be on our toes here. Everything by the book today, OK!” But that isn’t what Jesus did. Did He not know they were coming? That is hard to suggest, for in Mark 2:8, we see that he even knew the thoughts of these scribes. Surely their coming did not take him by surprise. The fact is, Jesus didn’t view these guys as higher ups, He wasn’t trying to impress them, and He wasn’t concerned with any fault they might find in Him. He was faultless in the eyes of His Father, and lesser opinions of Him did not seem to concern Him too much. The irony of the scene is that they come to Him as if they are supervisors from the home office, but in fact, He has come to them from the true Home Office and He is the one to whom they will ultimately give account.

The Pharisees and Scribes appear throughout the Gospels as perpetual critics of Jesus. These classes of people came into being during the Babylonian captivity of Israel. Having been carried off from Jerusalem and having their temple destroyed, all the Jews had in those days was their Scripture. In order to distribute the Word of God to those in the captivity, the scribes arose as copyists of the Old Testament. And as they copied it word for word by hand, they became very well acquainted with its teachings, and people began to look upon them as experts on matters of interpretation. A scribe would give his interpretation on a passage of Scripture. And then later, another scribe would give his interpretation on that interpretation on the passage of Scripture. And then some time later, another scribe would give his interpretation on that interpretation of the first interpretation of the Scripture. And so on it would go for generations and centuries. Today we call these interpretations the Mishnah or the Talmud. They were not written and codified until after the time of Christ, but in the four centuries prior to His incarnation and during His earthly life and ministry, the Pharisees circulated these interpretations orally – the traditions of the elders they were called. So deeply was one interpretation piled upon another that the underlying Scriptures themselves were barely recognizable in the traditions.

A matter of special importance to the scribes and Pharisees was the issue of purity and uncleanness. When the Mishnah came into written form, no less than 186 pages of it dealt with ritual washings. While the Torah, the Old Testament Law, contained categories of clean and unclean, the chief concern therein was primarily hygiene. This was not so with the traditions. Hygiene was not nearly as important as ritualistic purity. In a seminal study of the Pharisaic understanding of these categories, Jacob Neusner writes, ““If you touch a reptile, you may not be dirty, but you are unclean. If you undergo a ritual immersion, you may not be free of dirt, but you are clean. A corpse can make you unclean, though it may not make you dirty. A rite of purification involving the sprinkling of water mixed with the ashes of a red heifer probably will not remove a great deal of dirt, but it will remove the impurity.” Whereas the Old Testament itself only demanded ritual washings for the priests upon entry into the Tabernacle, and for other people after contact with bodily discharges, the Pharisees sought to impose a complicated system of washings on the whole nation of Israel. And so it is no surprise that when the Pharisees and Scribes came to Jesus after a 90 mile journey from Jerusalem, they did not notice firstly the miracles that He was performing or the teachings He spoke, but they noticed that His disciples were eating with unwashed hands.

Now you probably saw in the news this week the story about handwashing. A recent study observed over 6,000 people’s hygiene habits in public restrooms. The outcome of the study was that, while 92% of people claim to always wash their hands after using the restroom, only 77% were observed to actually do so. I don’t know, maybe people were in a hurry to get out of the restroom when they noticed someone in the corner making notes on a clipboard or something. But the hygiene of the disciples’ hands was not the issue here – it was their ritual purity in the eyes of the Pharisees. According to the traditions of the elders, before every meal, the hands were to be washed in a very specific manner, with regulations specifying the position of the hands and the quantity and quality of water to be used. And only then were the hands to be considered “clean” in this ritual sense. And if a person did not wash in this way, they were considered unclean, not in the sense of a lack of hygiene, but in the sense of sin – they were unclean before God.

Now, Mark is writing for a Gentile audience who would have been unfamiliar with these traditions, so in verses 3-4, he explains the obsession the Pharisees had with ritual washings. Not only did they insist on this superficial ceremony of washing before meals, but after visiting the markets, one might have come into contact with Gentiles or Samaritans, or handled their wares. Therefore, to rid themselves of this contamination, they were to wash their entire bodies. The most reliable Greek manuscripts use a form of the word Baptizo here, meaning that they immersed themselves fully in water. And there was the constant work of washing (baptizo) cups and pitchers and copper pots.

And so in verse 5, the Pharisees and scribes asked Jesus, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the traditions of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” Notice two things about the question – first, they asked it of Jesus, whom they did not observe doing this, rather than the disciples whom they did observe. This suggests something to us of their motives. They were out to entrap Jesus. He was a threat to their entire system of religion, what with His regular and gracious interaction with Gentiles, lepers, and other undesirables. Second, notice the priority of their question – the cleanliness of their hands is secondary to their walking according to the traditions of the elders. They were not on a mission of hygiene – they could care less if the disciples were infected by coliform bacteria; their concern was their disregard for the traditions which was either excused or encouraged by Jesus Himself.

The response of Jesus to the Pharisees has nothing to do with hand-washing but everything to do with their allegiance to the traditions of the elders. And what He says is blunt, and it is biblical. Rather than debating over centuries of amassed traditions, Jesus does something the Pharisees and scribes never did. He goes ad fonta, that is “to the source.” He goes to the Scriptures. He says in v6, introducing a quotation from Isaiah 29:13, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites!” How’s that for subtle and seeker sensitive?

The word hypocrite was originally used of those who acted in the Greek theaters. Often one actor would play several roles, and rather than changing elaborate costumes between scenes, the actor would simply wear a different mask for each role he played. So the real identity of the actor was concealed behind the mask that he wore for the part. Jesus is essentially saying, “All this piety and religiosity you are demonstrating is just a mask – you aren’t really interested in the things of God – you are just wearing a mask!” That is what a hypocrite is: someone who wears a mask. It was true of the scribes and Pharisees and it is true of many in our day, for whom religion is nothing more than the clothes they wear on Sundays, or a part they are playing to impress an audience. It is a mask covering their true identity. And from what the Lord Jesus says here, we may say that hypocrisy is not some internal mutation of true religion, but rather it is a separate religion in and of itself. And it has three distinct characteristics according to Christ’s quotation of Isaiah. Let’s examine the characteristics of the religion of hypocrites and as we do so, let us also examine our lives in an effort to find any trace of this religion within ourselves and purge it completely.

The religion of the hypocrites is …

I. A Religion of Lip Service

God says of the hypocrites, “This people honors Me with their lips.” Now, it is not a bad thing to honor God with our lips. In fact, we are admonished to honor God with out lips. David prayed in Psalm 51:15, “O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise!” Again he says in Psalm 63:3, “3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise You.” He goes on to say in v5, “And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.” The old man of Psalm 71 says in v23, “My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to You.” So it is not wrong to honor God with our lips. Indeed, every song we sing, every prayer we utter, is an effort to honor Him in just such a way. But the problem with the religion of hypocrites is not that they honor God with their lips, it is that they honor God with their lips only! The words of their lips do not correspond with the condition of their hearts, for though they honor God with their lips, their hearts are far from God.

Words are valuable. They have meaning. They have truth-value. But there must be correspondence between our words and concrete reality. The postmodern world in which we live places no value on words because they deny the existence of absolute truth. This is a self-defeating claim, because they believe it is absolutely true that there is no absolute truth. We must proclaim in our day that there IS such a thing as truth, and words have meaning when they express that truth, that is, when those words correspond with reality. If there is no honor for God in our hearts, then any words we would use to honor God are meaningless. They do not correspond to what really is.

The Pharisees honored God with their lips. They spoke about Him, they spoke about their desire to please Him, they spoke about living their lives for Him and serving Him. But in their hearts, they were distant from God. Their piety existed only in their mouths and not in their hearts. And so we must inspect our own lives, when we sing with our lips the great hymns of the faith and express in them a cry of longing to live for the glory of God, when in our hearts we are merely thinking about what we will have for lunch. We must beware of saying, “Amen” to the preaching of the word with our lips when there is no intention in our hearts of obeying that word in our lives. And we must beware of filling the ears of our friends with meaningless words about our devotion to Christ, when they observe no concern for Him in the way we live our lives. If we would renounce the religion of hypocrites, then we would seek correspondence between the words of our lips and the disposition of our hearts.

But we also see that the religion of hypocrites is …

II. A Religion of Manmade Traditions

“”Teaching as Doctrines the precepts of Men,” Jesus says. The restrictions and regulations that the Pharisees demanded of others in their time were not based on the Word of God, but on the interpretations of interpretations of interpretations, ad nauseum. Notice two progressions of wording in the text. First, notice how the traditions are described. In verse 5, the Pharisees reverently refer to their traditions as “traditions of the elders.” But in v8, Jesus says they are the “traditions of men,” and then in v13, he says they are “your traditions,” that is, traditions that they have shaped themselves. Now, tradition is not a bad thing necessarily. We have inherited two millennia of cherished traditions in the Christian Church, and it pains my heart to see them thoughtlessly jettisoned in our day as though they were past their expiration date. The contemporary church has been impoverished by rejecting some traditions that ought to be maintained. Traditions can have great value when they function as servants of the Word of God. Traditions can assist us in understanding and applying the Bible. But the trouble with traditions comes when traditions become masters rather than servants of the Word of God. And such was the case with the traditions of the Pharisees, for you notice in another progression of wording that Jesus says in v8 that they have neglected the commandment of God in order to hold to the tradition of men. He goes on in v9 to say, not only have they passively neglected the Word of God in favor of their traditions, but they have actively set aside the commandment of God in order to keep their tradition. Then He goes further in v13 to say that in continuing to hand down these manmade traditions, they have invalidated the Word of God.

Jesus illustrates this with an example. The Word of God is very clear about the obligation of children to their parents. Stated positively, Jesus quotes Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and your mother.” Stated negatively, He quotes Exodus 21:17, “He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.” Before the days of Social Security and government aid for the elderly, the responsibility to care for them fell on their children and their family members, and in a sense that spiritual obligation remains, though our culture by and large poorly upholds it. But in place of these very plain commands of Scripture, the Pharisees have passed down a tradition called Corban. The word Corban is a transliteration of a Hebrew word that Mark explains means, given to God. The tradition of the Corban allowed a person to declare their possessions to be consecrated for God’s use. This was not actually done in reality, but on paper. In the presence of a scribe, a person could make this declaration, essentially like a will, as if to say, “While I am alive, all my stuff remains in my control, but when I die, God can have all that’s left.” So, when an elderly parent in need came to their child to request assistance, they could say, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you, because then I would be giving away what I have already given to God.” In fact, the tradition prescribed a fine for revoking a Corban pledge. The result was that in keeping the tradition of Corban, which has no root whatsoever in Scripture, the individual was preventing from obeying the Word of God to honor their parents, and in the eyes of Jesus, that individual was guilty of a capital offense. What Corban did in essence was to excuse greed and selfishness and strip the compassion of natural affections from the family. It was a neglect of the Word, a setting aside of the Word, and yes, an invalidation of the Word of God.

While we might immediately see the error of the Corban conundrum, we often are quick to overlook this facet of hypocrisy in our own lives. Often we render more allegiance to our manmade or culturally imposed traditions than to the very Word of God. And so we find many people in many churches who hold to all the expected traditions that American church culture has imposed – a religion that I describe as dress up, show up, pay up, sign up, and know when to shut up – while they have not focused on the weightier matters of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is a checklist religion: “Did I dress up, show up, sign up and pay up? Check. Then I am OK.” And then they die. And they are lost eternally. In another passage, Jesus will say of the Pharisees that they are like whitewashed tombs – freshly painted on the outside but full of dead men’s bones on the inside. And so today are many practitioners of hypocritical religion. They wear nice suits and dresses on Sunday mornings, and sing out loud to their favorite hymns, and glad-hand everyone they can reach in the sanctuary, but they have not heeded the words of Jesus – “Unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

The religion of hypocrites is a religion of lip service and manmade traditions, but also it is …

III. A Religion of Vain Worship

Jesus quotes Isaiah in verse 7: “In vain do they worship me.” The word vain means “empty,” or “hollow.” It is a state of nothingness. They are going through the motions, but there is no spiritual transaction taking place in reality. Their songs may be beautiful to the ears of man, but it is just an indistinct cacophony of noise in the ears of God. Their prayers may be voiced with the most flowery eloquence, but they reach no higher than the ceiling of the sanctuary. Though there be much style, there is no substance; much volume, no vitality; much exuberance, no exaltation; much perspiration, no praise. And at the end of life the hypocrite finds himself in the presence of the Judge of the Living and the Dead, and breaks out the list. “Jesus, did you see that? Did you catch how loud I sang? Did you see me Sunday morning? Man, I was really going at it! Did you like the way I used that big word in my prayer? Wasn’t that something?” There are no more tragic words in all of Scripture than those in Matthew 7:22-23 –

"Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'

“In vain do they worship Me,” God will say.

Perhaps you have heard it said by some that Christians are a bunch of hypocrites. No. The two groups do not mesh together. Hypocrisy is not an internal mallady of Biblical Christianity. It exists wholly outside of orthodox belief. There are Christians and there are hypocrites. Hypocrisy is an altogether separate religion. It is characterized by lip service, manmade traditions, and empty worship. That is not Christianity. Christianity is a genuine relationship with God that is possible only because God has reached out to us in His love and mercy to save us from our sins, to forgive us, to justify us with the righteousness of Christ, who lived for us and died for us, and who rose from the dead for us and for our salvation. We enter into that relationship through the door of repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And so today, should you find yourself outside of that relationship, you can enter in. Renounce the religion of hypocrisy and be born again! Cast yourself on the mercy of God extended to you in Jesus and be saved. Let us repent of lip service, of manmade traditions, of checklist religion, of empty worship and find that life, abundant and eternal that Jesus offers.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Mark 6:53-56: Bringing People to Jesus

[Audio available here]

Over the years, I have found that Christians and non-Christians have at least one thing in common. You mention evangelism, and both of them begin to get uneasy. For some, it comes down to not knowing what the word means. For instance, before I became a Christian, I always associated the word evangelism with the preachers on television who were always begging for money. After I became a Christian, I had a different idea of what evangelism was. When I was a student at UNC-Charlotte, we had this guy who would show up on campus a couple of times every semester, wearing a suit and carrying this HUGE Bible, and he would stand in the center of the main quad there and scream at the top of his lungs that everyone within earshot of him was going to hell unless they repented of their sins and came to Jesus. I was not too sure I wanted to be involved in that sort of thing. I knew that Christ had given His Great Commission to make disciples of all nations to the entire church, and that I had a responsibility to be a witness for him, but I just didn’t know how. I have come to realize that my frustration was not unique.

At the church where Donia and I were members before I entered the ministry, there was this guy in our church who everyone thought was a great soul-winner. He had been asked to go visit someone who needed Christ. He called me up to ask me to go with him, so we met at the church and I got into his car. There I saw this mountain of books, tapes, pamphlets, and all this other paraphernalia about evangelism. I said, “What’s all this?” And this guy who everyone thought was so great at evangelism said to me, “Man, I get so nervous doing this – I don’t know what to say or what to do, so all day long I’ve been reading these books and listening to these tapes to get myself ready for this visit.” I said, “Whoa – stop the car. Maybe all this stuff is what’s making you so nervous. Let’s just put these in the trunk, and pray about this visit we’re about to make. It doesn’t have to be so complicated.” And it wasn’t. We had a great visit with those folks that night, and they came to know the Lord, and became active members of our church.

What is evangelism? We refer to it as “witnessing.” What do we mean by that? Well, let’s suppose you are called into a courtroom as a witness. What is your task? You are to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about what you know concerning the issue in question. Where were you? What did you see? Who was there? What happened? What did you do after it happened? That is what it means to witness in a court of law, and that is what it means to witness for Jesus. We simply tell others what we know to be true about Jesus Christ, about how He saved us, and about how our lives are different as a result. And we offer them the opportunity to encounter Him just as we have, and we leave their results of it all up to the Holy Spirit. It isn’t our job to convert people. It is our job to present Christ to people. It is all the work of the Holy Spirit to bring about conversion in their lives. It really isn’t that complicated. Just go and tell, and pray that they will respond in faith.

As I thought about our passage this week, I thought about how it illustrates our responsibility in the Great Commission. So let’s look at the text and draw what I hope will be some helpful insights to assist us as we seek to bring others to Jesus.

I. To Be a Witness for Jesus, We Must Recognize Him (vv53-54)

It may seem like an obvious thing to some, but it must be stated. You cannot get others to come to Jesus if you never have yourself. Do you recognize Him? The people of Genessaret were not expecting Jesus. The disciples had set sail from a place near there to cross over the lake to Bethsaida, but it seems that the late night storm had driven them back to the opposite side of the lake, and they moored to the shore at Genessaret. But even though they weren’t expecting Him, they knew who He was. Immediately (Mark’s favorite word), they recognized Him. How did they know it was Him? Well, it is not unlikely that some of them had been a part of that enormous crowd where Jesus fed the multitudes. Others perhaps had been present when He spoke in a synagogue or in an outdoor gathering. Some of them had maybe encountered Him privately and been healed of their sicknesses or freed from demonic bondage. But the people who saw Him knew who He was because they had a previous experience with Him.

Have you had a previous experience with Jesus? I don’t mean have you ever had the goosebumps in a church service, or have you ever been through some sort of religious ritual. I mean, have you ever met Jesus in a personal way? Has He ever personally done for you what it is that you want Him to do for someone else? Have you recognized Him for who He is – not a performer of wondrous feats or a teacher of profound truths – but as Savior and Lord? Each of us must come to that place in your life where we recognize that we have been separated from God because of our sins, but out of His love for us, God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ to reconcile us to Himself. When Jesus died on the cross, He died for my sins and your sins. He took the punishment that you and I deserve, paid our sin debt in His own blood for our redemption. He became our substitute, receiving in Himself the wrath of God that our sin deserves, so that we could be forgiven and reconciled to the God who made us and who loves us. He conquered death and sin by His resurrection from the dead, thus demonstrating His divine nature, His infinite power, His authority to be Lord of all, and His ability to save us. The Christian faith is based on the historical truths of these events, but becoming a Christian does not mean just giving intellectual assent to a set of historical facts. One might say, “I believe all those things happened, just like I believe that George Washington was the first president of the United States.” No, the appropriate response to Jesus is more than just intellectual agreement with the facts of His life, death, and resurrection. In addition to that, there must be the personal and volitional appropriation of what Jesus has done. It is not enough to intellectually agree that He is the Lord and He is the Savior. There must be the commitment of one’s complete faith and trust in Him. Have you repented of your sins, abandoned all efforts to save yourself and placed your faith in Jesus Christ alone as the only hope you have of being made right with God? Is He Lord and Savior of your life?

Now you will say, “Why does the pastor say these things to us? We are members of the church and faithful in attendance.” Hear my heart here beloved – there is only one thing that saves. There is an infinite number of things that do not save. Church membership does not save. Baptism does not save. Church attendance does not save. Communion does not save. Having Christian parents does not save. Avoiding certain sins does not save. Walking the aisle does not save. Praying a prayer does not save. Being a worker in the church, a teacher, a deacon, even a pastor, does not save. What saves? Jesus Saves. And He saves all those who come to Him with a personal commitment of faith in Him as Lord and Savior. And I say this to you because there is a very strong likelihood that in every church are some who do not believe that. They hear it week after week, and nod their heads in agreement, but go out thinking that they will make it to heaven because they are decent folk, and not because Jesus has saved them. According to Hebrews 13:17, I will answer to God for each and every one of you. When that day comes, I want to know for sure that I did all I could do to make sure each of you are there too.

This week, the news came out that Dr. D. James Kennedy was retiring as pastor after 48 years of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church of Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Some of you know Dr. Kennedy from his television or radio program. But perhaps the greatest impact Dr. Kennedy made for the Kingdom of God was the development of a witness training program called “Evangelism Explosion.” The logo of that program is 2 question marks side by side. Those two question marks represent two questions that the program teaches everyone to ask. First, if you died today do you know for certain that you would go to heaven? Second, if you died today and were to stand before God and He were to ask you, “Why should I let you into heaven?” what would you say? I cannot count the number of times I have asked those questions over the years. And most often, I find that people either have no assurance that they will be in heaven, or else if they say they have assurance, it is a false assurance. Let me ask you – Do you know for certain? And how do you know? What would you say to God if He were to ask you “Why should I let you in?” The only answer to that question is, “I do not deserve heaven because I am a sinner, but I believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins, and I have committed myself to Him as my Lord and Savior, and I can only enter heaven because He has saved me.” If your understanding of what it means to be a Christian is somehow different from that, then you have not been born-again. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can be today by turning from your sins (including the sin of false belief) and calling upon Christ to save you. He is your only hope.

Do you recognize Jesus? Have you encountered Him sometime in the past in such a way that you know that what He has done for you He can do for others? When He landed unexpectedly on the shores of Genessaret, the people recognized Him in that way. They knew Him because they had experienced His life-changing power at some point in the past. And if you want to bring others to Jesus, it is imperative that you know that you have come to Him yourself.

II. To Be a Witness for Jesus, We Must Run for Jesus (v55)

When the people of Genessaret recognized Jesus, they began to run about the whole country. But they were not running around in a hysterical frenzy. They were on a mission. They had friends, loved ones, neighbors, who needed to meet Jesus for themselves. And so they were running about to find them and bring them to Jesus. They even picked them up and carried them if they needed to.

If you have rightly recognized Jesus, then you know that He can do for others what He has done for you. Go and find them. Tell them what He has done for you, and offer them the opportunity to meet Him for themselves. How do you do that? You can do it in casual conversation. You can do it over a cup of coffee. You can invite them to join you for church – you might even offer to drive them and offer to buy them lunch afterwards. Thom Rainer, the president of Lifeway, did a study on unchurched people in America that showed some pretty remarkable findings. He found that the unchurched can be grouped into five categories.

U1: Highly Receptive to the gospel (11%)
U2: Receptive to the gospel and the church (27%)
U3: No apparent receptivity; neutral; perhaps open to discussion (36%)
U4: Resistant to the gospel but not antagonistic (21%)
U5: Highly resistant, even antagonistic (5%)

Now we may think that everyone we talk to about Jesus won’t be interested, but Rainer actually talked to the unchurched and this is what he found. Only 1 out of 20 are highly resistant and potentially antagonistic. Only 1 in 5 are even somewhat resistant. That means that almost 75% of unchurched folks are at least willing to have the discussion with you, and nearly 40% are going to be at least somewhat receptive to what you have to say. But perhaps most enlightening about Rainer’s study was the answer to the question, “If someone you knew invited you to church, would you attend with them?” And remarkably, 82% said they would. That is 4 of every 5. Yes, you are going to run into that one every now and then who doesn’t want to have anything to do with Jesus or the church, but more often than not, when you are talking to unchurched people, you will find some measure of receptivity. So why is it that churches across the country are not reaching the unchurched? Even those churches that are growing are growing primarily through transfer of membership. Very few are reaching the unchurched because very few are going out to find them. Go and find them. Be their friends in a sincere and authentic way, and invite them to come to church with you, or tell them about your encounter with Jesus. They are more receptive than you think.

Now, what do you do if they aren’t interested? Well, do we do like those in this passage, and pick them up and carry them against their will? Not exactly. I say not exactly, because of course we don’t want to drag them into the church or into the Kingdom of God kicking and screaming. But we can pick them up and carry them to Jesus in prayer. We must spend time talking to Jesus about that person before we can ever hope to effectively talk to the person about Jesus. Prayer must precede our witness, it must accompany our witness, and it must continue after our witness. And we must not think that just because a person is not interested on one occasion that they won’t be interested later. It may take multiple contacts, multiple conversations, weeks, months, years of prayer and witness, but if we are faithful to our task, God will be faithful to His. So we must run and never give up, seeking to bring that lost friend to Jesus. If they say, “No,” we continue to love them, continue to be their friend, continue to pray for them, and continue to live and speak our testimony for Christ before them.

III. To Be a Witness for Jesus, We Must Desire to See Others Reach Out to Jesus (v56)

When the people of Genessaret found their friends and brought them to Jesus, they had done all they could do. It was then up to each of those individuals to reach out to Jesus. That must be our desire – to see that friend or loved one reach out to Him.

Our text tells us that they were imploring Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak. The Old Testament law commanded that Jewish males adorn their garments with blue tassels on each corner to remind them of God’s commandments. Perhaps these sick had heard about the encounter Jesus had with the woman with the issue of blood in Mark 5. Maybe they even heard it directly from her – or from someone who saw it happen. And just as she was healed when she reached out to touch His garments, they hoped perhaps that they would be too. But this was no superstitious belief in the power of magic garments. In that passage in Mark 5, Jesus did not say that power had gone forth from His garment – it went forth from Him! And it was not the touch of her hand upon His garment that made her well – Jesus said it was her faith in Him that healed her. And so here, these are not healed because they touched His garment, but because they had faith in the power of Christ to heal and that faith prompted them to reach out to Him.

But shall we go out and tell others that if they will only come to Jesus, they will be rid of all the problems they face in this life? By no means. We are helped here in understanding that the Greek word translated “cured,” or “healed” in v56 is the word esozonto, from the Greek word sozo, which is a word used of salvation. And while in certain contexts, such as this one, the word means physical healing, and in others it means spiritual salvation, the occurrence of this word here reminds us of an important truth about the miracles of Jesus. The miracles of Jesus have two ends. First, they are demonstrative; by them Jesus demonstrates that He is the anointed Messiah of God who has come to save His people. Second, they are illustrative. When the prophets foretold that the Messiah would make the lame to walk and the mute to sing, they foretold what was literally done through Jesus, but their language was also a figurative description of this Messiah Jesus would do for the souls of mankind. Our souls are crippled by sin. We can do nothing of our own power to bring about healing in our souls. There are no others who can help us remedy this condition – only Jesus. And as each one reaches out by faith in Him, they find a healing of the soul that no other source can provide and the greatest need of their life is met – the need of reconciliation to the God who made them, who loves them, and who has done all that is necessary to redeem them.

At a recent PBA meeting, we heard a presentation – I should probably call it a sales pitch – for a program to teach you how to bring your friends to church. It was $189, and included DVDs and other stuff. And there were six sermons written by really good preachers, and the salesman said if only I would go back and preach these guys sermons instead of my own, then God could really motivate our people to go out and bring their friends in. Is that what you need? Do you need better sermons? Do you need movies? Do you need a program? I just don’t think its that complicated. I think we see in this passage all we need to know. This brief passage shows us a concise picture of what it takes to be a witness for Jesus. Recognize Him – do you personally know Him as Lord and Savior of your life. Run for Him – go to those who don’t know Him and offer them your testimony and give them the opportunity to meet Jesus. Desire to see them reach out to Him. It is really not that complicated. The question is will we do it? Will we go out and spend time with those who don’t know Christ and tell them of our own relationship with Him and bring them to Jesus in hopes that they might reach out to Him as well? Only you can answer that question.