The Three-Mile-Per-Hour God (Mark 5:21-43)

Christianity, when it is true to itself, proclaims the power, healing and transformation which is found in Jesus Christ.  The moment that any Christian movement loses its focus on the person of Jesus Christ, it ceases to be fully, wholly Christian.  It is the person of Jesus Christ which makes us the people of God.

This text in Mark, as much as any, helps us to see this point by showing us precisely who Jesus is.  The text begins with a well known and respected synagogue ruler known as Jarius coming and requesting that Jesus lay hands on his twelve year old daughter who is gravely ill.  For those of us who have children, we can identify with the desperation and anxiety which must have filled the heart of this man.  This man was a ruler in the synagogue, so he had to be aware that he was risking his name and reputation by coming to make this request of Jesus.

On his way to the home of Jarius, Jesus got caught in the midst of a great crowd, pushing and shoving.  In a crowd of this size, there must have been dozens of people who were suffering and in need of the touch of Jesus, but Mark highlights one woman of faith.  This woman is in almost every respect the opposite of Jarius.  He is an important official and he has a respected name and religious pedigree.  We do not know the name of this woman;  she has no status or title.  All we know is that she had been suffering from a hemorrhage of blood for the last twelve years.  This meant that, as a perpetually unclean woman, she would not be granted access to the Temple.  She could not engage in worship.  She could not speak with a priest.  She could not offer the appropriate sacrifices.  In short, she was effectively cut off from God in any way that could possibly be understood in the world of first century Judaism.  Despite her great need, she had no access to God, temple, priest or healing.

But, as we discovered in chapter four of our study, the Lord Jesus Christ is the New Temple.  Everything in the Jewish system is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  He is the Temple.  He fulfills the priesthood.  He is the fulfillment of the Law.  He is the Final Sacrifice.  Jesus fulfills everything that was held sacred by the Old Covenant:  the Law, the Priesthood, the sacrificial system, the Temple – all of it was being fulfilled in Jesus.  Though this woman was shut out and couldn’t go to the Temple, in Jesus Christ the Temple was coming to her!!

This afflicted woman saw that Jesus was passing by, and she decided to risk it and reach out and touch the hem of his garment.  She knew that the Law forbade her from interacting with, or touching, a ritually clean Jew.  But, she thought, if I can touch the hem of his garment, I just might be healed.  Remember, the Jewish view of holiness was that if someone unclean touched something or someone clean, it made the clean thing or person unclean.  It never happened in reverse.  When anything unclean touches something clean, that clean thing becomes unclean, never the other way around.  In this interaction, however, something different is happening, something we saw earlier when Jesus encountered the leper.  When this unclean woman touches Jesus, she becomes clean!  Just as sickness fled from Jesus’ life, so uncleanliness flees from His purity.  The woman touches just the hem of His robe, and cleanliness floods through her body and heals her.

So, there are two people in this passage who are reaching out to Jesus in faith:  a well known, named, and respected synagogue ruler named Jarius, and an unknown and unnamed woman who was ritually unclean and banned from the Temple.  This woman risked her dignity and the anonymity of her suffering by touching the hem of Jesus’ garment.  To the amazement of the disciples, Jesus instantly stops and asks, “Who touched me?”  The disciples are aghast at this question.  “Lord, you see the crowd pressing against you and yet you ask, who touched me?”  You see, for most of us life is just a bunch of accidental contacts.  We push and shove our way through life, but Jesus was the most sensitive man who ever lived.  He knew when someone reached out in faith to touch him.

The disciples had a singular view of the mission of Jesus:  Get to Jarius’ house.  They didn’t want any interruptions.  However, Jesus was a man who never minded being interrupted.  He did not run to Jairus’ house.  He wasn’t in a big hurry.  He continued walking.  There is a book by a Latin American Christian entitled, “The Three Mile Per Hour God.”  The thrust of the book is that the reason most of us miss the Lord in our daily lives is that we are running and dashing through life while God is moving at three miles per hour, which is the pace of walking.  We are commanded in Scripture to “walk” with God.  Jesus walked through the world.  It is amazing to realize that Jesus accomplished the redemption of the entire world at three miles per hour.  Jesus said to the woman, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace and be freed from your suffering!”  By this time, Jairus’ daughter was already dead.  About the time this woman was receiving new life, the 12-year old girl was losing her battle.  But Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.  Even death itself flees from His life.  He took the dead girl by the hand, and the text retains the very language of Jesus as He spoke to her in Aramaic: “Talitha Koum” which means, “Little girl, get up.”  Immediately death fled from her and, like the woman with the hemorrhage of blood, life fled into her.

Make a point of slowing your pace down so you can be sensitive to the pain of those around you.  You will find that great things can be accomplished at three miles per hour!  The world is full of people who feel shut out from the presence of God.  They feel they have no access to healing, hope or salvation.  If we slow down enough to allow them to touch us, we will find that Christ will still extend his healing power and gracious salvation through us to those in need.

The Indestructibility of Christ (Mark 4:35-41; 13:1,2)

PeaceBeStillIn these two texts from Mark’s gospel we find a stunning contrast.  We are met with that which appears to be indestructible, but is, in fact, quite destructible; and that which appears so vulnerable and destructible and which is, in fact, indestructible.  In Mark 13 the disciples are walking with Jesus and they are admiring the beauty of the temple which had taken decades to build and was their greatest point of pride.  Their pride in the magnificence of the Temple comes through their words: “Lord, look at these magnificent buildings!  Look at these massive stones.”  They believed in the indestructibility of the Temple.  It was the one great constant in the life of a first century Jew.  The building was the cornerstone of their confidence in their indestructibility as the people of God.  Their very preservation was tied to this building. Destroy the Temple in Jerusalem and you have thrust a sword into the very heart of Judaism itself.  So what a shock it was when Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”  Jesus understood that the Temple was passing away and would, in fact, soon be a pile of rubble.

The earlier text in Mark 4 is the account of Jesus and His disciples on the Sea of Galilee in the midst of a great storm.  The text tells us that Jesus is asleep in the midst of a great storm which emerged on the Sea of Galilee.  When you step back and look at the entire Gospel of Mark up to this point you see that, in fact, Jesus is asleep in the midst of several storms.  This makes Jesus’ calmness, and indeed his slumber, in the midst of these storms even more remarkable.  Before we reflect on Jesus calming the storm, it is important first to appreciate His calmness in the storm.  In fact, to be true to Mark’s gospel we should say, His calmness in the storms (plural).  What are these storms?  There is the obvious storm on the Sea of Galilee – fierce squalls which would appear suddenly on this Sea and could be quite violent.  As you step back and look at the larger context in which Mark has placed this story, however, you are struck by other storms surrounding Jesus.  Mark, more than any other Gospel writer, very quickly unveils the opposition which Jesus faces.   He delivers it at a relentless speed and pace.  In chapter one of Mark’s gospel we find that the forces of evil are arrayed against Jesus and He is challenged by an evil spirit.  In chapter two we hear how the Pharisees and the teachers of the law are already grumbling against Jesus.  In chapter three Mark records that the Pharisees and the Herodians (traditional enemies of one another) were already conspiring together, plotting how they might kill Jesus.  The whole movement of these early chapters seems to reach a climax where, in chapter four, Jesus is actually going to die by a powerful storm in the midst of the Sea.   Everything seems to be moving and conspiring to destroy Jesus: The hosts of hell, evil spirits, Pharisees, teachers of the Law, Herodians, and now, even creation itself.  Yet, in the midst of these storms, Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat!

As the storm rages, the disciples glance furtively at the storm and back at Jesus again.  They are incredulous that anyone could possible sleep through this.  But there He is, at rest.  Finally, as the storm reaches a fevered pitch, they agree they must awaken him.  They awaken him, and the whole thrust of these early chapters – as they have encountered storm after storm – finally finds voice through one of the disciples who asks, “Master, don’t you care that we are going to perish?”

Sometimes we feel like this, don’t we?  We may feel at times that the Lord doesn’t care that we are about to be destroyed, or that we are overwhelmed by the storms of life.  However, Jesus does not jump up out of his sleep in a panic, offering an apology for sleeping before calming the sea.  No, Jesus wakes up in perfect calm and peace.  Jesus has no fear, either for his own life, or for the lives of his disciples.  Here we meet one of the profound truths of the gospel: The indestructibility of Christ!  Despite the storms of opposition which rage around Him, Jesus is not worried. Jesus is not full of anxiety.  The reason is because Jesus is indestructible.  This is stated quite clearly on the eve of his passion when Jesus declares in John 10:18: “No man takes my life from me; I lay it down of my own accord.”  Jesus is in complete control.  The hosts of hell, the religious leaders, the Herodians, the Judaizers, and the Romans all conspire together and eventually nail Jesus to a cross.  But three days later He is risen and His divine work on behalf of the human race continues to unfold.

Much of the activity in the church is carefully calibrated towards our self-preservation.  We are fearful for the demise of the church, so we work to preserve it.  We spend a great deal of effort worrying about and managing our own survival.  As long as the church stays united to Jesus Christ, however, we share in His indestructibility.  The church has no fear of demise.  God has an eternal plan for the church, and it will be preserved throughout the annals of time.  Jesus  promised this himself in Matthew 16:18.  The church is indestructible because it is united to an indestructible Christ!  This assurance is, of course, not granted to any particular church institution or church bureaucracy.  Denominations come and go.  That is not the point.  The point is that the true church will always be those who remain united to Christ.  The gospel advances and the church is strengthened not because of better techniques or clever schemes.   The church is preserved and strengthened through its union with Christ.  In the church’s infancy, it was so small that the entire church could fit into a single small boat.  They were all there, and they were caught up in a great storm.  But never has the church been more secure than that day, for in the midst of an array of storms, the disciples caught a glimpse of the indestructibility of Christ!

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The image above is “Peace, be still” by HE Qi

The Extravagant Sower (Mark 4:1-20)

TheSower-585Jesus’ parable of the Sower is often treated as the parable of the Soils.  We spend a great deal of time analyzing the different soils in the passage, because after all, the Sower and the seed are always the same; it is the quality of the soils that results in different levels of responsiveness.  Jesus makes it clear in verse 14 that the seed is the Word of God being sown into the world, and that the Word falls on different kinds of hearts and lives.  Some hear the Word, but Satan comes and snatches away what has been sown (vs. 4, 15).  Others are quick to receive the Word, but they have no root, and when they encounter persecution, they fall away (vs. 5-6, 16-17).  Others hear the Word, but the worries of the world and the desire for wealth choke it out (vs. 7, 18-19).  Still others hear the Word and accept it, producing a fruitful crop (vs. 8, 20).  It is easy to fall into conjecture about which of these soils best represents our own hearts.  Into which of these four categories would we place ourselves?  Of course such conjecture is impossible because if we examine our hearts in all honesty, we find that we belong to all four categories.  At any one snapshot of time, we might fit more into one category than another, but our lives are not snapshots; they are moving pictures in which our heart condition spans all the different conditions of the soils.  When we read about the first person who loses the Word as quickly as they receive it, we acknowledge that that is sometimes us.  When we read about the second person, who loses the Word under the pressure of persecution, we acknowledge that that is sometimes us, too.  When we read about the third person, who becomes distracted by the world and the deceitfulness of wealth, we must acknowledge that, far too often, that describes us as well.  And when we read about the fourth person who receives the Word and produces a fruitful crop, we realize that, by faith, that is us, too.  We see ourselves in all of these pictures, but we also see that through all of our own changes and fickleness, the sower remains the same, and the sower continues to sow the Word faithfully and extravagantly.

You see, we often forget that throughout the history of the church this Parable has never been called the Parable of the Soils.  It has always been known as the Parable of the Sower!  We are so eager to make ourselves the subject of every parable, that we often miss the point of a parable like this.  This parable is giving us insight into God’s nature as much as it is into our own nature.  If you read the parable and keep your eye on the sower, how does that change your reading of the parable?  What should strike us is how extravagant, even wasteful, the sower seems to be.  This sower never gives up, sowing even on the rockiest soils and the hardest hearts.

All through the Bible you find examples of people who did not respond to God’s call without the persistence of God in their lives. Moses started his career as a murderer, but God kept working on his life through 40 years in the Midian desert until he could be used in the way God wanted to use him.  The Apostle Paul began his life as Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor of the church, but God persisted in His call upon Saul’s life until he was turned around.  This parable is about the extravagance of God’s grace.  In the Wesleyan tradition, we call it prevenient grace – a measure of grace that has been sown into everyone’s life.  God’s call to salvation is not like one of those smart bombs that flies through the air, making precise turns, deftly avoiding all the hard-hearted people, veering away from all the thorny-hearted people, and steering clear of all the shallow people in order to zero in on the ready, receptive hearts.  God’s grace is extravagantly poured out.  His call is like a Sower who scatters deep handfuls of seeds on rocky paths and weed-ridden soils.  He lavishly pours out His Word on all people, knowing that at various times in all of our lives we cannot hear it, and sometimes we won’t hear it for long, and sometimes we will hear it but quickly lose it.  But sometimes, praise God, we hear it and bear fruit!  All the while the Word keeps coming because God keeps sowing.  Even though there is nothing more valuable or precious than the Word of God, He is extravagant, even wasteful by our standards, in the way that He sows.  We as Americans are so programmed to be efficient and practical that this picture is hard for us to understand.  We often don’t embrace or reflect the extravagance of God in our sowing of His Word in the world.

Missionaries who work among Muslims often go years without seeing a single person come to faith.  They work year after year building relationships, sharing and praying, but often see little fruit.  If the church were to judge such ministries on the basis of “efficiency” and “return on investment” it would surely seem a poor use of God’s servants and a waste of hard earned resources.  But God does not see it this way!  The missionary who continues to throw seed on what appears, at the moment, to be hard, rocky soil is merely reflecting the extravagance of the Divine Sower.  Church growth is, of course, a wonderful thing. However, faithfulness to God and His Word cannot be judged merely by whether a church is growing or not.  The key is to be a faithful sower; God will take care of the harvest.  After all, He is the Lord of the harvest!

In Christ, God sows His salvation extravagantly and offers it to the hard-hearted and the receptive alike.  The Devil will always try to snatch away God’s seed.  He will try to choke it out.  But we must see beyond our own hearts, and even beyond the work of Satan, and keep our eyes on the extravagant Sower.  Someday, at the end of time, we will all be able to look back and see the full story of human history.  We will be able to look back and see God’s amazing interventions in the human race.  We will also be able to look back and see the full extent of Satan’s wicked opposition to God’s rule in the world.  However, the overall testimony of that final day will be about the extravagance of God’s sowing in the world.  We will see clearly that His sowing has been more consistent than the Devil’s snatching!  His sowing has been more powerful than the Devil’s eating!  His sowing has been more enduring that the Devil’s tribulation!  His sowing has been more consistent than the Devil’s choking!  May we learn to live in the light of this reality.  Make it your ambition to sow extravagantly into the lives of everyone you meet.  This is how we will live if we always keep our eyes fixed on the Extravagant Sower!

The Lord of the Sabbath is Here! (Mark 2:23-3:6)

This passage opens with Jesus simply walking through a field with His disciples.  Mark, along with the other gospel writers, takes note of several times when Jesus is just walking along, going from one place to another, and along the way things happen and lives are changed.  Recall the time Jesus was walking along on His way to raise a young girl from the dead when the woman with the issue of blood came up in the crowd, touched the hem of His garment, and was instantly healed.  Recall when Jesus was walking down the Road to Emmaus and came upon two travelers, explained the Scriptures to them, and revealed Himself as the Risen Lord.  Earlier in this same chapter, Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee when He encountered Levi and called Him to be His disciple.  Even the action of Jesus passing by brings about transformation.  His passing alone stirs things up!  He passes by and calls us to Himself; He walks through grain fields and, through his call, divides the whole human race between those who will follow Him, and those who refuse to follow.  Here, He is simply walking and yet He finds Himself in the midst of one of the most controversial topics of His day: the proper way to observe the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is interwoven into the very fabric of creation itself.  At the dawn of creation, God established the Sabbath when He rested on the seventh day.  When the Scriptures say that God rested, it certainly does not mean that God was exhausted or tired after creating the world.  It is impossible for God to be tired or to need rest.  Sabbath does not mean to rest so much as it means to cease.  God ceased His work in order that He might enjoy a creation of His own making that He called “very good.”  Unlike the other six days of creation which all came to an end, the seventh day was never brought to an end.  It was never intended to end.  The Sabbath was not so much a “day” as a condition – a time to cease and to celebrate God’s rule.  When Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s rule in the Fall, they broke the Sabbath condition and brought the seventh day to an end.  They fell, not just by violating some minor offense, but by shattering the ongoing celebration of God’s rule and reign that lay at the heart of the Garden of Eden.

With this background in mind, there are three important points about the Sabbath that come from this text.  First, the Sabbath is not just about our not doing something.  It is not just about inactivity.  That is the very problem Jesus encountered with the Pharisees in this text, who had made the Sabbath into a legalism of “not doing.”  Instead, the Mosaic law called for the Jews to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.  Moses was not establishing something new, but rather calling us to remember what once was.  It is a weekly reminder that the world today is not as it should be, that we have all been touched by the Fall, and we long for the day when God’s Sabbath reign will be reestablished in the New Creation.  We honor the Sabbath and keep it holy by remembering what the world was like before we messed it up with sin.  We cease from our labors so that we can remember why we work the other six days and recognize that the most important things that happen in our lives are the things that happen through God’s work.

Second, the Sabbath is our weekly opportunity to break our trust in work.  The Pharisees had missed this entirely because they turned their inactivity on the Sabbath into a “work” that they trusted to establish their own self-righteousness.  Jesus makes it clear that the Sabbath is not an obligation which we grudgingly undertake to make God happy.  The Sabbath rest is God’s gift to us.  As verse 27 points out, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  Jesus is saying that we’ve gotten it turned the wrong way around.  We’ve turned the Sabbath into a law of inactivity which is somehow going to gain us favor before God.  In fact, the Sabbath has little to do with our not working, but with God’s ongoing work in our lives.  It is a day to quit trusting in our works and allow God to work.  The reason we cease from our labors one day of the week is because we need to take time to remember.  It is a weekly reminder of our dependence on God.  For most of us, our work gives us three things: our self worth, our sustenance, and our sense of independence.  The Sabbath reminds us that our self worth comes first and foremost from God, that He is our provider and sustainer, and that we are totally dependent upon Him.  Breaking our weekly trust in work actually enables us to work better and more effectively the other six days because it is now kept in the proper perspective.

Third, the Sabbath is a celebration of the resurrection and the future re-establishment of the Sabbath.  In the Old Testament, the fourth commandment looked backwards at the original creation and how God ceased his work on the seventh day.  In the New Testament, the Christians wisely shifted the focus from the seventh day to the first day of the week, which was the day of the resurrection of Christ.  By doing this, they were looking forward to Christ’s second coming and the New Creation when the Sabbath reign of God will be re-established.  We no longer look back and remember what should have been; instead, we look forward and eagerly await the new heavens and the new earth.  In Christ, we see the in-breaking of these future realities and a foretaste of the health and wholeness and full reign of the Kingdom that is to come.  The man with the withered hand who comes forward in this passage is a picture of all of us, crippled by the Fall and withering away because of sin.  When Jesus heals him, He is not breaking the Sabbath.  Rather, the Sabbath is breaking into this man’s life!   Whenever Christ moves in our lives, He’s inbreaking into our lives with a glimpse of the true Sabbath!  He’s giving us a glimpse of what life under God’s Sabbath reign is like, the true rule of God where sin and decay have no hold.  Jesus embodies the very essence of what Sabbath is – the rule and reign of God perfectly demonstrated in the life of the Son of God.  A whole new life is present in the person of Jesus, a life that reverses death and decay, a life that gives a foretaste and a glimpse of what God’s rule is like.

Unfortunately, the Pharisees miss this altogether.  All they can see is that Jesus is breaking their legalistic rules of what should and should not be done on the Sabbath.  This is one of the few times in the New Testament which records that Jesus was angry.  His was not the kind of sinful anger which we have, but rather a true righteous anger that the Pharisees have so blindly missed the very point of the Sabbath.  It is not a day to get lost in a legalistic debate about what constitutes work, but rather a day to celebrate God doing that which we cannot do.  It is a day to regain proper perspective on our lives, and thus carry that perspective into the work of the days ahead.  It is a day to celebrate God’s reign and rule in the world, and to look forward to the consummation of that reality.  While the Pharisees were lost in their web of regulations and requirements for the Sabbath, they missed what was right in front of their eyes: the very embodiment of the Sabbath of God, the inbreaking of that great reality which they, as the religious leaders, should have been seeking.  They missed the Lord of the Sabbath Himself.