See Part 1 here.
- Jesus proclaims the kingdom in word and deed. Mark 1:21-34.
When it comes to the crowds, Jesus proclaims the gospel in both word and in deed. There is a debate amongst Christians about the place of social justice in the proclamation of the gospel. There is also debate about the availability of the miraculous power of the Spirit for the church today in proclaiming the gospel. I don’t want to get lost in those discussions here, but the simple point to be made is that Jesus perfectly mingled his words and his deeds, as he preached.
The deeds of Jesus were not just deeds of compassion- they were deeds which symbolised the coming of the kingdom- blind eyes were made to see- symbolizing the spiritual sight which comes in the new birth; people were set free from evil spirits, symbolizing the power of Jesus to set us free from the kingdom of darkness. The deeds were right there beside the words, and the words are right there being spoken in the midst of the deeds. So often we are imbalanced; there are some sections of the church which are all about social justice, showing the love of Christ- they never seem to get round to declaring the truth of God in unambiguous terms which everyone can understand. There are other sections of the church in which it seems that people are so busy preparing for and delivering sermons, that they are barely ever seen as a church outside the church building.
A friend of mine took a non-Christian guy to church a little while ago, and his comment at the end of the service was, “Why do you spend so much time just singing each week, and sitting around in there? Why don’t you get out into the community and do something for others?”. It should never be the case that that criticism can be made.
This is particularly the case for us living in our post-Christian society. I think it was CS Lewis who argued that the way a young man will seek to convince a young woman to marry him will be rather different to the way a man tries to convince a divorcee to marry him. A divorcee might take more convincing. Our society believes that Christianity has already been tried- and it has failed. It may take more convincing than some countries which have never heard the gospel before. They may need to see the gospel before they will listen to it. This is the spirituality of Australia.
4. Jesus withdraws to recharge with His Father. Mark 1:35-38.
In Luke’s gospel, we have a very enlightening statement at the end- as Jesus faces his arrest, Judas has gone to betray him, time is very short, before the horror of crucifixion will come upon him- and it says- Lk 22:39- he came and went out, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives. Jesus had a custom, a habit, a practice, well used to doing, a rhythm of life. In the moment of greatest trial and challenge, he resorts to a well used practice- He retreats and withdraws- to the Mount of Olives- for recharging, strengthening, and empowering- as he communes with God in prayer. We see this pattern constantly throughout Luke’s gospel. For example, in 3:14- what does it say about the return of Jesus from his retreat? Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit. Then again in Luke 5:15- Great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But He would withdraw to desolate places and pray. On one of those days, as he was teaching Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there… and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. There’s at least 4 of these preaching, prayer, and power cycles in Luke, and then several other occasions also where Luke reminds us of Jesus retreat to pray.
Jesus is a man in great demand- great pressures, everybody wants a piece of him, always more people to see, more crowds to reach. But here in Mark 1, we see Jesus priority on retreating to be with His Father. He is not driven or controlled by others’ expectations. Jesus lives according to His Father’s desires. His ministry is empowered by an intimacy with His Father.
The way many churches are set up, needs to change- because we take on this messianic complex- I am the saviour- everything depends on me- people’s eternal destiny depends on me- so therefore, I must hurry, hurry, hurry, work harder, work longer, put myself out there more- it all depends upon me. But of course, it doesn’t. It depends on Him, working through me and others- and so, that’s why it’s so important we are pulling back from the crowds- regularly- and spending time with the Father.
5. Jesus brings new life amidst dead religion. 2:18-22.
There was something wonderfully attractive to Jesus. The religious authorities complain- why doesn’t Jesus and his disciples fast? Why does Jesus associate with tax collectors and sinners? Why does his disciples do what is not lawful on the Sabbath? Jesus reply- new wine is for new wineskins. It’s a funny response to give to a religious legalist, isn’t it? To explain the nature of his ministry as new wine- the drink of celebration, joy, freedom. No wonder the religious authorities revile him. And no wonder the crowds flock to him, especially the tax collectors and sinners- because in Jesus they get something more than just a religious legalist, trying to subject people to their rules and judgementalism. There is a sense of life and freedom and beauty and surprise in the ministry of the Lord. That is what draws people to Jesus.
Where does this sort of freedom and authentic life come from? When people mingle with us, do they just sense we are out to make our church the most successful church? Do they just sense our mission in life is to outlaw gay marriage, or abortion? Do they sense our Christianity is about us feeling better than others, by being more moral or charitable? We would never say such things, but is it what people sense? Do they sense we are about winning arguments and are able to prove our worldview is far superior? Because we have lost sight of the wonderful grace of God, which frees us from judgmentalism and pride and self, and religion.
Jesus’ first miracle- John tells us- is the turning of water into wine. He takes the water from those water pots- which were used for ceremonial washing- and out of these cold dead religious water pots- he brings the most delicious wine anybody has ever tasted. And it says, because of this miracle, his disciples believed in him. Why did they believe? It wasn’t just that they saw the miracle, and said- “my logic tells me that water should not be turning into wine- my science tells me that is impossible- so therefore Jesus must be the Messiah and I should believe in Him.” There was more than that to it- those disciples tasted the wine. That’s why- they knew that this man was calling them to a life far richer than and far more beautiful than anything they had ever experienced in all their years of synagogue attendance and law keeping. And that is the key to mission, is it not?
Much more could be observed from the life and ministry of Jesus for our own model of mission. May God help us in taking the time to slow down and look at what we are so busy running around doing, and refocus our attention on the things which matter most which we see in the model Jesus gave us to follow.