Monday, July 9, 2012
When I was young, there was an elderly lady who lived next door to me, and once she asked me if I would mow her lawn. She said she would pay me. I agreed, but I couldn't do it until after school the next day. So, the next day, I got home, and I went up to my room. I got out my bass and my amplifier, and I got out a tape recorder, because there was no such thing as CDs back then, and turned up my amp, so it distorted, and then I recorded my bass on the tape. I had two tape players, so I set up another one, playing back the first tape, so I could put another layer of bass overtop, so I got this cool multi-distorted bass thing going, and then...
And then my dad burst into the room, yelled at me that I had not honored my obligations, dragged me outside by my ear, and threw me onto the yard, saying, “get over there and mow your neighbor's lawn!” I did, and she was very nice about it, but she never asked me to mow it again. Now, the reason I'm telling you this is not because I'm preaching about loving your neighbor, or honoring your obligations. Both of those are excellent topics, but no. I want to talk about leading your family and close friends to Christ, or helping them grow in Christ, if they are already Christians. Just like all of you here, I help my mom and dad grow in Christ, but whenever I preach and he's in the congregation, I wonder, “is he taking me seriously? How can anyone take Mr. Bassman, Mr. Forgets His Obligations seriously?”
We run into this all the time. The closest people to us are the toughest to witness to because they have seen us at our worst. Have you ever been so excited about your faith, that you just can't help bringing Jesus up in conversation? What do you get from the rest of the family? At first a proud pat on the back. I'm so glad you're excited about the Lord. And then . . . eyerolls? Oh dear, my daughter is turning into a little nun! We are Christians to lead each other to Christ and to help each other grow in Christ. There is no “I'm up here, you're down here” thinking. We aren't talking about levels of sanctification. We're talking about interacting with our friends and families and yet remaining faithful to Christ in our words and our deeds.
Your friends and family know you. They know who you were. They've watched you sin—from snatching the toy away from your sister to staying out past curfew. How is anyone close to you going to take you seriously when you are trying to help them grown in Christ?
But look at Jesus. He didn't do anything wrong. He wasn't Mr. Bassman. He didn't forget to mow a neighbor's lawn. In our gospel reading (Mark 6:1-6) we read that Jesus spoke in the synagogue in his home town, and he spoke with wisdom, and he performed mighty deeds. He did great things. We hear about WORD and DEED being equally important. Here is Christ doing both, and the people from his home town watching all this take place were OFFENDED.
What was the stumbling block? They knew him. They watched little Jesus grow up. They knew his mother and father. They knew his brothers and sisters. Where could he possibly have gotten all this wisdom and healing power? Something is awry here! They got offended, and the scriptures say that Jesus could do no deed of power there after that.
We're doomed to lose our families! If Jesus cannot do this, how can we? How can we lose the closest people to us, or just pray that they find Christ in some other way, regardless of us? We may have parents who are believers, and we don't have to worry, but we may also ave siblings or cousins, who have been so immersed in the culture, so brainwashed by secularism, that we may feel that just praying for them from afar is not enough.
Let's look at this gospel passage in a different light than the most obvious one. Here are some things we learn about Jesus. First, he was NOT unable to perform miracles. Verse 5 says he still cured a few sick people. He may have marveled at their unbelief, but their unbelief did not STRIP him of power. Our first impression is to put ourselves as God and that Jesus is rendered impotent by our MIGHTY UNBELIEF. Jesus can save every single person in Nazareth if he chooses. He can draw each person's heart to God just by sheer will, if he chooses. The rub is this: he does not choose, because of their unbelief. He is not going to draw them into the flock because their unbelief is offensive to him. It's one thing to say your loved ones are ignorant of Christ. This is merely a problem of informing them of the gospel. God will draw them to himself, using you as a mouthpiece for the gospel message. We instead retreat to our bedrooms, distort our amplifiers, and rock out INSTEAD of sharing the gospel. Here is Jesus sharing the gospel. Preaching with wisdom. Performing miraculous deeds. The reaction of his home-towners is OFFENSE because of their own HOSTILE UNBELIEF. Jesus then retreats. He doesn't force them understand. He doesn't magically give them ears to hear. He lets them go. He gives them over to their own lostness.
Before we write off our families and close friends, think about who is just ignorant of Christ and who is actively hostile toward Christ. The second thing we can learn is from elsewhere in scripture: Mother Mary was a believer and is considered one of the most important Christian figures by millions of Christians. James, Jesus' brother, became a leader of the church. He didn't believe until after Jesus' death, but he did convert. He wrote one of the books of the New Testament. So did Jesus' other brother Jude. Jesus never returned to his hometown, but people from the hometown can leave that place and follow. I may not be comfortable preaching to my parents when I visit them in Richmond, but when they come to the OBX, all bets are off. I don't water down this message if they are in the congregation. What I'm saying is that God draws people away from the place of unbelief to the place of belief. God draws them. We should worry when someone is unwilling to leave their place of unbelief, because they know, in their hearts, they are vulnerable to God's word. Who are the family members or friends who don't like to leave their secular strongholds? They are afraid that if they let their guard down, the word of God will get inside. Pray for them. As we pray on the full armor of God each day, like in Ephesians 6, we can also pray the secular armor OFF of those we want God to reach. Please, God, remove the cultural defenses of the people I love. Let them hear your truth for the first time.
The third thing is the word marvel. Jesus marveled at their unbelief. That Greek word is used throughout the new testament, but only one other time in relation to Jesus. In other words, he only marvels at something twice in all the gospels: he marvels at the unbelief of the people in his hometown. This unbelief is so great that it causes our Lord—through whom all things were created—to marvel! That is a great unbelief.
The other place Jesus marvels can be read in Matthew 8:10 and Luke 7:9. In these passages Jesus marvels at the faith of a centurion, someone whom he did not expect to believe in him at all. So, the unbelief of people he grew up with and the belief of someone who should not have belief cause our Lord to marvel. Let's look at the elements of the centurion's belief, and see if we can glean what caused Jesus to marvel.
First, the centurion wants Jesus to heal his servant, someone the centurion could replace at the drop of a hat—a hired hand. Someone who shouldn't be important to the centurion as a person, but is. The centurion loves his slave as a brother, and feels the potential loss of a true friend. Second, the centurion confesses his complete unworthiness of Jesus. He doesn't deserve Christ's help. This is AFTER Jesus responds, “I will come and cure him.” The guy asks Jesus to help, Jesus agrees, and then the guy makes the case AGAINST Jesus helping. Jesus essentially tells him, “You had me at 'hello!'”
Third, after the centurion confesses his unworthiness, he confesses his knowledge of God. He knows that Jesus is not a mere magician, who is going to have someone run ahead to the centurion's house and give the paralyzed servant a magic potion. He knows that Jesus doesn't need to perform sleight of hand. He KNOWS that Jesus is God, and requests that Jesus only say the word and his servant will be healed. Fourth, the centurion confesses that he is a servant himself. He never throws his weight around. He never abuses the authority he has. He is under authority, he is a cog in the secular machine. He knows he is a member of the kingdom of SIN, and yet he knows that he is under the authority of God. He knows what the kingdom of heaven is. These four traits of belief cause Jesus to marvel. Love of neighbor, humility, knowledge of God, and knowledge of his place in God's kingdom. These are the elements of true faith.
What sort of unbelief would cause Jesus to marvel? An unbelief that lacked ALL FOUR of these elements: no love of neighbor, excess pride, no knowledge of God, no awareness of God's kingdom or their place in it. Do you know anybody like that? Neither do I, but some people come close. Could it be that God is drawing your loved ones to him as we speak? There are those who do have that hostile unbelief in them—there are many in this world—and we may know some of them. But where there is hope, there is prayer.
Pray that your family and close friends will experience the love of God through their neighbors, and that they would return that love. Pray for humility. Pray for knowledge of God. Pray for a revised worldview in which the secular world dissolves and the kingdom of God is revealed.
And keep witnessing the gospel to them.
Posted by Rev. Fredric Barrett at 7:12 AM