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“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29

Human beings are always trying to explain how and why things happen. Some pursue this knowledge to gain control over the world and their life. For another the reason may be that they seek some financial advantage this knowledge will give them. For others it’s pure curiosity. The primary motivation for the search may be different but the desire to understand what’s going on seems to be universal for the human race.

I’ve observed, however, that in regards to the most important processes in life the understanding of how things work isn’t required for them to work. When Jesus says, in our focus text, that the farmer doesn’t know how the seed begins to sprout and grow he reminds us that for millennia we had no real understanding about the reproductive processes of plants. We only knew that if we put seeds into the earth they would become plants and if we allowed those plants to mature they would eventually produce more seeds. The seed didn’t require the farmer to understand how it worked it only needed to be planted in the soil.

I’m thankful that we have, through research, come to better understand how many things work but perhaps, as a church, we’re placing too great a need on understanding the how and why. Prayer works but we don’t know how or why it works. Should we hesitate to pray for lack of understanding? Studying the scriptures has the ability to change the life more than the study of anything else. Should our inability to explain the how and the why of this reality hold us back from encouraging others to greater faithfulness in reading God’s word? The Holy Spirit is perhaps the least understood topic of study in all of scripture. Yet even though neither Jesus nor any of the Bible writers fully explains the Holy Spirit it’s abundantly clear that His presence in the life of the Christian is essential to salvation and spiritual maturity.

Some things have to be experienced to be understood at all. Many things in the Christian experience fall into this realm. It’s time we boldly stepped out in faith and obedience trusting in the one who made us

“Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” Mark 4:24-25

My parents were both church school teachers. When I entered first grade I was a one of the students in my mothers classroom and she was my teacher until I completed fourth grade. From fifth through eighth grade I was a student in my fathers classroom. Somewhere in the process of working, and at times playing, my way through elementary school, one, or perhaps even both, of my parents said, “You’ll get as much out of your education as you put into it.” What they wanted us to realize was that while school was at times hard work the amount we would learn was dependent upon how much we were willing to work. I’ve learned over the years that they were right.

Jesus in our focus text is giving a similar message to his disciples only his message carries a profound twist. While it’s true that we’ll grow spiritually in proportion to the amount of effort and faith we invest into learning all we can in the school of Christ; did you notice that he said more than that in our focus text? He said, “With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

With the same measure you use. It’s not enough to merely learn. Yesterday we observed that everything has a purpose and this truth applies to knowledge as well. Knowledge has a purpose and if knowledge doesn’t translate into action Jesus says that no more knowledge will be given.

In Hebrews chapter five, the Apostle Paul laments that the people he’s writing to need someone to teach them things that they ought to by this time be teaching others. Then in verse fourteen he observes that more advanced understanding comes to those “…who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern…”

Faith is knowledge that leads to action. Scripture tells us that “without faith it’s impossible to please God.” And that “the just shall live by faith.”

To many times we leave ourselves limited and stunted, wondering where we went wrong, and why after years of going to church we’re no closer to being the child of God we ought to be than we were years ago. Could it be that the missing element is action? The action of demonstrating and sharing faithfully the knowledge we have with others?

“Also He said to them, “Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lamp stand? For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.’ ” Mark 4:21-22

Our focus text today reminds me of a song I used to sing in sabbath school when I was a child.
“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine , let it shine, let it shine.”
The song goes on to say that I won’t hide it under a bushel, I won’t let Satan blow it out, I’ll shine it round the neighborhood, and I’ll let it shine till Jesus comes. There may be other verses but those are the ones I know.

The message of Mark 4:21-22 is that everything has a purpose and everything has a place. The purpose of a lamp is to give light and the place place for the lamp to fulfill its purpose is on a lamp stand.

Mark has paired this parable with the parable of the sower. This connection tells us that that the metaphor of the lamp should be understood in connection with the Word of God.

Everything God has made has a place and a purpose and God has given his word to this world so that it might fulfill a purpose. God desires to restore his relationship with us. God’s word proclaims this desire, tells us how to begin a new relationship with him and how to grow and mature in our knowledge of God.

Satan and sinful men may attempt to obscure or hide the word of God from the world but as our scripture says, “there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.”

God’s Spirit works day and night to bring God’s word home to our hearts and those who have received his witness join in the call.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine

“But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.” Mark 4:7

We’ve spent the last few days considering three kinds of spiritual conditions that effect our relationship to God and his word. The first, the path, illustrates the reality that sometimes the proclaimed word is obstructed by the devil so that it never breaks through to the hearer. The second, the rocky soil, illustrates the weakness that results when the word is received wth an attitude self-righteousness. The third, the weedy soil, tells us how the word is obstructed when we allow time and space for temptation. Then comes the good soil. The results of the word being received by a “good soil” person are described but we’re left to question, “What does it take to make soil good?”

Jesus doesn’t answer the question in the scriptures. But I don’t think he needed to. Most of his hearers, for many centuries to follow, were farmers or the children of farmers and they understood what had to happen for soil to be good. It’s not that way today. Food today is grown by a comparative few so we’re not as familiar with how soil becomes good.

No soil is naturally good. In the same way no heart is naturally open to the word of God. Soil and hearts must be broken in order to be made good. Being broken means that the weeds and rocks that would obstruct the plant are removed. Being broken means that the soil is loosened so the it can receive the seed and accept the penetration of the root.

The good news is this. Any soil, if it is properly broken, can be made good. People know what’s required to grow food in the desert, in the mountains, in the prairie. You name the place and we know what’s needed to grow food there. Sometimes great effort is required. Sometimes there are limits to what foods, and how much should be grown. But if a person is willing to carefully plan and do the work something can be made to grow in any soil.

Jesus is willing to make the effort to make your life fruitful. No matter your past. No matter how impenetrable your life seems to be. No matter how numerous the obstructions of the rocks and weeds of life seem to be, Jesus is willing and able break your heart and make it new.

“And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.” Mark 4:7

It doesn’t take any work at all to grow weeds. You don’t have to till, plant, fertilize or cultivate. Carelessness is all that’s needed. Before you know it thorns and briars are growing in abundance taking over the plot of ground that was intended for the precious food or flower.

The same is true when it comes to sinful habits and character traits. No vigilance is required. All you need to do is let down you’re guard and there you go; everything’s a mess, just the way it used to be. There is no struggle to develop a desire for or a taste for sin. When we find ourselves following after those things we’re following our own desires.

But grace must be nurtured and cultivated. “Grace can thrive only in the heart that is being constantly prepared for the precious seeds of truth.” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 50). The seeds of sin are, like those of the weeds, constantly in readiness for the opportunity to grow. And they wait in abundance ready for any opening carelessness might bring. The focus of anyone that chooses to follow Christ needs to be: how can I cooperate with what God is trying to do in my life? What do I need to do to nurture the precious seeds of godliness the Holy Spirit is planting in the soil of the character of my life?

Many times the seedlings of sin look to us just as valid, just as innocuous, just as beautiful as the seedlings of God’s grace. But we must not give opportunity for sin in our lives no matter how it may appear. We must not trust our own perceptions. God’s word draws the line that defines where righteousness ends and sinfulness begins. We must not give ourselves permission to open the door to allowing sin to grow in our lives if we’re to ever experience the fullness of sanctification in our lives.

It’s so easy to make excuses. It’s so natural for us to come up with reasons and rationalizations. But grace must be nurtured and protected if it’s to flourish. God has given so much for us to have this chance to have a life with him. He’s promised to give us strength and to help us in our need. Today, let’s receive of God’s grace once again and make no room for sin. Continue reading “The Sower Part Three”

“Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. ” Mark 4:5-6

The second seed and soil combination illustrates what happens when God’s word is proclaimed and people quickly “receive it with gladness” but don’t adequately prepare themselves so that their relationship with God’s word can endure trial and tribulation.

The people represented by the stony ground are weak, not because they heard and accepted God’s word quickly and gladly but because they accepted God’s word according to their own righteousness and expectations. The Bible contains the record of many who quickly heard the witness of Jesus, accepted it, and decided to follow yet endured. What’s necessary to ensure that you’re not a stony ground hearer is that you be willing to fully count the cost of accepting the call to follow Jesus.

Selfishness and self-righteousness have no place. There can be no endurance and maturity in the life that pursues a relationship with God on it’s own terms, in it’s own strength, according to it’s own standards. A relationship with Christ demands that self be denied, that our expectations be submitted to the direction and will of God, that our understanding of right and wrong be directed, not by self, but wholly and only by the word of God. Anything less is of self and is a shallow, surface, relationship that cannot endure the trials that will come to test our connection with Christ.

If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us need to admit that there’s a great deal of self in our relationship with Jesus. We’re very happy to accept Jesus, just don’t ask us to change this or that in our lives. So we keep doing our jobs even though doing so compromises our convictions of what truly serving God and his people really means. We keep entertaining ourselves even though we know we’re stepping over the line from godliness into wickedness, sensuality, and violence. I could go on…

Friends, any weakness in our submission and surrender to Jesus will be revealed by the trials this life will bring. Truly following Jesus requires that today we willingly leave our strength, our lives, and ourselves on the altar for Jesus and claim as our only possessions Christ and his righteousness.

“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it.” Mark 4:3-4

Jesus has begun teaching in parables. Perhaps the most important thing to remember about parables is that the specific lesson or lessons being taught by the parable may in fact be the only truth presented. It is perfectly acceptable to present a story that is a complete fiction or fantasy to make your point. What’s important is the lesson.

In today’s focus text Jesus is using the work of a farmer planting in his field to teach about the spreading the word of God throughout the world. The soil the seed falls on is the hearer and the seed itself is the word of God.

As the word is proclaimed the first soil mentioned is the wayside or a path. This seed is then eaten by the birds. Jesus later explains that this seed and soil combination illustrates what happens sometimes when a witness is proclaimed. Sometimes before the listener can really take in what has been said to them Satan interferes and destroys any affect God’s word may have had that day.

It’s important to remember this when we join Christ in the work of witnessing. It’s not just us and the people we reach out to. Satan is there as well, ready to work whatever mischief he needs to to keep his victims where he has them. The phone might ring, pets might interrupt, children might suddenly need attention and before you know it the opportunity is lost, the message forgotten, and all the witness can do is wait to try again at another time.

Too many times we don’t take into account that we have an enemy that’s hard at work building his own kingdom, and seeking his own ends; in opposition to Christ. I’m not suggesting that we become spiritual conspiracy hunters, there are better ways to use our time. However, remembering that there is opposition helps to keep our expectations realistic. It also reminds us that in witnessing, like everything else, we always need to be relying upon the help of Jesus. Only then will we be effective. Only then will we be safe.

“And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.’ ” Mark 3:34-35

For most people family isn’t as important to who we are as it used to be. From the days of Noah on forward who you were was directly linked to, and affected by, who your father was and who your brothers and sisters were. But today it’s far easier to disregard family and do your own thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying family isn’t important. I believe that family is still the most powerful factor in influencing our lives. That being said, it’s far easier to read what Jesus said in our focus text and nod our heads in agreement and then live our lives according to this reality we’ve chosen than it would have been for the disciples Jesus had sitting around him. It certainly wasn’t an easy reality for Jesus to live. In traditional Jewish culture family had authority over you, even as an adult, and Jesus was denying them that control over his life.

But this denial of family authority was enacted so that he could acknowledge and follow the direction of the oldest and most central authority in all our lives, God. In his words Jesus wasn’t so much denying family its rightful place as he was returning it to it. Family cannot be a substitute for God. And family ought not have a greater influence in how we live our lives than God and those that follow Him.

This can be a hard reality to embrace. Most of us have spent life times working for the approval and acceptance of family. I know I have. For some, though, the journey to even find family has been a long and hard fought one. But remember this. You have a creator, your Heavenly Father, and he loves you, and he’s been working every day, since long before you were born, to make a way for you to find him. He and those who follow him are in every as legitimately your family as anyone linked to you by DNA. To put God first doesn’t deny family, rather, it acknowledges our oldest relationship. Our relationship to God.

“No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.” Mark 3:27

When I was a boy, only about six or seven years old, in sabbath school, we loved to sing the song, When He Cometh. It’s a wonderfully energetic hymn about Jesus coming and gathering the jewels he will use to adorn his crown. The last verse and chorus are the climax of the song, and my favorite part, and they go like this:

Little children, little children, Who love their Redeemer,
Are the jewels, precious jewels, His loved and His own.
Like the stars of the morning, His bright crown adorning,
They shall shine in their beauty, Bright gems for His crown.

I thought of this song as I was considering our focus text today. The song is so joyful that it makes it seem as if the gathering of the jewels for Christ’s crown is an easy, simple task. But it’s not. Satan holds power over this world and it’s inhabitants and if Jesus is to claim the jewels, that are rightfully his own, he must wrest them out of Satan’s hands.

In the verses leading up to our focus text the Jewish leaders, in an effort to discount Jesus miracles, had accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of the devil. Jesus had answered them by telling them that that didn’t make sense because Satan would not work against himself. Then Jesus explained God’s method of working for the salvation of men. The first thing God would do is bind the strong man that guarded the house. After this Jesus warned the leaders of the danger of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.

Friends, the Holy Spirit is the Divine agent that is going to come and bind the devil so that Jesus can plunder our captor’s house and collect the jewels he will use to adorn his crown. Before you and I will ever see, hear, understand, or accept Jesus the Holy Spirit must come and subdue Satan and break down the control he has in our lives.

I’m so thankful that even before I was ever interested in knowing Jesus, the Holy Spirit was hard at work battling for the opportunity to show God’s love and acceptance to me

“Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind.’ ” Mark 3:20-21

Many years ago I read a book by the author Dr. Gary Chapman, called The Five Love Languages. In this book Dr. Chapman talks about how it’s been observed that people give and receive love in five different ways: gifts, quality time, acts of service, physical touch, words of affirmation. He also observes that while we’re all capable of using all five languages each of us best understands, and therefore prefers, one of these love languages. The purpose of the book was to help us understand each other and learn to communicate effectively the love we have for each other.

Part of the fun of the book was identifying the love languages of Cheryl and myself. We quickly decided that Cheryl’s love language is acts of service. Which explains why taking out the garbage and making the bed is so important to her. It’s not just considerate and helpful it very clearly says, “I love you.” Words of affirmation was identified as my love language which explains why my whole life I’ve been like a little kid with a never ending queue of show and tell items. In people’s complements I hear the message that I’m appreciated and loved.

Dr. Chapman also observed that just a clearly as love can be communicated via these five avenues of communication we’re also able to be profoundly hurt one another by the misuse of the love languages. So if making the bed and taking out the trash says to Cheryl, “I love you.” Then if I start leaving the bed unmade and letting the trash pile up I’m saying, “I don’t care about you.” loud and clear.

In the Gospels, Jesus: touches, heals, serves, provides and affirms. His life was filled with profound acts of love in all five languages. But very seldom do we read accounts of his receiving messages of love. Far more common are the words and actions of sensor and condemnation, like the ones his family sent in our focus text. “He’s out of His mind.” Isaiah 53 prophesied that Jesus would be a man of sorrows, despised and rejected by those to whom he came to prove his love.

Humanity may have failed to be loving toward Jesus when he came 2000 years ago but today we can show our love for him in our worship and in our acts service toward those that he loves so much.

“Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses…” Mark 3:14-15

If I’d been covering this verse according to its order this entry ought to have been written before yesterday’s post but it now appears that yesterday’s accident may have been God’s leading.

There’s so much sickness and pain in this world. Just last night one of my church members took a fall from a ladder that will most likely leave him with permanent paralysis. While at the hospital I was speaking with others that were waiting for news and there were other ailments to talk about: high blood pressure, low blood pressure, diabetes, elevated cholesterol, the list goes on.

Inside my own home and church community there are scores of cases needing the healing hand of God. At present I know two pastors whose spouses have terminal brain cancer. In both cases there is nothing that medical science can do to alter the fact that this cancer will take the life of a loving parent and spouse.

Between disease, illness and injury this world is overwhelmed with suffering. When Jesus walked the roads of Galilee the people flocked to see him, bringing their sick and lame so that he could heal them. There was no condition, save unbelief, that the power of Christ could not set right. And when he called the disciples part of his purpose for them was that they also join him in his healing work.

I don’t know if God has adjusted his methods to accommodate the hearts of the 21st century, I only know that I have seen that God is able to still work mightily, through his modern disciples, to heal broken and diseased today. And how the world needs God’s healing. As much as we’ve learned about mending the human body there’s still so much that medicine can’t repair.

Christ, through the Holy Spirit, endowed the disciples with the power of God to heal and he can do the same today. O Lord, grant us the faith to believe and accept your will and your power to bring healing to the suffering in this world.

“Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons.” Mark 3:14-15

It was my junior year in college and the morning started just like every other. I woke up, climbed down the ladder from the loft, where my bed was located, and head to the bathroom. Several minutes later, after I’d showered, I came back into the room and began to get dressed. At this point my roommate came down the ladder from his bed and I turned to greet him. He looked terrible. His face was pale and he was shaking. Before I could asked he what was wrong he began to tell me.

He’d been dreaming and in the course of his dream he’d been possessed by a demon. He briefly described how that experience had felt and how scared he’d become. Then he told me that at the same time as this possession had happened he’d woken up but his coming awake had happened so smoothly, in relation to the dream, that he wasn’t sure if the possession had been part of his dream or had really happened when he was waking up. He was so scared that he spent the remainder of the night wedged into the corner of his bed, afraid to move because he didn’t know if he’d have control of his actions if he did.

So that morning, as one of the best friends I’ve ever had literally sobbed onto shoulder, I prayed, and asked that Jesus would banish the presence of Satan from us and our room. And I believe he did.

It’s easy or many, in the western world, to believe that the devil isn’t real. But the testimony of scripture, and the experience of billions in other parts of the world, tells us that there are demons in this world and they seek to influence and control.

Jesus came to conquer sin and Satan and if we’ll genuinely enter into a relationship with him he’ll give us authority to set people free from the power of the devil in their lives. But we have no authority without Jesus and he’s not merely a talisman or a name to be invoked. We must know him and have him in our lives as our God, Savior, and friend. And if we’re submitted to God the devil will flee from us. (James 4:7)

“Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, ” Mark 3:14

In the Revelation 12:11 the faithful are described as having overcome the attacks of the devil ” by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony.” It’s so easy to fall into sense of living where we act as if we believed that we would overcome by the blood of the lamb only. But while it’s true that only the blood of Jesus has the power to save us and cleanse us from sins guilt more is required if we’re going to be victorious over the continued onslaught of Satan’s attack as he tries to regain his captives. Jesus obviously knew the importance of engaging in the witness to others because when he appointed the twelve part of his purpose for them was to send them out to preach.

The effective of deepening the impact of lessons learned through the exercise of the student becoming the teacher can be illustrated by my experience in South Korea. When I went to Korea as a student missionary in the early 1990s my primary job was teaching English. And I spoke very good English, thanks to the faithful correction of my school teacher parents. And while my spoken grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary were excellent; my knowledge of the grammatical rules and spelling were quite poor. In many cases my Korean students knew the rules of English grammar better than I did.

So every day I would prepare for class by relearning the rules I would teach that day. And every day in class I would explain the rules and give examples of proper application of the rules. Gradually, with the combination of study and teaching I’ve become pretty knowledgeable when it come to the basics of English grammar. Teaching, in fact, matured and cemented my understanding of the grammatical rules.

As a pastor, I’ve found that my years of teaching and preaching is producing the same kind of effect in regards to spiritual knowledge. I believe that it’s because of teachings ability to reinforce lessons learned that Jesus included witnessing in the discipling curriculum for the twelve. And I believe that we still need teachings benefits today.

Friends, Jesus is coming soon. Before he comes trials will come that will test or knowledge and faith to the breaking point. Everyday Jesus gives us opportunity to witness for him as part of his preparation of us for that time. Let’s be faithful students and teach as our Savior directs

“Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him…” Mark 3:14

It’s said that when it comes to physical health that you are what you eat. Well, when it comes to spiritual health, I believe that the Bible tells us that, we are like what we are with.

Now I’m not trying to make an argument against video games, however, Cheryl and I noticed with our children that when they’d played them for a while there was a change in their attitudes and behavior, and not for the better. You’d think that a person would get along with the ones they’d just spent time playing with but that’s not the way it worked. So much arguing and fighting.

And the same rule about time holds true when it comes to the people we spend time with, and the places we go to, and the others kinds of activities we do. We’re like what we spend our time with.

That’s why when Jesus appointed the twelve the first thing he appointed them to do was to spend time with him. This wasn’t just some symbolic privilege that told the world that these men held a higher rank than others. Jesus couldn’t care less about rank, but he did know that if his disciples were going to become the people he and the world needed them to be they had to spend time with him.

I’ve heard it said that when it comes to character development most of the lessons and values we learn are “caught not taught.” This is just a clever way of saying to teachers, preachers, and parents, that the majority of the lessons we teach, we teach because of the kind of person we are and not by the things that we carefully plan to say.

It seems that this aspect of human nature has remained unchanged over the millennia and Jesus, in his preparing of the twelve disciples for the work they were being called to do, leveraged this reality into a training asset. The first ingredient of a disciple of Christ would be that they would spend time with Jesus.

How much time do you spend with Jesus? It doesn’t have to be alone time but it does have to be Jesus time. Only time with Jesus will meet the needs of your life and satisfy the spiritual hungering and thirsting you have. Only time with Jesus will transform you into a mature son or daughter of God. Only time with Jesus will clean off the rough surfaces sin has left on your life and make you blameless, without blemish. Only time with Jesus.

“And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him.” Mark 3:13

When I was in college I worked in the residence hall as an RA. One week, at the weekly staff meeting, the RA leading the worship that evening chose to have each of the staff say what they admired or appreciated about one of the other staff members. This went on for many minutes with each person first choosing someone to say something about and then that person choosing the next and so on. We had nearly progressed through all the staff when the worship leader became concerned with the amount of time it was taking and decided to end the process. I was one of the three or four that had not yet been chosen and I still remember the sense of loss and disappointment I felt knowing that I would never be chosen.

There is within each one of us a deep and unavoidable need to be wanted and appreciated. So many are hungering for someone to show them or tell them that they are wanted. And in this sinful world there are so many signals of indifference and disrespect sent each day that most of us need reminding or assuring that the message we got yesterday still applies today.

Our focus text tells us that Jesus “called to Him those He Himself wanted.” We don’t know how many were called that day. A few verses later we’re told that Jesus appointed twelve of that group on the mountain to be his disciples. Later on, when he would actually send his disciples out to witness for him a group of 70 were sent out two by two. It’s possible that there were that many or even more on the mountain that day.

When it comes to wanting people, Jesus wanted every person in the world and he was exercising a plan so that he could claim every single man, woman, and child on this earth as his own. Those on the mountain were called that day because they were ready to begin being prepared to be witnesses to Christ. They would be taught to lift up Jesus so that all the world would be drawn to Him.

Each of us has heard the message that we’re wanted by Jesus. Someone has been used by our Savior to pass that message down to us. It’s now Jesus’ desire that we extend the chain of the beloved by sharing with someone else the message that they too are loved and wanted by God. Too many times we cut the witness short and people leave disappointed and hurting, not having heard the words Jesus wanted them to hear. Let’s be faithful and help Jesus show the world that they are wanted.

“Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.” Mark 3:6

In Israel, in Jesus’ day, the Jews were divided politically into three different groups.

First there were the Pharisees. They were spiritually very legalistic and conservative. Culturally they were against any expression of identifying themselves with Rome. This would have been to accept their rule over them and that was unacceptable.

After this came the Sadducees. These were culturally in many ways still outwardly Jewish. Spiritually, however, they had abandoned some core beliefs, like the resurrection of the dead and the eternal reward of the righteous. They believed that the only rewards you would receive would be in this life and this resulted in a willingness to be selfish, grasping, and to be much more willing to adapt to Roman rule.

The Herodians, while still considering themselves Jewish, also thought that it was fine to see themselves as Romans as well. Religiously they could be very willing to compromise their beliefs. And culturally they had very much adapted themselves to the Roman way of living.

Generally, the Pharisees would have shunned the Herodians, see them as ritually unclean and traitors to the Jewish people, but when it came to Jesus they were willing to make an exception. Jesus was a danger big enough for these natural adversaries to decide to work together.

What had Jesus done? He had rejected the Pharisee’s traditions regarding the Sabbath and instead held to a simple obedience to the words of scripture. This could have probably been tolerated if Jesus had not also been very popular with the people. Multitudes followed him from all over Palestine. And in the towns and villages, it was no doubt being discussed, how he had reasoned more authoritatively from the scriptures than the scribes and Pharisees.

In short, pride and ambition fueled their hatred of Jesus. Right and wrong didn’t matter. It can still be that way today. Prophecy says it will happen again to those who seek to follow Christ. If it happened to Christ it’s good enough if it happens to us.

“Then He said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ But they kept silent.” Mark 3:4

My mother was just a girl that Sabbath morning when they woke up to the news that the husband of one of the neighboring families had died unexpectedly during the night. His widow was nearly paralyzed by her grief and in the early morning hours, as my grandmother endeavored to provide what comfort she could, she realized that her friend was never going to be ready to meet all the people who were going to come calling to offer their condolences that day. Not only was her friend overwhelmed by her chaotic storm of emotions but her house was in a bit of a state of chaos as well.

So that Sabbath, instead of fixing her hair and putting on her best dress and shoes, my grandma put on an everyday dress and apron and spent the day cleaning her neighbors house and helping her receive all the friends and family members that came to comfort and grieve with her.

My mother, Aunt Carolyn, and Uncle Mike, however were not part of the cleaning crew and they went to church as usual. When they got there and it was noticed that grandma was missing people, of coursed, asked where she was, no doubt thinking she might be sick. It then fell to my mother to explain the situation and tell the church family that grandma was cleaning her neighbors house instead of going to church on the Sabbath.

I’m proud of my grandma’s actions that Sabbath morning and I’m proud of the response of her church to her act of Christian charity. One church member told my mother that grandma was a true Christian woman.

In Mark chapter three Jesus has encountered a man in need of his compassion on the Sabbath. Our focus text is his question put to the Jewish leaders who were waiting to see what he would do and thinking that he should do nothing because it was the Sabbath. Jesus did good that day and his example was what guided my grandma’s action 2000 years later. Will you let Jesus example guide your actions today?

“And He said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.’ ” Mark 2:27-28

I remember hearing about a pastor that was providing relationship counseling to an unmarried couple. Though they professed to be deeply in love, nevertheless, they were struggling with their relationship on several fronts. During one counseling session the pastor asked them if they were sexually active. They said that, yes, they were but that they were praying that the Lord would reveal to them what they ought to do about it. This caused the pastor to wonder what kind of signal they were looking for since the Bible is very clear about not having sexual relations outside of marriage.

At this point, some of you may be wondering what this story has to do with our focus text. And it’s this. Both the Sabbath and sexuality are gifts from God. But we can only enjoy the full blessing of these gifts if we are obedient to his instructions about how to celebrate them. And here we run into the problem we sinners frequently have. We’re continually attaching our own ideas to the instructions God’s given and then, like Cain standing next to an altar piled with fruits and vegetables, we’re disappointed that we’re not receiving the blessings we thought we’d receive.

When it comes to the Sabbath scripture specifically warns us about the danger of doing our own thing. Isaiah 58:13-14 says this, “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day … and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord.”

The scriptures are very clear the blessing of the Sabbath comes when we seek for it according to the instructions God’s given. In Mark 2 the problem wasn’t that the people weren’t trying to obedient. The problem was that they were trying to be obedient according to their own rules and ideas of what Sabbath observance was all about. But friends, human ideas, tainted by our sinful natures as they will be, can’t be trusted to know the path of blessing. The only reliable path we can follow is the one Christ has charted for us. And that is one of faith obedience to the Father word, neither adding to it nor taking away.

“And He said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.’ ” Mark 2:27-28

I had a teacher at the boarding academy I went to for high school that had earlier in his career worked at a school located very near a good location for snorkeling and scuba diving. One Sabbath afternoon he and his family were returning from the beach dressed in their swimming gear when they were met by a new teacher, at the school, and his family.

“My brother, do you think swimming is an appropriate activity for the Sabbath?” the new teacher asked.

My teacher noted that his colleague and his family were all wearing binoculars so he asked them what they were doing. To which they answered, “We’re bird watching.”

“I see,” replied my teacher, “As you can see, by what we’re wearing, we’ve been fish watching.”

God desires perfect obedience from his followers and many times, in our pursuit of not doing what we shouldn’t do, we restrict ourselves from doing things that God never forbade us from doing. For those who have actually studied all of God’s instruction regarding Sabbath observance you’ll note that there are very few specific instructions regarding things you should and shouldn’t do. Mostly the activities talked about fall into large categories rather than specific actions.

When God gave us the Sabbath it was so that we would have the time we need, and he desires, to spend together. And his desire is that we “delight” in being with him (Isaiah 58:13-14). That’s why Jesus said that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” God didn’t create us so that he would have worshippers on the Sabbath. He created the Sabbath so that those that love and delight in him would have a day were they could satisfy their desire to be with him and worship him.

Sabbath keeping then is more a matter of the heart. Where is the heart when you’re doing what you’re doing on the Sabbath? If the heart is far from God you’re not keeping the Sabbath. But if your heart is loving and delighting in God who can say that you’re not.

“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.” Mark 2:22

Albert Einstein is credited with saying that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I’m going to adapt this saying and define self righteousness as doing your own thing over and over again and expecting to be made holy.

The context of our focus text is one where the disciples of Christ were being criticized by Jewish leaders for not fasting like the disciples of the Pharisees and John the Baptist. These leaders practiced a kind of righteousness where a person tried to win acceptance with God through adherence to a regimen of religious rituals. The problem with this approach was that God didn’t really want their superficial ritualistic religion and on top of that many of the rituals they were prescribing had nothing to do with the ceremonies that God had instructed his people to do as part of their worship services. But this didn’t stop them from trying to define their relationship with God according to values and activities of their own choosing.

Jesus, however, was trying to teach his disciples to find a real relationship with God. And this meant that they would need to learn about God by learning his values. And they would need to approach him as a community through religious practices of his choosing and not their own.

The only true holiness is God’s holiness. And the only true righteousness man can have is the righteousness Christ gives us through his Spirit. People know that anything they come up with is inadequate but this doesn’t keep us from trying to come up with substitutes.

When Jesus told the Pharisees that they wouldn’t put new wine into old wineskins he was saying that the relationship God is offering can’t be held in the constraints and rules of we’ve been making. Self righteousness must be replaced by the love, humility and purity of the righteousness of Christ.