Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Mark, Week 12 - Recognizing God’s Work

Last week in the book of Mark, we began to see a shift in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus began to call his disciples to do more than just be with him. He started to have them work. Before this, we saw that the disciples kind of took a back seat to what was happening. They were there, but it seemed like they were there for the food, rather than for the work that Jesus was doing. But in verses 7-19 we saw that this isn’t what Jesus had called them to. Jesus doesn’t call his disciples to simply feast with him, but instead Jesus has called them to work alongside him. It is the same calling that he has to each of us.
If we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, then we are not just supposed to be feasting with Jesus. Meaning, we are not just supposed to be going to church, hearing God’s word, eating at potlucks, and being with other believers. Those are all things we should do, but if we are not actually working alongside Jesus in what he is doing, then we are not truly his disciples. Instead we are just there for the feast; there to get what we can from Jesus, but we’re not actually responding to him. 
Last week we also brought up this question, why were the crowds there? We answered with, they wanted to get something from Jesus. We didn’t go into too much detail about that, but here’s the thing: if we are not participating in the work that Jesus is doing, then we are just a member of the crowd who’s only interesting in gaining something from Jesus for our own, momentary benefit, rather than being a life-long disciple.

With the understanding that we are either a member of the crowd looking for personal gain, or a disciple willing to work, we can move into today’s passage of Mark chapter 3, starting in verse 20. 
And as we start into Make 3:20, I want to lay out where we’re going. Today we’re going to go through the passage twice. First, we’ll go through and explain the passage, then we we’ll go back and connect all the dots. Before we read the passage though, I want us to realize something. Starting last week, we didn’t only see a shift in Jesus’ ministry by him calling the first disciples to become the twelve and start fully participating into his work. No, we saw a shift in Jesus’ teachings as well. We’ll see how this shift really turns as we get into the passage. But for now, let’s just say that the shift is characterized in two ways: First, how people respond to Jesus in the wrong way, and second, Jesus’ teaching on what it means to responds in the right way.

As we get into Mark chapter 3 starting in verse 20, we’ll also see how last week and this week are interconnected. And how our response to Jesus is very important. 

So let’s start reading in verse 20 of chapter 3.

20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”
30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”
31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

So, here’s the thing, again we see a passage that is usually split into two; separating verses 20-30 and verses 31-35. But really they shouldn’t be because they are bookended by Jesus’ family and the way they see him. We start off in verses 20-21 with Jesus’ family thinking that there is something wrong with him. That he is, “out of his mind,” as the passage states. And then the family arrives on the scene in verse 31. This is one of those things that connects the passage to help us understand the full implications of what is happening. Because what follows each mention of Jesus’ family, is the crux of what we are meant to understand. Because these are separated by two mentions of the family, we’ll talk about each on their own and then connect them back to each other to get the fully understanding. Let’s start in verse 22.

We see some teachers of the law come up from Jerusalem. Like we learned last week, Jesus’ popularity and word of his miraculous work has been heard up to 100 miles away. Take that, and the fact that the local Pharisees and teachers haven’t been able to answer Jesus, probably means that these guys were sent up to assess the situation and knock Jesus down a few pegs.
As they begin to watch Jesus, he must have cast out a demon because it’s in that context that they speak. They say, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
This is a huge accusation, because if it were true than everything Jesus would be doing, would come from a sinister place. And that means, nothing he says should be trusted. But Jesus doesn’t take it lying down, and instead pokes a whole in their statement. These teachers believe that Jesus can cast out demons because he himself is in league with them. But as Jesus explains, that is a self-defeating work.
Jesus gives them a parable, a story with a point. In this story there are two aspects: the first is the kingdom divided cannot stand, and the second is the tying up of the strong man. The kingdom divided is pretty straight forward. Jesus is telling the teachers that if he were possessed by Satan, then Satan would be working against himself and if there is not unity in Satan’s work, then Satan’s power would begin to crumble. Jesus is therefore saying that if he was possessed by Satan, then he wouldn’t be casting out demons, because it would be a self-defeating work.
Moving on to the second part of Jesus’ parable, is the part I find the most interesting. Because Jesus relates Satan to the strong man, and puts himself in the role of the thief. So, what Jesus is saying is that Satan’s house is this world, in order for Jesus to steal Satan’s possessions, which is humanity, Jesus must tie Satan up. Therefore Jesus must be stronger than Satan in order to do this. Putting both stories together we get this understanding: Satan’s kingdom/house, is this world, if Jesus was in league with Satan, driving out demons, it would mean that this kingdom would be at war with itself. But instead, Jesus has come into this world, into Satan’s kingdom, into his house, to subdue Satan, tying him up so that Jesus may steal us back to himself.

From here, we move into verses 28-30, where Jesus gives an extra warning to these teachers. Using pretty strong language, Jesus tells them that there is one unpardonable sin that can be made, and that’s denying the work of the Holy Spirit. But let’s leave that there, an come back to it.

So that’s the first section that follows the mention of Jesus’ family. The second section is after the family arrives and Jesus responds to the news with something that might seem hurtful. “33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. 34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
But in the context of what is going on, this statement is not meant to be hurtful, but rather speak to what has happened up to this point.

So are we ready to bring all of this together? Last week we talked about how, to be Jesus’ disciple means we must work alongside him. This leads us into seeing two groups of people coming to Jesus believing his work is not of God. Jesus’ family believes that he is mentally ill. They believe there is a physical reason that what Jesus is doing is not the work of God. The second group, the teachers of the law, believe that Jesus is possessed by Satan. They believe that Jesus’ work is not from God because of a spiritual reason. But both are wrong. Both of these groups are blind to the work of God. If fact, these people, who are not interested in seeing God’s work being carried out are met by two strong statements from Jesus. The unpardonable sin, and those who do God’s will are family. 

So what’s that mean for us? God invites us to be a part of his work, to be in the thick of it. If we are, then we are a part of his family and have access to all that includes. But what God does not want us to do is to see his work and write it off as not being from him. See we have a tendency to see something and go, “well that doesn’t fit with my absolute understanding of who God is, therefore that’s not really God’s work.”
I’ve seen this happen, I’ve experienced it. A few years back we had some people that did not believe that God wanted this church to continue reaching out to the youth of this town. They wanted to strip everything away that we do to reach them. They saw that the finances were tight, and then equated that to, God not being in the work. It was even said that if we continued to go down the path we were, that the church would be closed by the end of the same summer. But in fact, the very next year was the largest giving year we had. And it has only improved since then.

In this passage, we see two groups trying to dismiss God’s work. The first is Jesus’ own family, citing a physical reason why they believe Jesus’ work is not of God. The second are the teachers of the law, who cite a spiritual reason why they believe that Jesus’ work is not from God. To the teacher’s, Jesus gives a strong warning about denying the work of the Holy Spirit. He said that a denial of the work of the Holy Spirit, is an eternal sin. Now, I’m not saying that these teacher’s, or the family, or the group I just mentioned, committed an unpardonable sin. No, what I am saying is that an attitude that rejects the work of God will eventually lead us into a place where we can never return. When we are consistently denying God’s work, equating it to physical reasons, or spiritual reasons, or to chance or to anything that is not giving God the credit he is deserving, then we end up in a place that sees nothing of God, and everything of ourselves.

But instead, God wants us to be able to recognize his work. To recognize what he is doing, and then be a part of it. To do his will, to be a part of his family.

In this passage we read today, we divided it into to two based on the family of Jesus. But it is the end of each section that ties the two together, because they are meant to be taken together. We can either deny the work of God, which leads us to not recognizing God at all, and eventually leads to total separation from him. Or we can participate in the work of God, and show that we are his family, gaining all of the eternal riches that come with it.

So here’s the challenge today. Take a look around you. Do you see any buildings? You might be inside one, or out and about. But find a building and look at it. Find the imperfections, the things that were not fully done in the first construction or that need repair and say this prayer, “Lord help me see what you are building, that I may be apart of it. Amen.”
That building you see needs work done, God has work for you too. The question is, are you willing to be an active disciple, engaged in his work? Or the skeptic on the outside, not truly seeing all that God is doing. I pray that you are at work.
This is a simple prayer, for a simple action. 

Now may the Lord who calls you to action, give you the strength through his Spirit to achieve all that he has before you. Amen.

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