Sunday, November 18, 2018

How beautiful...


How beautiful is the body of Christ!
(Mark 5:1-20, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, November 18, 2018)

[1] They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. [2] And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. [3] He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, [4] for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. [5] Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. [6] And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. [7] And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” [8] For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” [9] And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” [10] And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. [11] Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, [12] and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” [13] So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

[14] The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. [15] And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. [16] And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. [17] And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. [18] As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. [19] And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” [20] And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

The tragic facts regarding a certain demon-possessed man

God created man male and female and He said that His creation was very good. But after the fall of Adam, it has become very easy to forget the truth of Genesis 1 (our beauty at creation) and Revelation 22 (our destiny). Consider just a few words from verse 4 of that final chapter of the Bible, “They will see His face.” Who is the being that we will see? Who are we who will see God? How utterly shocking! But this will happen.

Jesus came as the visible face of the invisible Father. The whole story of the Bible is the account of how we get from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. There is no way that happens without Jesus. Mark (Peter) is further introducing us in this fifth chapter to the Man from heaven who came to defeat evil.

Jesus and His disciples crossed the lake into Gentile territory. They, or more accurately Jesus, was immediately met by a man in a tragic condition. He had “an unclean spirit.” He lived among the dead rather than in the land of the living since he lived “among the tombs.” He was very strong and quite dangerous since He could not be restrained “even with a chain.” Maybe they could tie him up when he was younger and weaker, but not “anymore.” You could here this man crying out “among the tombs and on the mountains” like a wild animal. He also was a danger to himself, because he was always “cutting himself with stones.” This was the person that met Jesus that day.

What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?

This man that no one could control “saw Jesus from afar,” and he “ran and fell down before Him.” What was that? Suddenly the man was desperately weak rather than frighteningly strong. There He is prostrate at Jesus feet yelling out a question and adding a frantic request to a Jewish Messiah who came from the other side of the lake: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” Why? Because Jesus was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” This was not the language of happy submission to the Son of God.

Then the surprise. Jesus asks the key question: “What is your name?” The answer: “My name is Legion, for we are many.” A Roman legion at full strength had 6000 soldiers. We do not know the exact number of demons that plagued this son of Adam, just that it was “many.” They asked to stay there and be sent into the pigs, and Jesus “gave them permission.” This evil troop then entered 2000 animals and off they went to their death.

The reaction of the city

Now what? The “herdsmen” and the other local “people” did an amazing thing after they saw Jesus and the man, now “sitting there, clothed and in his right mind.” We are told that “they were afraid.” After hearing the account of what happened from those who had seen it all, “they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.”

There was one man who wanted to be near Jesus—the “man who had been possessed with demons.” He “begged him that he might be with him.” Jesus would not allow it, but sent him back to his own people with the words of his testimony on his lips as a witness to his own people: “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And so He did. Who was “the Lord” who accomplished this? Mark tells us plainly when He writes that the man “began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him.”

Life after deliverance

Jesus came into a world twisted by evil and sadness. His intention in undertaking His mission was entirely good, and He had more than enough power to accomplish His perfect will. Though His great works of deliverance were undeniable, some who saw Him in person simply wanted Him to go away. The one man who had been most dramatically changed by Jesus had a better message for his family and friends.

What has Jesus done for you? Has He not made you beautiful? I remember a song...

How beautiful the hands that served the wine and the bread and the sons of the earth.
How beautiful the feet that walked the long dusty roads and the hills to the cross.
How beautiful is the body of Christ.
How beautiful the heart that bled that took all my sin and bore it instead.
How beautiful the tender eyes that chose to forgive and never despise.
How beautiful is the body of Christ.
And as He laid down His life we offer this sacrifice that we will live just as he died:
willing to pay the price, willing to pay the price.
How beautiful the radiant Bride who waits for her Groom with His light in her eyes.
How beautiful when humble hearts give the fruit of pure lives so that others may live.
How beautiful is the body of Christ.
How beautiful the feet that bring the sound of good news and the love of the King.
How beautiful the hands that serve the wine and the bread and the sons of the earth.
How beautiful is the body of Christ.
Songwriters: Ann Wilson, How Beautiful lyrics © Music & Media Int'l, Inc

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 84 – How lovely is Your dwelling place!

New Testament Reading—Hebrews 13 God's commands and benediction

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Perfect Man of Faith


Who is this?
(Mark 4:35-41, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, November 11, 2018)

[35] On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” [36] And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. [37] And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. [38] But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” [39] And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. [40] He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” [41] And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Jesus in the boat—sleeping through a dangerous storm...

This world is full of danger. To us, it all appears to have no master. Two of our ministers in Northern New England Presbytery, Jason Wakefield and Jon Taylor, were riding on an elephant in Nepal a few years ago when the animal was inadvertently separated from the rest of the herd for a moment and decided to eject them, leaning hard first to the right and then to the left. The Nepali driver gave our men a nervous thumbs up to signify that everything was OK, but that did not prove convincing to the Americans. Another former minister in our Presbytery, Tim Andrews, was in the bow of a whale watching vessel near Hampton enjoying the beautiful day watching a few far off whales when a Jaws look alike suddenly opened his gaping mouth right near him. Every proprietor throughout life's adventures will try to calm our nerves and convince us that all is well. Yet we can see the panic in their eyes. And what if the sea itself is the beast?

The true Master was in a boat in Galilee. He had directed the itinerary of His disciples, but later, He did not appear to be in charge or the source of stability when “a great windstorm arose.” Even earlier, the Bible says, “leaving the crowd, they took Him with them in the boat, just as He was.” There were other boats with Him since so many were following Him wherever He went, so others were in danger along with His closest friends. Suddenly the boat was filling with filling with water from the waves that were crashing over the sides. Where was Jesus? In the stern, asleep on a cushion, trusting.

Does He care?

The others in the boat woke Him up in a great panic. They skipped some obvious and important questions about His knowledge, power, and love. (Here are a few interesting ones: Did He know that this would happen? Did He plan it? Was He able to stop it? If He had knowledge and ability over the weather, why did He ordain this experience? Did He love them? How was this crisis an expression of that love?) When they woke Him up they went to the lowest standard of basic human decency for others in a crisis: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

On a side note, we cannot help but think about the Old Testament prophet Jonah who brought trouble upon his fellow travelers through His own rejection of the will of God and was fast asleep in the inner part of the ship when he was about to sink. But Jesus was no Jonah. He was obeying God and not running away from Him. His shipmates were not pagan sailors, unknown to Him, making a living taking people to Spain. The disciples of Jesus represented the beginnings of the new kingdom of God who would themselves be the “foundation of apostles” in the temple of the Holy Spirit that Paul talks about in Ephesians 2:20. Their names would be written on the “twelve foundations” of the wall of heaven that John wrote about in Revelation 21:14. Yes He cared about them. He would pray for these men in John 17 on his way to the cross where He would lay down His life for them. On top of that, He had all knowledge and power in His divine nature, but in His human nature He was tired and was taking a nap.

Is He able?

The question of His ability that they had not asked was answered definitively by the power of His words after He woke up. He “rebuked the wind.” He gave a command to the enormous beast that was the Sea of Galilee: “Peace! Be still!” Did it work. Oh yes! “The wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”

Jesus was able to do this and much more. They had questioned even His basic human decency in their panic, but now He had a couple of questions for them: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Who then is this?

Even after Jesus demonstrated His amazing mastery over the wind and the waves, the disciples did not find this turn of events immediately comforting, but instead they were obviously extremely unsettled. Some of you may have seen the same modern film I did years ago, a true story about an epic storm that sunk a fishing vessel off the coast of Massachusetts. The end seemed to me to be a ridiculous lie. A few hardened sailors were using their last gasps of air laughing to each other about the good fight they gave that storm. No, they would not have been calm in that situation. And beyond death, mankind has an even bigger fear that we can barely talk about. Almighty God.

Witness Jesus' friends after the storm. “They were filled with great fear.” They could not even talk to Him honestly about what was going on. He was out of their league. They said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

The mystery of faith in Christ

Christ displayed His authority over the wind and the waves. What does this tell us about Him? He may appear to be sleeping through the storms of this challenging world, but we should have no doubt that He cares and that He has both the power and the will to overturn all evil. The fact that we doubt is the cause of much of our fear.

Consider this fact: Jesus will make everything obey.

Even now He governs the elephant, the whale, and the restless sea. He even stilled the just demands of divine holiness and truth. We will one day find perfect stability in His voice. Even now, it would be wise to leave here with more faith in Him rather than less. That would help us when we are confronted by the fact that we are not Almighty God.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 83 – That they may seek Your Name

New Testament Reading—Hebrews 12 The city of the living God

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Small beginnings and a glorious hope


Alive with Hope
(Mark 4:30-34, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, November 4, 2018)

[30] And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? [31] It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, [32] yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

[33] With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. [34] He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

The Smallest Seed

Jesus told those who were listening to Him what the topic of His parables was: “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it?” It was not His purpose to teach botany, but to use the created order as a display of tremendous spiritual truths.

He spoke of a plant that started out with such a small beginning but then grew to a surprising size. Let's talk about the small beginning first.

Certain orchids from the tropical rain forest produce the world’s smallest seeds, of which one seed weighs about 1/35,000,000 (one 35 millionth) of an ounce. These seeds are dispersed into the air like tiny dust particles, ultimately landing in the upper canopy of the rain forest.” (infoplease.com)

These orchids have such a small start, but they would not have served the Lord's purpose well as well as the more familiar mustard seed in this passage since after their full growth they produce orchids and not a bush where “birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

Speaking of small beginnings, Zechariah 4:6 speaks of a kingdom that will come by the power of the Almighty through a descendant of David called Zerubbabel: “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” Other powers in Zerubbabel's day were far more impressive. Note the verses that follow in Zechariah 4:7–10 “[7] Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’ [8] Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, [9] ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. [10] For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.’”

God would build something (a worship “house” made of stones) through Zerubbabel that would start out very small, but should not be “despised.”

Larger than Expected Growth

Now on to the large bush for nesting birds that would spring from such a modest start. Were those listening to Jesus willing to see beyond the small seed to the promised growth that would one day came?

In Ezekiel 31, God spoke of proud empires that were towering ceders, powers like Assyria and Egypt, but they would be brought to nothing. What about God's kingdom? Ezekiel 17:22–24 says, “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. [23] On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest.”

The promised descendant of David would be the beginning of a kingdom that would be not only for Jews, but for all the nations of the earth.

The Word of God and the Christian Hope

In order for the smallest seed to become a large garden plant, a great change that seems most unlikely at the beginning must take place. There must be growth. As we have seen from other parable, Christ promised that He and the Word about Him would be the seed for that heaven-sent growth.

We are in a far better position to evaluate the progress of the kingdom than those who heard the parable when it was first spoken. So then, how have the Last 2000 Years gone? What has Jesus been doing since He ascended into heaven? Has He sent-forth His Spirit-filled messengers of the Word to bless the earth? Has it worked?

Any fair assessment of the last two millenia should cause us to be most impressed with God. From the end of BC to 500 AD Christianity won a foothold in Palestine, Turkey, North Africa, and parts of mainland Europe. From 500-1000: Northern Europe, [Islam attacked and was eventually pushed back]. From 1000-1500: Expansion in Eastern and Northern Europe, [and Islam was pushed back even more]. Most shockingly, 1500-2000: Americas, Australia, Africa, Asia, truly to the very ends of the earth.

During those years important doctrinal battles have been fought and won, the Bible was slowly lost in religion and comparatively suddenly found again. The Spirit pressed the church forward in sincere worship and sacrificial obedience.

What about your (spiritual) life story: What has Jesus been doing in your life? Has He given you faith and repentance? Has He set you on a path of pursuing holiness in love? He has not finished with you yet?

Jesus taught about the kingdom of God using parables. The new era of human experience that He began was amazingly modest in its opening days. How will it all end? What the Messiah has humbly inaugurated will be gloriously completed at just the right time, but trusting Jesus for our destiny together is massively consequential right now.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 82 – Human “gods” and the Son of the Most High

New Testament Reading—Hebrews 11 By faith

Sunday, October 28, 2018

So we do not lose heart...


The Lord of the Harvest
(Mark 4:26-29, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, October 28, 2018)

[26] And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. [27] He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. [28] The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. [29] But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Introduction

What is the kingdom of God? The answer is very mysterious in a way. It is already here, but in some other sense we pray together, “Thy kingdom come,” so the kingdom has not yet fully arrived. “The kingdom of God is within you,” but there is not one square inch of the universe that will not be transformed and renewed by the power of the King who says, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Planting

Jesus tells a little story about it. The story of the kingdom begins with “a man” who has a job—he is to “scatter seed.” In an earlier parable, the seed was the Word, and we know that this is what the early church did in Acts 8:4 when they were forced out of Jerusalem by persecutors: “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.”

One of the things that was noted when we went through that earlier parable two weeks ago is that the farmer scattered seed somewhat indiscriminately—not just on the good soil, but on the path, on the rocky soil, and among the weeds and the thorns. This is surprising, and is the first suggestion that this work is not all about our own understanding or strategy.

Growth

What happens next? The farmer goes to bed. He “sleeps and rises night and day.” Some of the most significant events that happened in the Bible required that man be put to sleep. God made Eve from Adam's rib, but first the man had to be put to sleep. God revealed to Abraham his 500 year plan for Israel taking them from Abraham to Moses, but first he the patriarch first fell into a deep sleep. Why did God do this to Adam and Abraham? It was a very good way to make it clear that these men were not the main agents of kingdom building. Someone else was the Prime Mover.

The farmer in the parable does not understand how the growth comes. He can only observe it. “The seed sprouts and grows.” How does it all happen? “He knows not how.” He was asleep. In fact, man does not even understand sleeping. This activity is something that we still are trying to study. Why do you sleep? Why do you wake up? The answer requires a very deep knowledge of the chemicals in our bodies that send out important biological signals. If that's true about sleeping and rising from sleep, imagine how little we know about one person coming to faith, or about the growth of the kingdom of God throughout the world. This is all so humbling, which is very good for us. We do know this: God is in charge of it all. While He uses us as agents of truth, He alone causes the kingdom to grow. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:6, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” So God did it, and He gets the glory.

Back to our text: It might appear that the earth is doing all the work producing the crops, but this is just the straightforward observation of a farmer who talks about what he sees. “The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” The reality is that this unseen resurrection kingdom comes into being according to the express plan of God.

In this great endeavor, the Lord is not stopped-out by evil men. When Jacob's son, Joseph, was persecuted and sold by his brothers, he still knew that God had a plan. He later said in Genesis 50:20, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Peter makes this same point in Acts 2:23 when he preaches about the cross of Christ that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” but also that Christ was “crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” The Lord is the one who is working out His kingdom purposes. As we learn in Psalm 127:1, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

The growth of the kingdom is of course massive, though not instantaneous. As Jesus said, “first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear,” so there is an orderly process superintended by the Almighty. This great work of God is the fruit of centuries of Old Testament preparation and the driving force of all New Testament mission. Jesus is at the center of it all.

Harvest

One day, the final harvest will come. The Lord of the harvest will know when the harvest is fully ready, and he will send forth His angels and gather together His church. Even now the church is involved in receiving those who have faith in Christ.

God and His Kingdom

As we apply this passage, consider what we know about Abraham, our great father in the faith.

First, God was in charge of the promise to Abraham from beginning to end. Abraham slept while God first made a commitment to Abraham and signified the death of Christ in the ritual contained in the Genesis 15 vision. Do you see the Lord of the harvest?

Second, what then was Abraham's participation in receiving the promise? It was His privilege to believe the Word of the Almighty even though He could not see the fulfillment with His eyes, yet He saw the unseen, and so should we. See Hebrews 11:13-16 and consider 2 Corinthians 4:16–18:

[16] So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. [17] For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, [18] as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 81 – Rescued and Tested for Worship

New Testament Reading—Hebrews 10 I have come to do Your will

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Turn these brief saying into parables... with your lives.


I'd Rather Have Jesus
(Mark 4:21-25, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, October 21, 2018)

[21] And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? [22] For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. [23] If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” [24] And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. [25] For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Introduction

Do you want to be a missionary? I received a letter from a couple this week with the title “Our toughest week in five years.” They have been working for several years with two men, both of whom deceived them and departed the country. I wrote them to try to encourage them onward and received this reply: “Thanks for writing and your prayers. Yes! Holy Spirit come. We’re still kind of working our way back to normal after the emotion of this week. At the same time, we feel like God is just filling us with zeal for what He’s going to do and how to see His vision realized across this entire land. So that’s encouraging and pretty cool.” Missionaries see the unseen. They wait while they do today's work. They serve within uncomfortable settings when God open's doors.

Do you want to be the kind of Christian that is full of the Holy Spirit? The pathway from the Old Testament prophets to the New Testament church is a fascinating one. The experiences that a prophet like Joel had in his day (many centuries before the coming of Jesus) set him apart from other worshipers. In the face of the coming Day of the Lord he urged them all to call upon the Name of the Lord in covenant assembly. He then prophesied about a future era when all of God's people would be filled with Holy Spirit as he was. Peter used Joel's words in Acts 2 to announce that the era Joel referred to had now begun with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Do you want to be a resurrection lamp with Jesus. Do you want to have the divine ear and even the Savior's voice? Do you want to be filled with an overflowing measure of true godliness granted by the hand of the One who “fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23)?

We are in a section of Mark's gospel that is exploring the strange way that Jesus teaches the crowds all around Him and the disciples that follow Him. It includes some little stories and also some briefer pithy sayings. Today we look at a few of the latter.

A lamp

God has a purpose for all of creation, and He has a role for everything in creation. His purpose for a lamp is to make that which is hidden in the darkness to be revealed by the light.

A lamp is for a lampstand.” Ok. What's that about? Jesus is a shining lamp. He came into a world with long shadows. God's light shows the difference between truth and falsehood, or in terms of moral judgment between right and wrong.

Jesus is the perfect person of truth and moral integrity. Think of the Messiah (John 1:4-5) and His brothers (John 7:3-7)? Who was the light of the world? Jesus or His brothers who would advise Him concerning self-promotion and the kingdom? See John 8:12.

We can be sure of this: Whatever people try to hide, and whatever secrets people are hoping to keep from God, will surely be revealed by Jesus in His second coming. Even now, the preaching of His Word reveals the inner truths of our hearts.

A voice

Jesus is not only a lamp. He is also a clarifying voice. But will people hear? He says, “My sheep hear My voice” (John 10:27). They hear and believe. Then making the story fuller, they speak with the voice that they have heard (2 Corinthians 4:13-14).

If we have spiritual ears, we should use them. Hearing is not only a matter of the ear, but also of the soul. The Bible connects the best hearing with a renewed will that is ready to follow Christ and obey His Word.

His may not sound like the loudest voice, but He is dedicated and persistent with those who will receive His instruction. Both wisdom and folly are mentioned in the book of Proverbs. Both have something to say. Will we have the willingness today to pay attention to the voice of the Lord in the Scriptures, and thus eventually to speak?

One note: Hearing the Lord and then speaking with His voice may be a thirty year project for any people group according to one professor of missions (Dr. Wonsuk Ma at Mission Romania 2018). The same may apply for a church, a family, or a person.

A generous measure of a worthy treasure

Jesus is a Shining Lamp. Jesus is the Voice of the Lord. Jesus is a generous measure of every good gift that God has for His children. He shines and then we shine. He hears and speaks and then we do the same. He gives and thus so do we (Eph. 1:23, 5:18-21).

The one who has Jesus

The Old Testament prophets were a lamp, a voice, and a measure from God. Greater than all of them was John the Baptist. Yet there was someone greater (John 5:35-36).

Beyond every prophet was the One who secured for us a most complete redemption. He has won for us the glory of heavenly light. All those who put their trust in Him will hear His voice. They will experience the boundless glories of the eternal divine benediction.

Jesus' cryptic and strange-sounding words are worthy of our close attention. He is a shining lamp in a dark world. He is a quiet voice of truth in the midst of many loud deceptions. He is heaven's greatest treasure. The person who has Jesus has more than anything that can be gained in this fading world.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 80 – The Shining Face of the Lord

New Testament Reading—Hebrews 9 The High Priest of the good things that have come

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Unpardonable sin? Repent and believe. What do you have to lose?


The Most Basic Spiritual Distinction
(Mark 3:22-30, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, September 23, 2018)

[22] And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” [23] And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? [24] If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. [25] And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. [26] And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. [27] But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

[28] “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, [29] but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—[30] for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

What did the Scribes think of Jesus?

In the previous passage we learned that when Jesus' astounding public ministry attracted so much notice, the people who grew up with Him were very concerned. Mark quoted His brothers, who did not believe in Him until after the resurrection, as saying, “He is out of His mind.” In John 6 we learn that many who listened to His teaching found it to be more than they could accept. We are told that a significant number of the larger group of disciples who had been following this movement “turned back and no longer walked with him.” (John 6:66)

The reaction of the scribal leaders from Jerusalem was even more critical. They could not ignore that He was doing great deeds of power. That was obvious. They also found it just as certain that He could not be a godly man, since He so clearly rejected their holy traditions. Nicodemus, one of the important leaders from the Pharisees, came to Him “by night” and secretly broke with his colleagues by saying in John 3:2, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

While Nicodemus was complimenting Jesus, he did not go nearly far enough when He spoke of Him as a “teacher come from God.” Nonetheless, he was certainly more positive about Jesus than his colleagues. In Mark 3 we learn what the great majority of the religious authorities had concluded. Yes, Jesus, had power. Undeniable. But where did it come from? It couldn't be from God. He was too ungodly. He must be an agent of the devil, called here “Beelzubul.” Sure he was doing amazing signs, but these were part of a deceptive plot of the demonic adversary of the God of the Jews. “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”

Jesus responded with a parable.

This was a horribly arrogant accusation to bring against the Messiah. Jesus replied with a story with a question underneath it. If it is the work of the devil that is being overturned in releasing people from demonic oppression, how could it be Satan behind the assault against Satan. It just makes no sense. No, it has to be an adversary of Satan who is defeating Satan.

Jesus was not on the devil's team, but had authority over this frightening enemy. He was able to destroy Satan's evil kingdom because He had the strength to enter that “strong man's house” and to “plunder his goods.” How could the Lord do this? He first “binds the strong man” so that He then may “plunder his house.” That was the correct way to analyze Jesus' great deeds of power over the kingdom of Beelzubul. As Jesus said in Luke 11:20, “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (See also Matthew 12:28 where “finger” is “spirit” of God.)

A solemn warning

Now what? Was it ok to make an accusation like this against Jesus? What might be the consequences of such a brash verbal assault against the Son of God? After all, Jesus came to bring about the forgiveness of sins. Was this just another sin for Him to forgive?

Apparently not. This accusation that Jesus was actually an agent of God's enemy was an example of what Jesus calls blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. How so? The ministry of the Holy Spirit was to perfectly display Jesus as the fulfillment of every Scriptural expectation of the coming perfect Servant of the Lord. See John 15:26, “He will bear witness about Me.” The Spirit had inspired many passages (such as Isaiah's servant songs and great miracle passages such as Isaiah 35:5-6, 61:1-2) in order to prepare Israel to recognize her holy king. Instead, her spiritual leaders believed more in their own false Rabbinic interpretations of Torah than in the Man that God sent to live out what it meant to be filled with the Holy Spirit beyond measure. To suggest that He was an agent was not only to attack Him, but also the Holy Spirit of God. Dangerous indeed.

Discerning the difference between Satan and Jehovah is a spiritual necessity. Jesus came to this earth in perfect unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He cannot be the Son of God and a servant of the devil. Despite the accusations of some of His powerful contemporaries, Jesus was not building Satan's kingdom but defeating it. To ascribe the works of the Lord to the prince of darkness is a serious and fundamental error.

All sins will be forgiven the children of man,” but what if you persist in calling the only Savior of mankind a subordinate agent of the “prince of demons.” John 3:18 “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 6:40 “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Application:
1. Be warned, but receive the forgiveness of “all” sins through Christ now.

2. Best not to cling to false religion and settle on the idea that Jesus is part of a demonic plot. Afraid? What do you have to lose by repenting the unforgivable even now?

3. Pray for wisdom and humility together with all the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, and receive them like a little child. (Message in Romania in 2000: Luke 19:13-15)

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 76 – God fearing

New Testament Reading—Hebrews 5 His reverence

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Ultimate Start-Up


His Own Holy Desire
(Mark 3:13-21, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, September 16, 2018)

[13] And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. [14] And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach [15] and have authority to cast out demons. [16] He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); [17] James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); [18] Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, [19] and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

[20] Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. [21] And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

Jesus

As Jesus appoints the men who will be leaders in His church, we are left with no doubt that His will is supreme in the kingdom that He is establishing (Ephesians 1:10). He is the one who chooses them and calls them to Himself. We are told that these are the people “whom He desired” (literally those “He wanted”) and they came to Him.

He will have twelve apostles – men who would be sent out by Him on a mission that will ultimately change the entire world. They will be “with Him,” not to stay secure in their ease but to be sent out. Their ministry will be like His: they will be “sent out to preach” and they will also have “authority to cast out demons.” Everything that they have will be an extension of who their Master is. As He would later say, He would be the vine and those He would send out would be the branches (John 15:4-5, 20:21).

The Twelve

Most striking about these twelve men is that they were very unlikely candidates for the job. They did not have obvious qualities that recommended them for this historic role. Some of them we still know very little about. The unfathomable fact is that one in their number would be a betrayer.

All in all, the key requirement that set the twelve apart from their contemporaries was their chosenness. And what were they chosen for? Not a life of ease, but one of uncommon suffering in service of a Man who died on a cross and rose from the dead.

His Family

As we have considered before, the ministry of Jesus, one that the twelve will share with Him (Ephesians 2:20) together with other prophetic leaders in the first century church, attracted enormous attention. Normal life became nearly impossibly for this group of men. We are told that “they could not even eat” in peace because so many people wanted access to them, and especially to Jesus.

All this attention was very unnerving to His natural born family. When they heard about what was happening, they decided to stage some kind of intervention. “They went out to seize Him.” Why? They had come to the conclusion that their brother was “out of His mind.”

Who can doubt that it would have been challenging for sinful and envious men to grow up in the same family as Jesus of Nazareth? Let's look at the evidence. From the moment when Mary conceived the Christ, her life together with that of Joseph was thrown into disorder, almost resulting in the end of their relationship before it even began (Matthew 1:19). We may think of angel visitation as a great idea, but if we consider the evidence more carefully we must acknowledge that this way of being directed by God was exceptionally unsettling (Matthew 2:13-23). The messages coming from those with prophetic gifts were also troubling since they pointed to upheaval and emotional agony (Luke 2:34-35).

What about the relationships with the extended family that can be such a blessing in any family desiring a stable home life? When Jesus was 12 and traveled with the large group of family and friends up to Jerusalem, he stayed behind and did not tell anyone. His mother was beside herself, and His response to her “distress” would not have been all that reassuring (Luke 2:49).

What about His adult brothers when Jesus began His whirlwind public ministry? They did not believe in Him, and He points out the painful fact that they lived their lives with a different worldview than He had (John 7:1-9). This was no small matter because Jesus' way of speaking and living ended up putting Himself and anyone around Him in the middle of a gigantic controversy that might get violent at any time, and His brothers were right in the middle of it, and not by their choice (John 7:10-13 and the rest of John's gospel).

There is no indication that His brothers believed in Him until after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7). Two of them would enter the ranks of New Testament writers, James and Jude. We learn of the new life that these men had from the opening words of their letters (James 1:1, Jude 1). All of this helps us to think more deliberately about this earlier assessment of their brother that we read in Mark 3:21, “They were saying, 'He is out of his mind.'”

What is God revealing to us here? Jesus was and is in charge. A real man in a world of danger, He was also truly the second person of the Godhead – How uncomfortable! God was with people. In the words of Isaiah 5:8-9, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” He has His own goals, His own way to achieve them, and His own will.

He does not need the best and the brightest to succeed. It is our privilege to be on His side. We are not doing Him a needed favor by believing in Him and serving Him.

Finally, the resurrection does not come to earth because we say so. The final verdict on Jesus and the gospel was never ultimately a matter of human opinion. He is the Sovereign Lord over heaven and earth.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 75 – It is I

New Testament Reading—Hebrews 4 Draw near the throne of grace