By Simon ManchesterSunday 11 Oct 2015Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
Good Morning everybody –
We are turning again to Mark’s Gospel. If you were here last week we saw Jesus (in the face of very needy crowds of people) chose 12 Apostles and I don’t know whether we quite realized or whether I said it clearly enough as to what a turning point that was. Because suddenly by transforming 12 people (or we would strictly say 11) but Jesus transformed a group of people so that they might become the beginning of the solution and not just the problem. So he turns the tide by choosing the Apostles from a world that is absolutely full of need and makes people new and part of the solution.
I had a letter this week from a man who I’ve known since living in Wollongong and he in his youth was committed to trouble making, anarchy and every piece of nuisance living that he could enjoy. And he was wonderfully converted. And he wrote to me this week and was reminding me how the Lord has changed him and is using him to work with young people in a very profound and lasting way and that change is not that he came to his senses so much and he decided to change his own life but Christ met him, transformed him so what some people would call “a new leaf” is actually “a new life” – and not just the human turning over of a new leaf but the receiving from Christ of a new life.
Now because that’s we looked at last week, the choosing of the 12, we shouldn’t be surprised as we come to chapter 3 verse 20 that we are going to keep thinking about who are the people of God, who are the people of Christ. We know the verses in the Bible are inspired but I hope you know that the layout is inspired and one of the ways that you will read your Bible more effectively is to keep asking ‘why does this come here’? And ‘why would Mark under the leadership of the Spirit put this beside this’?
And so last week we saw Jesus chose his first people and this week we are going to see who really are his people. Who are the global people of God? If you want the sermon in a nutshell, what we are going to see is
- that the people of God are not these people,
- and the people of God are not these people,
- but the people of God are these people.
So you will see as we go.
Now my hope this morning is that you will experience what I have experienced in preparing which is a fairly searching text as to what constitutes the people of God which will cause some people this morning, I hope – I really hope – to be unsettled to the point of seeking Christ. And for many this morning – most of you this morning – you will find yourselves saying ‘how thankful I am that Christ has worked this work in me’. In other words my second aim is that there will be great fresh honour giving to Christ and you will walk down the path and you will say to yourselves – ‘what he has done for me’.
So let’s think about this by looking at chapter 3 verse 20 of Mark under the first heading which is that God’s People are not Human Controllers. Jesus entered a house, a large crowd gathered again and we see then that his family hear of his behaviour that he is teaching and that he is healing and there is no time to eat and the whole thing looks to the family like fanaticism and madness and they say ‘he has gone mad – literally he is beside himself’.
Now I think we can assume that it is his family in chapter 3 verse 20 – it literally says ‘and his people heard that these things were happening”. And we therefore have to ask – well who are his people? And because they turn up again in verse 31 – you see the mother, the brothers, the sisters turn up – it looks as though there is a sandwich in the text with the family at the beginning hearing what Jesus is doing and the family at the end of the passage turning up basically to take control.
And they are embarrassed and they are concerned for Christ. In the 1st Century in that particular part of the world, the family was very close. If you had one member of the family who was really ‘off the rails and strange’ it affected everybody else – probably more intimately than it does today. But even today we know what it’s like when a non-Christian couple have a couple of kids who become Christians because they go away on some camp or convention and you can hear that sort of reaction from the father or the mother talking to their friends –
‘We are not exactly sure what’s happened to our son, but he has become very serious about his religion’.
‘Or we don’t know what’s happened to our daughter but she seems to have gone a bit overboard’.
Whereas actually what has happened is that she has been converted.
So here is Jesus’ family hearing of his behaviour, his lifestyle and they have come to rescue him although the word in verse 21 as you will see is to take charge or seize him. It’s always a negative word in Mark’s Gospel.
- Mark chapter 6 – “Herod arrested took charge of John the Baptist”
- Mark chapter 12 – ‘they looked for a way to arrest or take charge of Jesus’
And here is his family coming to ‘arrest’ him – to seize him – and the word in verse 31 is that they call him – they stand outside the house – they cannot get in or they don’t want to go in – and they call him – the very word which is used of Jesus calling other people. So Jesus is the one who calls people but now the family is saying ‘no, we call you’. We call you to come out and we will take you home and we will sort you out and we will put you back into your senses and on the right track.
So I think it is fair to say that Jesus’ family are not believers. They don’t understand despite everything that Mary has perhaps been told, it’s not quite connected. And her family are not surrendered to Christ. They don’t understand what he is doing yet. They appreciate certain parts of his life – perhaps they like the fame – but they want to control everything else. They want to take charge, they want to call him, they want to tell him and in verse 31 Jesus utterly rejects their policy. He simply says in verse 33 “Who is my family?” And it is obvious that it is not those – mother, brothers and sisters who are standing outside the house. This is an astonishing lesson and an astonishing thing that his real family are not his family. His family, his real family, his real, real, REAL family is supernatural.
So if you are reading these verses especially in the 1st Century, it’s quite a shock isn’t it to read this if Mark wanted to elevate the family of Jesus and make Mary given an honourable position and James who has now become a part of the early Church, his brother, you would think he would leave out these embarrassing details. But this is a real piece of text and a genuine piece of information and in fact one more proof of the authenticity of Scripture.
I was reading a book, not too long ago, about how when scholars get together, especially non-Christian scholars, it may be the Academy of the University, they want to work out which parts of the Scriptures they like and which parts they don’t like. And they set up a series of tests – there might be 10 or 12 tests. They are not particularly interested in the supernatural nature of the Scriptures. They really just want to know which parts were really there at the beginning.
And some of the tests include things like this:
- Does the idea come up a few times in the New Testament? Because that indicates authenticity.
- Does the text fit the wider context? In other words, does it fit the picture as a whole? That may be so encouraging.
- Does it fit the customs of the day and fit what we know of the history? Again that maybe encouraging.
- And one of the tests, believe it or not, is the embarrassment test. Is this an embarrassing text?
So the crucifixion is given very great weight by non-Christian academic scholars because it is seen to be so embarrassing that the King, the Messiah would be crucified. It speaks of authenticity and here as the family show their misunderstanding and their incompetence. This is seen to be an authentic piece of Scripture.
Now of course for us this is not particularly important that this Academy gives its rubber stamp to the text. But it is interesting that it’s just one more thing to take seriously.
So the family of Jesus are embarrassingly ignorant. They think of themselves as needing to take control – human controllers. Just as people today may like to say of themselves “I do think there is someone there but I am pretty well in control of what he wants and what he says and what he does and what he expects. In other words, these people would like to dictate to the God they believe in. And some people will say this more starkly. They will say ‘I know you people say this… but I say this’. ‘And I know the Bible says this….but I prefer this’. And here is this family taking charge of Christ seeking to seize him, call him and in many ways direct him.
Now friends if you think you can dictate to Christ – you need to think again. You might as well decide to dictate to the ocean or to the planets and they as you know – the ocean and the planets – take dictation from Jesus. So be very careful of this particular syndrome and Jesus does. He turns his back really on his family at this point. Humanly he rejects his nearest and dearest, especially if they think that he is some kind of porn who they can move around.
Now this is a very important lesson as I say – it’s a very important lesson for those outside the church, many of whom we know and love who think that they can tell God what’s true and what’s not and what he should like and what he shouldn’t like and how he should be and how he shouldn’t be – and you know these sorts of people.
And it’s also very important for those who think that they’ve got some kind of human link with Christianity which entitles them to do exactly or think exactly what they want. You know those people who say things like –
“My uncle was an Archdeacon – you know”
In other words – don’t bagger me. I had an Archdeacon Uncle – leave me alone. Well it’s not going to save you.
Or the person who says “I got the Divinity Prize at school – meaning I am pretty smart and I know everything. Well that’s not going to save you either.
One lady told me at the 8.00am Service this morning she did get the Divinity Prize and got converted long after that.
Or think of people who say things like “we donated to the church, you know we donated the communion cups” as if that’s our contribution.
Somebody recently told me that they were pretty sure that they were OK with God because their family had contributed one of the kneelers in the pews.
Now I can’t begin to tell you what stupidity, what sadness is built into that kind of human link. And Jesus doesn’t take any notice really of it at all. We need to recognise this.
You can also see in this how lonely it must have been for him that his very family don’t understand, don’t believe, don’t support and don’t co-operate. In fact they seemed to be opposed to him and many Christians have had to suffer the sadness of having a family who don’t understand, support or help.
Some young clergy who go into ministry to the disappointment of their parents and then the parents turn up and hear them give their first sermon and they say to them something like “Well done, good speech, I don’t know what you are talking about but well done”.
There is a great sadness of feeling the loneliness of not having your family with you. And this is part of what Jesus is experiencing here.
Now the miraculous thing is that some of this family were transformed. Mary, it seems was converted and joined the early Church according to Acts chapter 1after having followed the death and the resurrection of Jesus. James, his brother, seems to have been converted after the resurrection when Jesus turned up according to 1 Corinthians 15 – confronted his brother and his brother from that point seems to have been a believer and joined the early Church as a Leader.
So we need to say humanly there are no guarantees of being in Christ’s family. It’s a supernatural work of grace but when the work of grace comes, you really do enter into the family, the people of God.
The second group who we see this morning is what I have called God’s People are not Hostile Professionals.
First of all God’s People are not Human Controllers and secondly God’s People are not Hostile Professions.
Look at verse 21 – the family think he is mad,
The religious leaders think he is bad. It’s an incredible conclusion to come to, isn’t it, we are following the ministry of Jesus. We have seen him heal people, we have seen him love people, we have seen him exercise people, bring demons out of them and we have decided this is our conclusion – he is possessed, he is in harness with the devil! Now nobody has clarified this – so dilemma of Mad, Bad and God like CS Lewis.
I was so glad that Ken in our prayers reminded us of where the logic drives us and CS Lewis said something similar.
He said “What are we to make of Jesus Christ? A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would be a lunatic or the devil or the Son of God. It seems obvious that he was neither lunatic nor evil being. Therefore however strange or terrifying it may seem, he was and is GOD. And the greater question is therefore – what he intends to make of us”
So the religious leaders see the evidence and pronounce that Jesus is devilish – a very hostile opposition. Some weeks ago in the morning services here, we looked at a series of sermons on the work of the Holy Spirit and I remember speaking on the subject of what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit – the unforgivable sin. I am sure that talk is available somewhere if you look up our website. But I just want to say a few quick things about this Marks’ version of this particular issue and I don’t want to repeat everything I said because some of you have heard this just a few weeks ago but I just want to point out a few key things.
The Pharisees and the Scribes are saying of Jesus ‘he is bad’ and Jesus is saying to them ‘not only is this illogical but your hostility especially if you continue this hostility is unforgiveable’.
So here are some quick thoughts on the subject.
Notice first of all that the religious leaders in Jesus’ day cannot deny the powerful miracles. They can only make a decision about where they come from. OK – they are happening and the religious leaders say the source is the devil. So although people today may say that miracles are fictional we read in the historical documents that the opponents of Jesus believed in the miracles, could not refute the miracles – all they could say was that they were devilish.
Secondly, their conclusion is illogical – this is like kind of going to Pre-School. You imagine you are in Pre-School or you are in 1st Class and there’s the question on the paper and it goes like this:
If you are in a football team and all the members of your football team tackle all the other members of your football team – will you win the game? – Probably not.
If you are a soldier and all the people in your Army start shooting all the people in your Army – will it be good? – Probably not.
You see how simple this is. Jesus says if a kingdom attacks a kingdom, it will fall. If a house attacks a house, it will fall. If Satan attacks Satan, he will fall. This cannot possibly be being done by the work of the devil. Internal warfare is suicidal.
Thirdly, notice that the devil is a real person. We read in verse 27 that Jesus calls him ‘the strong man’. He is real, he is strong but he is under control. We might even say he is a puppet of Christ. I think these are key things to know about the devil. He is real. I hope you don’t take a different view from Jesus on the devil. He is strong. He is not to be despised. He is not to be forgotten. A lot of the troubles in our life are due to the devil who we forget and he also under control. He is bound and in the New Testament at the cross, beaten and defeated by Jesus. Not yet eliminated but Colossians 12:15 “He is defeated by Christ”.
The fourth thing in verse 28 I say again is that all sins can be forgiven. This is a very wonderful thing – especially if you come here today and there is something which is on your conscience because of recent days or deep in the past – something that really weighs on you – that can be forgiven – washed and covered. That’s what Jesus says. Old Bishop Ryle says “sins of youth and sins of old age, of head and hand and tongue and imagination, of broken commandments, of idolatry and of backsliding all may be forgiven. That is the greatness of the cross of Christ. It can all be forgiven, it can all be washed away, and it can all be covered.
But fifthly (verse 29) there is a sin which is to face the ministry of Jesus, the life and the work of Jesus and to call it ‘objectionable or may be even evil’ and reject utterly what God offers. That, says Jesus, is unforgiveable. Because as Alan Cole says in his Commentary “you are not just facing the work of Jesus and his offer and saying – NO, you are slamming the door in his face”.
And if the opposition says Jesus continues like that, year after year, decade after decade, you can’t be surprised that you have turned your back on salvation.
JC Ryle says “sin is an infinite evil – it needed an infinite solution so there will be an infinite loss if the remedy is rejected”.
Sixthly, this sin therefore is not a word or a deed which we easily fall into and can be forgiven. If you are a person here this morning and you want forgiveness, you have not forfeited salvation. If you want salvation, you have not committed the ‘unpardonable sin’. If the idea of committing the unpardonable sin worries you, you will almost certainly haven’t committed the unpardonable sin.
And seventhly, the big issue of these verses is that beyond the loneliness of this family of Jesus who are against him are the religious leaders, his peers who are against him. He is utterly alone in the work of salvation. And so there are two groups here we are being present with who should be with him and they are both again him. And we are being taught the very simple point – these people are not his people. These people are not his people.
When I was reflecting, you know, on a much, much smaller scale – imagine if you came up to me as a group after the Service and you said ‘I want you to know that your family are utterly against you and I want you to know that there isn’t a fellow clergyman in the Sydney Diocese who agrees with you – they are all against you’. It’s a very isolating position, isn’t it?
And yet if you were to go up to Jesus and say to him “I want you to know that your family doesn’t understand you – they are actually opposed to you’. Jesus would say on the basis of the verses in front of us ‘I have a new family’. And if we went up to Jesus and said ‘we want you to know that the religious hierarchy, all the leaders of the Jewish world, are against you – Jesus would say ‘I have a new leadership’. And he’s already taken the initiative because in last week’s passage he collected his people and now we are being told that this group are not his people and this group are not his people – he has already chosen his people. He has taken the initiative.
Well let’s look thirdly and more wonderfully at the last little bit which is God’s People are Humble Listeners. They are not Human Controllers who dictate and chose – they are not Hostile Professionals who hate the liberty which Jesus is bringing but they are Humble Listeners. See verse 33 “Who are my family”? And in verse 34 “Those who are seated around him listening, and doing”.
CH Spurgeon tells a very graphic illustration of how helpless clergy are and how helpless Christians are to change anybody who we would love to change. He says that basically we are like the funeral directors. He says we know how to dress a corpse and we know how to do the make up on a corpse but we just can’t revive the corpse! It’s only Jesus who can revive the corpse.
And what he is teaching us here is that there is a group of people who he has brought from death to life who he has revived and transformed and he initiates as I say. And the marks of being transformed or revived are in verses 34-35 and these are the closing verses this morning and I want you to notice how wonderful these verses are. These are the marks which we are told in Mark chapter 3 of what it means to be a new transformed person belonging to God’s people – you are seated – you are listening and you are seeking to do his word.
Seated Listening And Doing
I hope you might test yourself because you will see if you do that it is a miracle to be brought into the position of as it were sitting at Christ’s feet, listening to his Word (yes I like this Word, I don’t mean Sunday mornings! – I mean in general) and then I want to do it. There is a part of me that wants to do the word. We don’t see a lot of this in our city, do we? We don’t see people around the city seated at Christ’s feet, loving his word and doing his word. We see people around our city incredibly restless and all the activities of last night will not satisfy the restless soul of anybody who took part. People are restless and they block the word of God and they do the opposite to the word of God thinking that that’s where freedom will be found and it’s always a dead end.
What about the nominal Christian? What about the person who is kind of linked to the Church? And we say to them they are on the role here at St Thomas. They are very nice. They join us for occasional services and their kids are at Sunday School and they sing the same hymns and we have coffee together and they are really lovely people. The question I am asking is this – Do they actually love to sit at the feet of Christ to listen to his word and then to do it? Because that is a miraculous transformed. If that’s not present in somebody’s life here today – check yourself. If you do not delight to sit at Christ’s feet, hear his word and seek to do it, all the other stuff may be irrelevant. But if those things are present, praise God because that is an absolute divine transformation. It’s a work of grace.
And the reason that this is able to happen is because Jesus takes himself steadily, steadily and steadily to Jerusalem and at Jerusalem he takes on himself our death, our hostility, our opposition, our sin, our evil and he pays for it and he produces in us a brand new life, a remarkably transformed life – not perfect, not always obedient but there is a newness which says ‘He is my master, I want to sit at his feet, I want to learn from him, I want to put into practice as best I can what he tells me’.
And I hope friends you might reflect this morning, perhaps talk over morning tea, on the great work of Christ in giving you these marks which are miraculous. And as he draws you into the people of God you are not just part of human blood superficial link, you are certainly not part of that religious hostile group but you have been changed by grace and you find yourself in the people of God. And as you find yourself in the people of God, you find yourself with his gift to you to answer so much of the loneliness that is in the world.
The world is such a lonely place.
You can be a Christian and feel the loneliness.
You can be a Pastor and feel the loneliness.
And God has been given to us this gift of fellowship so that somebody might be loved by us or might love us and encourage us and strengthen us and may be embrace us and keep us going in the task of trusting and obeying Christ. What a privilege that Christ works in his real people.