Monday, October 20, 2008

Fellowship With Jesus: Mark 14:12-16

One of the most widely discussed books among Evangelicals in the last year has been The Shack by William Young. I have read reviews of the book that say it is the greatest book written in a long time, and I have read reviews that said it is the most horrible book to ever be written. So, I just decided to read it for myself, and I have to say, admitting a few things that made me uncomfortable in the book, I thought it was okay -- not as bad as some say, nowhere near as good as others say. The book revolves around a terrible tragedy that strikes a family and how God helps the father of this family deal with it. The man walks down to his mailbox one day and finds there a note inviting him to return to the scene of the tragedy. The note, the man discovers, is from God. Now, that’s a novel. It is a work of fiction, and we shouldn’t go to our mailboxes every day wondering if we might get such an invitation sent directly to us. But the fact is that God does desire that we fellowship with Him, and for more than just a weekend.
This passage of Mark’s gospel opens “on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was being sacrificed.” The feast of Unleavened Bread was a week-long observance which began with the observance of Passover. This was one of the pilgrimage festivals of Israel. It was a desire of every pious Jew to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem, and though estimates vary, it is safe to say that Jerusalem was thoroughly packed with people who came there from all over. Even today, Jewish people will conclude their Passover observance with the phrase, “Next year, in Jerusalem!” Passover was, and still is, a time of family togetherness. And in Jesus’ day many people would open their homes and provide space for traveling families to participate in Passover celebrations.
Knowing that Jesus would want to observe Passover within the city, and that He had no family in the region, His disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?” I find it interesting that they said, “prepare for You.” But Jesus quickly turns this into an invitation for His followers to join Him in the Passover, saying in v15, “Prepare for us.” During this historically and prophetically significant time, Jesus desires the fellowship of His disciples and has them make arrangements, not for Him only, but for all of them to join Him. The passage is about preparation. Three times in this short span of verses the word “prepare” is repeated. The disciples prepared for this opportunity of fellowship with Jesus. And Jesus desires that you and I might make preparations to fellowship with Him as well. Several preparations are seen the text.
I. We prepare for fellowship with Jesus by serving Him willingly (v12)
The disciples have not always been portrayed in the best light in this Gospel. We have seen their failures far more often than their successes. But here, they are to be commended for they take the initiative to approach Jesus about the Passover plans. The preparations that they go to make are not the result of burdensome orders that Jesus has assigned to them. Rather, they make an unsolicited offer to get the meal organized. They do not do it begrudgingly, but willingly, as they approach Jesus and say, “Where do You want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?” They don’t have to do this. They want to do this. And they want to do what Jesus wants them to do.
If you have raised children, you know the joy of seeing those children do the right thing without being prompted. Our children are like most others: their rooms are nearly always in disarray. And we say, “You need to clean this room,” and they clean it a little bit, and say, “Is that good enough?” Well, a few weeks ago, I came home from the office, and Solomon was in his room with the door closed and he said, “Don’t come in here, it’s a surprise.” A little while later, he emerged and said, “Now you can come in. I cleaned my room and wanted to surprise you with it.” That moment made me one proud papa! It brought joy to my heart to see him taking the initiative and responsibility to do a good thing without being told to do it. And he did it better than he ever has when we’ve told him to clean the room. But God also used that moment to teach me a lesson about Himself. You see, God also knows when I am serving Him begrudgingly and when I am serving Him willingly. There are times when we do the right thing because “we have to,” and times when we do the right thing “because we want to.” And my desire for my own life is that the desire to serve Him willingly would replace the burden of serving Him begrudgingly more and more every day.
In the self-serving culture in which we live, the idea of willingly serving another is not popular. We tend to do only what we have to do in terms of serving others. So why should we be so eager and so willing to serve Jesus? Quite simply, it is because He is worthy. To serve Christ is to serve the greatest possible good. To serve anything or anyone less, even serving ourselves, is to waste our lives in futile idolatry. When we truly fathom what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, our perspective is radically changed. God has come to us in the person of Christ to reconcile us to Himself through the blood of Christ’s cross and conquered death for us through the resurrection, not because we deserved it or earned it, but because He loves us, He pities us, He is gracious and merciful toward us. What greater joy could there be in human existence than to serve such a One as this with our highest affections and our most joyful and willing service?
John Piper writes extensively on what he calls “Christian Hedonism.” Now, this sounds like a contradiction in terms. Hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure. Pursuing pleasure seems to be at odds with serving Jesus. But the idea of Piper’s Christian Hedonism is finding pleasure through serving Jesus. It is wrong to pursue pleasure when the things that bring us pleasure are at odds with Christ. But when He is our pleasure and our delight, then pursuing anything else would be a waste. If we make Him our highest pleasure, then there is no sin in passionately and aggressively pursuing the pleasure that He affords through our fellowship with Him.
Do we serve Him with our lives? Most of us would say that we do in some way or another, but what is our motive? Is doing what Jesus wants us to do something we think is burdensome? Or do we want to do what He wants us to do? Do we take the initiative to seek opportunities to serve Him? If we would turn the “have-tos” of serving Him into “want-tos”, we would find ourselves in fellowship with Him in the midst of our service.
II. We prepare for fellowship with Jesus by trusting Him completely (vv13-15)
Jesus gives two of His disciples a set of instructions to follow. They are to go into the city, find a man carrying a pitcher of water, follow him to a house, ask the owner of the house to show them to the room, and make preparations there. Some elements of these instructions are detailed: they have a specific encounter to anticipate, and are given specific instructions on what to say. But on the other hand, the instructions as a whole are very vague. He doesn’t tell them where in the city they are to go or who it is they are to meet, or where the house is where these preparations are to be made. He only says, “Go into the city and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him.” The only part of these instructions that would make sense to the two disciples is “the city.” They would have understood that to be Jerusalem. But Jerusalem was big city. And admittedly, a man with a pitcher of water might stand out distinctly, for usually it was women who fetched pitchers of water from the wells. But Jerusalem was crowded with travelers at this time, possibly being 6-8 times more people there than usual. How will they ever find this man, this house, or this room? They simply have to trust Him completely.
When I was a kid, my parents used to like to go out on Sunday drives. They would say, “Let’s hop in the car and go for a ride.” I would say, “Where are we going?” They would say, “You’ll find out when we get there.” In other words, my job was to sit in the backseat and let them drive, and trust them. I never looked forward to those drives. I like to know where I am going and what to expect. I was overly-analytical even at a young age. I like details. If you are giving me instructions on how to do something, I will often write it down, and ask multiple questions for clarification. If Jesus had given me the same instructions he gave these two disciples, I may say, “OK, when you say “city,” you mean Jerusalem right? And this man with the pitcher – what’s his name? What does he look like? What color is the pitcher? Will it be on his shoulder or in his hands? And just in case we don’t find him, where is the house? What’s the address? Let me Google Map it so I have a back up plan.” And so on. But the disciples didn’t ask those questions. They trusted Jesus.
In a way, they are like Abraham. In Genesis 12, when God called Abraham, He said, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.” God told him what to leave, but He didn’t tell him where he was going. Abraham had to decide to trust God to do what He said He would. He had to trust Him to show him the land to which he was going. The apostle Paul said in 2 Cor 5:7 that we walk by faith and not by sight. And like Abraham, like these two disciples, we can fellowship with Christ as we walk by faith, trusting Him completely. He has complete knowledge of all that is and all that will be. He has sovereign control over the circumstances of our lives. He is the truth. He is good. He loves us. And He leads us, as the Psalmist said, “in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” And knowing that, we can trust Him, even when the directions He gives us to follow don’t answer all of our questions or contain all the details we might prefer. The question is not, “Is He trustworthy?” He has demonstrated that time and time again in the Scriptures and in our lives. The question is rather, “Are we willing to trust him completely?” As we walk with Him in that kind of trust, we find ourselves in fellowship with Him.
III. We prepare for fellowship with Jesus by obeying Him faithfully (v16)
Jesus gave the two disciples three instructions. They were to (A) enter the city, (B) follow the man with the water to the house where they would inquire about the room, and (C) make preparations. And v16 tells us that they obeyed His instructions precisely. We see that (A) the disciples went out and came to the city just as He had told them to do. Then (B) they found it just as He had told them. This is a summary statement which indicates that they found the guy with the water, and followed him to the house, and asked the owner about the room, etc. Finally, (C) they prepared the Passover. They were faithful to the instructions Jesus gave them, and obeyed each one.
General George Patton once said that when it came to selecting a man for an important promotion, he would line up all the candidates and say, “Men, I want a trench dug behind warehouse ten. Make this trench 8 feet long, 3 feet wide and 6 inches deep.” And Patton said that he would watch them while they got their tools out of the warehouse. Some of them were questioning the instructions. Some were arguing over the dimensions of the trench. Some were complaining about having to dig the trench by hand when they had power equipment they could use. Others would complain that it was too hot or too cold to be digging trenches. Some would say that this was work that should be assigned to people of lower rank. But Patton said, “Finally, one man will order, ‘What difference does it make what he wants to do with this trench? Let’s get it dug and get out of here.” Patton said that man would be the one who gets the promotion.[1] He followed the orders obediently without complaint, question, or criticism.
From what we know of these disciples, we wouldn’t be surprised if they had blown it. We might expect them to complain about the obscure directions and say, “What’s this all about anyway? Why did we even volunteer for this job? Any room will do, let’s just get something set up.” It would not surprise us if they came back and said, “Sorry Lord, we never saw the guy with the water.” But in this case, like few others in the Gospel of Mark, the disciples did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They obeyed Him faithfully.
Because of our fallen human nature, we are prone to look for shortcuts, easy-ways-out, and better ideas. But when it comes to being obedient to Jesus, we must remember that His way may not be the easy way, but it the right way, and there are no better ideas. And there are no short-cuts or substitutes to obedience. Obeying Him partly is disobeying Him completely. Obedience does not need to be thought of as a laborsome thing that we do for Him. Rather, in our obedience, we are doing something with Jesus. He joins us in task and works alongside of and through us. Obedience prepares the way for fellowship with Him.
The Bible is full of words of grace. When we read about God’s love for us, His offer of salvation for our sins, His promise of redemption and eternal life, we are reading about things we do not deserve. We do not deserve to fellowship with the maker of heaven and earth. But grace is all about God giving us what we don’t deserve. If we all got what we deserve from God, we would be perishing eternally because of our sinful condition. But thanks be to God, He has reconciled us to Himself through the blood of Jesus. And as we turn from sin and receive Jesus as Lord and Savior in our lives, we experience His grace. When Jesus says, “Prepare for us,” that’s grace. He wants to fellowship with His people and we can experience that fellowship with Him as we follow in the example of these disciples: serving Him willingly, trusting Him completely, obeying Him faithfully. The Christian life is not easy, and Jesus didn’t promise us that all of our experiences would be pleasant. But knowing that He desires to join us in fellowship as we walk with Him through this life will help us to view every opportunity we have to serve Him, trust Him, and obey Him as moments of fellowship with Jesus.

[1] Craig Brian Larson, Contemporary Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers, and Writers (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 161.

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