When national storms come along, politicians argue with little result. We do not need another political solution from either side. What the world needs is you, the Christian to stand up and tell everyone that you have found the answer. The disciples faced a storm and complained to the right source (Mark 4:35-41). They did not have the faith. They did not have the ability. But, they did go to the right source, Jesus. The church is not here to take political sides. Human solutions are not the answer. Neither side of politics has the ability to rebuke our national cloudbursts, nor the authority to tell our economic squalls to be still. There are people who know where the answer lies. What the world needs is for Christians to tell the good news. What the world needs is you.
While the storm on Lake Galilee was a natural calamity (Mark 4:35-41) we often face man-made storms. Real estate collapse, family destruction, hostile takeovers, recessions and fraud are all storms caused by covetousness among other things. No amount of legislation can change hearts from greed to generosity, from corruption to nobility, from covetousness to chastity. We have all coveted our neighbor’s house, spouse, car or other possessions. It is part of the human condition. And so we must recognize that we are also in part responsible for the storms that such lusts create. We have all contributed to national debt, family destruction and even worldwide recessions. The power over such storms does not lie within us. We are helpless victims of human vices. The answer is spiritual. The answer is a power beyond our own. The answer is Jesus.
Science has taught us that there are two normal reactions to fear, fight or flight. As an international traveler who has lived and traveled around the world, I notice that since 9-11 America has become a more fearful nation. That fear has resulted in both flight from aggressive risk-taking investment in our future and fights both at home and in faraway places. Economists even call recessions a period of fear after a period of greed. Covetousness causes national economic distress and thus fear. So when the disciples panicked as they crossed the Sea of Galilee in a raging storm (Mark 4:35-41) their fear was something quite normal. When our emotions drive us to fight or flight let us fight on the only side worth fighting for, Jesus’ and let us flee to the only sure place of safety, Jesus.
Why did Jesus sleep through a storm that had so frightened his disciples (Mark 4:35-41)? Their ordeal even took them to the brink of sinking and losing their lives. In the context we can guess that Jesus was totally exhausted from a day of preaching and healing. However, there is more to it than that. Are we tempted to ask if God has gone to sleep when we face terrifying ordeals? Are we tempted to ask if God even cares? Of course we are. Yet, we read of Jesus’ power over even the waves. We also read of his rebuke regarding the disciples’ lack of faith. We are no different and Jesus is also no different in character. He will often allow our circumstances to go to the point of sinking, but he is there and always has been.
When Mark wrote about Jesus calming the storm, many of his audience were facing martyrdom (Mark 4:35-41). It was a Christian holocaust that lasted roughly 300 years, as Roman Emperors attacked the church over ten periods of persecution. How could the story of Jesus calming the storm relate to those who would drown in their own storms? How does it relate to us who face our own catastrophes today, such as losing a loved one, losing a career, facing homelessness, or to Christians in North Korea who face losing their lives to a modern day murderous Caesar? In such circumstances, when faith is tested way beyond its elastic limit, we can have calm in our hearts, knowing that Jesus will never leave us and even if we must die, he will carry us beyond the storm into eternal peace.
What do we do when we encounter fierce squalls on the sea of life? We live in a time when median net worth has dropped 38.8% between 2007 and 2010.# We worry about health care, car payments, cancer, identity theft, immigration, industrial pollution, internet viruses, lifestyle changes, military conflicts, strange new religions, terrorism and taxes. Life can be wonderful one minute and we are faced with a terrible even the next (Mark 4:35-41). We are tempted to ask, doesn’t God care? The answer lies not in the disciples’ faith, which was obviously as weak as ours, but in the fact that Jesus was with them. If we open our eyes and look, we will see that God is with us too and always has been. Even as our faith is weak, God’s presence reveals how much he cares.
It is amazing how we like to create a Jesus in our minds to be just like we want him to be instead of just as he is. When the disciples took Jesus across the lake, they took him along just as he was (Mark 4:35-41). What would our churches look like if we took Jesus along just as he is? The way he lived wouldn’t fit in with many of our churches today. He partied with the rich and touched the unclean and marginalized. The way he spoke was sometimes offensive and blunt and sometimes mysterious and hidden in the veiled language of parables. He often went against local religious customs and expected his followers to live lives of self-sacrifice instead of materialistic self-indulgence. How would our lives look if we took Jesus along just as he is?
Jesus spent a large part of his ministry around and even at times on the Sea of Galilee. The lake is below sea level and contains freshwater. It is 13 old fashioned miles (21 modern kilometers) north-south and 7½ miles (12 kilometers) east-west. So when the disciples wanted to cross the lake, it was a long way. The lake is known as Yam Kinneret locally and has a mild climate. It is also known for sudden and violent lake storms. Large storms can create waves even ten feet (3 meters) high and have caused damage to lakefront towns. It was a similar storm that tested the faith of the disciples in Mark 4:35-41. Jesus used the opportunity to challenge his disciples about their lack of faith. Though our faith may be small, we can ask Jesus to calm the storm.
Why do we covet what does not belong to us? Do we believe God is unfair and therefore we will miss out on the best things? Do we believe that what God will provide abundantly is far inferior to anything that our neighbor has? Is it because we fear and panic instead of rest in faith? Lust and covetousness attack us from many different directions. We fear that we may never have as nice a house as our neighbor, or that our neighbor found a better marriage partner, or that our neighbor has a business with great employees. We may feel like God cheated us out of a nice car or truck like our neighbor’s. Like a furious squall at sea the fear of missing out can drown us. Only Jesus can calm the storms of covetousness (Mark 4:35-41).
The Nicene Council not only introduced a wonderful creed which summarizes some of Christianity’s most important doctrines, it also worsened a very human dictatorial tendency in the church. Nicea contradicted Paul’s instructions for freedom regarding worship and conscience. If you don’t want people to use their minds just call a council of the church infallible especially if it contradicts the Bible. When Jesus symbolized the kingdom of heaven like a mustard seed (Mark 4:26-34) he was describing a rather unruly plant that gave birds access to the family vegetable garden. Ever since, church leaders have tried to lord it over the faith of believers, something Jesus did not want (Matthew 20:25-28). The kingdom of God will grow where God wants despite human politics. Yet control freaks will continue to try limiting and controlling the uncontrollable reign of God.
What could possibly be the worst theft of all time? Could it be the theft of native lands by colonizing powers? Could it be the semi-legal theft of personal finances by shady banking practices? Could it be taking excessive portions by the very wealthy? Could it be the immoral use of tax revenue? Would not the greatest theft of all history be anything that prevents or hinders the growth of the only permanent institution on earth, the kingdom of God (Mark 4:26-34)? When we steal material things from others, we are also engaged in a far worse theft. When we allow evil to reign in our lives instead of God we have stolen life’s greatest possible blessing from ourselves, the kingdom of God. There is nothing in life worth more and worth protecting more than our citizenship in heaven.
A popular but false concept is that we must have a dramatic religious experience as initial evidence of the Holy Spirit’s intervention in our lives. While that kind of experience is certainly possible and does happen sometimes, if we understand Mark 4:26-34, then Jesus taught that it was not necessary or even normal. Like a crop in a field, the evidence of the kingdom of God in our lives may be totally unseen at first. This story also contradicts another popular idea, that we must exert extraordinary human effort to make God’s reign in our spiritual lives grow or to make our churches grow. The story explains that God’s kingdom grows whether we are awake or asleep, totally without our understanding as to how. Like the crop in the field, it is God’s action that make his kingdom grow.
Mark 4:26-34 introduces to us the concept of the reign of God being a hidden kingdom. It is not recognized by the world around us and is often hard to detect. What is the kingdom of God? In modern terms we would say the reign of God. Where is that? It is among those who submit to divine authority. Although some people have such wonderful discernment that they can possibly tell who is God’s just by looking at someone’s face, most of us would have to have more information than that. It is like a crop that grows in the field. Initial evidence can be like a small green shoot poking through the soil and may be like noticing little changes in a person’s life. As God’s realm grows, it becomes increasingly evident that he rules a person’s life.
The first Christian church in Africa was planted by the Apostle Mark in Alexandria, Egypt. Their descendants belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church. How large has the church grown in Africa? This past century it has grown from 9 million in 1900 to 380 million in 2000. Among the earliest churches in Asia were those established by the Apostle Thomas in central Asia and India. The Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew spread Christianity to Armenia and the Apostles Simon and Andrew planted churches in Georgia. Between the 9th and 14th centuries the Church of the East spread as far as China and India, but declined after persecution, disease and isolation. Christian growth has returned to Asia. Within the next 30 years, Asia may have a larger Christian population than Europe. Jesus Predicted that his kingdom would grow large (Mark 4:26-34).
Many Christians in the western world are pessimistic about the future of the church. While numbers have declined in Europe and America this past century, numbers in Africa and Asia are increasing. Did Jesus prophesy anything about this? Mark 4:26-34 is one passage that speaks of the spread of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is where God reigns and God reigns in the church. There is no guarantee that our denomination or our local church will survive or that the church will always look like ours, but the future of the Christian church is good. Even while we sleep, the church grows. The church will grow to be the largest entity on earth. In fact it already is. Jesus seems to be ruling in the lives of a third of humanity. Now that’s a large kingdom.
Even the most intelligent people and the most highly educated on earth are tempted to lie due to emotional involvement. Science is hampered by tradition just as much as religion. Medicine is hampered by emotional attachment to established ideas just as much as politics. Ideas which challenge our founding institutions face their greatest obstacle, not in intelligence or education, but emotionally vested interests in earthly crowns. In Mark 3:20-35 Jesus faced this obstacle as well with the political-religious establishment around ancient Galilee. Their lie was not caused by lack of intelligence or education, but by the emotional investment in Jewish tradition. Is the truth often lost to Christianity because of our traditions? Are we more interested in protecting our interests than we are in learning from Jesus Christ? Will we lay down our crowns when confronted by the truth?
When Olympic athletes spend every waking hour training for gold, few people call them insane. When modern citizens spend an average twenty hours a week in front of a television, few people call them crazy. When people study obsessively and receive degrees with honors, people praise them. However, if we go to church, read our Bibles and talk about God, people say that we are out of our minds. Zeal, it seems is okay, unless it is for an unpopular cause. In Mark 3:20-35 Jesus was described as mad by his own family. If God does exist and if he wants to get to know his creation would that not be the most important activity on the planet for everyone? If that is insanity, then perhaps more of us ought to engage in this glorious madness. Is sanity overrated?
Religious leaders who accused Jesus of having a demon were just an ancient example of small-minded religion. Christianity also has its examples. In theology we call it exclusivity, meaning that only those who have a certain narrow opinion can be included. Everyone else is excluded. Reasons for exclusion seem endless. Clothing, tongues, alcohol, baptisms, days, music, authority and perhaps thousands of other nuances of doctrine are reasons given for doubting the work of the Holy Spirit among others. That was precisely the accusation leveled against Jesus in Mark 3:20-35. Because he did not fit the narrow criteria of mere men, his work was falsely accused of being of Satan. Yet, a third of humanity believes the teachings of Jesus. Dare we exclude those whom God has included? In so doing are we also dangerously close to the unpardonable sin?
Political campaigning is almost entirely about the failures of people. Even Christians who know the truth are tempted to take sides, painting one side as good and the other side as evil, when the truth is that all people are fatally flawed. This is Satan’s game and it enters Church politics too. We know that the Church is sometimes the Great Whore of Babylon and sometimes the Bride of Christ, yet we easily fall prey to Satan’s tactics. His game is to expose the weaknesses of human beings, pretending that doing so will protect God’s glory. This is the root of the accusation in Mark 3:20-35. There was a hasty conclusion that because Jesus taught different than accepted traditions his actions must be evil. Such shallow thinking can cause us to miss what Jesus is doing in the world.
The Jews mocked Beelzebub (lord of the flies) with the name Beelzeboul (lord of dung), which is the original word used in Mark 3:20-35. Some Bibles mistranslated this as Beelzebub. Some experts also define Beelzeboul as lord of the temple. The author then explained how the Jews were using this term to mean the prince of demons and later Jesus made it quite clear that they meant Satan. Some scribes accused Jesus of casting out demons by Satanic rather than divine power. Jesus argued as to how unlikely Satan would be to cast out one of his own. He further argued that if he can enter a house belonging to a strong man to plunder it then he is stronger than the owner (Satan) and able to bind him. The unstated conclusion is that Jesus’ strength was from heaven.
How is it that trained religious leaders like the scribes could end up missing the real deal when they were confronted by Jesus (Mark 3:20-35)? How could Jewish religious training have missed such an important issue like the coming of Messiah? Could a Christian education also miss vital truths? Absolutely! Jesus summarized what he expected Christian education to cover in Matthew 28:19-20, teaching our disciples to obey all things that Jesus had commanded his original disciples. When religious education misses or minimizes that vital ingredient it is deficient and produces leaders of the church who are no better than the teachers of the law. Only when Jesus and the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels are made central to our preaching and teaching will we have healthy Christianity. Only then will we not be missing the real deal.
When comedians make fun of the phrase Father, Son and Holy Spirit I will cringe. Why? Because blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the one unforgivable sin. Let’s read about the unforgivable sin in its context (Mark 3:20-35). First why did Jesus say this? We can easily answer that question, because it states clearly why. They were saying that Jesus had an unclean spirit, attributing the power of the Holy Spirit to that of the devil. Who were those who said this? They were scribes, teachers of religious law, who should have known better. And so they did not falsely confuse the Holy Spirit with the spirit of evil out of ignorance, but out of malice. We need to note that Jesus did not directly say that they had committed the unpardonable sin, but they certainly were in danger.
Conservatives define family by a traditional picture. But, the Bible defines family in different manners. For instance, the whole image of a Christian is as an adopted child into God’s family. Anciently, an adopted child had just as many rights to inheritance as a natural born child. It is we who have made preserving historically recent family last names or the vanity of our genetic lineage an idol to be worshiped. And idolatry can hardly be defined as a conservative position. Jesus went one step further and if so-called conservatives really understood what he meant, they would decry him as an extreme liberal. The context of Mark 3:20-35 makes it most likely that Jesus own family were calling him crazy for his religious beliefs. Jesus retorted that those who do God’s will are his family. That's Jesus' family values!
A seminary professor once said that if your family thinks that you are either out of touch or crazy you might just be a pastor. All Christians who are sincere about their faith may occasionally suffer the loneliness of faith that Jesus also experienced (Mark 3:20-35). Depending on the translation, either his friends or his family thought that he had lost his senses at one point in time. The Greek phrase literally means those belonging to him, which is probably family, but could also be friends. Christians can sometimes feel totally alone, even in their own families, as they are ostracized, belittled or otherwise shown contempt. In a faithless world, it ought not be a surprise that the faithful are sometimes looked down upon. While we wait for natural family to come to God, we have a church family.
A wicked man praises the greedy (Psalm 10:1-4). The greedy ambush their own lives (Proverbs 1:18-19) and destroy their families (Proverbs 15:27). They want more, but the righteous love to give (Proverbs 15:27). Greedy get rich quick schemes cause poverty (Proverbs 28:22). Greedy leaders destroy a nation (Proverbs 29:4). Greedy people feast on the suffering poor (Proverbs 30:14). Leaders who look to their own gain are like greedy dogs (Isaiah 56:10-11), out for dishonest gain, shedding innocent blood, oppressing and extorting (Jeremiah 22:15-17). Religious leaders are not immune to greed and wickedness (Luke 11:37-41). If we feel cheated in business or inheritance by others we can’t let their greed ruin our lives as it has theirs (Luke 12:13-21). Greed is idolatry and cannot enter God’s kingdom (Ephesians 5:5).
Labels: Luke 12
When Jesus warned against blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, it was a warning to teachers of the law, who were careless with the truth (Mark 3:20-35). It is also a warning to us. We don’t always know all the facts, but are often dogmatic about our opinions. How many of us have held onto an opinion perhaps even for decades, only to find out in later life that we were dead wrong? How we wish we had been more careful about the truth. It takes guts and humility to admit that we don’t quite know all the facts. Dogmatism is often a symptom of ignorance not knowledge, because those who know more are not always so sure of their opinions. Are teachers of the law still rather hasty today and are teachers of grace more cautious with the truth?