Sunday, February 08, 2009

Sermon on Mark 1:29-39, for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany. "The Weight of Jesus"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The sermon text is the Gospel, Mark 1:29-39, and I want you to listen and watch for how Jesus’ life impacted and transformed everyone and everything He came into contact with, and also think about how it impacts and transforms your life today. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Throughout the gospel reading, you get this sense that everything is pulled toward Jesus, almost by some invisible magnetism or gravity. He leaves the synagogue after the Sabbath, and late in the evening the whole town was drawn to Simon Peter’s house, bringing the sick and demon-possessed to Jesus to be healed. Jesus leaves very early in the morning, in the dark, to pray alone for awhile, and the disciples found Him there, saying “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus left the village so He could continue preaching unhindered. His presence just made such a deep impression on everything and everyone around Him. Crowds were constantly following on His heels. Think of the world around Him like a trampoline, and we’re like little marbles or grains of rice scattered over the trampoline. When Jesus steps onto the earth, everyone and everything is drawn to Him, even those who couldn’t stand Him, like the Pharisees, the demon-possessed, etc. Everyone who crossed His path, and encountered the man Jesus Christ, was impacted by Him. It was impossible for your life not to be changed in some way by Jesus.

After preaching in the synagogue, Jesus went to Simon Peter’s home and learned that Simon’s mother-in-law was very sick with a severe fever. Jesus extended a personal touch, and lifted her by the hand, and the fever was gone. Without any need for recuperating, she was instantly well and began to serve Jesus. Our lives are transformed in a deep and encompassing way by God’s Word, and the salvation that we’ve received in Jesus Christ. We’ve received the full and free forgiveness of sins. Jesus gives us His very body and blood in the Lord’s Supper to strengthen and preserve us—to forgive our sins that we may enjoy His new life.

Will our lives be committed to service, just as Simon’s mother-in-law showed her thankfulness and appreciation to Jesus? We gather in worship to receive God’s saving gifts and mercy, to be renewed and restored from the fevered pace of our lives. It is then our response to go out in service toward our neighbor. Betty Jean, our dearly departed sister-in-Christ, said the way she wanted people to remember her was by donating an hour or two of their time each month to volunteering. She knew the Lord’s healing forgiveness in her life, and lived in service out of thankfulness to her Lord. What opportunities for service lie open to you? Out of about 720 hours in a month, 2 hours is less than 3/10ths of a percent of your time. For we who have received such a great salvation in Christ Jesus, and who’ve been freely given His love and forgiveness, volunteering is a small way for us to freely give to others. Jesus transforms our lives into one’s of service.

Again, after sunset the crowds were drawn to Jesus. Why after sunset? You may remember that the Pharisees and others of Jesus’ time were very strict about observing the Sabbath day, and not carrying heavy loads or working on the Sabbath (Luke 13:14). Probably the people were trying to avoid breaking the Sabbath by carrying the sick, or being healed on the Sabbath. Jesus later made it clear that it was good and right for Him to heal and save life on the Sabbath (Mark 3:4). In any case, Jesus wasn’t impatient, but again showed compassion, and healed the crowds that came to Him. Truly only the Son of God could have such abundant compassion and patience. He could have had His disciples drive them away. But neither was He doing it for show or for attention, and He strictly commanded the demons He cast out not to speak—because they knew who He was.

Yet even with His compassion and desire to help others, Jesus also needed time to withdraw by Himself in prayer. Still very dark outside, He went and prayed alone. This is another way in which Jesus can transform each of our lives. Setting aside time for quiet meditation on God’s Word and prayer, draws our attention away from the distractions and interruptions of life and back to Jesus. It’s too easy for the physical cares and needs of life to push our spiritual health out of focus. Private time for prayer turns our attention back to God.

Martin Luther told a story about “St. Bernard, who complained that he could not finish a Lord’s Prayer without being interrupted by foreign thoughts which impeded his praying. When a friend expressed surprise at this, St. Bernard bet him a stallion that he could do no better. The friend took up the bet and began to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven…” Yet this thought had crept in before finishing the First Petition, “would the saddle belong to him also, in case he won the horse?” He stopped the prayer and conceded victory to St. Bernard. Luther concludes, “If you are able to speak one Lord’s Prayer without any other thoughts of your own, I shall consider you a master. I cannot do it.”

I know this same difficulty in prayer. Perhaps you do as well. As I say my prayers at bedtime, I rarely get through a whole prayer before my thoughts have wandered to some events of the day, a concern on my mind, a task at church or home left unfinished, the friends or family I haven’t talked to recently enough, the television program I was watching, etc, etc. So how important for us to at least separate ourselves somewhat from outside distractions. Otherwise they will only add to our internal distractions. But Jesus couldn’t even escape these external distractions. Before He had finished in prayer, the disciples found Him, saying “Everyone is looking for you!” Again the weight of Jesus’ presence in the world drew all people to Him. Perhaps moms and dads with little children know best what it’s like to constantly be sought “Mommy, Mommy! Daddy, Daddy!”, and to not have a minute to themselves. Maybe husband and wife can take turns giving each other a chance for their own “time out” to pray and reflect, or spend time in prayer together after the kids are put to bed. However we make time for private prayer and God’s Word.

But for all the attention that Jesus drew because of His healing ministry—for all the crowds that flocked to Him for His miracles—He made it clear that this was secondary to His real purpose for coming. So when Jesus moved on to another town or village, He said it was so that He could “preach there also. That is why I have come.” Those words ought to stop us. The healing and miracles were visibly amazing! People’s lives were openly changed for all to see. This drew crowds and fame! It was the quickest way for Jesus to accumulate followers. But He sidestepped this kind of fame and set His mind on preaching the Gospel. This was what He came for. And why was preaching the heart and purpose of Jesus’ ministry? Physical healing lasts only through this lifetime, but we’ll all still die. To believe in Jesus’ Word, though, brings an eternally lasting benefit. Like the crowds, our attention is easily drawn to only our physical circumstances and problems, while we may be unaware of more serious spiritual problems.

Jesus didn’t divorce His care for the soul from His care for the body, and so it’s also appropriate that we would care for people in both ways. But He gave primary importance to the soul, and the changing of a person’s heart to be right with God. He was preparing people to receive Him as the Son of God and their Messiah, as He would go to His death on the cross as the final payment for sin. This was the point of greatest weight and glory in His earthly life—the climax of all His teaching and healing ministry. The cross was the hinge point on which everything turned, and there He would draw all men to Himself (John 12:32-33). There at the cross was the point where His life would have the greatest and most enduring impact throughout history. There the foundations of the earth were literally shook as death swallowed up the Author of Life. And in three days Christ burst the gut of death and broke forth from the tomb to rise to a glorified and immortal body. Truly at His cross He would draw all men to Himself. He drew all our sin to Himself, like sucking poison from a wound. Our celebration of the Lord’s Supper that He instituted as His last will and testament compels all mankind to look upon the death of Jesus on the cross as the salvation of all men. Paul wrote, “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). The Lord’s Supper, together with Baptism, and the continuing preaching of Christ crucified in Christian pulpits throughout the world, magnetizes and draws the eyes of all mankind to this ignoble death on the cross. Even today He draws all men to Himself at the cross.

We preach because Christ preached, and He commanded that same message of forgiveness of sins to go out to all the world. His weight and the impact of His life is not lessened in this world, as He promised that He is with us always, even to the end of the age (Mt. 28:20). His presence continues through the Lord’s Supper. We preach because the death of Christ for sinners is what gives His ministry it’s greatest weight and impact. And His ministry is carried on through the preaching of the Gospel all throughout the world. Through His cross, through the Word of God and prayer, through His Holy Spirit active in our lives, He lives in us to make our lives weighty and full of impact, so that we might put His Word to work in transforming the lives of others. Through us, Jesus’ Word is also active in transforming the lives of others. And we, like Simon’s mother-in-law, and like our own BJ, can commit our lives to service. As we have been served by Christ, now go and serve others! Amen.
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
1. What made Jesus spiritually “weighty” or “significant,” that drew all people to Him?
2. Have you ever thought about trying to “gain spiritual weight?”  What means of grace does God use to transform our lives, to make them lives of significance?
3. What ways can you take on BJ’s challenge to volunteer more? Where do you have a heart to serve, and what gifts or talents do you have that you can use?
4. How does prayer help shape our life with God? How does the Lord’s Prayer “teach us to pray”? When can you set aside private time for prayer?
5. What was Jesus’ central purpose for His ministry? How did healing and casting out demons figure into that larger purpose?
6. What did Jesus’ preaching (and in fact all Christ-centered preaching) ultimately point to, as the culmination of His ministry?
7. How was Jesus’ death on the cross the weightiest and most significant moment of His earthly ministry? How does the Lord’s Supper draw our eyes to that sacrifice?

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