Sunday, 25 June 2017

Who is Jesus? A Sermon on Mark 3:7-35

I preached today. Nobody seemed to fall asleep during the sermon, so I thought I’d reproduce it here to make it look as though my blog is still active.

Mark 3:7-35

Who is Jesus?
Almost every day I wake up and ask myself this question. It’s not that I forget who Jesus is. I know Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, my Lord and my God, et cetera, et cetera. But I need to remind myself of who Jesus is—because if I don’t, it’s quite likely that I’ll spend each day living as though it doesn’t matter who he is; as though he’s unimportant; as though he’s irrelevant. Let me put it this way: What I believe about Jesus affects the way I live. And let me suggest something else: What you believe about Jesus affects the way you live.
You might not agree with me on this—but I reckon our Gospel reading today shows this angle to be worth considering. Call to mind all the people and entities mentioned in this passage. There are three crowds of people. There are the twelve apostles and the wider group of disciples from which they came. There are the teachers of the Law of Moses, the scribes. There are Jesus’s mother, Mary, and his brothers. And there are even evil spirits mentioned. Each of these people or groups or entities have an opinion about who Jesus is, and all these opinions affect the way they respond to him and shape how they live their lives. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
First, let’s look at the crowds. Crowd #1 is mentioned in verses 7 to 10. These are people who have heard that there’s a man going around healing people and performing exorcisms. And so the natural reaction of these people is to look for Jesus themselves: If Jesus could heal them, he can heal my son or my daughter or my mum or my dad; he can heal me. Crowd #1’s response is: Jesus is a healer and he can heal me.
“Get the beers in, Philip!”
Crowd #2 comes in verse 20. But the motivation of Crowd #2 isn’t as clear as that of Crowd #1. Whereas Crowd #1 followed Jesus in order to be healed, there’s no stated reason as to why Crowd #2 has formed. It’s just there! Perhaps the people are just there simply because Jesus is a sort of celebrity and they want to share in the excitement—kind of like what would happen in Penge if, say, the Queen or Stormzy or Rowan Williams turned up to have a swift half in The Moon and Stars. Crowd #2’s response is: Jesus is a celebrity and I want to see what he says and does next.
Crowd #3 in verse 32 seems to be some kind of overspill from Crowd #2. Perhaps these are people who came to see Jesus out of excitement or interest but then were captivated enough by him to want to know more. Crowd #3 is sitting around Jesus, learning from him. Crowd #3’s response is: Jesus is more than just a faith healer or a magician, and I want to know more about what he thinks.
So those are the three crowds. What about the disciples? Well, they have already decided Jesus is worth following and have committed themselves to living out his teachings about the kingdom of God. And Jesus calls the twelve apostles from this wider group of disciples—calls them to be his ambassadors as they learn the tricks of his trade. The disciples’ and apostles’ response is: Jesus is our rabbi, our teacher, and we will follow him and emulate his way of life.
Now let’s turn to Jesus’s family: his mother, Mary, and his brothers. Verse 21 says that ‘they went to take charge of him’—basically, to sort him out. He’s gone mad, they all thought. Mary may well have pondered the unusual events around Jesus’s birth in her heart, but I suppose having spent the best part of the last twenty years watching Jesus make the first-century equivalents of coffee tables and Billy bookcases was enough to help her forget her eldest’s mission. Jesus had unleashed himself on an unsuspecting public and was going around casting out demons and healing sick people and forgiving sins—all things typically not the work of a carpenter. And so Mary and her other sons needed to take him home, give him a reality check, and stop him potentially from bringing shame on the family. Jesus’s family’s response is: Jesus is mad and we’ve got to do something about it!
The teachers of the law, the scribes, are up next. The scribes were the Bible experts of the day; they knew the Law of Moses inside and out, and they knew exactly how it should be applied. When ordinary Jews needed to know the finer points about mildew or people falling from roofs or animals with crushed testicles, the scribes were the ones to turn to for advice. And so when the scribes in Jerusalem heard about what Jesus was doing and saying, they visited Galilee on a fact-finding mission to see if what Jesus was doing and saying was in line with what they knew about the Law of Moses. And, of course, for them, it wasn’t. They turned up in Capernaum, heard reports of what Jesus had been doing and saying, probably saw him healing people and casting out demons, were most likely alarmed at the huge numbers of people believing the hype—and concluded that this couldn’t be God’s work at all. The scribes’ response is: Jesus is possessed by the devil.
a shadowy, enigmatic figure
opposed to God’s kingdom
And what of the devil, or Satan, or the demons, or the evil or unclean spirits? Well, there’s not much to say here, really: the evil spirits simply recognise that Jesus is the Son of God—or, to use the imagery that Jesus himself uses, the evil spirits recognise that Jesus is the one who has tied up the strong man, Satan, the prince of demons, and taken away his power. The evil spirits’ response is: Jesus is the Son of God.
And it’s worth making it clear that Jesus does not correct them. Of all the people and groups and entities in today’s Gospel reading, it is the evil spirits—those shadowy, enigmatic figures opposed to God’s kingdom—who know exactly who Jesus is. Who is Jesus? Jesus is the Son of God.
Earlier I said that what we believe about Jesus affects the way we respond to him and shapes how we live our lives. So how do the opinions of the people and groups and entities in our Gospel reading affect their responses and lives? Well:
  • Crowd #1 believes Jesus is a healer; the people are, understandably, following Jesus for what he can do for them. They want to be whole.
  • Crowd #2 believes Jesus is a celebrity; the people are just there for the show, for the spectacle, for the excitement! They want to be entertained!
  • Crowd #3 believes Jesus is—well, Crowd #3 believes Jesus is interesting, and perhaps nothing more than that. The people want to be intellectually engaged.
  • The disciples and the apostles are committed to following Jesus; but at this point in Mark’s Gospel, there is nothing to say they thought he was significantly different from any of the other rabbis of the day. Nonetheless, they want to have a purpose.
  • Jesus’s family believes his peculiarly intense devotion to God has driven him round the bend. They want to take him out of the public eye.
  • The scribes believe Jesus is possessed; they are mistaking the work of the Holy Spirit with the work of unclean or evil spirits. They do not believe that God is acting in and through Jesus; they are blaspheming against the Holy Spirit!
  • And the evil spirits—well, they know exactly who Jesus is, and they’re running scared!
So with all this in mind, let me ask again: Who is Jesus?
You see, if I wake up and decide that Jesus is just a healer or just a celebrity, then I would live my life as though his importance lies merely in what he can do for me, regardless of any allegiance I might eventually show towards him. I would put him in the same bracket, perhaps, as a faith healer or a self-help guru—certainly not the Son of God.
If I wake up and decide that Jesus has lots of good things to say, or that he is worth following, even imitating, then I would live my life as though he were a politician, or an activist, or perhaps a religious spokesperson—but definitely not the Son of God.
If I wake up and decide that Jesus is mad, has delusions of grandeur, or is demon-possessed, then I would live my life as though he has no impact on me whatsoever. Jesus would be just another person, and an extremely misguided and crazy one at that—absolutely not the Son of God!
But if I wake up and recognise that Jesus is the Son of God who loved me and died for me; if I recognise that Jesus is the Son of God whom God raised from the dead and who now sits at the right hand of God the Father praying for me; if I recognise these things, then I would certainly commit myself to him. But more than this: I would accept that, by God’s grace, I am God’s child; I would desire God’s will be done at all times; and I would be open to the power of God’s Holy Spirit in my life.
Jesus calls each of us today—he calls you, and he calls me—to come to his table and be part of the circle that sits around him. He calls us to learn from him, to act like him, even to be him in a world of terror and fire. We who believe Jesus is the Son of God are his brothers and sisters and mothers, and this belief, this status, will affect our lives for the good—no, not simply for the good, but for the transformation of this world.
Jesus calls us. How will we—how will you—respond?

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