Monday, July 6, 2015

Limiting Jesus

    I would like to take a few minutes as I begin this morning to do a couple of flashbacks.  Most of you, I hope know what a flashback is.  It’s a technique used by movie directors and authors to take you back in time to help you understand what is going on in their movie or novel.  Sometimes, in the midst of a particular story, these things can be annoying, but more often than not, they are extremely enlightening.  It is my hope that the next few flashbacks are more enlightening than annoying.

    The first flashback actually is found two chapters prior to the lesson we have before us in the sixth chapter of the book of Mark.  Jesus has finished a long day of teaching and preaching, and He tells His disciples that He wants to cross the lake.  A huge storm descends upon the group of boats as they cross.  Jesus is asleep, and His followers panic.  They wake Him up, and Jesus calms the wind and the water.  It was truly a mighty act of power, and Jesus chides His followers by saying, “Why do you have such little faith?”  I want you to note that Jesus doesn’t say, “Why don’t you have any faith?”  The disciples have faith, but only a little bit.

    Let’s move to the next chapter.  Jesus and His followers have crossed over the lake, and they are confronted by a man who is possessed by a demon.  This is no ordinary demon, but one named Legion.  The picture Mark paints about this demon is that it is particularly nasty and horrible.  Yet, Jesus has the power to cast it out, and it scares everyone in the countryside.  They are terrified because they witnessed an act that only God could achieve.  It was a massive deed of power.

    Then, because of the people’s fear, Jesus and the disciples cross back across the Sea of Galilee.  When they arrive, there is a large crowd awaiting them.  In that crowd, Mark makes particular mention of two people a man named Jairus whose daughter was dying and a woman who had been suffering from bleeding for 12 years.  Now, the woman had endured all sorts of treatments from the doctors; she had spent everything that she had; and nothing had worked.  But, she believed that if she simply touched the tassels hanging from Jesus’ clothes, she would be made well.  She touches Jesus’ tassels, and she indeed is healed.  Jesus tells her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” 

    Jesus and His disciples continue to Jairus’ house, but those inside inform the group that Jairus’ daughter is dead.  There is no more need to bother Jesus.  However, Jesus has none of it.  Once again, we see a link between faith and healing as Jesus says, “Do not fear, only believe.”  Jesus enters the little girl’s room and brings her back to life.  It is a huge deed of power. 

    In each of these cases, Jesus performs tremendous deeds of power, and there is a link to faith.  Now, remember, I have said previous, and I say again, that faith is very much the equivalent of trust.  In each of these episodes, a tremendous amount of trust is placed in Jesus.  The disciples know they cannot save themselves, and they turn to Jesus.  No one has been able to help the demoniac, and he certainly cannot save himself–Jesus cures him.  The woman who was bleeding cannot cure herself, and the doctors have been no help.  She trusts in Jesus.  Finally, Jarius cannot help his daughter, and she dies.  No one can rectify that.  Yet, Jesus says, “Do not fear, believe–trust.”  And Jairus’ daughter is restored to life.  There is an implicit link between trusting Jesus and great deeds of power.

    Then, Jesus goes home.  Our flashback is complete as we arrive at the text printed before us today, and a stark contrast is painted.  Jesus enters the synagogue on the Sabbath day.  It was customary in a synagogue to allow a visiting rabbi to take the floor and offer his words of wisdom, and the people of Nazareth give this custom to Jesus.  After all, they have heard the rumors going around about Jesus’ teaching and preaching.  They have heard about His deeds of power.  They are curious.

    Now, Mark does not record for us exactly what Jesus said in the synagogue, but I think we can pretty much assume it had something to do with Mark 1:14-15.  Let me read for you that snippet quickly, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

    This proclamation is Messianic in nature–meaning, Jesus was proclaiming that God was establishing His kingdom now.  The promises of the Old Testament were being fulfilled now.  Jesus encouraged everyone to change their entire being and orientate their lives toward this good news. 

    The obvious question many would have is this: how do we know the kingdom of God is at hand?  How can we trust your message?  How can we come to believe this when all we see are Roman soldiers maintaining rule and fellow Jews who support them with collecting taxes and keeping us oppressed?

    Jesus began to show them as He unleashed a flurry of healing and demonstrations of God’s power.  Among them were the ones I just listed in the previous chapters.  Indeed God was doing something new.  Indeed Jesus was the one through whom this was happening, but it had little effect upon those in Jesus’ hometown.

    When everyone in the synagogue heard what Jesus announced, they were amazed.  Some might see this as a positive reaction, but I do not.  It doesn’t seem to fit the context.  I tend to see the amazement in this fashion: can you believe this guy is saying this?  They are amazed because they don’t believe Jesus could or should be bringing this message?  Why?  Well, they see Jesus in a very different light.

    How so?  Well, let’s start with a few demographics.  Nazareth is a town built upon 60 acres of rocky outcropping.  The town is only 60 acres in extent.  Archaeologists estimate that at the max–at the max–mind you, it had 500 residents.  What does that mean?  It means everyone knew everyone.  Everyone knew everyone’s business.  Everyone was familiar with all that was happening.  There was no such thing as anonymity.   Which means, the townsfolk knew Jesus.  They had watched Him grow up.  They knew His family, and that leads us right up to the series of questions they asked about Him.

    “Where did this man get all of this?  What is this wisdom that has been given to him?”  Meaning, they had seen Jesus grow up.  They knew Jesus didn’t study under any famous rabbi or otherwise.  They wondered if Jesus was making all this stuff up.

    “What deeds of power are being done by His hands?”  Meaning, is he doing all of this through the power of God or through the power of demons?

    “Is not this the carpenter?”  Meaning, his qualifications are to work wood and stone not preach.  Yes, this is an insult to Jesus.

    So is the question, “Is this not the Son of Mary?” In that day, it was customary to refer to a person as the son of their father, hardly ever the mother.  It’s truly insulting and could even be calling Jesus an illegitimate child. 

    “And aren’t his brothers and sisters here?”  Meaning, we know the family, and the family has told us about Jesus.

    And they took offense at Jesus.  He was too familiar to them.  They could only see Jesus in a particular fashion.  They could not see Him as a prophet.  They could not see Him as the Son of God.  They could not see Him as God incarnate.  Jesus had no right to tell them how to live their lives or what to believe.

    Jesus responds with an adage, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”  And He could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.  And he was amazed at their unbelief.

    Now, some wonder why Jesus wasn’t able to do any deeds of power.  Some believe Jesus’ power was somehow limited by the people’s unbelief.  I don’t think that’s the case.  Not in the least.  Jesus could have done a deed of power.  Jesus could have done something massive.  I mean, it’s not like curing a disease is a minor detail–Jesus was able to do that, but He wasn’t able to calm a storm; cast out a demon; cure a disease that had been ongoing for 12 years or raise someone who had died.  Why? 

    Because the people didn’t trust Him to do such a thing.  They didn’t believe He had the authority or right to do so, so they didn’t bring anyone to Jesus who suffered from such maladies.  They didn’t trust Him to take care of such business, and they were quite content to trust in themselves; in their doctors; in their leaders.  Jesus was someone they knew: a carpenter; a Son of Mary who might be illegitimate; the brother of folks they knew.  He was not one to trust with Godly matters.  He was not one to trust with healing or the casting out of demons or the raising of the dead.  We know you too well to trust you, Jesus.  Hence only a few were brought to Jesus.  Only a few were healed, and Jesus marveled at their distrust.

    Would there be anything that would change the people of Nazareth?  Would there be anything that would break their hearts of stone?  Would there be anything that could bring about them doing a complete 180 in their belief and thought?  Would there be anything that could happen to bring them to trust in Jesus?  Is there anything that can bring about our trust?

    Oh, you knew I would get to us sooner or later.  I mean, it would be one thing for me to stand up here and point the finger at all those people there at Nazareth and say that they just didn’t get it.  It would be one thing for me to say that they needed to see what was right before their eyes.  It would be one thing for me to say that they had a problem and needed to get over it.  It would also be one thing for me to point around our culture and society and say the same thing.  It would be something for me to say that atheists and “spiritual but not religious” and agnostics have the problem of not being able to recognize Jesus of not trusting Jesus, but then I would be limiting a very severe problem we all face.  Because it is my contention that generally we all have a problem with trusting Jesus. 

    You see, I don’t think we are at all particularly fond of the Jesus we find in Scriptures.  We aren’t particularly fond of what He tells us about how we should live our lives.  We aren’t particularly fond that He tells us that we should give all our possessions away.  We aren’t particularly fond that He tells us that we should not get divorced.  We aren’t particularly fond that He tells us to give to everyone who begs.  We aren’t particularly fond that He tells us to trust Him above our money, our skin color, our gender, our job, and our very identity. 

    And so we limit Him.  We turn Him into a political revolutionary who undermines our systems of governance–which He is, but He is much more than that.  We limit Him to a wise sage who gave us great instructions on how to live–which He is, but He is much more than that.  We limit Him to a historical figure who introduced some new ethics particularly in how to recognize our humanity in even our enemy–which He is, but He is much more than that.  We limit Him to an extension of ourselves using some of His teaching to bolster our own particular points of view and explaining away or completely ignoring His other teachings. 

    Why do we do such a thing?  Because if Jesus is who He says He is, then we have to give up everything and follow Him.  If Jesus is who He says He is and has done what the biblical writers say He has done, then we have no choice but to bring our entire lives under His authority.  We have to bring our wallets as well as our sexuality under Him.  We have to trust Him in our work; in our play; and we must fall on our knees in worship and adoration. 

    Why?  Because He died for us when we were still sinners.  He loved us when we were His enemies.  He endured the wrath of God so that we didn’t have to when He was lifted up on the cross.

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

    When you realize that Jesus did this for you by sheer grace, there is no limiting Him.  When you realize Jesus laid down His life so that you may be justified before God, you cannot define Him in the way you want to see Him.  He becomes the Lord of your life.  He becomes more than just a carpenter.  He becomes more than just a political revolutionary or great moralist.  He becomes your Savior.  You put your trust in Him, and the deeds of power follow.  Amen.

1 comment:

ACB70 said...

Once again, a great sermon! Thank you for sharing