Tuesday, July 26, 2016

"Follow Me"...An Opportunity for Hope

Many know well the first twelve words from Charles Dickens’ book The Tale of Two Cities – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The book takes place in both London and Paris and is about two men who are similar in appearance, but are very different individuals. The Bible story we review today is about two people who ultimately have one similar characteristic, but are two very different people.

However, the biblical story opens with a very different opening than that of Dickens’ tale for it was the worst of times for both of the individuals that approached Jesus. One man came because his twelve-year-old daughter was dying. One woman came because she was not well physically and thus she was unwelcome in society. But for one the story quickly changes for the better and for the other, well, his worst fear became reality.

Many reading this post will know the story well. But I encourage you to get a sense at their emotion through the following video. By better understanding their situation, you might better apply the text to yours. You can watch the video here.

If you watched the video, you have heard the message. Now, let me just point out a few principles from the message.

Principle: Jesus is interested in the person, not the people. (Mark 5.30) 
A modern day view of a part of Capernaum

In verse 21, we are given an important bit of information. A great crowd was there to meet Jesus. These are likely many of the same men and women who had been with him when He was teaching in parables in Mark 4.  Verse 24 says that this crowd followed Jesus as He went with the synagogue official, and thronged about Him. With so many people gathered, movement would have been difficult. The picture here is of Capernaum where this story likely took place. The building on the right is a structure over the home of Peter’s mother-in-law’s house. The structure on the left is a synagogue which was built above the synagogue present in Jesus day. The black structures in between are houses and or shops which would have made travelling as a crowd difficult. Furthermore, it would have made the woman’s task of getting to Jesus very, very difficult.

People were everywhere. People were all around Jesus, but only two were serious about Him. And, in turn, Jesus was serious about those two people! Jesus did not come to simply perform a miracle. He came in order to encounter a person. This is why were are to follow Jesus – because that is what He desires. Jesus wants disciples not do-gooders. He wants people who seek Him, not just what He offers. As I have said many times, if we seek what Jesus offers, we may miss Jesus. If we seek Jesus, we get everything. John 14.6 is proof enough of that!

Principle: Everyone will eventually bow before Jesus. (Mark 5.22, 33)

The synagogue official (Jairus) would have known Jesus, and may have been one that extended invitations for Him to speak in the synagogue. As the official, He would have had a good social standing and likely have been wealthy. Mark wrote about Jesus in the synagogue in Capernaum in Mark 1.21 and 3.1.

But the tone of the religious leaders had turned against Jesus the last time He was in this synagogue, so for Jairus to go to Jesus might have been a risky career move.
The ruins of the synagogue in Capernaum from the inside. These
ruins lay above the synagogue during Jesus time period.

The woman on the other hand had nothing. She was culturally ignored (shunned really). Monetarily, she was broke because she had been to many doctors about her issues and none of them could help. In fact, according to verse 26, they had made her situation worse, until she came to the Great Physician. For her, to go to Jesus would be a risky social move.

Both of these individuals came before Jesus and fell at His feet (v. 22, 33). Paul writes in Philippians 2.10-11 that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Jesus as Lord. That is true whether they are well-known and wealthy, forgotten and flat broke, or anywhere in between.

Principle: We can only overcome fear by faith. (Mark 5.36)

The woman was unclean. Her fear was being exposed and punished. Later rabbinic writings show that no teacher was even to touch a woman, let alone one who was unclean. Leviticus 15.19-33 spells out the Law regarding the timing and ritual of a woman dealing with her monthly menstrual cycle. Not only were any people she touched unclean, but any THING she touched was unclean. The social stigma from this would be horrifying. And it had been this way for twelve years.

Jairus’ daughter was born about the same time as the woman’s issue with blood began. So for twelve years, this woman had been in mental anguish while Jairus was celebrating the life of his daughter. Plus for a daughter, around the age of twelve would have been when she started preparing for one of the greatest joys of her life – an upcoming marriage (likely within a couple of years). Now, that joy was gone because she lay dying, and her dad’s joy was gone because he was losing his daughter. Like the woman, the Law was certain regarding the touch of a corpse. (See Numbers 19.11-22.)

It is important to realize that for a few moments, the emotions of the man and the woman switch. The woman becomes well. The daughter dies. The joy and laughter that had been a part of Jairus’ family was now available to the woman. And the agony and despair which had been the woman’s existence was now felt by Jairus. But, thankfully, especially, for Jairus the story did not end there.

Each of these two individuals – the woman and then Jairus – did what was necessary for God to extend a special measure of grace – they believed. Each of them overcame their fear because of their belief. What had been agony was turned to relief. What had been pain and grief was now a time of joy. Two persons who were as different as could be were now intertwined for the rest of eternity.

Principle: Faith is not something that we have; true faith is something that has us.

Certainly, we are to have faith. But as with much of life, sometimes what we have alludes us. One day we have friends, the next day they are gone. One day we have money, the next day it is gone. One day we may feel we have faith, the next day we feel nothing. But we are often defined by what has us or, perhaps, what has us. Are we bound to friends or even family? Are we bound to money? Or are we bound to God? In other words, who, or what, has you?

Jesus said the faith of the woman made her well. Technically it was His power, but she literally tapped into it. Mark 5.30 says that Jesus felt some of the power leave Him. This is remarkable in many ways, but one aspect that we should not overlook is that Jesus healed this woman without any effort. He did not try to consciously heal her, it simply happened. But she had to have enough faith, even if it was not theologically accurate, to approach Jesus and invoke that power. (The word for power here is from the Greek word dunamis from which the English word dynamite is derived.)

Jesus told Jairus that he was not to fear, but to believe. In the moment Jairus learned his daughter died, his biggest fear was over in one sense, in another it was just beginning. But Jesus said, “Believe.” Here was a man whose profession was to help other people live right because of their belief, and now he was being put to the biggest test of his life. But because he chose to believe, what he had thought to be impossible actually happened.

The Tale of Two People

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned Dickens’ book The Tale of Two Cities. At one particular moment in our story from Mark 5, I believe the opening lines of Dickens’ book would appropriately describe the emotions of the two individuals we have briefly reviewed today. That moment is the moment the woman receives not only healing, but is offered peace, and almost simultaneously, Jairus learns that his daughter has died (Mark 5.34-35). Consider the following words which begin the tale from Dickens.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity. It was the season of Light, it was the season of darkness. It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. We had everything before us, we had nothing before us...

What About You?

The woman and the man overcome great fears and therefore experienced something from a great God. Truly they received more than they expected, but first they had to face their fear and believe that Jesus could provide what was necessary for them.

So, what is your greatest fear?

The last couple of weeks we have talked about fear. Two weeks ago, Fairfax had just experienced a major storm and we saw that Jesus calmed the storm on the sea and yet the disciples were more afraid after He calmed the storm than they were during it. Last week, we looked at a man possessed by thousands of demons who terrorized the area, yet after Jesus healed the man, the people asked Jesus to leave because they were more afraid of Him than they had been of the man.

The reality is that to experience real hope, we must face our deepest fears. In Romans 5, Paul writes about this explicitly beginning in verse 3. He wrote that suffering produces endurance which produces character which produces hope. Of course, suffering is not the same as fear, but one fear most everyone has regards suffering – perhaps physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, etc. The reality is that we cannot avoid suffering, but we do not have to be fearful of it. But it is much easier to say (or type) such a statement than it is to live it. But Paul knew had firsthand knowledge because suffered more than most anyone. And Jesus did suffer more than everyone and He is the reason for our hope!

So, what is your greatest hope?

The message today is about two individuals that found their hope in Jesus because of their suffering. One had suffered just a short time, the other for many years.  Both were desperate. But both believed that Jesus could help. Yet, both got something unexpected because they chose to believe. Be honest with yourself and then come before God and be honest with Him.

What is your greatest fear? What will you do about it?
What is your greatest hope? What can you do about it?


The JOURNEY letter for today is: R – Revere.

I am not suggesting living like this is easy, but I am saying that it is possible. The woman who had experienced twelve years of misery was healed with one act of mercy. The man who had experienced hours, or perhaps days became whole when He experienced God’s grace. It is that God that we must worship. We must lift Him up because He is worthy – because we believe.


And because of what God has done for us, we too can provide a similar hope to others. As we do, sometimes it will require us to ask more of people than they think they can give – just like the two in the story today – in order to show a faith worthy of fully experiencing the greatness of God.

Opportunity: We can provide hope to others in the midst of desperate times by asking a little more of them than they expect.

Like last week, I am listing a few principles here from which you can choose as you consider your next step. Consider the steps below and think critically how you might apply one of these principles to your life this week and beyond.

Principle: Jesus is interested in the person, not the people. (Mark 5.30)
Principle: Everyone will eventually bow before Jesus. (Mark 5.22, 33)
Principle: We can only overcome fear by faith. (Mark 5.36)
Principle: Faith is not something that we have; true faith is something that has us.

  • Learn: Consider which principle is most important for your focus at this time in your life.  Meditate and dwell on it for a couple of days.
  • Live: After reflecting on the one principle you chose, consider how you might put that principle into action.
  • Love: How might that principle become part of your everyday life as you love God and love others?
  • Lead: How might you help others instill a strong mindset based upon the principle you chose?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"Follow Me"...An Opportunity to Be Strong


This post is about a man who was an outsider and caused fear among the people. The man was possessed by numerous demons who were agents of the strong man (Satan). But when the man encountered Jesus (the Stronger Man), he was not only healed, but was given an assignment to share His great story about the great God who saved Him.

  • The strong will fight, but becoming humble before Jesus makes us truly strong (2 Corinthians 12.10)
  • Don’t count on a miracle of God to help you to believe! (Matthew 16.1)
  • People often say, “I want to go to heaven.” Jesus wants us to go and serve Him first. (Acts 1.8)
  • One life is worth far more to Jesus than we might imagine.
  • People will talk about Jesus – either for the good or the bad. Which type of person will you be?

As humans we use many terms to describe people who either do things that are unexpected or behave unexpectedly. Many times these people might be our friends, and we might say something like, “He’s crazy.” Or “She’s lost her mind.” But, aside from the issues of Alzheimer’s Disease, what does it look like when someone really has lost their mind, their reason, or their ability to function at all? We may joke about someone going to the “funny farm” but mental illness is a real issue for many today.

And what if the issue isn’t just mental? What if the impact affects the entire body? What if a person has no control over their actions? We rightfully say, “That person needs help.” But what do we mean by that? Does the person need medical treatment? Emotional treatment? Spiritual treatment? What?

In last week’s post, I reflected on the raging storm on the Sea that Jesus calmed. This week, we are going to talk about a raging storm inside a man that Jesus calmed. Specifically, we are going to review the story of a man that was essentially treated as an animal, and had virtually no control over himself. However, when he had an encounter with Jesus, his life changed and served as a witness to the power of Jesus – not only then, but still to us today some 2000 years later.

An Old Testament Parallel

King Nebuchadnezzar (or Nebby for short) was the most powerful king the world had ever known. Nebby was proud of his stature as a great king, but he thought it was all his doing. So God provided a message to show who was really in control. In Daniel 4.30, Nebby says, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” While he was still saying this, a voice from heaven shattered that thought and soon Nebby found himself in the field eating grass like an ox. It says that he remained there until his hair grew as a long as an eagle’s feather and his nails were like bird claws (4.33). Verse 36 explicitly states that his reason had left him.

If we saw someone like that it might make us look twice (at least). And we would think twice about associating with the person for many possible reasons. But Jesus was different. He knew He had an appointment with certain people and so He often sought them out whether they expected Him or not. Certainly, people came to Him at times, and we will see this twice next week, but Jesus made sure He was where He needed to be regardless of who might be there.

Our story today is of a man, like King Nebby, who lived more like an animal than as a human. He lived without clothing (Luke 8.27), among the tombs (Mark 5.3), and was so strong that he could not be bound with shackles or chains (Mark 5.4). He cried out loudly into the night like a wolf might howl at the moon (Mark 5.5).

What are your thoughts at this point? Frankly, if you lived in the area you were probably thankful that he chose to live among the tombs, and you likely wouldn’t go there often for your own safety concerns. But where is there?

Where is There?
Map Showing the Cities of the Decapolis (and Israel)

Matthew, Mark, and Luke each give a different name for the location. This kind of issue causes many to believe the Bible is full of errors. This is why when we say the Bible is without any error, we must mean in the original manuscript. The original authors, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, did not make any mistakes. Translators, though unintentional, might make a mistake for a variety of reasons. Let me give you a quick example using a Hebrew concept. Hebrew words rarely include vowels. So, to use English letters, consider possible words which might be formed from the following consonants: RDR. You might consider words such as rader, raider, reader, rider, rudder (one d doubled), etc. Or consider modern-day city (airport) codes. Some are fairly easy to deduce (STL, St Louis), but others may not make as much sense at first (CDG, Paris), until you do some research. The same is true for Bible translation. While most issues can be resolved by context, when it comes to locations, sometimes multiple possibilities exist. This is the likely cause of the confusion in Mark 5.1. Mark and Luke 8 say “in the country of the Garasenes” while Matthew says Gadarenes. And likely, the place may have been the home of the Gergeshenes.The place is important, but any of these places have one distinct aspect in common – they are on the other side of the Jordan/Sea – which means they are largely Gentile showing that Jesus has come for more than just Israel. Furthermore, it reveals that Jesus is concerned with far more than merely debating the religious leaders of the day. He came to do battle with the real enemy – not Rome (as most hoped Messiah would do), but Satan. Jesus is showing that God’s Kingdom is meant for anyone, if they will respond to His call to “Follow Me.”

The Demons Beg

Principle: The strong will fight, but becoming humble before Jesus makes us truly strong (2 Corinthians 12.10)

The idea of following Jesus leads us back to the man in the story today. The man is strong and at least some of that power comes from the demonic possession. He cannot be contained which would have instilled a great deal of fear in the people. You may recall the post from a few weeks ago when we looked at the passage where Jesus said that when the strong man is bound, the one who does so can plunder the house (Mark 3.27). Well, the strong man is not this man – it is Satan. Specifically, in this passage, verse 9 tells us that many demons possess this man. “Legion” is the name given, and a Roman legion consisted of nearly 6000 people. This many was possessed by MANY demons.

But despite the fact that other men were incapable of keeping this man in shackles, Jesus is able to bind the source of His strength. Jesus is the stronger man who came to bind the strong man and establish God’s Kingdom in the process (Mark 3.27). These demons may be powerful, but in the presence of Jesus all they can do is fall before Him (v6).

But notice, even though they (the demons) must bow before Jesus, they remain arrogant and challenge Jesus! The statement they make is to adjure Jesus by the power of God, not to torment.  The idea here is really in the form of a curse. Basically, they are saying you will be punished if you torment me. This is ripe with irony. They are invoking the power of God against the Son of God. And yet, they proceed to bargain with Jesus on what will happen next. Now, some people struggle with the fact that the demons are bargaining. And all they are accomplishing is the delaying their doom. Truly, they aren’t really bargaining – for as it says, they were begging. Either way, their doom is certain. (Whether or not the demons “died” when the pigs plunged into the sea is a matter of debate, but we can be certain they were rendered harmless, at least for a while.)

As for the pigs, this creates quite a stir in our world today. Certainly, 2000 pigs are a lot of pigs and a very large financial investment which would have created a lot of economic gain for someone and employment for others. When the demons left the man, and entered the pigs, several people would have been affected financially. But, I believe, the key point Jesus is making is that one human is worth far more than 2000 pigs. Certainly, in that day, a Jew would have understood that to be so, except perhaps if that person was a Gentile, which this person almost certainly was. But because of the economic impact, notice how this string of events unfolds.
  • The demons leave the man. Thus the man is free.
  • The demons go to the pigs who then charge into the sea and drown.
  • The swineherder (or pig farmer, as we would say), went to tell others.
  • The others came and begged for Jesus to leave.

The People Beg

Principle: Don’t count on a miracle of God to help you to believe!

The people come begging Jesus to leave. Some probably did so because He ruined their economy. However, I think the bigger reason is they are fearful of Him. Remember last week’s message. Jesus said to the storm, “Peace. Be still.” In Mark 4.41, the text says that the disciples had great fear, meaning in they had more fear after the storm stopped than they did during the storm. A similar truth is found here. Jesus had just brought peace and stillness to this man who was now sitting calmly (in his right mind) and was clothed (Mark 5.15). And the people were afraid!

The people feared Jesus more than they did the demoniac and cared more for their pigs than they did a human being. Before Jesus arrived, they knew their fear. They feared the man whose strength was uncontrollable. He was a mad-man who might not be trusted, but they knew where he lived and could avoid him. But now, someone has come who has the power to not only control the crazy man, but to free him. Whatever they might have thought about Jesus (many likely thought Him to be a powerful magician, because magicians did travel freely in the area during that time period), He was more frightening to them then the man had been, so they didn’t just ask Jesus to leave – they begged Him to do so (v 17).

The Man Begs

Principle: People often say, “I want to go to heaven.” Jesus wants us to serve where we are.

At this point, the man begins to beg in order to go with Jesus. Jesus says, “No.” Jesus did not grant the man’s request to join Him. Many possible reasons including that the man a Gentile might make Jesus’ ministry in Israel even more difficult. BUT, a key factor is that by leaving the man there to proclaim Jesus, Jesus shows that you might get rid of the man, but you cannot get rid of the message!

The title of this series is to “Follow Me…In the Footsteps of Yeshua.” In this instance, to follow Jesus was not to actually follow Him, but to do His bidding. It wasn’t about following in His steps, but rather obeying what He said. Jesus wants the man to share his testimony with those who know him. And the man does.


The story is about a man who has an encounter with Jesus who calms the storm in the man’s life.
The sub-story is about three different instances of begging Jesus, because He is, indeed, in control.
  • The demons begged and Jesus allowed their request.
  • The people begged and Jesus complied with the request.
  • The man begged and Jesus redirected his request.

Jesus again shows His power and was always in control in this situation. Our response, just like the man’s, is to worship and serve Him. The man began by sitting beside Jesus and later sharing the message throughout the Decapolis, which leads to our JOURNEY letter for the week.


The JOURNEY letter for this week is: E – Evoke.

Jesus sent the man to share what the Lord had done for Him. Verse 20 says that everyone marveled. This does not mean that they were saved, they were simply amazed. But sometimes, sometimes, that is a start! What began as fear became an opportunity of hope for all of the people in the Decapolis region.

Opportunity: When we begin to understand what Jesus is truly doing, our fears will subside, and we will follow Jesus in word and in deed.


Learn: Consider any fears which keep you from living for Jesus and sharing His message.

Live: What can you do this week to begin to overcome your fear to live for Jesus? Don’t just think about it. Do it!

Love: The Great Commandment is to love God and love others which requires us to share God’s message with others who need to know it. Will you overcome a fear to share God’s message with someone who does not know it this week?

Lead: Based upon your own experience, how might you help others overcome their fear to live for Jesus and share His message?

"Are You Ready to Go?", A Closer Look by Reggie Koop

Key Scripture: Mark 5:20, “And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him:  and all men did marvel.” (KJV)

Notice what this man did, he did exactly what Jesus told him to do.  He went. He did not hesitate. He did not make any excuses. For instance, He did not say:

“I don’t have enough education.”
“I don’t have time.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“The people won’t listen to me, they know me.”

He did not argue, He went.

Where did He go? He went to a region known as the Decapolis (in Greek, deca means ten; polis means city). This region was a loosely connected group of 10 cities located mostly East and Southeast of the Sea of Galilee.  The region was set free from Jewish domination by the Roman general Pompey when he occupied Palestine in 63 B.C.

Each of these cities were semi-autonomous but were grouped together because of their cultural similarities, which was predominately Greek. According to a Pliny the Elder, a Roman historian, in his Natural History, completed by 77 A.D. the 10 cities were:

Damascus (modern day Damascus, Syria)
Philadelphia (Amman, Jordan) – not the same as the church in Revelation
Raphna (Albia, Jordan)
Gadara (Umm Qais, Jordan)
Hippus (Hippos or Sussita, Israel)
Dion (???, Jordan)
Pella (Pella, Jordan)
Gerasa (Jerash, Jordan)
Kathan (Qanawat, Syria)
Scythopolis (Beth-Shean, Isreal) which was the only city west of the Jordan.

Regarding the man, Jesus had work for him to do. He was to go home to his friends and neighbors and tell them what Jesus had done for him and the compassion He showed him. He had a personal testimony.  Just like you and me.  Jesus changed him. People want to know your testimony – how Jesus has changed and affected you.

We might say He could have been the first missionary.  This man was told to go out and tell about Jesus Christ.  And the opportunity to accept Jesus is there. Isn’t this what a missionary does?

Consider the Great Commission from Acts 1:8:
“But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you:  and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (KJV)

Let’s paraphrase that for our setting:
Go home (to your family)
Go to your neighborhood (your neighbors)
Go to your town (friends, neighbors, enemies)
Go to your county (co-workers, neighbors, enemies - your sphere of influence)
Go to your state
Anywhere you go

What was the effect? “All men did marvel.”  I’m sure that most people around knew about this man – what he was like and how he behaved.  He was out of his mind.  But if you look back at verse 15 he was in his right mind.

But that’s all we know.  Hopefully seeds were planted.  We can assume seeds were planted if a church grew in Philadelphia, for instance. We don’t know if any one accepted Jesus.  I believe it is the same today. Many will marvel, many will hear, many will see, but few will follow.

We are to plant the seed and God will cultivate it.

How can be apply this to our lives:
1. Seek opportunities.
2. Pray
3. Go
4. Get ‘r’ done.  Give your testimony.

As Peter wrote in his letter, “…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason to the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,…” (1 Peter 3.15)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

"Follow Me"...An Opportunity to be Calm(ed)

(NOTE: This post contains the content of the original sermon I was planning to preach. Due to a severe thunderstorm with high winds of 136 mph causing major damage in the area, I altered the message the night before the sermon. Some of those notes will be posted at my personal blog fotonni.blogspot.com.)

Have you ever asked the question which kind of storm would be the worst? While it is possible for almost anywhere to have an effect by most types of storms, some places are obviously more prone to certain types of storms than others. The north has ice storms, the south and/or east often faces hurricanes, the west is less concerned about storms, but earthquakes are a major concern. In the Midwest, we often face severe thunderstorms, which sometimes produce tornadoes, and often produce flooding. And that is just America. Typhoons, major sandstorms, and other types of storms happen elsewhere.

Each one of us have personal storms that come into our lives, and unlike weather related storms, we frequently have little warning. And while each storm is different, they can all have adverse effect. These storms might be health-related, financial, emotional, or all of the above. In these types of storms we generally know where to turn, but being willing to do it is another matter. But a spiritual storm is far more complicated. A spiritual storm can wreck us in all kinds of ways, and again, although we know we need to turn to God, because we feel He is behind the situation or involved somehow, in many cases, we choose to exclude Him or even blame Him, let alone turn to Him.

It is often said, quite incorrectly, that God will not give us more than we can handle. As we will see in our passage today, that is false. But the truth is that God will never give us more than He can handle. In the midst of the storm, we need to remember that so that we will turn to Him.

The Setting – The Sea of Galilee

Our passage today begins by stating it is evening, a detail that actually shows how authentic the Bible is. Jesus has been teaching from the boat (cf. Mark 4.1, notice “just as He was” in verse 36), and is now ready to set off for the others side of the sea with His disciples. And then came the windstorm, which created the crisis for this story. But before we get to that, let me set fix the Sea of Galilee in our minds.

On our recent trip to Israel, the first glimpse of the Sea of Galilee was quite the opposite of the squall described in this story. The water was unbelievably calm. The next day we would take a boat ride – again on very calm waters. The picture to the right is looking south from the boat, near Tiberius on the morning of the boatride.

But from what I understand, these windstorms can come with little warning. The Sea of Galilee is about 13 miles long and about 7 miles wide, so it is not big, but it is about 700 feet below sea level and is in a deep basin with mountains all around – some of which are 3000+ feet high. (See the map below.) About thirty miles to the northeast, Mt. Hermon rises over 9000 feet above sea level so the temperature differences between the altitudes could be extreme which could be a cause for such a storm.

A Topographical Map of  the Area Around the Sea of Galilee
As we consider the challenge of the storm that Mark records in chapter 4, we must remember that at least four of those with Jesus were fishermen, and at least two had a boat. And they didn’t just fish anywhere, they fished on the Sea of Galilee. So for this storm to be such a challenge, it had to 1) catch them off guard (or they would likely have gone around on land (Gadara was only 13 miles), and 2) it had to be an especially intense storm.

Apparently, both of those factors are true, because the waves were coming in and the boat was already filling. Where was Jesus? Asleep, in the stern, on a cushion. This likely means that He was in the captain’s chair. Several years ago, a song entitled Jesus Take the Wheel became quite popular. The notion of the song is that when we are in trouble we should let Jesus take the wheel. It might even sound better to think that we should allow Jesus to have the wheel so we don’t get in trouble. But the reality here is that Jesus was at the wheel, and yet trouble came. Why? Because He was asleep? No. Because these disciples had a lesson to learn!

The Lesson

So how did they react to this lesson? Not well, but probably like most of us do at times. Panic is probably a good word. Look at verse 38: “Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?”
“The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” by Rembrandt
This question is really a harsh rebuke against Jesus by the disciples! But it was an intensely emotional and honest one as well. Notice, that they call Him teacher. That IS what He was to them. You might recall from earlier in this series that “disciple means “one who learns but truly Jesus is so much more! This lesson is to help the disciples see the truth of who He really is. These men had been around Jesus for some time now, but they still didn’t understand who He really was.

Jesus woke up, rebuked the wind, and then said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Two distinct miracles are mentioned here. First, the wind stopped. Second the sea was calmed immediately. Typically, when the wind stops, the waves do not, at least for a while, except when Jesus is involved. In verse 37 a great windstorm came upon them. In verse 39, a great calm surrounded them. And the cause – was the great power of Jesus.

Having rebuked the wind and the sea, now Jesus rebuked the disciples. Last week’s post was about Jesus use of parables to allow His followers to gain understanding, and yet those who were “outside” (as Jesus called them in verse 11) would not. Well, here the understanding was not in the form of a parable, it was in the form of an experience. But this experience led them to fear, not to faith. And fear is the opposite of faith.

Let’s face it some fear seems rational. Frankly, I know I should side with Jesus, but if I was in the boat that night, I would be frightened, especially seeing those who were experienced on those waters being frightened. Other fear does not seem as rational. For instance, our dog used to run from flies...well if she didn’t try to eat one. Despite the size difference (our dog was medium sized), the buzzing noise scared her so she would run to hide. The truth is that we all have things that we shouldn’t fear, but we do. For instance, consider a spider. Many are terrified by spiders. Now I don’t like spiders, but consider how much bigger we are compared to the spider and then determine which species should be scared of the other. Our fear is usually rooted in what might happen. But for the disciples, their fear changed from what might happen to a GREAT FEAR of who Jesus was (v. 41)! The disciples were more afraid after the storm was calmed than during it.

Why? They were beginning to realize that their Teacher was far more. And they did not know what that truly meant – at least, not yet. As the reader in the story, we know something far more. We have already been told – in the very first verse of Mark – that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. For the men in the boat, they had just taken one step closer to realizing that truth.

A Parallel Story – Jonah

Now, before I get to the conclusion, I want to take you back to a story that has several parallels to this one. Many know the story of Jesus calming the sea, but you may have learned this other story first. I am talking about the story of Jonah. These stories are not completely related, but they do have some remarkable similarities.

  • Jonah 1.4-5 says that a great wind came upon the sea, the boat was in trouble, and Jonah was sleeping. (Compare Mark 4.37-38.)
  • Jonah 1.6 indicates the captain woke Jonah up, asking for Jonah to plead with God (cf. Mark 4.38).
  • Jonah 1.9 reveals that the Lord made the sea so He controls it (cf. Mark 4.39).
  • Jonah 1.16 show that the men in the boat feared God for what had happened (cf. Mark 4.41).

But let us not overlook two major differences, lest we think that Jonah and Jesus are so well connected.

1. Jonah was running from doing the work of God, but Jesus was teaching others by doing the work of God.

2. Jonah was thrown into the sea so that God would stop the storm, Jesus spoke, as God, to stop the storm.

For, as Jesus said, in Matthew 12.41, regarding the repentance that came when Jonah preached at Ninevah, “Behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”

To Fear or To Revere

The story of Jesus calming the storm has so much application for our day. Remember, Mark was writing to Christians, primarily, in Rome who were experiencing some level of abuse and would soon face intense persecution. Knowing that Jesus is there, even if He doesn’t seem active, gave many Christians in that day the confidence that Jesus would be able to deliver them from the trials of their day.

Like the Roman Christians then, and many others throughout the centuries, today’s culture is (becoming) hostile towards those who profess faith in Jesus. And our reaction to this hostility is concern, which is fine. Jesus told His disciples to “be wise as serpents, but innocent as doves” as He sent them out to accomplish His mission (Matthew 10.16). But concern is one thing and fear is another. Many pray certain words, but saying them is one thing, believing them is another. For instance, in Psalm 23. many will say “I will fear no evil.” But do we? We have a choice to make – either fear or faith. And that choice leads us to our JOURNEY letter this week.


The JOURNEY letter for the week is: R – Revere.

Let me give you four quick thoughts regarding the difference between faith and fear.
  • If we have fear, we cannot revere. But we can be bold, if our faith holds.
  • Fear requires nothing. Faith requires trust.
  • Fear produces panic. Faith remains calm.
  • Fear usually leads to failure. Faith always leads to worship.

Again, we must choose, but if we are following Jesus, then fear really shouldn’t be an option.


Opportunity: When the storms come into our life, our faith is tested. Others will be watching to see how we respond. If we panic, then we are really showing others that we do not believe in the power of God.

Learn to trust God through the fear. You know what makes your fearful. Present these items to God and ask Him to drive out the fear as your learn to trust Him more.

Live in spite of fear. We do many things in life despite the risks. For instance, you may drive a car despite the thousands of people who die every year. Don’t let your fear of a few minor things keep you from accomplishing some great things for Jesus.

Love the opportunities He gives. God gives you opportunities to grow and to serve. As we do, some opportunities may be challenging and generate a little fear. Realize that God can use every opportunity to help us grow. And perhaps, your response, through the fear, might be the very time someone puts aside their fears and learns to trust Christ.

Lead by showing your faith. I didn’t say by sharing your faith (although that is critical), but by showing your faith. Look at the Opportunity again. When we live our life in fear, we show the world that we don’t really trust God as much as we say we do. You might want to argue about degrees of trust, but the fact is it boils down to either we trust God or we don’t. Show others that you trust God, and by doing so, they will realize that your faith is not just talk, and so God really can be trusted – no matter what happens – good or bad.

"Are You With Jesus?", - A Closer Look by Reggie Koop

Mark 4:35-41

I wanted to give this Teaching Moment a title, but can’t really decide what it should be.  You’ve heard the saying, “Don’t rock the boat”, but I think I need to title it, “Rock the boat”.

In this gospel of Mark, you can see as soon as Jesus started his ministry, He rocked the boat, especially with the religious leaders.  The verse I want to look at this morning is Mark 4:36.

Key scripture: Mark 4:36, “and when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as He was in the ship.  And there were also with him other little ships.”

If you remember from verse 1 of chapter 4, Jesus got into a ship because of all of the people that had gathered. What do you visualize when you hear the word ship?

If you remember when they translate from one language to another they have to use words of the language that  best resembles the word that they are trying to translate.  So in the King James Version they use ship.

Now the English Standard Version reads, “and leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as He was.  And other boats were with him.”

So what do you visualize when you hear the word boat?

The Jesus Boat from the Sea of Galilee
The picture here is a boat which was discovered in 1986 in the muddy lake bed of the Sea of Galilee during a time of severe drought. They discovered a hull of a fishing boat old enough to have been in the water in the time of Jesus and his disciples.  There is no evidence that links this particular boat to Jesus and his disciples. But using radio carbon dating, it has been established that the boat was used as a fishing vessel between 120 BC and 40 AD which would be the time Jesus spent on the Sea of Galilee. The remains were 27 feet long, 7.5 feet wide and 4.3 feet high.  This size would have enabled it to carry up to 15 people. The method of construction identified it as typical of ancient boats in the Mediterranean region. It had a rounded stern and a fine bow.  And the fore and aft sections were decked.

We don’t know exactly how many were with Jesus at this time, but back in chapter 3 Jesus called his 12 apostles out of the disciples that were following him, so there could have been up to about 72 disciples at this time.

Looking back at verse 36, “and other boats were with him.” This may account for the number of other boats, but if you think about the multitudes of people that came to hear, see, and most importantly to them to be healed.  I’m sure that many had traveled by boat also.

I believe the key to this verse is found in 2 little words, “with him.”  We are either with Jesus or we are not. All of the other boats would experience the same storm as Jesus did.   And when a person, or a group of people, a congregation or a church, or a denomination desires to follow Christ, they will share in the joys, as well as, the persecutions that may (will) come.

Obedience brings no immunity from trouble.  It is said, one may boldly and cheerfully put to sea in Christ’s company, yea though we foresee a storm. Thus, I really want to title this Teaching Moment:  “Are you with him?”

Applying this to our lives:

1. If we are with Christ we have to be ready for anything that comes our way – both joys and persecutions.
  • Matthew 5:10: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake:  for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
  • Matthew 5:12: “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”
  • John 15:20: “Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord.  If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.”
  • Luke 6:23: “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven:”

2. Pray that God will put opportunities in your path.  If God is before it, He will be in it.  Be ready and go.

3. Get ‘r’ done.

Monday, July 4, 2016

"Follow Me"...An Opportunity to Understand

A little more than a year ago a family in our church donated some stained-glass artwork at the top of our entryway (pictured above). What makes the piece unique is that it has a similar story of an invitation whether you are going in or out. The invitation is to come, worship, and serve whether entering or exiting the building. Essentially, the invitation is to “Come. Follow Me.” That is the essence of this year-long series on which we have embarked through the Gospel account recorded by Mark.

Most people who might read this have seen some sort of stained-glass art, whether in a window, home decorations, an online picture (above),etc. Many will have seen various renderings on the windows of some churches. I realize some stained glass is simply stained glass, but oftentimes the glass contains an image, a part of a story, or something similar. Looking at these images from the outside can make it difficult to distinguish a particular image. But from the inside, the image is often quite clear and easy to distinguish. What is the difference? Light. When we are on the outside the light reflects off the glass. We can’t see how it has penetrated the glass to make the inside beautiful. But when we are able to see how the light penetrates through the glass, we see a clear picture of the artist’s intended truth.

Well, if that is true of glass, how much more true is it of humanity? The problem is that we can not see beyond the exterior to know what is truly going on inside someone. Maybe they put on a good front on the outside, but are miserable inside. Or maybe, like the stained glass, they seem overly ordinary on the outside, but are “colorful” and full of life on the inside.

And what is true for humanity, is true for the kingdom of God. From the outside, it cannot be understood. 1 Corinthians 2 makes this clear. But for those who understand what the Kingdom is, and what it will one day be, the difference is magnificent. But I didn’t say we understand how the Kingdom works, or everything about it, just what it is. And what it is, and even how it works, is the key portion of this weeks post.

In the Closer Look post this week, Rick explained what a parable was. He also mentioned that Jesus did not always use parables, but from Mark 4 forward – when speaking to the masses – He did. Why? In part because of John the Baptizer was imprisoned. Jesus still had much to accomplish, and much to teach His newly called disciples. Jesus was now an offense to the establishment (see Mark 3.1-6 and 3.22-30), and they were looking for ways to destroy Him (3.6). So, to carry out His mission, which included proclaiming the Kingdom, He began to speak cryptically. Let me take a brief look at the parables here and then I will reveal the greater purpose of Jesus using parables.

The Parables

The Sower

Rick covered this, and verses 14-20 unpack the parable as Jesus told it in verses 3-8. A couple of my own thoughts:

Although the evidence is inconclusive, a good amount of evidence suggests that in Jesus day throughout much of Israel the seed was scattered before the field was plowed. That might not make sense in today’s methods, but it is quite possible then. The farmer only had to hope some of the seed was properly sown. A good harvest was a yield of 7-8. 10 was considered a very good yield. But Jesus said those who scatter kingdom seed will yield 30, 60, or even 100 times what is sown.

The point is that we are to sow. We may feel like we waste a lot in some areas (or on some people), but the overall yield will more than make up for that – many times over. Furthermore, God says that His Word will not return void, so even for those who do not respond to the gift of salvation, something good can come out of it.

The Lamp

Some suggest the lamp refers to Jesus. Others say it is the message of the Kingdom. Personally, I think it is the message of God, which means both apply  God’s written (or spoken Word) and God’s Living Word. Recall Psalm 119.105 – “Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” But it only provide light when not hidden. In fact, Jesus says, in verse 22, that what has been hidden, God’s Kingdom, is now coming to light – for those that understand. As Jesus said, He who has an ear, let Him hear!

The Measure

The idea here is what one would use to cook would be returned. You might recall the story of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17). She had a handful of flour and just a little oil. She was prepared to fix one more meal for her son and herself and then wait to die. But Elijah said, “First, bake me a cake” with the promise that when she did, she would not run out of flour or oil. (The rest of that story must wait for another day.) Here, the idea is similar, but the implication is toward understanding. Those who seek to understand will understand more. They are already inside, but will be shown even more. Those who think they know it all or don’t want to learn will remain on the outside. We will come back to the idea of inside and outside below.

The Seed

Unlike the first parable, where the sower is sowing the seed anywhere and everywhere, the emphasis here is on the seed. What makes it grow? Good soil and water? Yes. But more importantly, God! And, of course, the soil and the water are God’s design – as is the seed. Now, our first thought might be that this speaks of us – of the gospel growing in us. And that principle is true for Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3.6, “I planted. Apollos watered. But God gave the growth.”

But the point here is the kingdom. Just as the seed is buried and then begins to grow until it is time for the harvest, the kingdom of God had been “planted” and would grow with bits of evidence along the way (the blade, the ear, the full grain), and when the time is ripe, the kingdom will be fully manifest. But just like droughts and storms come to disrupt a farmer’s work, so Satan tries to disrupt God’s work. How much longer must we wait? I don’t know, but I think a part of that answer lies in how bad we yearn for it. I will also come back to this idea below.

The Mustard Seed

Unlike the seed which is sure to grow, this parable is about the contrast in size. The truth is that the mustard seed was not the smallest seed (the orchid seed was smaller). But the culture of the day treated the mustard seed as the smallest, so Jesus used that for His context. The point is that something that begins small and is seemingly insignificant, becomes large enough to provide shelter, shade, and rest. Likewise, the Kingdom will be a place of peace and rest when it is fully established in the future. I should say rest in the sense of no weariness, not in the sense of not working.

So those are the parables in this section of Mark  (chapter 4). Now let’s look at the principle of the parables.

The Principle

To understand the parables, one must hear them. Not listen to them, but hear them. That is, take them in. Our ears hear many things, but must of what we hear is ignored. For instance, sometimes I hear the bells from our church chime, and sometimes I do not. It is not that they failed to chime, nor is it that my ears failed to receive the sound waves generated by the carillon. But even though these sound waves bring audible tones to my ears, sometimes I hear them and other times I do not.

Thus, Jesus begins this section in verse  with the word, “Listen!” This word is an imperative; it is a command. Then He tells those who are listening that if anyone “have ears to hear, let him hear.” (4.9, 23). But even listening and hearing does not equate to understanding. Notice verse 13. They don’t understand so Jesus explains it to them. But we need to understand who the “they” or “them” represents. And this distinction is critical to understand the rest of the parables and the rest of Mark’s account. The “they” are those who are insiders (more in the next point, I promise). But lets review the they and them in this passage.

Mark 4.1-2: Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them...
Note: In these verses, the “them” refers to the crowd.

Mark 4.10-11a: And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them,...
Note: Here, the “them” refers to the Twelve and other followers.

Mark 4.33-34: With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. Here the “them” refers to the people, and “disciples” to those who His followers.

A quick contextual note: Mark’s writing is more topical, rather than sequential. However, that does not mean that Mark’s account is completely out of order. In fact, because of Luke, whose writing is sequential (see Luke 1.3), we know much of Mark is in order. But Luke doesn’t mention the story from last week, so we can’t be exactly sure where these parables fit into the timeline. Mark’s account does match the sequence from Matthew in this section. While Matthew also takes a thematic approach, we can be reasonably sure that the charge of blasphemy against Jesus came before these parables. In fact, it is very likely that this is the case because the parables are really intended to separate those who do God’s will from those who don’t (Mark 3.35). And, as we will see in a moment, doing God’s will requires an understanding of His purpose.

So, let me provide a cumulative understanding of the four parables in Mark 4:

Jesus came to initiate God’s Kingdom. He spread God’s Word everywhere. Some would hear and grow to understand this message, but others wouldn’t. Perhaps because it was stolen from them (scribes and Pharisees – ironic that they said Jesus was doing Beelzebul’s work). As the Word is received and understood, what has been hidden has been/is being made known. Thus, for those that know, it is time to shine brightly with this message. As we do, and as we desire more of it, God will reveal more to us. We might only see brief glimpses of it, but rest assured, it is growing. The impact may be small now, but one day, one glorious day, we will see God in all of His glory with Jesus reigning from His throne. That is the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Pause and reflect on that again for a minute..

I am fully convinced that this is the minimum of the point that Jesus was trying to paint. If we miss this, it may be that we have grown so accustomed to looking at the stained glass windows from the outside far too long. And this hope, which is assured because of the resurrection, is why I say church is not the destination, the kingdom is. The church is God’s tool to build the Kingdom, but when the church ceases to exist on this side of eternity, the Kingdom will be fully realized for the rest of eternity.

The Purpose

Finally, the purpose of the message. This will sound harsh, but it is the simple truth. Jesus spoke in parables in order to separate those who understand from those who don’t. Said another way, to separate those on the “inside” from those on the “outside.” Jesus says as much in Mark 4.11.

He then quotes from Isaiah 6.9. In Isaiah 6, God made His glory manifest and then asked for a messenger. Isaiah agreed to be that messenger. God then said that people would hear, but not understand. They would see, but not perceive. In Mark 4, Jesus says the same will be true of His generation. It is important to note that Jesus is speaking to those who have asked Him. Because they ask, He answers. He challenges them for their lack of understanding (v. 13), but then does proceed to spell it out for them item by item. Thus, they are gaining understanding. But the masses that heard the parable have left. They have gone their own way. They were tired, or bored, or hungry, or whatever, and so they missed the opportunity to understand. Therefore, they missed an opportunity to know Jesus. Therefore, they may have missed the Kingdom of God.

It may sound harsh that Jesus didn’t speak plainly to allow all to hear. And the end of verse 12 seems especially harsh. It sounds as if Jesus doesn’t want the people to be forgiven. But the truth is that He had been speaking plainly to this point and some believed and some did not. Those that didn’t said He was of the devil (3.22) and wanted to destroy Him (3.6). Given Jesus’ response to the disciples around Him, if these others came and asked, He would have offered the same to them. But just like the rich young man in Luke 10, following Jesus requires paying a price that some are unwilling to pay. Because ultimately understanding what Jesus said and what Jesus did requires us to do God’s will (Mk 3.35). When we do, we become the sower who reaps 30, 60, or even 100 times what we have sown. How? I don’t know. But God does. We may not even realize our impact in this life. But in the life we live after we die, we will know very well.

What About You?

Hearing, but not understanding. Seeing, but not perceiving. That was true in Isaiah’s day. It was true in Jesus’ day. What about ours? What aboutyou? Do you allow the truth of God’s Word to just bounce off and never allow it to penetrate your being? Do you take the time to truly hear? None of us are perfect, but if we dont let Gods Word penetrate our exterior, we are like the stained-glass windows from the outside that merely reflect the light and hide the truth of what is meant to be seen. But, for those that do hear, and allow Gods Word to penetrate, the image that God has made in us and through us, becomes visible and begins to look more and more like the image of Christ.


That is why our JOURNEY letter for today is: O – Observe.

We listen to hear. We hear to understand. And we understand in order to know what the Master wants us to do. And once we know, it is our responsibility to do it. Thus, we must observe our call to serve, and teach others to do so as well. When we don’t understand, we must be like the original followers and ask. He will never turn us away for asking, but we must be ready to respond to His answer when it comes. And that brings us to our next steps.

Opportunity: People need to hear the gospel, and we are called to sow it. As we live our lives in and around others we must take the time to scatter the Seed, and let God sow where, and as, He wills.

(NOTE: Our church celebrated by taking of the Lords Supper on Sunday as a part of the conclusion of this message. Each Step was a part of the Lords Prayer with time of reflection especially during the step of Love, which is when we took of the elements  the bread and the cup. I believe the Steps make sense on their own so I am leaving them without additional commentary which largely reflected on how this message related to the moment. I apologize for anything that might not be clear.)

Jesus message was the Kingdom of God (Mark 1.15). He procured the Kingdom with His death. And He secured it with His resurrection. And we remember this today by considering Jesus answer to another question His disciples asked, when they asked Him how to pray.

Learn how great God is.
Our Father in heaven hallowed be your name.

Live for the Kingdom.
Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Love his provision.
(food and forgiveness)
Give us each day our daily bread. (BREAD)
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (CUP)

Lead others as God leads you.
And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from the evil.

For YOURS is the KINGDOM and the power and the glory. Forever. Amen.