Wednesday, August 3, 2016

"Follow Me"...An Opportunity to Choose Jesus

Recently, our church has experienced God moving in some ways. We have seen an increase in baptisms and people coming to join the church. And I believe as we continue to seek what God is doing those numbers will increase. Now, I am not caught up in numbers, but when we realize that each number represents a person and each person has a soul, then the numbers do mean something.

However, a large number of souls will not seek to be a part of any congregation. Why? Because congregations are made up of people we know and people who know us. Or, at least, everyone considers that to be true. Of course, no church is perfect, but some who are not willing to enter a church building for any number of reasons, might be more willing to enter a home, even though some of the same people will be there.

Before I continue with that line of thought, let me ask the following question. How big do you think the world’s biggest church is? As of 2015, The Yoido Full Gospel Church of Korea had 480,000 members. That is down from their high mark of 830,000 members less than a decade ago. The philosophy of the pastor is to engage people in groups of ten and multiply that engagement throughout the region. Thus, at its peak, that meant approximately 83,000 small groups meeting in homes. This is a prime example of leveraging relationships and making connections with people – some of whom like us and others who are skeptical of us. No doubt that in a church of that size, most people do not know one another, but some will. More specifically, some will likely know something about others that might lead them to question a sincerity of faith. But when you take time to get to know others, you can begin to learn the truth about them (including who they are now instead of who they were then), rather than dealing with suppositions.
The likely home of Mary in Nazareth (notice steps in cave)

Such was the case in Nazareth.  This small town, with a maximum population of about 500 people in Jesus’ day, was the childhood home of Mary, and then of Jesus. According to Luke 1, it was in Nazareth that Mary was visited by the angel, 
Gabriel, who announced that she would have a child conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1.26, 31, 35).
"Mary's Well" in Nazareth, where Mary would have drawn water

Principle: Even at our best, some will find the worst. (Mark 6.1-3)

Mark 6.1 says Jesus traveled to Nazareth. This visit is most likely not just a family visit, but an official one because of the mention of his disciples. Keep in mind that Jesus was travelling from Capernaum to Nazareth, which is about forty miles. I mention this because it was in Capernaum, his base for ministry, that Jesus was able to do a great deal of ministry, including miraculous healings like we saw last week. In Capernaum, everyone except the religious leaders seemed to embrace Jesus, even if only because of the miracles. So, now, after a most successful day of healing two people, He sets out for his boyhood home. Along the way, we might imagine the stories that the disciples were telling and the anticipation of meeting many of the people that would have known Jesus from an early age. But what the disciples probably didn’t know is that Jesus wasn’t the one chosen by His peers as most likely to succeed.

On the Sabbath, Jesus went to the synagogue where He would speak because He had been asked. (Due to the synagogue being closed on the day our group was there, I was unable to get any good pictures.) This obviously meant that someone knew of His abilities. The people were astonished, but not in a good way. Really, it was more of a bewilderment. “Where did this guy learn this? Isn’t He just a carpenter?” But remember, these people “knew Jesus” and His mother. The conversation probably began to be something like. “Oh yeah. That guy. The boy of Mary. You know, the one who said that God made her pregnant.”

Despite having 2000 years between then and now, some matters of the Bible can only be accepted by faith. A great deal of research and archaeology confirms the Bible, but something like the virgin birth must be understood by faith alone. Yet, even for those who embrace this truth, we must realize that Mary’s claim is preposterous in human terms. Let’s put this situation into our world today. What if a young, teenage girl came and said God made her pregnant? What, if about 30 years later, her son came and started speaking powerfully about God? Do you think some doubts might linger in people’s minds about the man’s legitimacy? Do you think that people will cast slurs on the man and the family? I know what words many might use in our day, and I am sure it was true in Jesus’ day as well.

Of course, the question began about Jesus being a carpenter. Being a carpenter was a fact, and for the Jewish community, the job was commendable because Jews viewed manual labor favorably. However, the Romans, to whom Mark was writing, considered manual labor as menial. As for the job of a carpenter, the idea would be similar today, but a carpenter in Jesus’ day represents someone who might work with all kinds of material. In fact, it should not be odd to consider Jesus as one who worked with stones (a stonemason) in addition to wood. Having been to Israel, and seeing the amount of rocks and large stones that we everywhere, and the relative lack of wood in most areas (except where olive trees were plentiful), I can believe it. In fact, some even suggest that Jesus and maybe Joseph as well, would have helped build Sepphoris – which was a town about four miles northwest of Nazareth and was the capital of Galilee for many years.

But for a carpenter to know what Jesus knew was unthinkable. Jesus had not trained by a rabbi. It was unimaginable for others to consider that Jesus could not only know so much, but to be able to communicate it as well. This simply shows the truth of our principle above. Jesus teachings were right, and His intentions were pure, but some people will choose to find fault because they are unwilling to see the truth.

Principle: Faith make the impossible possible. A lack of faith makes the possible impossible. (Mark 6.4-6)

Verse 5 is one of those verses that is quite troubling for us. Jesus COULD DO NO. That is, Jesus could not do any miracles. It seems He was powerless. Now, perhaps, it is that He chose not to do any miracles, but the reality is that most of the miracles He had already done were not based upon faith. Again, consider the demon possessed man in the first part of Mark 5. That man didn’t have faith before He was healed. Yet, Jesus had plenty of power because, as we saw last week, Jesus had enough power to heal the woman even though it was done subconsciously. But here He could not.

As I considered this idea, I was reminded of the movie Elf where Santa’s sleigh will not fly because people have become skeptical of the idea of Santa. However, when one person is bold enough to begin to sing a song, it raises people’s belief, which in turn allows the sleigh to fly. Although the person of Jesus and the idea of Santa are quite different, I think a parallel exists in that sometimes all it takes to encourage others to have a little faith, and then great things can happen.

Notice Jesus statement in verse 4, however. He begins by saying His hometown doesn’t honor Him, but then He narrows the focus to His relatives, and finally, to His own household. In verse 3, His mother and four brothers are named. Likewise His sisters are mentioned. (It is likely they are unnamed because of being married.) So, it isn’t that Jesus is rejected by those who only know the family from the outside, but from those who know Him best. You may recall the story of Joseph in the Old Testament who was sold by His own brothers into slavery. Joseph was a tattle-tale, had a bit of arrogance and was favored by dad, so maybe we can understand a little of the brother’s reasoning. But Joseph, like Jesus, would later be in a position to save His family, His people, and His nation from pending doom. In the case of Jesus, His sacrificial death would pay for the sins of those in His hometown as well, but only if they would learn to believe. And according to verse 6, their lack of belief would have to change a great deal to allow that to happen.

Principle: When we go for God, we can trust that He will provide our needs. (Mark 6.7-13)

The story now transitions to the disciples being prepared to begin active ministry. I am sure they had questions, and probably were concerned about a few matters, including some practical needs. The truth is that we all have needs. And we all have wants. Oftentimes we allow our wants to override our needs. Sadly, all of us at times allow our wants to override God’s commands. We make all kinds of excuses in order to avoid dealing with God. We even see this concept played out amongst our friends and family, sometimes before the question is asked. For instance, someone might approach you by saying, “I need to talk.” Before the person is able to get the next word out, the brain is actively preparing responses.
  • “I don’t have time.”
  • “I know I can’t do what they are asking.” 
  • “I hope they don’t ask for any money.”

I could spend an entire series on those thoughts and someday I might. But for now, imagine the disciples being sent by Jesus in Mark 6.7-13. Jesus made the time for them. He told them not to take along any money – they were to be completely dependent on God. As for knowing what they were doing…this group has only observed Jesus at work. We have no record in Mark of them doing anything other than being with Jesus and being fearful. Now, Jesus asked these men to go and minister in His name and authority.

I am sure many of them might have wanted to respond with something like, “I don’t…” But, they had just experienced the result of that kind of thought in Nazareth, where people said, “I don’t believe.” Again, such a lack of faith is making the possible, impossible.

What Jesus did for them was to show that God could be trusted. He told them which items to take and what not to take. Now, there are explicit differences on these items from the parallel texts in Matthew and Luke. The reality is that the situation cannot be completely reconciled with what we know today, but we can reconcile most of the differences with careful analysis. (Such analysis is beyond the scope of this post). According to Mark, the items Jesus instructs the Twelve to take are a staff, a belt, sandals, and one tunic (which was the main article of clothing). These items are the same items that God commanded for the Israelites to take when they were preparing to leave Egypt after Passover (see Exodus 12.11). Thus, just as God called the Israelites to trust Him completely, Jesus was preparing the Twelve to do the same.

The disciples were to travel in pairs (the Bible says that truth can be establish on the testimony of two or three witnesses) and instructed to stay at the first house that agreed to host them. Moving to different houses could leave an impression that they were seeking what the highest bidder could offer. The hospitality in Galilee in the 1st Century was legendary. But many people might stay a night with a poor person until they received a better offer. Jesus was instructing His disciples to stay in whatever place they first settled until their business in that town was done.

His final words to them in this instance was to shake the dust off their feet if the message was not received. This action was common of certain people (especially rabbis) who were leaving a “dirty” place such as a town/region occupied by Gentiles. It was a symbolic gesture of judgment (notice verse 12 where the disciples proclaimed the people should repent). The gesture of kicking off the dust was understood by the Jews in these towns as a pronouncement of the judgement to come if they did not heed the message to repent.

Remember the principle here is that God would provide their needs if they did His business. This sending of the Twelve is a test run for what would come later. The disciples could have made many excuses including using Jesus own words, as recorded in Mark 4.40, “Have you still no faith?” But Jesus was preparing them for a more dangerous mission in the future. Now, they had Jesus with them. Then, Jesus would be gone. Would these men be prepared to carry on the mission of Jesus after His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension? They needed to know the answer for themselves. Thus, Jesus sends them on the first of their major assignments so they could gain some experience.

A Matter of Perspective

Let me return to the earlier mention of the Yoido Full Gospel Church. The church has many services on Sunday translated into multiple languages, but the core of the church are groups that meet in homes. As I mentioned earlier, each group has about ten individuals. As I mentioned earlier, the church once had over 800,000 members, and more recently had around 450,000. Using 450,000 for a calculation, if an equal number met each night that would be about 65,000 people meeting every day of the week in approximately 6,500 different homes.

But the drop of over 300,000 people is a huge drop. A part of this drop be that their pastor embezzled millions of dollars from the church. I mention that in order for you to gauge your reaction, which is likely along the lines of one of two perspectives.
  1. That figures. It is so typical of the hypocrites in church – especially pastors and leaders.
  2. What a shame! Why does this always seem to happen?

Before I deal with those two perspective, I want to focus on a third aspect that might not be as apparent at first glance. The 450,000 people who are together are so because of two things.
  • Someone took the gospel to Korea. These people in Seoul would not know Jesus unless someone left their comforts and went there to tell people about Jesus.
  • The 450,000 are in relation to one another. The pastor had a vision and the people helped to make it happen, but the vision included people being with people, not merely following the pastor. 

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11.1 – “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.” In one sense Paul is saying, follow Me as I follow Christ. In another, He is saying if I am obedient to Christ, follow my example. If not, you must still follow Christ. Christ gave the command to “Follow Me.” We are not to follow Paul or Andy, we are to follow Jesus. The turmoil caused by a pastor falling into sin is great, and certainly some of the 300,000 people are not longer at the church in Korea because they were following the pastor. I have witnessed this issue elsewhere, and when the pastor left so did the people. Certainly, sometimes personalities do not mesh, which causes people to leave, but in any case our worship is to be reserved for Jesus, not on anyone else in the church.

Taking the gospel to others and being in relation to one another are both a part of what Jesus did when He sent out the disciples. Jesus had not lost any authority, but the Twelve had just experienced Jesus being dishonored in His hometown. That had to rattle them a bit. It is in this context that He sends them forth to do His work – not because He couldn’t, but because He needed them to know they could. These men went and proclaimed a message that would eventually make it to Korea nearly two thousand of years later. The Twelve went into houses to establish relationships with the people rather than simply meeting in a synagogue, just like the people of Korea do today. But these ideas and others are not just from 2000 years ago, nor are they isolated to one location of today’s map. People have been meeting together and going together in the name of Jesus from the time He first sent out these Twelve as written here in Mark 6. And Jesus wants us to meet together and go together as well.

That is the point of today’s message – we must make a choice about Jesus. The people of Nazareth could not overcome their bias and prejudice to see Jesus for who He was rather than who they thought He should be. But the disciples, despite their continual failure to fully understand, believed enough in the possibility of who Jesus was to follow Him and then be sent by Him.


The JOURNEY letter for today is: N – Nurture.

The two responses I mentioned above regarding the pastor who embezzled the money reflect both how we have been nurtured and how we may feel about nurturing others. Someone who has been beaten while down is likely to be skeptical when others try to help him/her. Someone who has received mercy is better equipped to show mercy to others.

However, the Bible is clear regarding how we should respond. Galatians 6.1-2 commands us to bear the burden of others, rather than beating them down. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, his instruction is to be compassionate, patient, loving, and forgiving because that is what God is toward us. (Colossians 3.12-15). While our background influences our desire and natural tendency to nurture, we are to follow the example of Jesus in actually doing so. Of course, Jesus responded in both truth and love, but He also provided opportunity and example to His followers in order for each one to grow in faith. Consider three practical examples Jesus provides us from the passage today (Mark 6.1-13):
  • Giving/Serving however possible in a hostile environment.
  • Building a team-based environment where trust in each other and in God is paramount.
  • Inviting others to serve even if they still have much to learn.

Combined with the principles above, we have much to do if we are to live for Jesus. But first we must choose Him. And then we must choose to nurture others.


Opportunity: We have a choice to serve Jesus. Just as Jesus commissioned the Twelve in His day, He commissions us for service today.

Focusing on His example this week, what will you do to nurture someone this week?

  • Learn: Consider which example best fits what you need to do to nurture someone this week. Meditate on the idea for a couple of days.
  • Live: After reflecting on the example you chose, consider how you might put that example into action.
  • Love: How might that action 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 need to nurture you chose?

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