Identity: Family & Foes, 30 July 2017

Identity: Family & Foes
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 3:20-35

Series Big Idea:
The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea: Jesus’ followers are his true family…and you are welcome to join it!

Earlier this year we did a series entitled Ideal Family. Throughout the series I said there are two unfortunate things I’ve discovered about families. First, they are all messed up! That’s ultimately the result of sin, our disobedience toward God. Ever since Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in the Garden of Eden, we have struggled to get along. Pride divides. Greed corrupts. Selfishness hoards. Anger disturbs. Hatred destroys. Misunderstanding confuses.

The second unfortunate thing about families is the mistaken belief everyone else’s family is okay. Listen to me carefully…all families are messed up! This includes biblical families.

As we continue our series on The Real Jesus from the gospel or “good news” of Mark, we are told Jesus’ popularity—and opposition—is growing. The crowds love Jesus because he teaches them, heals them, and loves them. The religious people hate him because he’s more popular than they are…and he seems to have a great comeback for all of their questions and criticisms. In a word, they are envious.

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20-21)

As I said, all of our families are messed up. All of them. If you don’t think yours is messed up, yours is REALLY messed up! Jesus is trying to eat, a huge crowd mobs him, and his family think he’s crazy. They want to get him in line! “Make Jesus stop,” they say! Jesus’ family wants Jesus to stop his ministry because they don’t understand what he’s doing.

On the other hand the religious people know what he’s doing…and they’re hostile.

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.” (Mark 3:22)

This must be one of the dumbest statements in the Bible! I’m not saying the Bible is stupid, of course, but the religious leaders accuse Jesus of being demonic…and driving out demons. Huh?

So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables:
“How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. (Mark 3:23-26)

This is just common sense…but Jesus obviously needed to say it. A divided kingdom or house cannot stand. You may have noticed our nation is a bit divided these days. It’s scary to think what could happen if we remain this way. It seems like the options are to be overtaken by another country or find ourselves in civil war…because a house divided cannot stand. This is why unity is one of my top four prayers for First Alliance Church. United we stand, divided we fall (a phrase possibly used first by Aesop in his fable of “The Four Oxen and the Lion”). When we rally around a common mission, vision, strategy, and LORD, there is no limit to our potential. If we experience division, the ballgame is over. And we see this all the time…well-intended Christians arguing over things that often lead to awful results, including church splits and even people losing their faith in God altogether.

Satan knows this. He knows if he can divide us, he can conquer. And again I say we need to always be praying for unity. I pray for direction, protection, passion, and unity. I know unity is a God-honoring prayer because it is Jesus’ prayer for us…right now. In John chapter 17, he says

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21)

Jesus is praying that we would be one…so that the world may believe!

As if Jesus has not already made his point about division and unity clear, he adds these words:

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. (Mark 3:27)

It’s easy to miss his message. Satan is like a strong man. Jesus is a stronger man! Jewish listeners may have been reminded of this passage in Isaiah:

Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives be rescued from the fierce?

But this is what the LORD says: 

“Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save. (Isaiah 49:24-25)

Jesus also may have been thinking about this text:

After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, 
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:11-12)

The Messiah is right before their eyes, yet they are unable to see.

Returning to the verse…

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.
(Mark 3:27)

We have a real enemy, brothers and sisters. He is a liar, a thief, an accuser, a big fat jerk! He is powerful and destructive…but our God is greater!!! Be encouraged. There are battles, but we will win. Love prevails. Truth reigns. Peace conquers. Jesus rules!

I want to add one more thing about unity…Dave Ramsey’s five enemies of unity. These five destroyers are true in the marketplace, but they can be found in churches and even homes, too.

1. Poor communication
2. Lack of shared purpose/mission/goals
3. Gossip (Ramsey’s employees are warned once and fired if it occurs again)
4. Unresolved disagreements
5. Sanctioned incompetence (John Maxwell), keeping poor performers on the team

That was just for fun! Back to Jesus…

Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter,
but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” (Mark 3:28-29)

Throughout my life I’ve heard people talk about these verses. Did I commit the unforgivable sin? If you have to ask, the answer is a resounding no.

Nobody disputed Jesus’ miracles. They were real. The healings were real. The exorcisms were real. The resurrection was real. Since the religious leaders couldn’t deny Jesus’ power, the only way they could discredit him was to attack the source of his power, claiming it is satanic. They knew better, but they were obviously desperate.

Jesus presents a paradox, a self-contradictory statement. He says all sins and blasphemies can be forgiven and then says the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. Which is it?

Forgiveness of sins comes only from God. If you claim God is evil, who can forgive your sins?

If you choose to deny God, it’s impossible to receive his forgiveness.

Jesus doesn’t even say these religious leaders have committed the unforgiveable sin, but it’s a stern warning.

He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.” (Mark 3:30)

Now we see Jesus’ family again.

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” (Mark 3:31-32)

When is the last time someone said, “Where have you been? We’ve been looking all over for you!”? Mary and the boys are outside, unable to get to their popular son and brother. Then Jesus asks a simple question.

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. (Mark 3:33)

No wonder they thought Jesus lost his mind! He couldn’t even identify his mom and siblings?

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:34-35)

Wow! That’s radical! Jesus is starting a new family, a holy people. He’s willing to sacrifice his biological family for a new tribe, club, group. This is shocking!

Growing up in a “good, Christian home,” I always felt close to my sister and parents, my grandparents, and even my aunts, uncles, and cousins. If we were visiting family out of town, we would always attend church with them on Sundays, reinforcing our Christian heritage and bond in Jesus. I married into a family that was…different. Church was generally reserved for Christmas and Easter.

So imagine my surprise at my life in 2017. Two weddings last year led to major division among my Christian family members, while many members of Heather’s family are closer to me than my own flesh and blood. I keep reminding myself all families are messed up…including mine!

I’m beginning to better understand Jesus’ words about family. Perhaps what matters most isn’t your blood but your relationships. I’m certainly not saying family doesn’t matter. Quite the opposite. Family is incredibly important, but to Jesus’ point, relationships matter more than family. Jesus did not abandon his mom and brothers. He merely extended his family to include all God seekers, or more accurately all God followers.

So What?

Are you a part of Jesus’ family? I didn’t ask if you attend this church or believe in God or were born in the USA. I’m asking if you are part of Jesus’ family. Do you do God’s will? Do you obey God? Are you truly a follower of Jesus, his life, his death, his resurrection, and his teachings. I’m not talking about religion, but rather righteousness and relationship.

Jesus invites you and me to join his family. We are welcome to become sons and daughters of the Most High God, thus becoming the brothers and sisters of Jesus. In fact, if we follow Jesus today, we are closer kin to Jesus than even his mother and brothers! That’s incredible! No matter your family of origin, you can be born again, become a new creation, receive the gift of eternal life…and an abundant life now. I’m so glad I’m a part of God’s family…not because of anything I have done, but rather because of what Jesus did in inviting us to follow him.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2)

some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • The First Followers, 23 July 2017

    The First Followers
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 3:7-19

    Series Big Idea:
    The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: The Messiah invites us to follow him…in making disciples.


    Today’s text contains two paragraphs…two stories. They begin similarly. If you recall last week we looked at the Sabbath, a day of rest, a day to play. Did you have a play day in the past week? Did you rest? There’s so much that can—and will—be said about Sabbath, even from science. It seems like every year I read another major report stating the benefits of sleep, breaks, vacation, recreation…and the danger of working too many hours.

    I found it timely that while working on today’s sermon, my daughter, Rachel, wrote a blog post entitled, “Time Out.” She begins

    I used to hate it when my parents put me in "time out" as a kid. Sitting and doing nothing felt like torture when all I wanted to do was play. Now, I dream of sitting and doing nothing, even for just a few minutes.

    She then talked about the Sabbath she spent with her husband, Mark, driving three hours to a Lake Michigan beach for the day despite plenty of work to be done at home.

    Jesus rested. He withdrew. He took time outs. He said…

    “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)

    We’re continuing our series on The Real Jesus from the gospel—or “good news”—of Mark. In chapter 3, Jesus is criticized by the religious leaders who then begin to plot how they might kill him (3:6). Needless to say, Jesus flees the religious leaders and verse seven says…

    Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. (Mark 3:7)

    If you think you’re busy, imagine what it would be like to be Jesus!

    I’ve been to this lake. It is beautiful! It’s often called the Sea of Galilee but today’s it’s known as
    Kinneret, Lake of Gennesaret, or Lake Tiberias. It’s about 13 miles long, 8 miles wide, and about 700 feet below sea level, the lowest freshwater lake on Earth.

    When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. (Mark 3:8)

    The crowds were from the entire area. He was in danger not only from the religious leaders but the mob. He needed bodyguards!

    Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. (Mark 3:9)

    This was their exit strategy, their safety plan!

    For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. (Mark 3:10)

    Everyone likes free medical care!

    Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him. (Mark 3:11-12)

    I love these verses! The demons recognized Jesus. They called him the Son of God. But Jesus didn’t want his true identity to be revealed just yet.

    Who is Jesus? The demons know. Earlier God the Father declared Jesus to be his son, in whom He is well pleased (Mark 1:11). We’ll see even nature knows. But the people were clueless, the religious leaders were in denial, and even after a death, resurrection, and a global movement of billions of people there are still billions who have never heard of Jesus or deny he is the Messiah.

    Why does Jesus tell the impure spirits to keep quiet about his identity? There are many theories, not the least of which is he is obviously a wanted man. The religious are plotting to kill him…and we’re only in chapter 3!

    Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. Mark 3:13

    Jesus retreats again. He withdraws. He must’ve been exhausted after having the crowds not only mobbing him but asking for healing. The mountainside site is significant. It figures prominently in the accounts of Noah, Abraham, and Moses, and Mark will tell us about several important events on a mountain.

    Then he chooses his disciples. John recorded these words of Jesus to the twelve:

    You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:16)

    Jesus called and they followed. The book of Luke tells us before Jesus selected the twelve he “went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12). You don’t randomly pick your team if you want to change the world. You pray diligently for wisdom. God often chooses the most unlikely people to serve Him.

    He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. (Mark 3:14-15)

    Why twelve? There were twelve tribes of Israel, even though it had been more than 700 years since those tribes had been visible due to Jewish exile. Everything Jesus did was giving off clues he was the Messiah. And notice what the twelve were called to do: be with him. Yes, they were sent out to preach and drive out demons, but discipleship is caught more than it is taught. Everything the disciples would do began with being with Jesus. John 15 tells us if we abide—if we spend time with Jesus—we will bear fruit. We are human beings, not human doings, so it makes sense Jesus wanted them to be with him.

    Here’s his motley crew!

    These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Mark 3:16-19)

    Jesus did not call the qualified, but qualified the called. His team was not exactly the most impressive group of men voted most likely to succeed in high school. There were four fishermen, a hated tax collector, a member of a radical and violent political party…no formal leader, scholar, or doctor in the bunch!

    The same is true today. God works through FAT people: faithful, available, teachable. He’s looking for a few good men, women and children today that will follow, surrender, and serve. It seems like he rarely calls the rich, famous and powerful, but rather the meek, ordinary, and humble.

    As I was reflecting on Jesus’ appointed I was reminded of The Alliance General Council four years ago. John Stumbo was nominated for president along with another man. Both gave brief speeches. If memory serves correct, John was wearing a polo shirt, spoke with his usual raspy voice, offered no grand vision or strategy but rather a story about God prompting him to accept the nomination after years of health issues, trials, and struggle. The other man was very impressive, wore a fine suit, had an extensive resume…yet when I was handed a ballot I had no doubt God was calling John Stumbo to the role and he received my vote…and nearly 100% of the vote.

    Jesus prayerfully chose his disciples, men who would follow him and disciple others.

    So What?

    This week I attended my first
    Truth at Work meeting. These monthly gatherings bring Christian leaders together for a morning of fellowship, presentations, training, and accountability. It was a great experience. Being the new guy in a room of about a dozen business owners and non-profit directors I was asked to complete a New Member Introduction Form. One of the blanks to fill was “Company Mission Statement.” Since First Alliance does not presently have a formal mission statement, I wrote, “Love God. Love Others. Make Disciples.” I borrowed those six words from Jesus!

    Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

    Then Jesus came to them and said,
    “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

    Love God.
    Love Others.
    Make Disciples.

    We refer to those words as the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. That’s why we’re here…this church…us…on this planet.

    How are we doing? Our “success” as a church hinges on those three statements.

    How are you doing? I’ve met many Christians who truly love God. They pray, read the Bible, and attend church gatherings, uh, religiously (sorry for the pun!). If Jesus walked in the room, they would give him a huge hug. They love God.

    I’ve met Christians who love others. Like me, they find some people easier to love than others. They are devoted to their friends. They occasionally volunteer to serve the poor. They may even give money to help those in need, forgive those who have wronged them, and pray blessings on their enemies.

    But then we come to making disciples. I can hear it now. “That’s the pastor’s job.” Except that nowhere in the Bible does it speak of discipleship being exclusively for clergy, for professional Christians. Jesus said to his followers, “Go and make disciples.” Hundreds—maybe thousands—of people followed Jesus around. We know of at least one group of 72 who Jesus sent out (Luke 10). In today’s text we see the list of the dozen disciples Jesus appointed. He concentrated most of his time and energy on three—Peter, James and John.

    So who are your disciples? Who are you investing your life into? Do they know it?! Parents, this is an easy one! You are leading…influencing…mentoring…discipling your children every day. They listen to your words…and watch your actions.

    Who are your disciples? Each of us has been blessed with skills, experiences, talents, and gifts. Maybe you are not able to teach the Greek New Testament but you know how to visit someone in the hospital. Perhaps you can’t play a musical instrument but you can invite someone to your home for a meal. You don’t have to be a perfect example, just a living example.

    I’ve heard of churches structured in such a way that every person has a mentor and a protégé, someone discipling them and someone they are discipling.

    One of the great joys I had in Africa was training youth and pastors about leadership. Most people believe a leader is someone with a title, a position, yet my favorite definition of leadership is influence. I remember attending my first elders meeting here at First Alliance thinking to myself, “I’ve got the title, but I’m not the most influential person in the room.”

    Who are you influencing? Who are you investing in? Who are you loving…intentionally?

    I love our church. It’s such an honor and privilege to serve you. But sometimes I fear people put me on a pedestal thinking I’m the minister and they’re just the attendees, the parishioners, the congregation. Brothers and sisters, we’re all called to make disciples. We’re all called to love God and others. Making disciples accomplishes both commands!

    I want to challenge you with one simple prayer:
    God, who do You want me to disciple?

    Maybe you’re in high school. Great! Find an elementary or middle school student to serve. Be a big brother or big sister to them.

    You might be a new believer in Christ. That’s ok, there are plenty of non-Christians in our city who need to hear your story, feel your love, experience your joy.

    Jesus chose twelve but focused on three. What if you just pick one. One person. Ask God for a name. It might be a co-worker, a neighbor, someone sitting next to you right now, or someone you’ll see in the lobby in a few minutes. Pray for them. Take them to Claro this week for coffee. Invite them to your small group or Sunday School class. Send them an encouraging text.

    Love God.
    Love Others.
    Make Disciples.

    Jesus did it. He invites us to follow him.

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Sabbath: Good & Evil, 16 July 2017

    Sabbath: Good & Evil
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 2:23-3:6

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: The Sabbath is a gift…which can be used and abused.

    Our text for today focuses on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a gift…which can be used and abused. If we go way back—to the second book of the Bible, Exodus—we’ll find the Sabbath in God’s Top Ten list, the Ten Commandments.

    Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

    Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

    The Sabbath is a day of rest. God rested on the seventh day of the week after creation. When we rest, we imitate God.

    One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:23-24)

    The religious police have caught Jesus! The Pharisees developed a list of 39 things you couldn’t do on the Sabbath. Sure, God set apart the Sabbath, but these religious leaders took God’s law and expanded it with their traditions and interpretations. Instead of resting and reflecting upon God, they turned Saturday into a day to tiptoe around activities, adhere to checklists, and avoiding technical definitions of work.

    Actually, no laws were broken anyhow. They were not harvesting grain, only picking some to eat. The law made provision for eating, just not harvesting on the Sabbath. Farmers were supposed to rest, but these fishermen were not working, only grabbing a snack.

    If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain. (Deuteronomy 23:24-25)

    God gave the law to serve the people. Note Jesus and the disciples did not harvest with a sickle. The Pharisees were just trying to trap Jesus, but the tables are turned.

    He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” (Mark 2:25-26)

    Jesus did not argue about the Sabbath. He challenges the Pharisees, implying they have never even read the Bible! The letter of the law was not to be imposed when it brought hardship to one of God’s servants. By referring to David, Jesus is implying he is doing God’s business in some way these religious leaders are not.

    Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)

    Boom! The law was made for man, not the other way around.

    Allow me to add this thought: all of God’s laws are for our benefit. That’s because our heavenly Father loves us. He wants what’s best for us. He didn’t just sit around one day and think, “How can I make life miserable for humans? How can I take away all of their fun?” No, like any good parent, He has more wisdom and understanding than His kids and He provides boundaries for our protection and ultimate satisfaction.

    As if Jesus has not already offended these religious leaders, he throws in one more declaration.

    So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28)

    Jesus is the LORD of the Sabbath. Jesus is the LORD of all! The Pharisees were clueless. Standing in front of them was the Messiah, God! Yet all they could think about is their own outrage at this man who is gaining popularity and has a comeback for everything they throw at him.

    A.W. Tozer said,

    “The God of the Pharisee was not an easy God to live with, so his religion became grim and hard and loveless. It had to be so, for our notion of God must always determine the quality of our religion. 
    Much Christianity since the days of Christ’s flesh has also been grim and severe. And the cause has been the same – an unworthy or an inadequate view of God.” 

    Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” (Mark 3:1-3)

    The critics were outside in the grainfields. Now they’re in the synagogue.

    Was this man planted? Probably. They were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.

    Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.  (Mark 3:4)

    I love it when Jesus silences his critics with a question! The answer is obvious, but the Pharisees aren’t looking for truth, but rather a reason to accuse Jesus. Since they didn’t answer his question, he decided to heal the man.

    He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. (Mark 3:5)

    Jesus got angry! Anger is not sin, though we can sin in our anger. Jesus did not carry a grudge, he just recognized the injustice of the moment and their hard hearts.

    The Sabbath was given to Israel as a gift. The religious leaders hijacked it.

    Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:6)

    Don’t miss this: the religious leaders want to kill Jesus. They go out of their way to follow commandment number four about the Sabbath but seem to have no problem with number six…that one about murder! Did they forget? Maybe it was unclear, hard to understand. Here it is:

    “You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13)

    The original Hebrew word,
    rasah, means “to murder, kill.”

    Oh, and let’s not forget this murder would be premeditated! They even plotted with another group, the Herodians!

    Have things changed since then? Not really.

    So What?

    I want to close with two thoughts.

    First, religion is ugly in all of its forms. Legalism. Judgment. Self-righteousness. We might not often think of religion leading to murder, but Mark 3:6 clearly shows us that’s where it can go. And we know their plans were eventually carried out. How can God be linked to such violence? Obviously we see in our own day—and throughout history—blood shed in the name of God and religion. What a tragedy! This has led some to declare organized religion is responsible for the wars of the world, as if communism and other atheistic philosophies have been entirely peaceful! But the point remains, religion can be an adventure in missing the point. The Pharisees were clueless about the Sabbath. They were unable to see God…standing right in front of them!

    One need not go far to see religion today…in our culture. It seems every week another pastor or author is poked, prodded, critiqued, and banned because of something said in an interview or online. Yes, we need to be discerning and avoid heresy, but good luck finding someone with whom you agree one hundred percent. And a disagreement does not mean all of their contributions are trash.

    I get frustrated with intolerant, close-minded, arrogant people in the world who boycott Claro because it was started by a church. Uh, how’s the coffee?! There are Republicans that refuse to associate with Democrats and vice versa. Seriously? We have far more in common than we have differences. If we would stop and listen to one another rather than constantly pointing fingers of condemnation, we would live in a far better world. We need to build bridges, not walls.

    But the same can be said in the church. I want to see diversity…not only ethnically but theologically. There are many things over which we could probably start an argument, but rather than debate, let’s dialog. Let’s seek to understand one another. Let’s truly love one another, explore points of difference, and ask questions. I’m not suggesting this is necessarily occurring here at First Alliance Church, but the Internet is loaded with total strangers heaving verbal bombs at one another, figuratively and sometimes even literally calling for boycotts of individuals and their work. There’s a fine line between criticism and discernment, I admit, but so much of what I see and read is pure Pharisaical religion, people on a witch hunt to attack their so-called brothers and sisters in Christ. No wonder the world is walking away from the church. Who wants to join a dysfunctional family?

    As one of my professors, David Fitch, wrote, “
    We need Christians that can unravel the antagonisms that drive Christianity in America, not make them worse.”

    David Garland writes regarding Mark chapter four:

    (1) The question, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” (2: 16) is answered with a truism: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (2: 17).

    (2) The question, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” (2: 18), is answered with proverbial sayings about not patching old cloth with new or putting new wine into old wineskins (2: 19, 21– 22).

    (3) The question about why the disciples do what is unlawful on the Sabbath (2: 24) is answered with the proclamation, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” and, “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (2: 27– 28).

    (4) In the last controversy, Jesus turns the tables on his inquisitors and provokes an engagement.

    • - Mark: NIV Application Commentary
    Second, let’s get back to our subject: the Sabbath. We need rest. It has been proven in countless studies. We are human beings, not human doings. You need a day off. You need vacation days. Sure, you can survive a week without a Sabbath, but you cannot thrive for long without one. It would be hypocritical for me to get legalistic about the Sabbath, but here’s the bottom line:

    Do you trust God can do more with six days than you can with seven?

    I know, your life is busy. The boss is demanding. The kids are a handful. Deadlines loom. You have to fit in soccer practice, dance lessons, volunteering at Cherry Street Mission, get the car oil changed, grab dinner in a drive-thru…

    I know, it must’ve been easier in Old Testament times. They didn’t have Facebook to check or phone calls to return. No, they had to grow and harvest crops…or die of starvation!

    I was challenging pastors in East Africa to honor the Sabbath. It’s only the fourth commandment…ahead of murder and adultery! The penalty for breaking it was only death! It’s hard for them. Most of them are volunteers. They have a vocation Monday through Friday…or Saturday and then preach on Sunday. Who has time to rest?

    It’s like Stephen Covey says in his classic
    The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, sharpen the saw. A man is cutting down a tree with a dull saw. His friend says, “Stop cutting and sharpen your saw.” He replies, “I don’t have time. I have to get this tree cut down.” His friend counters, “If you take time to sharpen your saw, you will cut the tree down much faster.”

    I know you can’t afford to take a day off…but really you can’t afford NOT to rest. God made the Sabbath for us…to enjoy. Relax. Do only things that fill you. Be unproductive! If you enjoy gardening, garden. If you hate pulling weeds, read a book instead. Often those who do physical labor during the week need to engage in mental activities, and those who exercise their minds for a living may find physical recreation replenishing.

    Sabbath doesn’t just happen. Like a vacation, it requires planning and preparation. Experiment. Don’t overthink it, but find ways to intentionally unplug from busyness and work, from things that deplete you. Psalm 46:10 says

    “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalms 46:10)

    I challenge you to set aside one day a week for rest, to fill your tank, to be with God, a Sabbath. Will God be exalted in your life? It begins with trust, trusting that God is sovereign and in control. Trusting that God will honor your Sabbath. What the Pharisees used for evil we are invited to use for good. And God’s glory.

    Resource: I found this article by Mark Galli helpful, A Theology of Play.

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
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