Sunday, July 22, 2018

Prayer Must Be A First Priority


That Is Why We Must Pray
(Mark 1:35-39, Preaching: Pastor Nathan Snyder, July 22, 2018)

[35] And rising early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. [36] And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, [37] and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” [38] And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” [39] And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

There is an unfortunate saying that we sometimes use when we think there is nothing more we can do to help in a particular situation.  We say, “Well, I guess all we can do now is pray.”  This implies that prayer is a last resort.  Do all you can do to work something out, and when all your efforts fail, then pray.  The saying also seems to imply that it is unlikely prayer will actually accomplish anything.  If prayer was merely talking to the wall, then of course it wouldn’t accomplish anything.  But when we pray in faith, we come before the God of all wisdom, power, and love, who created, sustains, and governs all that exists.  Prayer to God can do anything God can do.  In prayer we seek the gracious work of God, and there are no limits to what he can do except his own good pleasure.  Maybe instead of viewing prayer as a last resort, we should make it our first priority.  Today’s Scripture text shows us that this was the perspective Jesus had on prayer during his earthly ministry.

Jesus rose early in the morning while it was still dark, and went out to a desolate place to pray.  This was the first day of the week, the day after the Sabbath day.  The previous day had been a hectic day of ministry.  Jesus had taught in the synagogue of the town of Capernaum (1:21).  While teaching, Jesus was confronted by a demon-possessed man.  He commanded the spirit to leave the man, and the spirit obeyed.  The townsfolk were amazed and word began to spread of what had happened.  After leaving the synagogue, Jesus healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever.  At sundown the whole town of Capernaum came out to him.  Jesus healed the sick and delivered those who were in bondage to evil spirits.  Now a new week had begun and Jesus began the week by getting up early, before the crowds mobbed him again, and getting away to a deserted place to pray.  Apparently the people of Capernaum were looking for Jesus as soon as they had risen for the day, as were his disciples.  Jesus, the new miracle-working preacher, had become an instant celebrity, and people were out their doors in the morning eager to see him again.  The disciples found Jesus before anyone else did.  Maybe he had told them to find him outside the town.  They informed him that everyone was looking for him.  Jesus responded by calling his disciples to come with him as he left Capernaum that they might travel to other towns.  He intended to preach the good news of the kingdom of God throughout Israel, not just in Capernaum.  Thus he told the disciples that the reason he had departed from Capernaum was to preach elsewhere.  So he continued throughout Galilee, following the pattern of teaching in the synagogues and delivering people from demons.  Implicit in verse 39 is the fact that Jesus was continuing to heal people of physical illnesses and disabilities as well.  But deliverance from demons is what Mark chose to highlight here, as if to emphasize the importance Jesus placed on setting people free from spiritual bondage, which is far more important than being free from physical illness.  Jesus was preaching the good news that the kingdom of God had come (1:14), and his ministry of deliverance for those enslaved by Satan backed up this claim.  Jesus is the fulfillment of what the prophet Isaiah wrote 700 years earlier, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isa. 61:1).

Jesus had ministered to the people of Capernaum, but there were more people who needed to hear the good news of God’s kingdom.  More people needed to be set free from Satan’s oppression.  Now imagine you were Jesus.  You have just had a busy day of ministry and you are about to travel on foot to other towns to continue the same ministry throughout the region of Galilee.  How would you spend your morning?  Some of us might just sleep in as much as possible, then rush out the door and be on our way.  Not Jesus.  Jesus knew that he needed time in prayer before continuing his travels and ministry.  Prayer was not a last resort for Jesus, but his first priority.  Jesus knew the truth of Proverbs 16:3, “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.”  He knew the power of prayer to set prisoners free from Satan.  As he explained later to his disciples who had not been able to drive a particularly stubborn demon out of a man, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (9:29).  Jesus knew the effectiveness of prayer when it is made with confidence in God’s power and willingness to answer the prayers of his people.  “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (11:24).

If Jesus, the very Son of God, committed his own ministry work to his Father in prayer, if he sought the Father’s power to drive out demons, if he prayed in faith to remove mountains in the way of the kingdom of God, then should we not also make prayer our first priority?  Are there still people who need to hear the good news of God’s kingdom?  There are, and that is why we must pray.  Are there still people who need to be delivered from spiritual bondage and oppression?  There are, and that is why we must pray.  Jesus has poured out his Holy Spirit on his Church to empower the Church for ministry to a needy world, and he has promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against his Church.  We must never think that this means we do not need to pray, that since final victory is assured, prayer is unnecessary.  On the contrary, prayer is one of the primary ways God intends to build his kingdom and deliver people from the domain of darkness.  The Holy Spirit works by moving his people to pray, and then God deploys the Spirit forward to new conquests in answer to those Spirit-motivated prayers.  Paul writes about spiritual warfare in his letter to the Ephesian church, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places...  praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph. 6:10-12, 18a).

Considering that we are to pray “at all times,” this does raise the question of what this looks like in practice.  Did Jesus spend all his time in prayer and nothing else?  No.  As we just read, he carried on his calling of preaching and driving out demons.  Yet I am sure he was continually lifting up every situation to his Father in prayer.  We also ought to pray for wisdom, patience, courage, humility, and whatever each situation calls for.  We can pray for the people we encounter, and the situations.  What would it be like if we consistently brought matters to the Lord in prayer before rushing into them in our own strength?  Not only must we live a continuously prayer life, but it is also important that like Jesus, we carve out time to spend alone with God in prayer.  One advantage of doing this is that it gives us time to strategically bring before the Lord various needs and burdens in our personal life and vocation, our family and friendships, our local church, the worldwide church, our community, nation, and world.  There is another important reason for spending time alone with God in prayer.  Through such times, as we meditate on God’s Word and talk with him in prayer, we find our own spirits refreshed for the work ahead of us, that we might carry out the good works he has prepared in advance for us to do.  God uses these times to rejuvenate us.  In the midst of our daily work and ministry, we must not lose sight of the fact that our first love is God himself, not the work we are doing for God.  Communing with him in prayer, in which we not only bring our requests to him, but our thanksgiving and praise, is necessary so that God stays central in our lives and hearts.  And if God is central in our hearts, you can be sure his Spirit will bring forth fruit in our lives, for the glory of God.  Jesus spent time alone in prayer with his Father not simply to seek his Father’s guidance and power in his ministry, but because of the relationship of love he has with his Father.  We also, through faith in Jesus, have been adopted into God’s family and drawn to his love.  God loves us and wants to satisfy us with his love.  This is why we must pray.  After all, it is the awesome love of God that is the basis for the good news of his kingdom and deliverance from the evil one.  If we wish to see his kingdom advance and more people be rescued by his love, and if we wish to be used by him, we must pray.  Prayer unleashes the saving power of God’s love while drawing us deeper into the enjoyment of his love.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Historical Evidence of a Most Definite Hope


The Whole City of God
(Mark 1:29-34, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, July 15, 2018)

[29] And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. [30] Now Simon's mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. [31] And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

[32] That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. [33] And the whole city was gathered together at the door. [34] And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

Various Diseases

The Bible tells us that sin entered the world through one man (Romans 5:12). With sin came all kinds of trouble, including disease and death. Since that time, human beings have lived in a world under God's wrath and curse. God subjected the world to what Ecclesiastes and the Apostle Paul called “futility.” Things fall apart.

Paul says that God did this “in hope.” We read in Romans 8:20–25:
[20] For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. [22] For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. [23] And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. [24] For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? [25] But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

This is the big picture of suffering. Like Job, who faced great loss and a devastating skin disease, we are not normally permitted to understand the Lord's specific reasons for His providence, but we need to bear it all patiently. Israel was warned as a nation that their covenant rebellion against God would lead to much trouble, including diseases. They were also told that they could call out to God for help, individually and as a nation, with the hope that He would hear them as they humbled themselves before the Lord.

In 2 Kings 20:1-7 we learn that King Hezekiah had what the Scriptures call a “boil” which threatened his life. Despite a prophetic announcement from Isaiah that Hezekiah would die, the king “wept bitterly” before the Lord and He was heard. The Lord added fifteen years to his life. That does not always happen, but it did in his life.

In John 9 we read about a man born blind who was healed by Jesus. The disciples wondered who sinned in order for such a challenge to come upon this man, was it him or his parents? Jesus' answer is uplifting to hear: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)

Peter's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They told Jesus about her and he “took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” We would like that healing today for the people that we pray for here. We live in a world of death and life. We need healing, and we are waiting patiently for the man who healed Peter's mother-in-law to return with the full deliverance that He has surely promised.

Jesus suddenly entered this world with His ministry of resurrection signs, and at the end of that day the whole city gathered at the door of the house where He was staying because the fact that He could overturn the curse was undeniable. No one denied that Jesus could heal. The facts were right in front of them.

Oppressed by Demons

Nor did anyone deny that Jesus could cast out demons. We are surprised to read about so much demonic activity associated with the overturning of the devil's dominion in Jesus' ministry. We return again to the beginning of the Bible to get the fuller story of this aspect of evil. Some may claim to know more about heaven and hell, and angels and demons than anyone in the first century could, but of all the people ever born on this earth, Jesus is the expert on these subjects. The Scriptures give us the sure record of His encounters with unseen realms and with His faultless analysis of what took place and the significance of this history for us today.

Angelic beings are real, and God has determined that they are to be “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14) As we saw last week, some angels have fallen (Jude 1:6, 2 Peter 2:4). All are under the sovereign authority of the Almighty. “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases.” (Psalm 115:3) Once again, we remind ourselves of our own inability to sort out His providence. Yet we also quite certain about the full defeat of evil.

This complete defeat is tasted in the miracles of Jesus, but it happens especially at two moments in time. First, in the cross of cross (Colossians 2:15) where God in Christ “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him.” Second, in final judgment (2 Thessalonians 1, Revelation 20-21), when all that must be cast out of the new worls will face the fullness of God's eternal judgment.

The Only Hope of the World

The great overturning of various diseases and demonic hosts is sure. The beginning of their certain defeat was seen in the miracles of Jesus that we read about in our passage this morning. Therefore these supernatural events are quite important as historical markers and as devotional encouragements. They were true for Peter's mother-in-law, true for the whole city and region, and true for the entire world.

God has always had a plan for a world beyond disease and rebellion. What began in Galilee will not be finished until Jesus brings heaven to earth in a great work of astounding renewal. This is the Christian hope: The same Jesus who cared very specifically for Peter's mother-in-law will not be content to leave us sick and oppressed. He will make all things new.

Imagine the joy that our Lord has for us when the whole city of God is healed and free!

Sermon Point: Jesus' initial works were just the beginning of a vast and glorious future.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 66 – Bless our God, O peoples!

New Testament Reading—1 Peter 5:1-11 To Him be the dominion forever

Sunday, July 08, 2018

How does Jesus use His Authority over Evil Today?


The Authoritative Word
(Mark 1:21-28, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, July 8, 2018)

[21] And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. [22] And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. [23] And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, [24] “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” [25] But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” [26] And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. [27] And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” [28] And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

He taught as one who had authority

When Jesus taught in the synagogue in Capernaum, everyone knew that they had never heard anything like it before. Over and over again people were shocked about one thing: “He taught them as one who had authority.”

They were used to the scribes, who were experts in the rabbinic traditions that informed their interpretations of religious law. If a scribe had a point to make, he based it on a point that someone else had made before him. When Jesus said something, it was as if God was speaking in person, and that made a difference to those who were listening to Him. A powerful light from heaven was shining in an unexpected place (Isaiah 9:1-2).

Be silent, and come out of him

The same conclusion came inescapably from the actions of Jesus. He had authority over unseen realms. Imagine being there in the synagogue, and in walks someone who has an “unclean spirit.” Such a man might be very frightening to be around, and he just walked into your church. You would be looking at a human being under the oppressive power of one or more malignant demons.

The drama gets even more intense as the possessed man shouts out (lit. screams up) at Jesus in fear, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”

There would be only one person in that synagogue who would be unafraid. That would be Jesus, who is able to calmly take charge over fallen angels, which is what demons are. The Lord spoke out with complete confidence. “Be silent, and come out of him!” At this point the demon has absolutely no choice. It's over. One last loud cry, and out he goes!

He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him

The people were stunned. Interestingly, they connected this spiritual power with Jesus' teaching authority. They said to one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” They knew about unclean spirits, they just had never seen anyone who could win a battle against them with such calm dignity.

Of course, this was an experience that could not possibly remain a secret. We read what happened: “At once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.”
The content of Jesus' ministry was not only His authoritative doctrine but His definitive power over demonic realms. That which people saw with their eyes was a witness to them that they should be paying attention with their ears. Jesus was not like the religious teachers of their day. He could distinguish between spirit and man, and save.

Is it possible that we are too accustomed to what we think we know about the Messiah? Perhaps we need a fresh look at the ministry of our Savior as we read through Mark's gospel. Then we might say along with the Galilean crowds, “What is this?” Do we believe that Jesus overturns unseen evil authorities, or was that just something for 1st century Galilee? Should we be that confident when we fight evil? Or do we hate the people?

By the way, what a strange place to start a Jewish religious movement. Why not Jerusalem, or at least Bethlehem, King David's village that was not far from the center of Jewish life? Or perhaps Rome? That was the capital of the empire. Why not make a name for Himself there?

Why these insignificant lives in an unimportant synagogue in a backwater town that was a one week journey from the center of religious power in the Holy Land? God came to visit the earth, and He deliberately began to confront the true evil empire in a place not that different than Epping, Somersworth, Rowley, or Kittery.

And why make everyone uncomfortable with obvious evil in the midst of a nice synagogue service? The Lord God is turning a broken world upside down. I don't know why He does what He does in any particular place, but I do know that His plan is for everyplace everywhere to be touched by His love, even through you. But how?

A question that every agent of the Almighty needs to be asking: How do I confront evil? I don't want to go around accusing everyone of being demonic just because I think they are wrong. Would I recognize true evil if I saw it, and then what would I do about it if I encountered it? Perhaps we need to start with love (1 Corinthians 13).

Here's a radical thought for Calvinists: We're the ones who make the biblical point that we love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We also know that we are supposed to be imitators of God as His beloved children (Ephesians 5:1). We have been explicitly instructed by the Lord who died on a cross for sinners to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). I put it all together in a world that seems to be heading toward civil war, and I ask myself if I am OK with waiting for people to love me and love what I love before I will love them in very practical ways. I think I need to be the first to love others, and that you need to be there with me. That's our way to avoid the quagmire of the hate all around us.

In the words of Peter, remember that the “Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” He who is in you is still the authoritative Word in the battle against evil. So “let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 65 – When God visits the earth
New Testament Reading—1 Peter 4:12-19 The Spirit of Glory and of God

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Fishing with a net


Fishermen and Fishers of Men
(Mark 1:16-20, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, July 1, 2018)

[16] Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. [17] And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” [18] And immediately they left their nets and followed him. [19] And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. [20] And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

As I prepared to give a message on Jesus choosing fishermen to become His “fishers” of human beings, I was happy to hear from my friend Tom Powell who serves on a lobster boat off the coast of Maine and the pastor of two churches on the Cranberry Islands. When he started to speak about the comparative benefits of working on someone else's boat, I asked him to send me his thoughts so that I could share them with you.

On Fishing:
There is something about commercial fishing, especially when you aren't the captain (I guess Zebedee would have had that role, concerned with sales, maintenance, etc.) that makes it a freeing vocation. Your work is bounded to the boat. It begins and ends there. That's where the bait is, the traps are, all the adrenaline and rush are concentrated on a few square feet of deck. When you leave, it is done. The gear comes off, gets washed off, bait up, perhaps move some gear, clean it, paint it, but when you go home your time is your own—the most you worry about is the weather... and God alone controls that. Gospel ministry on the other hand asks our whole life—quite a contrast.”

Simon and Andrew, James and John

While there may have been more of a back story to the calling of these four men, Mark (Simon Peter's translator), does not consider it important enough to his point in writing this gospel to share it with us as listeners and readers. These men are presented as regular fishermen who come out of nowhere to be leaders of the most important religious movement in the history of mankind. What does Jesus know about them and their qualifications? Peter does not tell us. For that matter, what do they know about Jesus' abilities to make disciples or to teach them how to “catch men?” Again, no information for us on that topic.

What do we know? The men who were called were two sets of brothers. They were working men in a local industry around the Sea of Galilee. They were not just chosen as autonomous individuals but as a group of men who would learn from one Master, who is in many ways an unknown to them. What is most striking then is His commandment and their amazing response. Lest we miss this, it is repeated twice in these few verses. Jesus takes them from a working life that they knew well—a life with some reasonable boundaries, and He issues an order that they take up an entirely different calling that demands everything they have. And they agree to this. Why? We can only assume that it has everything to do with the Man who calls them, who is the same person who has called all who are a part of the kingdom that possesses the gospel that men like Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John eventually preached.

By the way, don't miss the obvious here, Jesus came fishing for some specific men that day, and he caught them very definitively. That's our Savior who gave His all for us. The only net he used was His own divine/human voice. That no-nonsense proclamation of the Word of God with really no supporting argumentation was all it took to utterly change the lives of four men. That's how powerful the Word of God is. We in the church have been told to speak that same Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. That is our only net. We trust the Almighty.

Fishers of Men

Ministers are not solo fishermen with a rod and a reel, a hook and some bait. We are part of a family operation, and we fish with a net. We want our words to be understandable, but our confidence is not in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.

In the late 1960s a man named Richard Bach would write a book about an autonomous seagull that would soon be the 1972 best-selling little novella Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Jonathan was different than the rest of the seagulls. Their passion was eating, while his was flying. Of course, his parents didn't understand him, and he was eventually ostracized by the elders of what was called the Flock, the oppressive community that tried to hold him back. None of that mattered much to him. He was a bird on his own mission. As he figured out the aerodynamic secrets that led to greater personal success, the narrator approvingly says, “What he had once hoped for the Flock, he now gained for himself alone.” Like a Pilgrim's Progress for the postmodern world, this little book chartered a course for the the new world of autonomy.

We in the church are not our own. We have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). Our Hero calls us to be together as fishers of men. Our goal is not just being ourselves, but the glory of our Maker and Redeemer. When people leave the faith, we feel it, and we long for the reclaiming of the lost. God has found us, and He is finding, keeping, and growing others through us. This kind of fishing with a net is more than a personal preference, it is a divine call upon every community of professing Christians.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells three stories to explain that there is rejoicing in heaven when one lost child of God is found again. If a shepherd would rejoice over finding a lost sheep, a woman would have a party because she recovered a lost coin, and a father would start a great public celebration because a disobedient son came back home, surely we should join angels who are happy about the reclaiming of any pilgrim who has lost his way to the celestial city. The Lord is calling you to care that way today. Jesus is speaking to you. This is what He says: “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” This is not an individual burden; it is a collective mission. When one is too weary to speak, pray, and love, others find their voice and do their part.

Jesus chose some surprising men to be His closest associates. He told them to follow Him, and they did, leaving everything behind. His announced intention was to take fishermen and to turn them into “fishers of men.” God made the heavens and earth with His own all-powerful voice. Who would have thought that He would bring a new world into being through the work of very ordinary human beings? This is what He has done.

Sermon Point: God will use us to build His kingdom.
Old Testament Reading—Psalm 64 – Deep People and God
New Testament Reading—1 Peter 4:1-11 Times Past and the End of All Things

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Receive the Gift


The Good News Kingdom
(Mark 1:14-15, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, June 24, 2018)

[14] Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, [15] and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

After John was arrested

This is how it goes in this fallen world. Your best spiritual giant, John the Baptist, gets arrested. It was also how things went for the Man who was far greater than John. Jesus was handed over to the authorities. It was also the case for early believers and church leaders. They faced the violent assaults of the powers that existed in their day. Acts 3 and 4 tell the story of a healing by Peter that leads to his arrest. In Acts 5 the apostles are again arrested. In Acts 6 there is an internal dispute regarding ethnic favoritism that threatens to destroy the church in Jerusalem. In Acts 7 one of the Christian leaders, Stephen, is stoned to death by an angry mob.

All of this leads to Acts 8:1–4:
[1] And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. [2] Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. [3] But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. [4] Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.

Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God

So in our text this morning, John the Baptist was arrested, yet this is how it continues in this world: John may be close to death, but Jesus takes His position in the unstoppable mission of God beginning in Galilee. John may be killed, but the proclamation of the Word continues. And now the Son of God is speaking. His message? The gospel of God: But what is it? A very big question, and one we do not want to get wrong (Galatians 1:8).

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand

Using only the verses before us for the moment, the gospel (good news) has to do with a time and a fulfillment. It is the story of the kingdom of God from beginning to end. At this moment in the life of Jesus, the story of the Old Testament is fulfilled and the opening motions of a New Testament world begins. The amazing kingdom of God with its resurrection conclusion is “at hand.” The reason is that the gospel is all about a person, and that person just entered the public arena.

Therefore, two gifts must now be exercised by all who would be part of God's kingdom: repentance and faith.

Repent

What does it mean? The word means a turning of the mind, and here's something we want to get right: Repentance is a gift of God (Acts 11:18, “God has granted repentance that leads to life.” Also 2 Timothy 2:25 speaking of opponents to the faith, “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.”) But what is the gift? To repent is to surrender to God:

An ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, gives us an illustration from Roman history that helps us to get the point. A Roman general speaking to a group of valiant rebels calls upon them to “repent.” They once hoped that they could fight the Romans and win. Now they must face facts, switching their misplaced loyalties from their own failing plans back to the emperor. God Almighty in the flesh calls us to do the same, not as a matter of grinding submission to someone who hates us, but to the Lover of our souls.

Peter in Acts 2:38, as an ambassador for the King of kings, called on all His hearers to do what Jesus had commanded a few years earlier: “Repent.” When a child in a family has acted in a way that is deeply hostile toward the authority structures of his household, surely nothing less than true repentance can bring about the right ordering of a happy home. The child must surrender to the parents who love him, not as an outward reality only, but with body, soul, and spirit. But how can the little rebel do it? He needs a gift.

And believe in the gospel

Faith is the second gift (Ephesians 2:8) that must be exercised by the one who wants to be in the kingdom. What does it mean to believe? The view of the ancient world was that there were many gods, and that one might go to an oracle in order to get the answers that he or she needed for living. Ezekiel 21:21 gives us a vivid picture of a military leader needing to make a life or death decision regarding an imminent battle looking for something to believe. “The king of Babylon stands at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination. He shakes the arrows; he consults the teraphim; he looks at the liver.”

In John 9 we are told about a man born blind who was healed by Jesus. We read about a breakthrough in faith coming to this man who can now see. When he is first questioned by the authorities he makes no claim about who Jesus is. He later says that Jesus is a “prophet” (John 9:17). He then suggests that on the basis of this amazing miracle Jesus must be a “worshiper” of God who “does His will” (John 9:31). At the end of the chapter he says directly to Jesus, “Lord, I believe,” and “he worshiped him” (John 9:38).

People look all over creation for answers for living and for a message they can trust, especially searching within self, yet many come up empty. What about you?
    1. Have you heard and understood the gospel of Jesus and the kingdom of God?
    2. Have you repented of your sin as a gift of God rather than your work of merit?
    3. Have you believed in the gospel as God's mercy received rather than your wisdom?
At great cost, Jesus started proclaiming the good news that comes from God. What a thrilling development! The era of preparing for Messiah was over. The call began to be heard: Repent and believe in the gospel. May God's kingdom come right here, right now.

Final thought: He wins, and it really is good news!

Check out Nehemiah 8:9-12 – If the plain understanding of the Law was supposed to lead to joy, what should our reaction be to the gift of right relationship with Jesus?

Sermon Point: Jesus announces a good news kingdom that cannot fail.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 63 – Your steadfast love is better than life

New Testament Reading—1 Peter 3:13-22 Honor Christ the Lord as holy

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Jesus WINS and so shall I!


Lead Us Not Into Temptation
(Mark 1:12-13, Preaching: Pastor Stephen Magee, June 17, 2018)

[12] The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. [13] And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

Jesus and Spiritual Warfare: (Mark 9:19,29, 15:37) This is where it begins.
The Spirit immediately drove Him out into the wilderness.

Paul tells the church in Rome that “all who are led by the Spirit are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). What did the Spirit of God do after descending upon the only begotten Son of God like a dove? He “immediately drove Him out into the wilderness.” The desert is a place of deprivation and testing, and this is where the Spirit sent Jesus.

When we think that we are being led by the Spirit to go somewhere or to do something, we can be mistaken. Later we may decided that we were wrong. This was not the case with Jesus. The Spirit thrust Jesus out of a place of relative comfort and into the desert. He must have had some good purpose in this plan.

And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals.

Consider what Jesus went through. This was not an easy experience for our Lord.

First, it was more than a minute. The Man who would save us began His ministry by spending forty days in spiritual warfare in a very harsh environment.

Second, a murderer was nearby. Satan, the leader of fallen angels, an adversary of God, and the accuser of God's people was doing what He does. As Jesus informs us in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” And in John 8:44 we learn about the devil that “he was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Satan is a formidable adversary who must be resisted. As Peter writes in 1 Peter 5:8-11, “[8] Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. [9] Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. [10] And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. [11] To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” So, a murderer was nearby...

Third, there was the matter of wild animals. Young David testified to King Saul, “Your servant has struck down both lions and bears.” Hungry animals are a part of this dangerous world, but what if one of them might even be demon-possessed? After all, that was what happened with the serpent in Genesis 3.

In this challenging environment, a battle for our souls took place that would go all the way to the cross. What Satan meant for evil, God meant for good. The devil wanted to tempt our Lord in order to derail Jesus' ministry and life. The Father was testing His Son with an eye toward His great purposes of growth. (A challenging concept, but Jesus was not only fully God, but also fully human. See Luke 2:52 and Hebrews 5:8.)

And the angels were ministering to him.

In the midst of this Spirit-led, God-ordained contest, good angels were near at hand. We are told that they were “ministering” to Jesus. The word is “deaconing.” They were doing what deacons do. They serve God by seeing a need and then entering into trying situations with actions that help and heal.

Though we live in a world of fallen spirits and dangerous predators, God also created holy angels who are ministers to the heirs of salvation (Hebrews 1:14). This is the world that we live in, whether we realize it or not. There are hostile dangers and powerful allies in nature and in spiritual realms. (Story of our missionary and MBBs.) In this environment in which you and I also live today, the place where we ask God to “lead us not into temptation,” Jesus passed the test that was before Him. His victory over sin in this world was foundational for our secure hope of eternal life. What if Jesus had failed?

The first Adam and the second Adam.

This experience was not the first time the Lord tested the metal of a man. The first Adam failed in a world of bounty. The second Adam, Jesus, passed this test at the inception of his public ministry. He would obey the Lord in a far more difficult accomplishment at the close of His mortal life. In His human nature, the desert prepared Jesus of Nazareth for the cross. We can expect a life of testing and learning.

Jesus' temptation and ours.

Why did God the Holy Spirit lead the beloved Son of God into a place of testing and deprivation? How is this experience of our Redeemer unique to Him? Why is Jesus' wilderness trial essential for us to understand correctly as we encounter our own temptations?

In Romans 12:1-2 we learn that our costly service to the Almighty helps us to understand the will of God better in our lives. We offer our bodies as “living sacrifices,” but God teaches us how to obey Him faithfully through such struggles, by showing us His “good and acceptable and perfect will.” Jesus' challenge was only for Him, but now God is also teaching us many valuable lessons through trials (James 1:2-5).

The Bible teaches us the truth about the spiritual warfare faced by Jesus and by us. We need to trust in Him and resist the devil in the strength of our Savior's victory over every evil enemy.

Two thoughts for us as we face various tests from our God's Fatherly discipline:
1. Declaring truth, living lovingkindness, and offering up God-dependent prayer are essentials and not a menu of choices. We need a balanced diet and so do others.
2. Far above our wins is the towering fact of Jesus' victory over evil. We rest on Him.

Sermon Point: Jesus' passage through a God-ordained period of testing is an essential foundation for our own victory over every evil.

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 62 – God Alone

New Testament Reading—1 Peter 2:11-3:12 The War Against Your Soul

Monday, June 11, 2018

John Meinen's Notes on Mark 1:9-11


Fire and Water
(Mark 1:9-11, Preaching: Rev. John Meinen, June 10, 2018)

[9] In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. [10] And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. [11] And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

I. Our problem is we all have problems.

a. We have small problems and big problems.

b. We are looking for “messiahs” (little ‘m’) to fix our problems.

c. Evil and injustice is bad enough, but exile—feeling cut off from God, that he is remote, indifferent, impotent to do anything about it—that’s the worst, makes all the other suffering unbearable!

d. Isaiah 63:11, 64:1: “Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the mist of them his Holy Spirit…? Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence!”

II. God has given us a Solution (His Son).

a. The heavens do open up!

b. The holy Spirit does come down!

c. And the “spotlight” is on God’s very own Son—the Messiah (big ‘M’) who is the ultimate answer to our ultimate problems.

d. Isaiah was looking for “fire” (judgment) against God’s enemies (cf. Isaiah 64).

e. Jesus bore that fire so his Holy Spirit “fire” can fall on us.

f. Jesus doesn't just bear the fire. He walks through it with us too!

III. Application/Conclusion

a. What “messiahs” are you looking to? Look to Jesus.

b. Listen to Jesus.

c. Be baptized unto Jesus. (He identifies with you, so you can identify with Him.)


Sermon Point: The one and only Messiah

Old Testament Reading—Psalm 61 – The Eternal King

New Testament Reading—1 Peter 2:1-10 Christ our Cornerstone