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“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.

“Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi’s house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples…” Mark 2:15

Who do you intentionally spend time with?

My whole life I’ve spent very little time intentionally with the kind of people Jesus is described as spending time with in our focus text. I know that people are people no matter who they are or what their lives are like. They have the same basic needs: food, shelter, clothing, belonging, etc.; and they get things done in ways that are similar to each other. The saying is true. We all put our pants on the same way. All this being said, I still find that when I spend time with people that are not disciples of Jesus, people who don’t have the same kind of relationship with God as I do, that I have a hard time being comfortable and really enjoying myself.

But perhaps I’m approaching this the wrong way. When I intentionally place myself in the company of the “tax collectors and sinners” of this world am I placing myself there with the purpose of getting comfortable and enjoying myself or do I have a different purpose?

Too often, God’s people have avoided social functions that we’d find unenjoyable and inappropriate because some how we’ve forgotten that we’re not here to get comfortable and find pleasure in the world; we’re here to be witnesses and make a difference for Christ.

One of my teachers when I was in the seminary told us that one day he noticed that each day after work would have gotten out that the same cars were parked in front of the local bar. He realized that if he were to ever meet and influence any of those people for Jesus he would have to start spending time in that bar. So he did. His purpose wasn’t to get comfortable and enjoy what the bar had to offer, rather, it was to go there so that the people there could, through him, come to know Jesus.

This is what Jesus was doing in Mark chapter two; spending time with sinners so that through him those sinners could come to experience the love of God. The self righteous of that time were offended and critical of Jesus’ actions but Jesus didn’t come to this world to soothe the feelings of the holier-than-thous of this world. He came to call the sinners to make a change in their lives. In order to do that he had to get comfortable with being around people who did things that made him uncomfortable.

If Jesus would do that for you and me i think it’s time we started be willing to do that for him?

“When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven you.’ ” Mark 2:5

If you were to ask a Christian what faith is, very early in the conversation you would hear the definition that the apostle Paul gave in Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I like this definition, however, there is degree of ambiguity to it that at times I find makes it not as helpful as I would sometimes like.

Several years ago I came up with an metaphor that I’ve used to help teach about faith. In this metaphor I compare faith to a pair of hands. These are hands that God has given to us so that we can receive grace from him. And the more grace we accept the stronger our faith becomes to meet the opportunities and challenges of life.

About a year ago I read a definition of faith that I really like. I wish I’d taken the time to remember it’s source but I didn’t and who knows if I’ll ever find it again. The definition provided by our forgotten author is this: “Faith is knowledge that leads to action.”

Notice the two parts, knowledge and action. One without the other doesn’t equal faith. Sometimes we know something and don’t act. This knowledge without action is not faith because faith requires action. At the same time sometimes people act with knowledge of God. This action isn’t faith because faith also requires knowledge.

In the story our focus text is taken from we find a man and his friends acting on the knowledge they had that if they could just get to Jesus they would find healing. And they were right. Jesus when he saw their faith gave them the healing they sought and more. Not only did he heal the man’s body he healed his heart as well when he said, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Friends, knowledge doesn’t become faith until you act upon it. If you believe Jesus can make you right, faith will cause you to work with him as he changes you. If you know that he’s leading you to service for him faith will cause you to step out and speak, or do the work he’s called you to do.

It’s time God’s people let him see their faith

“Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ “. Mark 1:41

It was the summer of 1996. I was in my first pastoral district and I’d been a pastor for only weeks. We were working in the rolling hills of upstate New York and in our region there were a large number of summer camps catering to the Jewish population of New York City. Working at one of these camps was an Adventist college student from the Czech Republic name Paula. Paula had arranged to be able to spend her sabbaths with one of my churches and one sabbath she was able to convince a friend to come to church with her. The following sabbath we asked Paula about her friend and Paula told us that her friend didn’t want to come back and her reason made us very sad. She said she wasn’t “holy” like the people going to church there.

I’ll just go on record here and say that I was not aware of anyone in that church that thought they were more Holy than anyone else. We had our problems but I wouldn’t say that self-righteousness was one of them.

What I believe was going on is that in going to church Paula’s friend was made aware of her sinful condition in a way that she was not accustomed to and this put her in a state of discomfort. Added to this is that she didn’t find the same assurance of acceptance that the leper Jesus was talking to in our focus text found when he came to Jesus.

I don’t know what was missing at church that day. I do know that sometimes we can be so wrapped up in getting our fill of the blessings we’ve come to church needing that we fail to heed the promptings of the Holy Spirit to be the hands and voice of Jesus reaching out to assure one of his sin ravaged children that he’s brought to us. I also know that sometimes Satan is present and is able to snatch away the blessings that we do offer. These two scenarios provide sufficient options to explain why Paula’s friend didn’t feel good enough to be comfortable spending sabbath with us.

What’s important, today, is that we not judge. We can’t change the past; we can only work to offer Christ’s best today. And Christ’s best always means that when his hurting children come to us they hear from us Christ’s welcome and willingness to heal.

“Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.” Mark 1:35

People are creatures of habit. Nearly everything we do is the result of training or repetition. From our first breath we’re learning and learning and each and every decision trains us for future decisions and the longer we live the less we have to think about the most common of the decisions we have to make. Habits, resulting from training, guide the majority of our actions. We’re most conscious of the new decisions we have to make because these are not habits and are, in fact, new choices.

Jesus, in most respects, was just like us. He had, in the course of his childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, so nurtured his nature that the pursuit of the Father was habitual. His first priority was to secure his day’s foundational connection to God.

Notice how our focus text says that he arose long before daylight. How long is your time spent pursuing God each day. Five minutes? Fifteen minutes? Thirty? Sixty? While it’s true that time doesn’t necessarily equal quality and sincerity; it’s also true that we don’t realize how much time is required to securely connect our sin damaged hearts to the heart of God. Because of this we take shortcuts in our devotional lives and then wonder why we don’t have the spiritual strength and vigor we need to meet the demands of our lives.

Also, notice that Jesus departed to a solitary place. When we seek connectedness with God we need to, as far as is possible, remove ourselves from the distractions that surround us. Distance isn’t the requirement only solitude. Quietness. Aloneness. In this we can devote our hearts to seek our Savior and listen to him as he quietly speaks to our souls.

Jesus sets the example for us. In the purity and perfection of his untarnished character he still needed this time spent one on one in the presence of his Father. If our unfallen redeemer needed and prioritized this time of intentional solitary pursuit of God how much more do we, who have partaken of sin, need to make the hour of devotion a habit every morning?

Take the time. Make the time. As each day deepens the habit the heart will increasingly open to receive the light from heavens throne and we will drink more deeply of the springs of righteousness the Holy Spirit will cause to flow in our hearts.

“What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” Mark 1:27

When I was in South Korea, working as a student missionary, I was teaching a Bible class one day to about twenty college age students. We were discussing one of the Bible stories in which a person was set free of the control of a demon and I was getting the feeling that there was an attitude of incredulity throughout the class. I was confused as to what was going on until I asked them how many of them believed that their were devils. Not a single student raised their hand but nearly all of them raised their hand to indicate that they believed in angels.

In recent decades, in many of the more “sophisticated” countries of the world, Satan has been running a very successful campaign to convince people that he doesn’t even exist. But friends if we accept this lie we’re setting ourselves up for a very dangerous deception. We’re never more vulnerable than when we’re unprepared and how can we be prepared for an enemy that we don’t believe is real. We can’t prepare and we won’t prepare. And every day we’ll leave ourselves vulnerable to the attacks and temptations created by the devil.

The reason why Satan is so interested in convincing us that he’s not real is so that he can make it easier to convince us that we don’t need Jesus. If there are fewer and smaller enemies then we’re more likely to think we’ve got things under control. And if things are under control we won’t think that we need help and you won’t ask for something you don’t think you need. But this sense of control is all an illusion. Our lives are out of control and they will continue that way until we let Jesus take control.

The Jews, on the other hand, in the days when our Savior lived upon the earth, believed that there were devils but they thought that they were helpless against them. For them this was a bad situation to which there was no solution. And then Jesus arrived and for the first time in any their lives, a person was set free from demonic control. They wondered, can a man control a demon?

Well the answer to that question is no. You and I can’t control the demons, they’re too strong, too experienced for us. But we weren’t created to face them on our own. God created us to be united with him and he can take control of any situation, even ones involving demons, and he will if we ask him to. I’m so thankful to have a strong and loving Heavenly Father.

Astonished

“And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” Mark 1:22

I’ve been teaching and preaching for more than twenty years and I have to admit that, to my knowledge, no one has ever been astonished by what I’ve taught. I know that things I’ve said, combined with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, have changed people’s minds, convinced people of the truth of Bible doctrine and even at times moved them to tears of confession to God but never has anyone acted like, or said that, they were astonished by what they were taught.

I think that perhaps a part of the dynamics leading to the people’s reaction to Jesus was the cultural values they placed on religious teachers and the typical content of the material these teachers had been presenting.

In first century Palestine the scriptures were too expensive for most people to own so access for most people was limited to what they were able to get at the synagogue. Yet they had been taught that they needed to know, understand and be obedient to the law if they were to be accepted and blessed by God. This resulted in them becoming very dependent upon the teachers whom they believed were bringing them life saving knowledge.

But these teachers were not so much seeking knowledge from God as they were looking for scripture to validate their own thoughts, values, and ambitions. This resulted in a lot of very righteous sounding, yet spiritually empty messages.

Then Jesus came teaching with authority and confidence a message that nourished their hearts, rang true to the message of the scriptures, and was in harmony with what the Holy Spirit was convicting their hearts to do. They’d been thirsty for life giving truth so long they were astonished when it came into their midst.

I think the difference now is that so many people are just not really looking anymore. That’s why they’re not surprised. And we’re often part of this distracted, disinterested world. We need to pray that God would awaken our hearts to our need, make us hunger and thirst for righteousness, and lead us into the message Jesus would teach us today

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ ” Mark 1:17

What’s a Christian? “A Christian is a follower of Christ,” is the answer you will hear many people give. Ok, what does a follower of Christ do? Here you’ll get any number of answers from obeying his teachings to living as Christ lived. You’ll even get the point that I’m going to try and make in the next few paragraphs which is, “A disciple of Christ is someone that finds and brings other people to Jesus so that they too can become his disciples.”

It’s right there in the call to those first disciples. “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” I remember singing this verse as a song when a I was a child, “I will make you fishers of men if you’ll only follow me.”

There’s three parts to this verse. The first is “follow me.” Everything that comes after is predicated on these two words. You and I can never become what Jesus has called us to be if we don’t choose to follow him. The choice is ours to make but if we think choose to want the end that God wants for us it all begins with the choice to follow.

After that comes the phrase, “I will make you.” Notice we don’t do the making. To often we say the words, “I’ll follow,” and still insist on doing our own thing. We need to stop doing our own thing. We’re clueless as to what needs to be done, as to what we need to be. We can’t make ourselves into fishers of men. We need to let Jesus make us into what he wants us to be.

The third phrase tells us one result of the changes Christ will make in us. We’ll become “fishers of men.” Everyone who follows Christ, regardless of the differences in how they work, will still be a fisher of men. For many of us we get hung up somewhere at the beginning of our journey with Christ. We give our lives to him. His influence even changes the way we live our personal lives but we fail to grow and mature into followers that join with Jesus in calling for others to join us.

Friends we can’t truly be Christ’s follower if we don’t let him make us into fishers of men. Day by day we need to submit to his leading. Making us each day more and more like him until one day we’re truly his hands, his feet and his voice.

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ ” Mark 1:17

Have you ever tried to follow someone that was very difficult to follow?

When I was attending the seminary I took a job working for a building contractor to help my wife pay living expenses while I was in school. Most days we would work at a single location doing whatever part of the construction work needed to be done that day. But there where some days when one of the crews need additional help to do some particularly difficult task. At these times the crew that was closest to that job site would be called in to assist.

This was before the days of GPS navigation so it was typical for one of the workers to tell the others, that didn’t know the way, to, “Just follow me.”

Well our boss had a habit of not making sure that those who were following him could keep up. He’d abandon them at stop lights. Loose them in traffic. Leave them a stop signs. In his mind it was the followers responsibility to make sure they kept up no matter what.

I, however, believe that when it comes to following, the one leading bears more responsibility than the one following. The leader needs to make sure that they can be followed. Don’t go too fast. Don’t make your path too confusing, if you can help it. Don’t loose sight of your followers. If you break these rules and your followers don’t make it to your goal when you need them to, the fault is almost certainly with the the leader and not the follower.

When Jesus said, “Follow me,” He was committing that he would lead in a way that we could follow. Think about how Jesus led the disciples. Did he ever leave them behind? Never. No matter how slow they followed, Jesus was with them. And he commits to do the same with us. He says, “Lo, I am with you always.” Matthew 28:20.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15

Being on time for appointments is one of those things that isn’t universally valued by people. I am, however, one of those people that places a great deal of value in being on time. If I can help it, I’m rarely late.

I credit my parents with instilling this value in my life. I can still hear both of my parents repeating a favorite saying on the subject, “If you’re not five minutes early, you’re late.” So ingrained was that habit of being on time that I can’t remember a single time when we were late when the cause was a lack of proper planning. Every time something that wouldn’t have been reasonably possible to foresee had occurred causing our tardiness.

Early in my career as a pastor, a mentor advised me that it was helpful, when pastoring multiple churches, to create the impression that you had abundant time to devote to the needs of church members and being on time was important in building it. In fact, he advised that I be about thirty minutes early for meetings and services so that i would be available to talk with people that arrived early.

My family has not always liked having to tag along for these early arrivals but I’ve found that he was right, most people greatly appreciate it when people have a habit of being on time.

The phrase, “The time is fulfilled…”, in our focus text today, reveals that when it comes to doing things, our God is on time. I don’t know about you but I find it comforting to know that God is an on time God. It tells me that we have a God that truly cares about us. It tells me that he cares enough to notice our needs. It shows that he cares enough to make plans to meet our needs. And it shows that he continues to care enough to plan ahead so that he can be ready to do what needs to happen when it was planned for it to happen. It shows me that we can count on our Heavenly Father to care.

To some, timeliness is a matter of small importance. While I don’t agree, I choose not to judge their worth as people and the genuineness of their good intentions by their lack of timeliness. I am, however, very thankful that God has never given me any reason to doubt his love for me. Even in what is perhaps at times a small thing, like being on time

“Then a voice came from heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ ” Mark 1:11

As a child it felt like success came hard for me. I was born with misshaped hips and legs resulting in my needing to wear braces on my legs. This delayed my ability to walk and completely cancelled any ability to run or ride tricycles until they could be removed. I was so young that I remember almost nothing of that time but the two memories I do have are ones of great frustration.

When it came to school I discovered that I was slower learning to read than most of my classmates. I tried to act like it didn’t bother me but it was very hard for me. Learning math skills was slow for me. I was almost always a few and sometimes several lessons behind my classmates. I was ashamed of this but it didn’t seem to matter how hard I worked I just couldn’t keep up.

When it came to playing games like baseball, or hockey, or soccer, or volley ball or basketball; sometimes I had difficulty playing those games. I’ve since observed that I have poor depth perception causing me difficulty gauging how far away things are. This is particularly difficult with small moving objects like baseballs. I got used to never being the first and usually one of the last ones picked for teams.

Praise had to be earned when I was growing up and you can imagine that I got to hear others being praised far more that I ever got to hear it for myself. It just always felt like success was just out of reach.

As an adult approaching fifty success isn’t as hard to find as it used to be. I’ve learned to compensate for the mild dyslexia I have and while I’ll never be a fast reader, most of my learning challenges have been overcome. I now find that fitness is more important than athletics and don’t find myself comparing my abilities with others quite so much. Still there’s a part of me that’s that little boy desperately yearning to be able to do what his brothers and classmates seem to find so easy to do. To get the A on his home work. To be good at things that get you attention. To be able to do something so that someone will say their proud of me.

That’s why I treasure these words spoken by the Father to his Son. “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” It’s good to know that my Heavenly Father doesn’t make it too difficult to earn those words from him.

“There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.” Mark 1:7

Who is Jesus to you? What is your relationship to him? What kind of attitude do you bring when you come to him? Does he owe you? Do you owe him? How much? How little?

Jesus would say of John that Baptist that “among those born of women there has not risen one greater.” Matthew 11:11. No one greater than John. This of a man that wore the simplest, the roughest of clothing. Apparently clothing doesn’t make the man. This of a man that ate the most basic of diets. Apparently the diet doesn’t make the man either. John was neither simple or basic. He was steadfast, courageous, righteous, eloquent, insightful, and, according to the words of Jesus, great. So great that there had never been anyone born on earth greater than he.

Yet, when John compared himself to the Messiah, the one whom God had called him to prepare the world to receive John said he was unworthy to untie his shoes.

John isn’t here talking about a school boy prank, that’s something you’d do to a social equal. John is comparing himself to the actions of a servant, stooping down to unfasten the straps securing the foot ware of the one he serves, and he’s saying, “I’m not worthy to be his servant.”

Many times we feel loving and grateful toward Jesus. But it’s a love and a gratitude comparable to that of a child to a parent or a friend to a friend. But here’s the reality. If we were to compare what Jesus did for us it would be more like this; in the middle of a battle, in the midst of the most contentious of wars, the commander of the forces opposed to us set aside his arms and went behind enemy lines so that he could save as many of his enemies from the destruction of their warfare against him as he could. Even though it meant that we would eventually take him and kill him as the worst of criminals for his efforts.

We’re not worthy of Jesus. What he does doesn’t tell us so much about us as it tells us about him. How much he loves. How faithful he is. How far he will go for those that he loves.

In a large sense our giving of ourselves becomes not our getting for ourselves what we need but giving to Jesus what he deserves, not because we’re so much but because he’s asked for us. He’s asked for us, because he loves us

“John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Mark 1:4

If you ask a group of people what the word repentance means the most common answer you’ll get is that it’s being sorry for something you’ve done. But being sorry is just a small part of most people’s experience of repentance. In fact, there are many that experience genuine sorrow for the sinful choices they’ve made and still fall short of being repentant.

You see sorrow for sin is the motivation for repentance. The rest of repentance, and in my way of thinking, the most important part, is the choosing to turn away from doing what is wrong and choosing to do what is right.

So many times I’ve tried to accomplish repentance with only half of that formula. I attempted to reform my behavior by just stopping what I’d been doing wrong. Experience tells me that this is, as often as not, a recipe for failure. I may not realize what they are but I have reasons for doing the things I do, even the bad ones. And if I don’t make good choices to replace the bad choices I’ve been making I’m leaving a void in my life that is going to ache and cry out to be filled. Failure to take appropriate, healthy, thought out action is going to leave the forces of old habits and tendencies to work their work and will and it’s just a matter of time until that half repented of behavior returns.

I’ve even tried to do the second half without doing the first. I tried to add the good without removing the competing bad choices I’ve been making. That doesn’t work either. Sinfulness is just too seductive for us. If we’re to have success in turning from sin we must do both parts. We must reject and turn from sin and accept and begin to do righteousness. Half way doesn’t count. It’s all or none.

John called the people to repentance in preparation for Jesus’ ministry as our Messiah. Jesus is coming soon and the Holy Spirit is calling us to repentance so we can be ready. We can’t do it on our own so he’s here to help us do a thorough job of repentance. Half measures won’t measure up. Are you in it all the way?

“Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.” Mark 1:3

If you were telling the story of Jesus where would you begin? The gospel writers use the two logical choices open to us. Matthew and Luke start with the birth of Christ and Mark and John begin with his baptism and the beginning of his adult ministry. All four gospel writers, as they handle Jesus entrance into a life of healing and teaching give some tribute to the role that John the Baptist played in preparing the world for the Savior’s work.

In Israel there was already an awareness in some circles that they were living in momentous times. Some scholars had focused their attention on the time prophecies of Daniel and other scriptures pointing the Christ and had deduced that the time for the Messiah was upon them. John the Baptist was a part of this group only he had a special part to play. From conception God had filled him with the Holy Spirit preparing him to be the prophet that would proclaim the Messiah’s entrance. In obedience to this calling John began appealing that the people enter into a work of repentance cleansing their hearts of willful disobedience in preparation for the Savior’s ministry. John was Jesus’ herald going before him calling out, “Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.”

John’s faithfulness in fulfilling his Spirit directed calling resulted in a wave of rededication to God sweeping across the land of Palestine. Because of his faithfulness Israel was better able to recognize and receive the Savior entrance.

At the end of prophetic history, as God is preparing the world once again for the advent of the Savior, once again he will call upon a people to prepare the world. Once again his Spirit will empower his messenger to do the work of repentance and cleansing necessary for his people to stand ready to recognize and receive the Savior.

I believe that even now God is calling us, you and me, to do this work. If we, like John are faithful, our call to the world will be, “Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.” And “’Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” Revelation 22:17.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” 2 Corinthians 13:14

We hadn’t been married very long, at least a few months but not much more, when Cheryl and I had a bit of a spat. I don’t remember what led to the argument, in fact, I barely remember the argument at all. What has lingered with me over the years was one sentence that Cheryl said as part of the exchange, “I don’t know what you expect from me.” And this wasn’t directed toward a specific situation. It was addressing our relationship in general.

For the most part, Cheryl is very clear about what she expects from me and anyone else that’s part of our household. I, however, being a middle child, learned quite young that there wasn’t room for anyone to really care very much for what I might want to expect from family relationships; so my way has been to try and not have expectations of others and just adapt myself to whatever situation is present. This difference in relational strategies is a big part of what led to that conflict early in our marriage. It’s very difficult to know what to do if you don’t what is expected.

The same is true with our relationship with God. What is expected of us? What can we expect from God? Our focus text names three things that we can expect from God: grace from Jesus, love from the Father, and communion from the Spirit. Space doesn’t allow me to talk about all three gifts so, since I’ve been focusing on the Holy Spirit for the last several weeks I stick with him.

Communion is a close relationship or fellowship shared with another person. This is what we need from the Holy Spirit. Every other blessing we’re to receive from him can only come from intimate fellowship with him. If we’re to ever see Jesus face to face or stand blameless before the Father’s throne we need communion with the Holy Spirit today. He’ll take the time to hear what we need to say, to show us what we need to know, to strengthen us for what we have to bear, and to deliver us from what would overwhelm us. What we need from God. What we’ve always needed since the day we were created is time, fellowship and intimacy. The Holy Spirit will give that to us everyday if we’ll accept it.

“And I will not hide My face from them anymore; for I shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel,’ says the Lord God.” Ezekiel 39:29

Why would God hide his face from his people?

The background for the book of Ezekiel is this. God had to punish his people because they had turned from him. They had worshipped other gods and they had done many other things that are hateful to God. In many cases, the children of Israel, in their running from God had adopted some of the most disgusting and horrible practices of the idolatrous nations that surrounded them. It was like they were trying to prove, to them selves and the world, just how rebellious they were.

And for generations God had sent prophets to call the people he loved back to him. He also would allow disasters to come upon them to show them how much they depended on him. And sometimes, briefly they would call out to God to return and protect them. But Israel was, in the end, unrepentant. So finally, God allowed them to be conquered and carried away by an enemy nation. And when they called out to him he refused to listen because he knew that they didn’t really want him. They only wanted his blessings so they they could continue being as bad as they wanted to be.

But even here God promises that his punishing won’t be forever. There comes a time when discipline has fulfilled its purpose and people are ready to choose a different course. At that time God promises that he will return Andre promises, “I shall have poured out My Spirit,” once again.

God’s distance is never because he has chosen to reject us. It comes because we have rejected him and pushed him away. In his effort to win back the children he has lost he allows them to have what they have chosen. A life without him and the blessings only he can provide.

But he’s always willing to return to us when we in true repentance return to him. Or to say it another way. If we want Jesus we will find that Jesus has always wanted us.