Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Authority of God -- Mark 1:21-34

The Authority of God -- Mark 1:21-34
By Pastor Lee Hemen
August 30, 2009 AM

There are people who claim authority, want authority, think they have authority, those who need authority, and those who neglect or disrespect authority but what exactly is authority? As someone, a long time ago, quipped, “Authority is earned, not demanded.” Those who have it know how to exercise it in a way that results in respect, devotion, and an immediate response. Then there are those who are born with authority who have done well with the mantle laid on them while others have used their authority to subjugate those around them. While human beings can and often do misuse the authority given them, God never does.

Recently, the passing of a prominent Senator reminds us that no matter where you come from nor what you try to do, who you are and what you did in life matters. You can misuse the authority you are born into to cover up immoral and illegal conduct. Sadly, money or family contacts can often buy immunity from justice. Jesus was born into a family hand-picked by God Himself. His parentage and heritage was premiere, however, Jesus never misused His authority or His family connections. Here in these verses of Mark we discover Jesus using the authority of God because He is God. We discover what it meant for Jesus to have the authority He was born with and what it meant for His ministry here on earth. Let’s discover the authority of Jesus…

READ: Mark 1:21-34

There is a lot of misunderstanding concerning the spiritual realm. This is no surprise because we live in an age where people think they can makeup their own individual spirituality as it suits them. Some folks give Satan more power and authority than he actually has. This comes from a heretical view that God and Satan are equals, they are not. Satan is a created being and under the total authority of God, his Creator. Then, there are those who try to deny his existence. Mark shows us immediately the power and authority of Jesus because of who He is. We discover the authority of Jesus…

I. Over the spiritual realm! (vv. 21-27)

1. Satan’s ploys are no match for the Savior’s power! While Jesus was born in Bethlehem, His center for ministry became Capernaum. This was the disciple’s “home town” so-to-speak. Peter and Andrew lived there. Jesus begins His day of worship at the local synagogue. “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” Probably by using His parables or earthy stories that touched the lives of the local populace instead of using high sounding religious arguments that the “teachers of the law” loved to use. Suddenly, a man has an outburst that is simply caused by Jesus’ presence. He “was possessed by an evil spirit and cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!’” Evil cannot exist where holiness resides, and a brief confrontation ensues that confounds the people there. Jesus uses a few simple commands: “Be quiet!” and “Come out of him!” As a result the man immediately begins to shake violently and the evil spirit comes out of him. The authority of Jesus is both dramatic and complete. The spirit was forced to submit to Him, the Holy One of God. “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.’” Thus was Jesus’ authority over the spiritual realm displayed that day. It declared two things about Jesus’ authority: 1) It comes from who He is the Holy One of God, the Messiah, the Son of God in human flesh, and 2) it was done with complete control. No dramatic breathing, religious incantations, handkerchiefs, or theatric display. Just God in complete control over the spiritual realm.

EXAMPLE: One of the most tragic tales from WWII is Operation Tiger. It was a training exercise in amphibious beach landings in preparation for the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Suddenly, enemy gunboats appeared and killed over 700 American servicemen in a surprise attack. Today, a monument stands to commemorate the sacrifice of those young men who died while training for battle but were never able to enter the conflict. It is a good example on how the Christian is in a constant battle that never lets up that is against an enemy that is both powerful and deceptive. And although Satan has lost his dominion, he still tries to deceive those who want to follow God. It is therefore good to know that we have a Savior who has complete authority in the spiritual realm.

Within the past several months there has been a lot of discussion concerning Governmental controlled health care. As Americans if we have not learned anything from the past 233 years it should be to distrust the Government control of anything in our lives. It will result in not only trillions of dollars of national debt, a myriad of Government-controlled bureaucracies that will never go away, but it will also demand more taxation. This is a good example of authority gone amuck. Even the Lord would not want people subjected to this kind of governmental slavery. Jesus never uses His authority to subjugate anyone. Not even the man with the evil spirit. The spirit yes, the man no. We are free come to Him by faith. However, Jesus did have complete authority over sickness and disease, the weather, and life and death. In fact, we learn in Mark, the authority of Jesus…

II. Over the physical realm! (vv. 28-34)

1. Jesus controls what He created! “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.” They immediately head to the home of Simon Peter and Andrew with James and John tagging along. The common place was and is where Jesus resides. Cleansing evil spirits from people while important, we discover that for plain folks, disease was a common occurrence and could be a matter of life or death. What we would consider now as a simple cold, could be devastating back then. They had no CDC to come up with a vaccine and people died from what we would consider common illness. Disease was also often equated with evil. To be sick was to be unclean. We find “Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her.” After seeing what Jesus did with a demon-possessed man, perhaps they thought He could more than handle a mother-in-law’s illness? I love watching Jesus in action and Mark makes it seem so beautifully simple. Out of context to the culture concerning illness and being with a woman not his own mother or wife, Jesus goes to where she is, lovingly takes her by the hand, helps her up, and she is healed. No fancy words, again no religious incantations, and the fever leaves her and she is made completely well. How do we know that to be true? She begins to wait on them right away. The authority of Jesus over the physical realm is discovered in the home of a mother-in-law of common fisher folk. Giving back the life of one demon-possessed tells us of Jesus’ authority over the spiritual realm, and His healing of Simon’s mother-in-law dramatically shows us Jesus’ authority over the physical realm as well.

EXAMPLE: Joanie Yoder of the Radio Bible Class online has written that “Most Christians would prefer to see God perform mighty miracles rather than to have fellowship with Him and learn His ways.” She is correct. Folks often get excited and want to read about Jesus confronting demons, Satan, or the occasional demoniac, but few find the same excitement in discovering that Jesus has complete authority in the physical realm as well. Believe me, Peter’s mother-in-law was glad to discover that Jesus could heal her. As Yoder writes, “If you desire to know God personally more than you long to see His mighty miracles, you'll be satisfied.” Find Jesus’ authority in your life, both in the physical and spiritual realms by coming to know Him.

Where cynicism once grew, hope and optimism can begin to emerge. Where sarcasm thrived, gentle words of healing can appear. Where lust grew rampant and unrestrained, pure love can spring up. This—a transformed life—is the living and lasting sign of God's miraculous power. There are moments when we grow tired of the evil within us, and our heart aches for holiness. There are times when we need the physical touch of God in our lives. When this occurs, this is God calling, reminding us that He is near. We discovered the authority of Jesus over both the spiritual and physical realms when we come to Jesus.
This article is copyrighted © 2009 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission. You now have my permission to use the entire article.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Choice Everyone Has -- Mark 1:15-20

The Choice Everyone Has -- Mark 1:15-20
By Pastor Lee Hemen
August 23, 2009 AM

We all make good and bad choices in life. The choices we make can have a huge impact on our future. Such things as where we live, what school we go to, what we decide to do for a living, whom we marry, and such have important consequences, but there are far more important choices we make as well. One of these, that can have eternal significance, is what we deiced to believe or whom we decide to follow in life. This is why when Joshua stood before the people of Israel and bluntly demanded of them, “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15) they knew that their choice had eternal consequences.

When Jesus came he immediately began to declare that “The time has come, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” In this declaration of Jesus’ there is a choice that has to be made by every listener. It is the same choice everyone has. To either believe the good news or not. We find Jesus beginning to form the group of men who would follow him as his disciples that would believe and also spread the good news. To follow Jesus or not is the choice everyone has, let’s find out what that means for us this morning.

READ: Mark 1:15-20

It is often hard to make the right choice when you are forced to hurry. I can remember my father telling us to “Hurry up and decide,” when we had to choose what we wanted to eat during the Saturday matinee. It was a precarious decision for a child to make. You wanted candy that would last as long as possible, would not easily fall out of its container onto the dirty floor of the darkened theater, and something your big brother would not try and force off of you when his candy ran out during the movie previews. While the hastened decision to choose the right candy was irritating, it was and is nothing compared to making the immediate decision to follow the Lord. We discover that…

I. The choice is made without delay!

1. Following Jesus means we decide now! Why? Notice the wording here: “The time has come,” Jesus relates. It carries an immediacy with it. He meant that the fullness of God’s timing was complete in that Jesus as the Messiah was coming to share the “good news.” It was now. Jesus had come. God’s time was fulfilled in Jesus, but also notice that when Jesus spoke with the men by the Sea of Galilee they had an instant choice to make: At “once they left their nets” and “without delay he called them.” The choice Jesus gave them carried with it an immediate response as well. The idea is that there was no hindrance in their way and they instantly made the decision to follow Jesus. In our day and age we want to make a long list of “reasons,” actually excuses, as to why we can or cannot change our lifestyle. We think we need to have time to think on it or that we need more information in order to make the “right decision.” While this may be true in picking out candy for the movie theater, the decision to follow Jesus demands an immediate response! Why? When we begin to make excuses we are failing to see that at that particular moment in time is the occasion God has appointed for us to hear the gospel and to respond to it. We have no way of being certain there will ever be another opportunity to do so. This is why the writer of Hebrews related, “So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert… .’”(Hebrews 3:7-8) Paul wrote that Christians should “not receive God’s grace in vain” because “now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2) He knew that often the choice to follow God or not must be made without delay and should never be hindered in any way. We are to follow Jesus without delay.

EXAMPLE: There is a poignant story of how Jesus and his followers were headed to another area to preach after leaving one that had rejected Jesus’ message. Several people come up to Jesus and say they will “follow” him. The first one declared he would follow Jesus wherever He went, but was reminded that to follow Jesus means you have to be willing to give up the comforts of life. The second man wanted to go finish burying his father, and was reminded that even the needs of life take second place to following Jesus. And, finally, the last man wanted to simply say “goodbye” to his home, and he too was reminded that unless one was willing to let even their family go, they would always have a greater allegiance to them rather than following God. Jesus tells him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) Sounds kind of harsh to our modern ears doesn’t it? We think, “Surely Jesus would allow me to go home to say goodbye to my family or bury my beloved father!?” When we think this way we fail to understand the call of following Christ. It demands all that we are and it demands an immediate answer. God’s message is perfect for our lives, just as God’s timing is always perfect. And, the time has come, the gospel is here, the choice is yours to make, and it must be made without delay.

We all like to think we would immediately know the right decisions to make when bad things happen. Like what things to grab if our home was threatened by fire or flood. I know what it means to lose important things in a fire, but none of the tings lost were more important than my family. When a building is burning down, you do not care what worldly “things” you have gathered you left behind, only that your family is safe. Following the Lord is the same in many aspects. Our lives without Him are aflame with the fire of hell lapping at the door. The house is burning down and if we linger too long over the things of the world we can suffer the consequences of hanging on to stuff that does not matter. Here in Mark’s gospel, we discover that…

II. The choice involves leaving some things behind!

1. The jetsam and flotsam of life is not as important as the glory and blessings of God! These men had families, friends, and livelihoods. They were established fishermen. Not just their own families, but they also had several boats and crews they were responsible for, and earning one’s living by the Sea of Galilee was no easy task. Notice too that Jesus’ call of the four fishermen, to be His followers comes immediately after the summary of His message. It is a clear message that one has to break off from their old way of life, to “repent and believe” and follow Him. Jesus expresses to these fishermen a new task of fishing, Jesus said that they were to “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They had to leave behind their old way of life and gain a new way. Paul wrote, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8) The call to “come” involved repentance, a turning away from their olds lives by the Sea of Galilee fishing, and following a new way of life learning to fish for men instead. When Jesus calls, we have to be willing to leave some things behind. Just as these fishermen’s old nets would not have worked with their new lives, our old ways of doing things does not work well when following the Lord. It would have been senseless for them to drag their old tackle and nets with them. It is senseless for us to try and drag around our old way of life as well. The choice involved repenting of their old lives and leaving some things behind that would hinder their walk with Jesus. The same is true for your life in Christ. Have you repented of your sins and followed Jesus, leaving the old things behind? Your choice to follow Him involves leaving some things behind.

EXAMPLE: Have you ever noticed that while dogs are great companions, they are also kind of gross. You know what I mean. The same tongue that licks their behind places is the same one they want to lick your face with! And, well, then there is the grotesque habit of eating the droppings of felines that is simply, well, ugh! And, do you know what? People are just as gross! Peter was very “earthy” in his description of life. The reason was he had been a fisherman most of his life until he followed the Lord. In fact, he would later write about the importance of not only leaving one’s old way of life behind, but just how foolish it was to return to it again. Kind of like a dog’s gross habits. He wrote that if a person had “escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit,’ and, ‘A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.’” (2 Peter 2:20-22) When you follow the Lord, the choice involves leaving some things behind.

We all make good and bad choices in life. The choices we make can have a huge impact on our future. Today we all have a choice to make. The choice is made without delay, and the choice involves leaving some things behind!
This article is copyrighted © 2009 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission. You now have my permission to use the entire article.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Important Message -- Mark 1:12-14

The Important Message -- Mark 1:12-14
By Pastor Lee Hemen
Aug 16, 2009 AM

History is filled with the inhumane harshness that many societies have inflicted specifically on their children. Ancient Roman society would leave poorer children to fend for themselves, literally to die on their own if both parents were gone. Even in wealthier homes children that were not well liked could be left outside to die or cast aside for others that were deemed more privileged. Meanwhile, in Greek Sparta, boys were educated to create a strong warrior. Taken away from their parents at age 7 they lived a harsh and often brutal life in the soldiers barracks. Younger males were beaten by older boys to help toughen them up and they were not allowed to cry out in pain. These rituals were thought to make their perspective societies stronger and more vigorous. However the message it gave was one of harshness and cruel bleakness.

Suppose you were deliberately left all on your own by those you thought cared about you most during a difficult or delicate time in your? How would that make you feel? How would you respond? Times of testing in a person’s life can influence the rest of their lives and how they make decisions from then on. However, the time of testing in the life of Jesus was no act of cruelty nor a testing to see if He would “measure up,” rather it was the prelude to something far greater. The message to mankind was so important, the Lord had to be certain of what God was calling Him to do. Let’s discover this morning the important message Mark gives us concerning the time of Jesus’ testing.

READ: Mark 1:12-14

At the end of Jesus’ ministry we find Him partaking of a last Passover meal with His disciples. A group of twelve hand-picked men who had journeyed with Him for three years. But here at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry we find no close friends sharing with Him in a personal trial that would begin Jesus’ lifelong pursuit to declare the good news. These three verses show us how Jesus began His ministry and the importance of the message. In fact, the message was so important that…

I. The Holy Spirit sent Jesus exactly where He needed to be! (v. 12)

1. Right where we are is right where God desires us to be! Often, this is the only way God can get His message across to us! After His baptism by John, Jesus was sent out by God. There are several things we learn from this verse about the importance of Jesus’ message: 1) It was immediate. “At once,” Jesus was sent. There was no time for hesitation or thinking about it. In our day and age where we scrutinize and analyze every little aspect of our lives and how it benefits us personally, this seems kind of odd. Certainly there are those who jump in without thinking, but the plan of God is well thought out and has been predetermined from the creation of the universe! 2) God sent Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. Notice, Jesus completely trusted that guidance. He knew that God was in control and had only the best for His life planned no matter what the outcome was. In our day, we think we not only have a personal right to know from God every infinitesimal detail or our lives but also exactly why He is doing what He is doing. Finally, 3) God sent Jesus where He wanted Jesus to be: In the desert. The word “sent” is from a strong verb (ekballo?) meaning “drive out, expel, send away.” God expelled Jesus to the desert for a reason! God does this even in our lives, in order for us to understand the importance of the message He has for us. There are no physical, emotional, or personal barriers when we are completely alone in the wilderness. It is often the best place for God to work in our lives. So, if it seems like you are in a desert, remember that the message was so important that the Holy Spirit sent Jesus exactly where He needed to be.

EXAMPLE: We live in a day and age whereby we are taught to think that the world revolves around “me.” We come to God in prayer, mostly about ourselves. We sing hymns and choruses and make them mainly about ourselves. We join churches or do ministry when it suits us. Our biggest question in life is no longer, “Does God have a purpose?” but rather, “What’s in it for me?” While our lives are important to the Lord, His plan will happen whether we decide to be a part of it or not. And often where we are in life is exactly where God desires us to be. Not in sin, silly, but where He has us to be, to be used by Him. Can you imagine Jesus coming up out of the water and thinking, “Man, do I ever feel good about myself! I think I’ll go and find some synagogue that meets my needs! Some place that has a good single’s ministry!” Or imagine Him thinking, “Bummer! Now I have to go into the hot dusty old desert and be tempted. Why do these things always happen to ME!?” I am glad Jesus knew the Holy Spirit had Him exactly where he needed to be. If we are in the will of God, we will be exactly where the Holy Spirit needs us to be.

There’s the rub. Many of us are not in the will of God. We think that if we were, then we would never be tempted or have a hard time in life. Everything would be beautiful in its own way. WRONG! What we have done by thinking this is reduce God into being life’s little tour guide. You know, to show us where all the great people and good places are to hang out and have fun in life. When we do, we forget that the message was so important that…

II. Jesus was left alone but never alone to be tempted! (v. 13)

1. We are at our spiritually strongest when we are at our weakest! Jesus had nowhere else to be and no one else to rely on but God the Father. There was a purpose for Jesus to be sent by the Holy Spirit into the desert: Jesus “was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan.” Mark’s brief description of the moral compulsion of the Spirit moving Jesus to head for the wilderness was all part of God’s plan. It was where God would teach Jesus in how to resist the moral evil of the world. What do I mean? Both Matthew and Luke relate that during this time of testing, Jesus rebutted Satan’s attacks. The first attack dealt with personal appetite, pride in particular. The second dealt with popularity of making Himself seen by the people. And the last one dealt with personal power. All the kingdoms of the world would be Jesus’ if He only worshipped the creature rather than the Creator. Interestingly, these are the same temptations Eve faced and failed. And they are the same ones we face each day in our lives as well. Yet in this small gospel of Mark we discover a wonderful message for us as well: Yes, Jesus “was with the wild animals,” but notice that the “angels attended Him.” God provided for Jesus. Even in our wilderness journey where God send us, He does not leave us alone. He attends those He loves. Just as Jesus was tempted, so are we; and just as He was ministered to by God in the wilderness, so are we. The message was so important that Jesus was left alone but never alone to be tempted.

EXAMPLE: Life is not without temptation so stop thinking it can be. Here is a truth we need to get squared away with: We live in a sin-fallen world and we are not perfect. Made holy though Jesus, yes, but not perfect until we reach our final destination. And get this straight: The temptations we face in life are not little pop quizzes sent from God to see if we pass or fail today on the highway to heaven. We are not in the midst of some cosmic video game whereby we have to come up with the right answers, gain so many power points, and choose the right kinds of weapons to defeat the enemy. We have all we need in Jesus Christ. Jesus proved that all of life’s sustenance, power, and purpose is found in Him alone. Putting on the armor of God is not something we do like putting on safety equipment before life’s big game. It is what we intrinsically believe. It is God’s “full armor”! Jesus had the full armor of God because He trusted in the full power of God, do you? He was tempted but won the victory because of whom He trust in. The message was so important that Jesus was left alone but never alone to be tempted.

If we learn anything from Mark’s gospel it should be that Jesus saw that His life had meaning and purpose. It was not about Him, it was all about what God desired and God’s timing. In fact, Jesus saw His life as something to be totally used by God alone because God was in complete control. This is why Jesus could fall perfectly asleep in a wind-rocked sea-swamped boat while everyone else was running around frightened. All He did in life was to bring glory to God. God had Him right where He wanted Him and Jesus knew it. What about your life? Mark teaches us that the message was so important that…

III. Jesus did not begin preaching until the right time! (v. 14)

1. God’s time is the right time! And so begins the ministry of Jesus. Mark does not begin with Jesus’ birth. He does not relate to us about shepherds, wise men, or Mary and Joseph. Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism by John and His immediate wilderness experience. Why? For Mark the message of the gospel was so important that nothing else mattered to him or his writing of it concerning Jesus. For God, timing is everything. God knows that within His plan, the right time brings about the best possible results. Jesus knew this to be true. For His own unbelieving brothers Jesus said: “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right.” (John 7:6) They were not about the business of God, He was. Paul understood God’s timing as well and related: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6) And so it was not until “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” The witness, the herald, the one crying in the wilderness had to decrease while the Messiah began His ministry. God’s timing is always the right timing. We find this just a little bit disconcerting for our lives in our day and age. We want to know who, what, when, and where of every detail so that we can make the “right choice,” which we often do not do anyway. We fail to because we forget about God’s timing. We want it now and we want it the way we think it ought to be. Period. End of story. But then God says, “Not so fast!” Obedience comes from following God’s timing. When He asks us to do something, when are we to respond? Right then. Immediately. The message was so important that Jesus did not begin preaching until the right time!

EXAMPLE: Life is not a reality TV game show of picking the right door to open. Now I know that for some of you this is going to be a bit hard to grasp and a new concept because you have falsely swallowed a Christian fad that has been out there for a while. But let me be the first to go out on a limb and tell you that it is not necessarily theologically true. Namely, that God is in the business of opening and closing doors that you are to walk through or not. You know, kind of like some game show whereby you have to pick the right door: Door number one, door number two, or door number three. Can you imagine a holy and wonderful Creator watching you and pleading, “Please oh please pick door number…” Come on, this is kind of spiritually sick! This comes from spiritual ignorance, spiritual laziness, or spiritual weakness. If you are walking in the will of God, any door you walk through is… THE WILL OF GOD! Therefore, when God lays before you the opportunity to go and do something for Him, don’tcha think it just might be the RIGHT TIME RIGHT THEN? Just remember a little man named Gideon and his spiritual stupidity concerning dew and a fleece. Never forget that the message of God was so important that Jesus did not begin preaching until the right time!

While history is filled with the inhumane harshness that many societies have inflicted specifically on their children, God does not work that way with His children. We have learned through Mark’s gospel that the message was so important that the Holy Spirit sent Jesus exactly where He needed to be; that Jesus was left alone but never alone to be tempted; and that Jesus did not begin preaching until the right time! And these things are true for your life in Christ as well. God works the same for all His children.
This article is copyrighted © 2009 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission. You now have my permission to use the entire article.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Witnesses - Mark 1:1-11

The Witnesses - Mark 1:1-11
By Pastor Lee Hemen
August 9, 2009 AM

Mark’s gospel is as beautiful in its simplicity as it is in its depth of the theology. It is a mystery, in some ways, do to some of the apparent insertions by scribes much later. In fact, its name comes from one such addition. Technically, Mark’s Gospel is anonymous since it does not name its author at all. The title “according to Mark” (Kata Markon) was added later by a scribe some time before a.d. 125. Then there is the ending to Mark that does not belong, but more about that when we finally get there. However, the “unanimous testimony of the early church fathers is that Mark, an associate of the Apostle Peter, was the author. The earliest known statement of this comes from Papias (a.d. 110), who quoted the testimony of John the elder… .” (Bible Knowledge Commentary)

Mark, as the author, does not mean that he made the story up but rather he was the human instrument that God used to testify about what he learned from Peter about Jesus. He was a very early follower. Some think he was the young man who ran away naked (Mark 14:51-52) from the garden when Jesus was betrayed and that it was at his home where the Passover was eaten by Jesus and His disciples. He journeyed with Peter and with Paul and Barnabas. He wrote about what he had learned, but not in chronological order. Is it the first gospel written? Possibly, both Matthew and Luke contain verses taken directly from Mark. Matthew contains about 90 percent of Mark, and Luke over 40 percent — over 600 of Mark’s 661 verses are found in both Matthew and Luke! And, both follow the order of events found in Mark. However, no one knows absolutely for sure. It was written before a.d. 70, when the temple was destroyed. Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple suggests it was also written before Peter’s death and that he was available to help with its writing, possibly between a.d. 57-59. Mark was primarily written for Gentile Roman Christians as a testimony concerning Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Therefore, let’s see how Mark begins the testimony of Jesus’ life by sharing with us about the witnesses from the very beginning.

READ: Mark 1:1-11

Witnesses were important to those that lived during the time of Christ, just as a good bibliography is to us nowadays. Those who wrote about certain events often included well-known people who lived at the time of the event, saw it occur, or could testify to its actuality. We discover Luke doing this often throughout his gospel narrative. The testimony of three witnesses gave credence to the event’s veracity. Three witnesses were also needed to prove testimony in Jewish courts. So at the very beginning of his gospel narrative, Mark verifies his story of Jesus by the testimony of three witnesses. Let’s discover who they are and why they are important for us today. First of all…

I. We have the divine witness of God Himself! (vv. 1, 11)

1. The good news witness of God is Jesus! We discover that this gospel is “about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus literally means “Yahweh is salvation,” and Christ is the Greek for “Messiah” or “anointed one.” Mark immediately addresses the fact of who Jesus is. He is “the Son of God,” humanity’s salvation, and the long awaited Messiah. Therefore, this book, this message of Mark concerns the “good news,” the gospel for all mankind. This is why, when Jesus stood up in the synagogue and proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,” (Luke 4:18-19) and told His listeners, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” (Luke 4:21) the crowd wanted to stone Him to death. They knew exactly that Jesus was testifying about Himself and the implication was clear. Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah who would bring about the kingdom of God which had been promised for so long! But this was God’s “Son” whom He loved and was “well pleased” with! (v. 11) Therefore, Mark immediately establishes for his readers exactly who Jesus is. We have the divine witness of God Himself!

EXAMPLE: We have heard people declare, “As God is my witness!” but in actuality, God is not our “witness.” He does not exist to “witness” what we do, however, He did testify to the fact of Jesus being His Son and the promised Messiah. God’s testimony about Himself is always straightforward and true. Mark knew that the Roman Christians would need to be encouraged by the testimony of God to who Jesus was. Rome was a pagan city full of false beliefs and only God could cut through the darkness found there. Mark wanted his readers to understand that their faith was founded on the very word of God – therefore, we have the divine witness of God Himself!

We would think that God’s testimony about Himself would be enough, but in the culture of the day, which is very much like today’s world, Mark knew that the testimony of others who actually saw Jesus and who had predicted He would come would carry a huge impact on his readers. So, like a good historian of the day, Mark gives us another source that testifies about Jesus. Therefore…

II. We have the human witnesses of Isaiah and John the Baptist! (vv. 2-8)

1. History reminds us of the prophecies concerning Jesus! Mark began by putting his account in its proper scriptural perspective: The testimony of God’s prophets. Aside from Old Testament quotations by Jesus this is the only place Mark referred to the Old Testament. Actually, Mark references two Old Testament Prophets: Malachi and Isaiah. This was common and not out of character for those of Mark’s day to do. The actual passages are: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me,” (Malachi 3:1) and “A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.’” (Isaiah 40:3) It was a promise of God that His Messiah would come and that His herald would come before Him. John the Baptist fulfilled the role of the Messiah’s herald. He was the “voice of one calling in the desert.” John prepared “the way for the Lord” and made “straight paths for him.” He leveled the way for the Messiah. And John knew his place and this is why he related that “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (vv. 7-8) And, John would point to Jesus and declare, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) Mark testified that both the Old Testament prophets and the new prophets of God were in agreement as to who Jesus was. We have the human witnesses of Isaiah and John the Baptist!

EXAMPLE: The Apostle John related “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” (1 John 1:1) This was extremely important for the early church to hear and know. It was eyewitness testimony. But for the Hebrews, they put great credibility in the testimony of their Prophets because, for them, these men spoke the very words God gave them. To be wrong was to risk your life. To say, “Thus saith the Lord,” meant you were speaking for God and that He had given you His words to speak. So, when Mark tells us that Isaiah and John both proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, it held a huge impact for them. This is why in Mark we have the human witnesses of Isaiah and John the Baptist.

When we as believers tell others about what we believe we become God’s human witnesses, and we are never alone in doing so. Jesus taught, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-- the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:16-18) And, Jesus has come to all who receive Him as Savior and Lord. Jesus declared, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” “By this,” John related, “He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.” (John 7:38-39a) So, we discover in Mark that…

III. We have the inspirational witness of the Holy Spirit! (vv. 9-10)

1. All humanity is dead until they receive the empowerment of God! Mark knew this to be true because he had experienced it for himself. Mark knew that John’s baptism was limited: “I baptize you with water,” in that it helped people to repent and signified their momentary cleansing, but Jesus’ baptism would be eternal from then on: “but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!” The seal of God that can never be revoked or taken away! Paul would write, “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22) And, “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” The Prophet of God, who testified about the coming Messiah, was now baptizing Him! Mark relates that “As Jesus was coming up out of the water, He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove.” (Mark 1:10) God had come to deliver His people! Long ago Isaiah would lament: “Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down!” (Isaiah 64:1) and then he would ask: “You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember Your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, You were angry. How then can we be saved?” (Isaiah 64:5) Here, right before everyone’s eyes, was Isaiah’s answer and the Holy Spirit of God testified to it! We have the Holy spirit living in us. He is the answer from God in our lives! We have the inspirational witness of the Holy Spirit!

EXAMPLE: Three things set Jesus apart from all others who had been baptized. First, He saw heaven being torn open. Second, He saw the Spirit descending on Him like a dove, which also symbolized the Spirit’s creative activity like when “the LORD said to Moses, ‘See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts… .’” (Exodus 31:1-3) Third, Jesus heard a “voice… from heaven” which approved of and declared who Jesus was. Therefore, the coming of the Spirit on Jesus empowered Him for His messianic mission and the task of baptizing others with the Spirit, as John predicted! John the Baptist related about Jesus, “I myself did not know Him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that He might be revealed to Israel… I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Him. I would not have known Him, except that the One who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is He who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:31-34) Mark, therefore, gives us the inspirational witness of the Holy Spirit.

We have the divine witness of God Himself! We have the human witnesses of Isaiah and John the Baptist! We have the inspirational witness of the Holy Spirit! What about YOUR witness?
This article is copyrighted © 2009 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission. You now have my permission to use the entire article.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

When Politicians Fail to Follow God - Jeremiah 34:15-17

When Politicians Fail to Follow God - Jeremiah 34:15-17
By Pastor Lee Hemen
August 2, 2009 AM

During election time it often seems that politicians will say almost anything in order to garner votes. Selling one’s soul for political gain is nothing new. David did it when he was running away from Saul. He made a pact with those who had been enemies of Israel (Moab) and later he would have to honor his decision. While we expect this kind of underhanded behavior from kings or politicians, we should be shocked when we discover it in the lives of God’s people.

We find that "The word came to Jeremiah from the LORD after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to proclaim freedom for the slaves. Everyone was to free his Hebrew slaves, both male and female; no one was to hold a fellow Jew in bondage. So all the officials and people who entered into this covenant agreed that they would free their male and female slaves and no longer hold them in bondage. They agreed, and set them free." The Israelites made promises to God that they never intended to keep. They were saying anything in order to garner God’s good favor and to look good to their neighbors. We tragically learn that "afterward they changed their minds and took back the slaves they had freed and enslaved them again." (Jeremiah 34:8-11) God’s people become like disgusting politicians when they continually think they can make a deal with or fool God. Let’s find out what is in store for those who claim God but their actions show them to be like politicians. Let’s learn what occurs when "politicians" (Christians) fail to follow God.

READ: Jeremiah 34:15-17

The Israelites thought they could circumnavigate God by declaring they would follow God, but renege on their promise to Him afterwards. Why does this happen and does it happen in our lives as Christians? The answer to both of these questions can be startling for those of us who have become blinded to our own political gain instead of following the Lord. And here is why: When politicians fail to follow God…

I. They begin to do what is expedient for themselves! (Vv. 15-17)

1. Expediency always means doing the godly thing! Being one of God’s people means trusting Him completely, even when it is inconvenient for us personally! Notice that the slaves’ freedom was very short-lived. Those who claimed to "follow God," who actually released their slaves, "changed their minds and took back the slaves they had freed and enslaved them again." What caused this two-faced about face? Personal expediency period. It was beneficial for them at the moment. At the end of this chapter is "the key that unlocks the puzzle" so-to-speak. (Jeremiah 34:21-22) The city of Jerusalem was being besieged by the Babylonians. After the people had made their promise to God and released the slaves, the army of Babylon broke off its siege of Jerusalem to go and repel an attack by the Egyptians (See Jeremiah 37:4-13). The people hoped for an Egyptian victory, which would force Babylon from Judah. But after so much destruction slaves would be needed to rebuild the cities and towns. It therefore became expedient to reneged on their promise to God when it seemed that life would return to normal. David understood this also, because he had practiced it himself so often, and wrote of those who do evil for expedience sake: "For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin." (Psalms 36:2) The book of Judges reminds us that when God’s people in the past did what is expedient instead of what is holy then "everyone did as he saw fit." The same holds true for today as well. We begin to do what we think is best for our lives for the moment. That which will make us happy right now instead of what God requires of us. We forget that God desires our happiness in Him. When politicians fail to follow God they begin to do what is expedient for themselves.

EXAMPLE: We live in a day and age where people are encouraged to make everything about themselves. There is a video on YouTube that humorously shows this. It is a parody on those TV commercials where they sell religious music CDs. They sell the "It’s All About Me!" music CD. This is exactly where the Israelites were in their thinking: "It’s all about me!" Like politicians, they began to do what was expedient for themselves.

What many folks fail to understand is that God takes very seriously His relationship with you. When you say you follow the Lord you are telling others that God is in control of your life, and either He is in complete control or He is not. There is no halfway with the Lord. He does not want a backseat driver. When you commit your life to God, God will not be mocked. By saying you believe, yet doing exactly that which is contrary to the holiness of God is making a travesty of the Lord and Who He is. And here is why: When politicians fail to follow God…

II. They begin to make promises they never intend to keep! (Vv. 15-16)

1. All promises are empty unless they are kept! Being one of God’s people means you keep your word! Notice that God tells them, "Recently you repented and did what is right in my sight: Each of you proclaimed freedom to his countrymen." This is all good and fine, but there is a clincher here that immediately follows: "But now you have turned around and profaned my name." When we make promises that we never intend to keep with the Lord, we profane His name. This means we make a mockery of who God is and shows our contempt for Him. What was worse is that the Israelites justified their behavior by compounding their sin! They compounded their sin by justifying another one! Sure they set their slaves free, but now they needed them again to rebuild God’s city! We do the very same thing: "I do not want to be a hypocrite, so I won’t do what I know I should do to honor God in the first place." We try to justify our promise breaking, thinking that God will ignore our first "sin" and honor our second ungodliness! What this does is throw aspersions on God. We are attacking His reputation and character. Jesus understood this. He bluntly told the Pharisees "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire." (John 8:44) Notice, God tells the Israelites, "You even made a covenant before me in the house that bears my Name." They willingly embraced a lie instead of the truth and did it in the house of the Lord! John would ask, "Who is the liar?" and then he answers that "It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ." (1 John 2:22) When we make promises we never intend to keep, no matter how we try to dress it up, we become like politicians with our words.

EXAMPLE: Don’t you hate it when politicians begin to use rhetoric instead of honesty and openness when answering questions? There is an old saying that is often attributed to politicians that goes something like, "If you see his lips moving, he is lying." Why would people say that? Because they have been lied to so many times by those who run for political office. We live in a say anything, do anything, to get anywhere society. It is so bad that we even expect our politicians to deliberately lie to us! How sad is that? Christians act like lying politicians when they try to lie to God and begin to make promises they never intend to keep.

We hate it when children make up excuses for their behavior, and it is not only sad, but kind of pathetic when adults do the very same thing! We have become adept as a society in thinking that heartfelt words or emotional outbursts mean the same thing as concrete actions. They do not. If you think they do try telling your boss that you strongly feel that you need to go to the beach instead of work tomorrow. Or try telling the IRS that you truly want to pay your taxes but you just can’t bring yourself to do so because you do not feel an emotional connection to pay them. I am sure they will understand. We certainly would face a result we may not like for our emotional decision wouldn’t we? In fact we cannot keep doing the same sinful things and not expect to face judgment. And here is why: When politicians fail to follow God…

III. God will judge their attitude and actions! (v. 17)

1. Your actions speak louder than all your words! God makes it very clear that He finds excuse making nauseating in the extreme. He bluntly relates to Jeremiah, "You have not obeyed me; you have not proclaimed freedom for your fellow countrymen. So I now proclaim ‘freedom’ for you, declares the LORD—‘freedom’ to fall by the sword, plague and famine. I will make you abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth." In fact, God promises to treat those who broke their promise like the calf they had slaughtered when making their promise. They would be handed over to their enemies. And, just like the parts of the slaughtered calf, their dead bodies would lie on the ground as food for both birds and beasts! (v. 18) You may think, "Man, that’s harsh!" But then you have forgotten how God views those who honor Him with their lips but curse Him with their actions. Ecclesiastes reminds us: "Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few." (Ecclesiastes 5:2) Earlier, in Jeremiah, God mocks the people and uses kind of lewd language to match their ungodly behavior when He reminds them they would be treated like a powerless promiscuous pregnant woman: "And if you ask yourself, ‘Why has this happened to me?’-- it is because of your many sins that your skirts have been torn off and your body mistreated!" (Jeremiah 13:22) He sarcastically asks the Israelites, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil." (Jeremiah 13:23) Just as a sinful woman cannot change without Him, they cannot either. No one can. Only God can change the human heart! And He will judge our actions when we make excuses for our sin instead of confessing it: "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives." (1 John 1:8-10) God will judge the actions of politicians who fail to follow Him.

EXAMPLE: When I was younger I was put in charge of planting certain parts of our vegetable garden. I was the one who planted and cared for the carrots, radishes, and corn. I knew when I planted a corn seed, corn would grow from it. The same is true of our lives as well. Here is what I mean: We may think that we will "do better next time," we may say we will do better next time, but when the next time comes and we fall short again God will hold us accountable. Both spiritually and physically for every action there is an opposite reaction. The Bible teaches us that we reap what we sow both in life and spiritually. If we say we are going to weed the garden of our lives and get rid of the filthy weeds of sin there, our attitude and actions had better match our words. Just as politicians who will say anything and do anything in order to get your vote are ultimately judged, so will you be judged if you act like them and not truly repent. God will judge our attitudes and actions.

Christians can act just like politicians when we begin to do what is expedient for ourselves, when we begin to make promises we never intend to keep, and when we do -- God will judge our attitude and actions! Now, are you a politician or a Christian in following the Lord?
This article is copyrighted © 2009 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission. You now have my permission to use the entire article.