Rebellion or revival

Read: Numbers 16-17, Mark 6:33-56

In today’s reading, we see two very different accounts. Israel has just recently made the decision to not go into the Promised Land. Ten of the twelve scouts that were sent to scope out the land came back saying it’s good, but we can’t overpower the people already living there. We’re better off where we are. So they decide to stay in the desert and are then upset about it! They don’t like the food. They don’t like the dirt. They don’t like their leaders. They don’t like much about their situation, even though they’re in it because of the choices they made.

The Israelites said to Moses, “We will all die! We are lost, we are all lost! Anyone who even comes near the tabernacle of the Lord will die. Are we all going to die?”

Numbers 18:12-13 (NIV)

Flash forward to Mark. Jesus has been working with his disciples for some time now. They’ve already been out on missions trips. Crowds find and follow them wherever they go. Even though they’ve seen miracles and have been a part of working miracles, these twelve guys still don’t have it all together. They don’t understand everything that’s happening, but they seem pretty keen on being a part of it. They may question some of Jesus’ methods, but they work, so in the end the go along with him. They’re seeing sick and lame healed, dead raised, and people set free. And they’re in it because of the choices they made.

And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.

Mark 6:56 (NIV)

Israel lived in fear while Jesus’ followers lived in awe. Israel refused over and over again to obey, yet they still expected the fulfillment of God’s promises. The crowds that followed Jesus chased after him and experienced miracles. Do you see the connection?

Rebellion will never lead to revival.

Israel was a giant flock of lost sheep. God had given them a shepherd, but they didn’t like him. They didn’t want to follow all of the rules. They wanted to have their own way. Instead of walking straight from bondage into bounty, they wandered and they died. Only two men who stepped out of Egypt walked into the promise—because they saw beyond the problem.

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

Mark 6:34 (NIV)

Here’s another group of lost sheep. But these sheep chose to trust their shepherd and they were greatly rewarded for it.

Rebellion leads to restlessness, while following leads to freedom.

WWJB?

Read: Leviticus 26-27, Mark 2

Some years ago, the big question was what would Jesus do? The acronym WWDJ appeared everywhere. Christians proudly wore the letters wrapped around their wrists and proclaimed that, before taking any action, they would ask themselves what Jesus would have done in the very same situation.

Today, I want to ask a different question. Who would Jesus be? For centuries, artists have tried to depict Christ. In film, no one can seem to agree on how he would have appeared. Was he a model with perfectly coiffed hair? Was he lean with olive skin? Was he comely or was he ugly? There are very few traits, if any, that can be agreed upon.

Here’s what I think:

I don’t think his hair was perfectly styled. Blow driers didn’t exist during his walk on earth. That’s one problem solved. I don’t think he was a model—also didn’t exist. But I do think he was well-muscled. As the (step-) son of a carpenter, he likely would have learned his father’s trade which, at the time, involved a lot of hard physical labour. Jesus would have been in great shape in the prime of his life. Based on where he was born, we can assume that he wasn’t white. Nor was he black, but somewhere in between.

But far more important than his physical features was his composure.

Mark 2-14.jpg

Levi, also called Matthew, was the fifth man in two chapters who immediately left what he was doing when Jesus called to him. When was the last time you dropped everything when someone told you to follow?

Our culture has placed great value on followers. We count them up and search for more. We refine how and what we present to attract more followers for no other reason than we want more than the next person. We strive to attract humanity to us without much care as to how we accomplish it.

And there goes Jesus. “Follow me,” he says. And people followed.

We’re supposed to be like Jesus. We shouldn’t have to go out looking for followers. They should see something in us that appeals to them far more than what they have. When Jesus called to Peter and Andrew, James and John, and Matthew, none of those men were thrilled with their lives. Archaeology suggests that the area was over-fished in Jesus’ time. Those first four that he called had little hope with nets in hand. And Matthew was a tax collector—the worst of the worst of society. But as bad as their lives were, there had to have been something spectacular about Jesus for them to be drawn to him so immediately.

When was the last time any of us were able to draw a crowd like Jesus? He often told people to leave him alone and not talk about him. He was prone to walks of solitude. Yet the multitudes fawned over him. They were drawn to him.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

John 6:44 (NIV)

Are we allowing God to draw people through us? I think that, in order for Jesus to have been so magnetic, he completely pushed his flesh aside. There was so little of his humanity showing that God was able to shine through. Imagine what we believers could accomplish if we would only set ourselves aside to make room for God. Let us not only ask who would Jesus be, but let us ask who could we become?

The only way

Read: Leviticus 22-23, Mark 1:1-22

Yesterday we talked about how faith can’t be done our way. There is only one my way when it comes to faith in Christ and it’s not ours. It literally is my way (Jesus’ narrow way that leads to eternal life) or the highway (the broad way that leads to nowhere good). But what does Jesus’ way look like?

Before we get into anything more, I want to set the stage.

We all live our lives through filters. It’s a fact. No two people will experience the same event in the same way. Previous experience will change our future experience. Other things like what we hope or long for, our values and beliefs, what we read or watch will all affect how we perceive a certain situation or event.

Yesterday I began reading The Way Back: How Christians Blew Our Credibility and How We Get It Back by Phil Cooke and Jonathan Bock (a book I would highly recommend to anyone claiming to be a believer). It is through the filter of the first few chapters of that book that I read today’s scripture.

In The Way Back, the authors began to approach the trouble with church these days from the perspective of marketing. Since the western church as a whole has been in a massive free fall over the last half-century or so, surely the problem must be with how we are presenting the Gospel. As it turns out, it’s not nearly so much an issue with the marketing as it is with the product. Not Jesus. There is nothing wrong with Jesus. Maybe product placement is a better term. The saying goes that, for most, the only Jesus they will ever see is the Church—you. Well, Church, we’ve done a bang-up job of marketing. We’ve made ourselves so appealing that we now look so much like the world that they can’t even find Jesus!

In an effort to appeal to the masses, the church has become a part of the masses, now barely distinguishable from many secular gatherings. This is not the church or the life Jesus presented to us.

Mark 1:17-18

Jesus called. Simon and Andrew dropped what they were doing and followed. James and John did the same a couple of verses later (Mark 1:20). We’ve been going about this Christian thing backwards trying to fit Jesus into our neatly defined lives rather than allowing our relationship with him to redefine our lives.

When asked how they would describe Christians, unbelievers used terms like: hypocritical, judgmental, harsh, power-hungry, phony, insensitive, bigoted, reactionary, and exclusive. But those aren’t the descriptors we were given.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)

If you must, read through the Gospels again. You’ll find that Jesus never did anything to appease the current culture. He pretty much did everything completely counter to it. When pressed to take a stronger leadership role, he’d disappear. When he performed a great miracle, he didn’t take a selfie with the freshly-raised to life and post it to social media; he told that person not to tell anyone.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)

If we have truly made the decision to follow Christ and, as his disciples, become fishers of men, what does that look like? Does it mean we go about our daily lives and hope someone notices a minute change in our character? Or do we leave the old life and all its trappings on the shore to do things his way. The Only Way.

Through the eye

Read: Exodus 16-18, Matthew 19:16-30

Ask any Bible teacher or scholar, even a kid in Sunday school, and you’ll get an assortment of responses as to what Jesus meant when he spoke of a camel passing through the eye of a needle.

Matthew 19:24

Some may tell you that they eye of the needle was a reference to a smaller gate within a large gate. The main gate broad and high enough to admit a fully loaded camel, while the smaller gate was easier to open to permit men and women to pass through. Another may tell you that the gate was large enough for a loaded camel to pass through, but only on its knees. Yet another may speak of a customs gate of sorts. The gate being large enough to admit a camel, but not with its load. The purpose being that the load could be inspected before being allowed into the city.

All of these explanations can be tied with Jesus’ words. A man cannot bring earthly possessions through the gates of heaven. A man must humble himself in order to gain entry into eternity. All that we bring must first be inspected and judged by God before being permitted.

But what if no explanation is really needed? What if Jesus was speaking literally? Some scholars believe that the stories of a gate called The Eye of the Needle surfaced only after Jesus made the connection. The camel was the largest animal in the area at the time. The eye of a needle was the smallest commonly known passage. There was no way a camel would fit through.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Matthew 19:26 (NIV)

Of course it is impossible for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle! That was the whole point of what Jesus was trying to say. He left no room for questioning. Salvation is impossible without God. Entry into heaven can only be gained when we leave our stuff behind. God will only take us as we are without the extras we have a habit of making so important.

Our treasures are not stored up when we hoard them on earth, but rather when we do the opposite and give it all away.

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.

Matthew 19:21 (NIV)

Instead of looking for the academic explanation, let’s look at this literally. As Jesus said it.

Leave the stuff. Give to the poor. Follow him.

It doesn’t matter

In a world where everyone wants something to matter, there are a few things that don’t matter at all when it comes to our Commission as believers.

1. It doesn’t matter where you are.

Matthew 14:13

Bono had it right when he penned these words:

You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment
And now you can’t get out of it

We can get so caught up in our doing that we don’t notice that Jesus has gone somewhere else and we’ve failed to follow. The crowds that followed knew that Jesus had something they needed. It didn’t matter that he was in a boat and they were on land. They followed.

There are times that we may be hesitant to leave what we’re doing because we have so much time, energy, and resources invested. But is it really worth missing Jesus? We must all learn to keep our eyes on him and follow at a moments notice.

2. It doesn’t matter how you feel.

Matthew 14:14

Jesus had just received news that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded in prison. He wanted to be alone. Yet the crowds followed him and, even in his grief, he had compassion, ministered to them, and healed the sick. Whether we feel like it or not, our call to minister doesn’t go away or get put on hold. Jesus didn’t say, “When you feel like it, maybe go across the street and tell someone about me.” He said, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)

How we feel is not included in our call. In the following verses we will see that, even in one of his darkest moments as a man, Jesus was able to perform a great miracle and reach thousands of people. Perhaps by going ahead, especially when we don’t feel like it, God is able to accomplish more through us.

3. It doesn’t matter what is (or isn’t) in your hands.

Matthew 14:19

If you’re a pastor or a leader in your church and 10,000 people show up one Sunday and want to stick around all day, what would you do? Feed them or send them off with an invitation to return and hope they’ll come back? If the disciples had their way, they’d have sent away the crowds. Their hands were empty. Jesus had been performing miracles all day and the men who were closest to him still didn’t see that just because their hands were empty, it didn’t mean they had nothing.

Whether we feel qualified or equipped to fulfill the Great Commission is irrelevant. What’s in our hands doesn’t matter. It’s probably even better if our hands are empty because then we have no other recourse than to depend on what’s in Jesus’ hands.

When Jesus handed off the bread and fish to the disciples, they then handed it off to the people. And then it came back—far more than what they’d started with. Every hand that touched the food was a part of the miracle and as more people handled it, the greater it became.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

1 John 4:4 (NIV)

The message of Jesus is completely counter to our culture. We cannot maintain popular ideals and still be effective in ministry.

He must become greater; I must become less.

John 4:30 (NIV)

God wants you!

Read: Genesis 27-28, Matthew 9: 18-38

All over Israel, Jesus went with his disciples. He taught and he healed. There are no accounts of Jesus refusing healing to anyone who asked. Everywhere he went, crowds followed and Jesus had compassion on them. So he told his disciples to do something. Pray. Pray for workers because the harvest is plenty.

Matthew 9:38

We can assume that they prayed.

How often have you prayed this prayer? How often has your pastor asked you to pray this prayer? We all know that there is a great harvest of souls out there in the world and the only way that they can be brought into the body of Christ is if people go out and get them. So we pray. And we pray. And we pray.

But take a look at the next verse:

He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

Matthew 10:1 (NIV)

Who did Jesus ask to pray for workers? His disciples. Who did Jesus send out as workers? His disciples.

When he told his disciples to pray for workers, he wasn’t asking them to pray for a group of complete strangers. They were praying for each other. They were praying for themselves.

Chances are that, if you feel a burden to pray for workers to reap the harvest (and even if you feel no burden whatsoever), you are the worker God wants in the field.

Apprentice

Read: Genesis 9-11, Matthew 4

You’re a professional. You own your own business and you’re looking for a succession plan. You want to train someone in your line of work to take over the business when you retire. Where are you going to start looking? Most people will go looking in a similar environment. If you’re a carpenter, you’ll go looking at construction sites, cabinet shops, or a furniture builder. If you’re a baker, you’ll go looking at a bakery or restaurant. If you’re in insurance, you’ll go looking at an insurance office. If you’re a pastor, you’ll go looking in a church, seminary, or Bible school.

As Jesus began his ministry, he knew he only had a few years to get his job done. He needed a succession plan right away so he went looking for men he could train to take his place. Without knowing the story, most people would have him looking in the synagogues. If you’re going to be a Jewish minister, wouldn’t you want someone trained in Jewish ministry?

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.

Matthew 4:18 (NIV)

Instead of doing the expected, Jesus did as he always did—the unexpected. He didn’t go looking for help in the temple where he’d find learned—but idle—men. He went to the lake where he found men at work. Archaeologists believe that, at the time of Jesus, the Sea of Galilee had been overfished. Those who made their living on the lake were used to long hours and hard work. They would have had to come up with creative ways to do their work and repair their equipment. These are the men Jesus went to find.

Matthew 4:19-20

In a culture where very few left the family business, these brothers jumped at the opportunity to leave a failing venture. Some believe that the draw of Jesus was too strong to resist.

Jesus calls us all. Will he find us idle? Or will he find us at work? Will he find us willing? Or will he find us hesitant to leave behind the only thing we’ve ever known?

Jesus isn’t looking for people who know everything, but those who are willing to do anything. The only qualification you need is the call. And you’ve already got that. What are you waiting for?