Where Are You Going?

There were some rules in my house that remained unbroken. They were like our own family commandments. One of them was the sovereign right of my mother to know precisely where I was at all times, especially if at a friends house. After all, bad company corrupts good morals, and those people didn’t need any negative influences. This flashback got me thinking; How did Mary feel about Jesus new friends in Mark 2:13-17? Did she know about it? Did this sort of behavior contribute to the scorn Jesus received from his siblings?

Let’s get it straight, Jesus plays host to a cast of shady characters in the home of his new disciple, a recently retired tax collector. Jesus chooses to associate with this group even though it cost him what little credibility he had left with the religious leaders. It was bad enough to call Levi, but scandalous to go into his house. These people were categorical “sinners”. Jesus not only went into Levi’s house, and socialized with his friends, but also was content to recline at his table.

There is no doubt that everything Jesus did was deliberate and intentional. I believe he was intentionally disrespectful toward the man-made legalistic restrictions of the Scribes and Pharisees. He was provocative. It accomplished two distinct purposes. First, it revealed the hard hearts of the religious leaders. Second, it revealed the solidarity he had with the rejected. Where did he go? He went to people who knew they needed him.

Making Peace

Could someone believe in the Messiah, but refuse to do anything about it? Are there people who think they will do an after hours deal with God? Can we safely assume that some people have given up; convinced their sin is beyond forgiveness, even by God? The answer to all of these is yes, and perhaps one of Jesus own disciples thought this way. Levi (a.k.a. Matthew) either didn’t believe in the Messiah, or more likely made his peace with the fact that if the Messiah came, he simply would not be part of the kingdom. He may have been the type that decided to sell out, give up on spiritual things, make the most out of this life, get as rich as possible, live as comfortably as possible, and then sort out the consequences after he died. On thing is for certain, no one expected Jesus to call Levi, especially Levi. But isn’t that just like Christ? Levi had made peace with his situation; Jesus makes peace with Levi.white-flag-2

Taking Care of Business

Everyone remembers that kid picked last during recess. He was too fat, skinny, uncoordinated, got hurt easy, or somehow managed to fumble, strike out, trip, or otherwise mess up at the worst possible time. Likely never in the history of middle school recess athletics has a kid been passed over for his moral shortcomings. No one really cares because flag football is a lot like the Presidency; morality is secondary to job performance.

In the case of disciple selection you would assume the opposite. This is what makes the selection of Levi so stunning (Mark 2:13-17). When Jesus comes across him, he was sitting at his tax stand. This is where he would keep the records of taxes owed, monies lent, interest to be collected, collateral held, and likely a substantial amount of cash. It’s interesting to note that he is not in the crowd where Jesus has been teaching. He would not have been in Peter’s house either. He was working, doing his thing, taking care of business, and likely convinced that Jesus would never reach out to him anyway. That would be a reasonable conclusion. If you were a Jew that believed the Messiah would come and establish his kingdom on the earth by eradicating Roman occupation, then collecting taxes for them put you in a difficult spot.

But Jesus did reach out to him. And he did repent and follow. Remember that. The worst sinner might be surprised when you walk across the street to graciously share the gospel, but you might be surprised when that sinner immediately repents.

Lowered Down and Lifted Up

Mark 2:1-12 is familiar to almost everyone, even people who have never read the Bible or go to church. One subliminal message is that Satan contents himself by surrounding Jesus with flattery, noise, and crowds. It’s as if there is a concerted effort to do whatever it takes to block him from view, and confuse the ones who genuinely seek him. Don’t forget the leper from Mark 1:40-45. He’s a contrast to the true faith demonstrated by the paralytic, and especially his friends. The leper came in boldness, alone and calling out to Jesus with words of flattery. He was tested, found disobedient, and proved to be an object of compassion alone. The paralytic was brought in silent meekness, lowered down by friends in front of everyone. He was trusted by Jesus, obedient, and proved to be an object of spiritual salvation as well as physical healing. It cries out to anyone who can hear that coming to Christ results in profoundly different outcomes. Desperation, enthusiasm, fascination, and infatuation are not the same as repentance, faith, trust, and obedience. Being lowered down in life might be the most gracious thing the Lord can do. It humbles us. It wakes us up to our own helplessness. Affliction makes us look to Jesus with hope. It’s the only reason some will ever seek him. Unfortunately spiritual sickness is not motivating. Difficult circumstances provide the window of opportunity. Once the crisis passes, they easily drift back into the same patterns they were so comfortable in before. When we encounter someone who has been brought low, let’s agree to offer a word of hope that extends far beyond the physical.

Sold Out

sold out

When you see “sold out” it usually guarantees the show will have a special buzz, memorable experience, and great energy. It’s also great press. Sometimes even huge venues sell out fast. Pearl Jam sold out Wrigley Field in less than 10 minutes. Some guy named Paul McCartney sold out a show in Las Vegas in 7 seconds…yes, seconds. If you didn’t know better, you might think Mark was presenting Jesus as the latest hot ticket in Capernaum. Packing out the house was guaranteed with Jesus in town. But it would be a mistake to conclude that this was for publicity. Jesus goal is the opposite. The intimacy of Peter’s home insulates Jesus from the crowd so he could clearly “preach the word to them” (Mark 2:2). He doesn’t move to a larger venue. He remains in the house. This is the ultimate crowd control. Jesus dictates the terms of his engagement. Mention of crowds is common in Mark, but not as evidence of success. He never identifies crowds as coming to Jesus Christ in saving faith. In fact, the most common thing crowds are seen doing is blocking the way to Jesus.

Personal Foul

laimbeer2I never excelled at basketball. Contributing factors included my race, height, body composition, coordination, dislike of high-top sneakers, and aversion to continually bouncing the ball instead of carrying or hitting it. The key factor however was the “personal foul”, repeatedly earned for apparently incorporating my own method of fair play. Mark 1:40 kicks off a famous encounter with this, “And a leper came to Jesus”. This was a personal foul of epic proportions. Lepers didn’t come to anyone. They avoided people and warned others to avoid them. They didn’t even go to doctors because no one could help. If you encountered a leper it’s because one of you were in a place you shouldn’t be. A man who is willing to break all the social rules of the day out of desperation approaches Jesus. He is convinced of his power, but not his willingness. He throws himself at Jesus, flattering him and begging for mercy. The Lord does the unthinkable. He touches the man and makes him clean. Then he gives him one simple instruction. He sternly orders him to quietly fulfill the legal requirements that certified his cleanliness. The tone of Jesus’s command reveals his suspicion. The man disobeyed, does the opposite of what he is told, and forces Jesus to move on from the city and out to the wilderness. This is the second personal foul, but it teaches us something. Healing does not guarantee salvation. Getting rescued from the foxholes of life after calling on Jesus doesn’t always result in true discipleship. Coming to Christ in desperation is not the same as coming to Christ in faith.

Passive Power

Prayer can be a struggle because it feels passive. When we give our testimony, lead a bible study, or even drive our kids to some church function, we feel like we’ve done something. We’ve driven the ball down the field in some way. Prayer doesn’t always give us the same feeling, and action oriented people usually need schedule it. The transparently obvious truth is that we often feel like we stop real work and ministry in order to engage in something that is at best neutral, and at worst selfish isolation. But here is the dilemma. This kind of thinking under appreciates prayer. In reality the greatest accomplishments may be achieved through doing very little, and instead relying on God. To belittle the power of prayer is to exalt the power of men, and dismiss the creator so that the creation can lead. We know James 5:16, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” but consider the illustration James gives. He says Elijah was just like us, but made it stop raining for 42 months, then made it rain again. That came through prayer not human effort. Sometimes the activity that seems most passive is in fact most powerful.

WWJD

ImageRemember the WWJD bracelets? Holy hardware collectors have moved on, but the four-letter message is tattooed on Christian mass culture. It’s a good question. What would Jesus do about the kaleidoscope of issues confronting us today? If we look at the book of Mark we see exactly what Jesus did do as the defining characteristics of his ministry. He was purposefully active in two areas. The first was praying, and the other was preaching. In this way he separated himself from the revolutionaries that he was often mistaken for. Instead of seeking the spotlight, he sought solitude. Instead of trying to build a coalition, he preached divisive messages questioning his follower’s commitment. The Son of God prioritized praying and preaching. This calls to mind what we read in Acts 6. Deacon’s serve the necessary physical needs of the church, and this very important. The heart of God is inclined to the cry of the poor and desperate. However, the stated reason for their work was to free up the elders to pray and minister the Word. Now, I have to admit I’m not fond of “What would Jesus do” scenarios because as God he can do, and did, a myriad of things we can never do. We can’t forgive sin. We can’t heal. We can’t rebuke like him. We don’t know what is truly in men’s hearts. But if we wanted to ask what a Christ like leader should do in an effort to imitate him, we can start with prayer. Any healthy church will have elders who are committed to prayer. Only then will they effectively lead, administrate, council, discipline, and preach.