October 22, 2017
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Gospel of Mark
20th Sunday after Pentecost
The Misunderstood Son of God
From our scripture reading last week, we now know that Jesus is being watched constantly by the Pharisees and the scribes. As he goes about teaching and healing, the Pharisees and the scribes condemn him for not following the prescribed orthodox rituals of that time. Jesus is in constant conflict with the religious authorities.
To avoid some of this conflict, Jesus moves his teaching out of the synagogues. Our scripture opens with Jesus and his disciples withdrawing to the lake of Galilee. Jesus does not withdraw in fear and it is not the retreat of a man who fears to face the consequences. But Jesus’ hour has not yet come. There is much that he has still to do and say before the time of final conflict.
Around the lake, the crowds flock to see him and touch him. The crowds come from all parts of Palestine, some making the more than 100-mile journey from Jerusalem. The crowds are so large that it becomes dangerous and a boat has to be kept ready, just off the shore, in case Jesus might be overwhelmed with the crushing throng. Jesus has healed so many sick people that people are no longer waiting for Jesus to touch them, but are rushing forward to touch him.
We know that whenever the evil spirits see Jesus, they fall down before him and cry out, “You are the Son of God.” This title was used in the ancient world to describe someone who was specially near and close to God. But Jesus gives the evil spirits strict orders not to tell who he is.
But why does Jesus do this? The evil spirits know that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s anointed king. If word got out that the Messiah has arrived, the Jews would see him as a conquering king who, with his mighty armies, would blast the Romans and lead the Jews to world power. Jesus doesn’t want the Jews rising in rebellion. He doesn’t want to be a nationalist leader.
Jesus thought of his Messiahship in terms of love. So, Jesus had to educate the people into the true idea of what it meant. A premature announcement of his Messiahship could wreck his whole mission. However, Jesus’ whole mission is one of misunderstanding. Misunderstanding by the religious leaders, misunderstanding for a time by his disciples, and misunderstanding by the Jews who are looking for a conquering leader. Jesus has to teach all of these about the truth and the kingdom. And so, today, we will look at Jesus’ three responses to the pressures of the crowd. Would you pray with me?
Jesus’ first response to the pressures of the crowd is to establish a new nation. We know from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 6, verse 12, that Jesus spends all night on the mountain in prayer before selecting his disciples. We know he selects twelve men. This number is significant because in the Book of Genesis, God started with Jacob’s twelve sons, and in the Book of Exodus, he built them into a mighty nation. Israel was chosen to bring the Messiah into the world so that through Him all the nations of the earth could be blessed.
However, in Jesus’ time, the nation of Israel is now spiritually decayed and its people could not even recognize the Messiah in their midst. So, God has to establish a new holy nation and the twelve apostles are to become the nucleus of this new “spiritual” nation. These twelve disciples will form the core of a new community. What is amazing though, is that no two listings of the disciples in the four gospels are the same. It is significant to know that Christianity began with a group. The Christian faith is something which from the beginning has to be discovered and lived out in a fellowship. It must still be done that way today if we are to hold each other accountable for our Christian beliefs.
When Jesus selected the apostles, he had three purposes in mind for them. Jesus was going to train them by personal example and teaching. He was going to send them out to preach the Gospel, and he was going to give them authority to heal and cast out demons. Jesus wants these twelve men to be able to continue his work when he returns to the Father after his resurrection. He also wants them to be able to train others to carry on the ministry after them.
Just a small note here. Jesus had many disciples. A disciple is one who learns by doing. It is what we may call an apprentice. But Jesus gave his chosen twelve the special name of “apostle,” which means one who is sent on official service with a commission. In other words, these apostles were Jesus’ special ambassadors.
Folks, these twelve apostles were a diversified group of unlikely candidates for Christian service. These were the sick in need of a physician. Among others, Jesus chose a strong, pig-headed, opinionated man. A hated tax collector. A doubting Thomas. A zealot, who was part of an extremist Jewish group organized to overthrow Rome, and two brothers who fought between themselves for a prominent place next to Jesus. The worse, was one who would eventually betray him to the religious leaders and the Roman authorities. This was certainly not a group of men one would want to start a worldwide ministry.
However, Jesus gave them a message to tell the gospel and he gave them a power to cast out demons. If Jesus could bring this group together, then there is still hope for all of us. But with this group, Jesus begins a new spiritual nation. It was not about an ideal church in heaven, but about a real church right here on earth.
Jesus’ first response to the pressures of the crowd is to establish a new nation. His second response is to establish a new family. Verses 20-21: Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
Jesus’ own family has come to the conclusion that he has taken leave of his senses and that it is time to take him home. To them, it is obvious that Jesus is a few fries short of a happy meal. After all, he has left home from a flourishing carpenter’s business from which he could have made a living. He gives the whole thing up to be a wandering preacher. Who would give up an income to become a vagrant with nowhere to sleep?
His family can also see that he is on the way to a head-on collision with the religious leaders of his day. These were powerful people who could bring him much harm. There is no one who could take on the scribes, Pharisees, and orthodox leaders and hope to get away with it.
And lastly, here Jesus is starting a little society of his own and a strange society at that. Jesus’ disciples are not the kind of people whom anyone with ambitions would particularly want to know. His family must have been thinking, “How could anyone pick a crowd of friends like that?” To his family and friends, Jesus had thrown away the security of a job, the safety of a home and community, and the indifference to the verdict of society. Jesus had shown that he did not much care what people said about him. What appalled Jesus’ friends was the risks that he was taking, risks which, as they thought, no one with any sense would take.
Then [Jesus’] mother and his brothers arrived, and standing outside they sent word to him and called him. Jesus is not being rude to his family when he remains in the house and doesn’t try to see them. If Jesus yields to his family, he plays right into the hands of the opposition. Warren Wiersbe writes in his commentary on Mark, “the religious leaders would have said, ‘See, He agreed with His family – He needs help! Don’t take Jesus of Nazareth too seriously.’”
Instead of giving in to his family, Jesus uses this crisis as an opportunity to teach a spiritual lesson. Verses 33-35: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” [Jesus] asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Jesus establishes a new family made up of all people who do the will of God. Jesus doesn’t want believers to ignore or abandon their families in order to serve God. But he does want believers to put God’s will above everything else in their lives. Our love for God should be so great that our love for family would seem like hatred in comparison. Jesus wants us to be a part of his family.
Jesus first response to the pressures of the crowd is to establish a new nation. His second response is to establish a new family. And lastly, his third response is to announce a new kingdom. The crowds that gather around Jesus expect him to restore the kingdom and bring back Israel’s lost glory; but his response is to announce a new kingdom, a spiritual kingdom.
In verses 22-30 of Mark, the scribes and Pharisees attack Jesus once again for healing a demoniac who is both blind and dumb. We know about this healing in more detail from Matthew 12:22. The crowd was saying that Jesus must be the Son of David, the Messiah. But the religious leaders said, “No, He is in league with Beelzebub! It is Satan’s power that is at work in Him, not God’s power.”
You see, “Beelzebub” means “master of the house.” And so, Jesus gives them a parable about a strong man, Satan, guarding his house. To plunder the house, one must first overcome the strong man. If Jesus was casting out the demons by the power of Satan, then Satan was actually fighting against himself. Why would Satan want to lose any territory? He already had control of the demonic man. Why would Satan cast out his own demons? Jesus defeated the bad theology and faulty logic of the religious leaders with this parable. The fact that Jesus delivered the man was proof that he was stronger than Satan and could stop him.
Jesus warns the religious leaders that talk is cheap and that they are in danger of committing an eternal and unforgivable sin and that was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It is the sin of attributing to the devil the works of the Holy Spirit. The religious authorities are witness to the loving, saving, and healing power of God through Jesus, and yet, they are attributing that power to Satan. To the Jews, the Holy Spirit reveals God’s truth and enables that truth to be recognized. Obviously, by what they say to Jesus, they are unable to see God’s truth at work.
Jesus makes it very clear in our scripture that God will forgive all sin and all blasphemy, even against his own Son. But when the Jewish religious leaders sin against the Holy Spirit and don’t recognize the truth, they have reached “the end of the line” and there can be no more forgiveness.
Jesus is announcing a new kingdom, a spiritual kingdom. It is a kingdom in which the Holy Spirit will be active in the lives of those who will believe in him. It will be a kingdom of truth born out in the love people will have for God and for each other.
Jesus truly is revolutionary. Amidst the chaos that was once a holy nation of God’s choosing, Jesus is establishing a new nation, a new family, and a new spiritual kingdom. To Jesus, all people belong to God and all are called to be in obedience to him and to claim the gospel. Jesus truly was the misunderstood Son of God. But as a believer, you now know better, and can put your trust in Jesus Christ.