Mark 9:30-37 – Who Cares Who’s the Greatest?

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Mark 9:30-37

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

Jesus and a Child33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

QuarrelFrom our Epistle Text, Jam. 4:1-6, 1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Jesus shows how jealously God yearns over you. Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. Jesus will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. Like Jeremiah in our Old Testament text (Jer. 11:18-20), Jesus knew the deeds of the scheming, wicked men, and Jesus knew that God judges righteously. Like Jeremiah, Jesus committed His cause to Yahweh. Jesus not only saw God’s vengeance upon the wicked, Jesus experienced it. Jesus stepped between God’s wrath and the wicked. Jesus took on their sins and received God’s wrath, vengeance, and punishment for their transgressions. He suffered, bled, and died. And three days later, He rose again. The crucifixion shows that Jesus opposes your proud, sinful ways. The resurrection reveals that God does indeed give grace to the humble.

Your sin, no matter how big or how little, separates you from God. Your sin earns you God’s wrath and hell. Of course you can choose to hold onto that sin. You can persist in unrepentance and unbelief. But by doing so, you refuse the free gift of Jesus’ forgiveness and righteousness.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus has taken all your sin, all your death, and all your damnation. Jesus bore all of it in His body on the cross. Your sin no longer belongs to you – Jesus took it and answered for it. Your sin does not condemn you – Jesus atoned for it. Believer, because of Jesus, your sin cannot harm you.

Because of Jesus your sin is forgiven and gone. Because of Jesus, you are no longer in your sins. Eternal life and peace with God is yours. Jesus’ Good Friday dying and His Easter rising make you right with God.

Jesus has done all of this for you. And yet, like the disciples, we argue and fight. We jockey for position and go behind each other’s backs in order to become great and powerful. Are you kidding me?

Here is Jesus, indisputably the greatest and first of all. He has come to serve the least, the last, the lowest, the lost, the little, and the dead by shedding His holy and precious blood on the cross. You have Jesus for you. Who cares who’s the greatest?

If you want to be great, live in the freedom of the Gospel which releases you from your fighting, from your quarreling, from your sin. Because of the freedom God has given you in the Gospel, you do not have to do anything to make yourself right with God. Jesus has already made you right with God. So in that freedom, live not for yourself but for others. Care for the little ones, the most needy, the least in the world. Care for those who need help. Jesus says, “Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me. If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

Jesus takes and becomes sinBrothers and sisters, you have been made right with God. You have been washed clean in your baptism. You have been declared to be forgiven, just, and holy in the absolution. You are fed Jesus’ righteousness in the Lord’s Supper – a foretaste of the eternal banquet that awaits you. Go. Serve. Slavishly serve those God places into your life and who need that service.

Such a life of service doesn’t fight, doesn’t quarrel, and doesn’t keep score because it doesn’t need to because Jesus has become last for you. Because Jesus has redeemed you. Because Jesus has saved and restored you.

You need not fret about being great because God has already given you a new heart, a new desire, and a new delight – He has given you Himself. And when you have Jesus, you have all the desires of your new heart. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Mark 9:14-29 – Faith Has an Object

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Mark 9:14-29

14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” 19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.

28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

If you were reading through the Gospel of Mark, coming to this text would be like hitting a brick wall. You would see a high, lofty moment followed by this discouraging scene. Immediately preceding this text, Jesus is transfigured. His clothes turned radiantly white – brighter than the sun glaring off freshly fallen snow. Jesus’ face shined more brightly than if He had swallowed the sun. The voice of the Lord God Almighty spoke from the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him.” From that high, great, glorious place, Jesus and Peter, James, and John descend from the mountain to this chaotic scene. What is going on?

Jesus Heals the boy with an unclean spirit, Help My Unbelief Mark 9At the foot of the mountain, the other nine disciples are dealing with a crisis. A man had brought his demon possessed son to them, but they were unable to cast that demon out. These disciples had previously been commissioned by Jesus with authority to cast out demons, and they did (Mk. 6:7-13, 30). However, this demon stumps the disciples, and the scribes are having a field day with this. If Jesus is so great, then why are His disciples so insignificant? If Jesus is so powerful, why are His disciples so powerless. If Jesus is so mighty, why are His disciples so weak? So they argue back and forth. Meanwhile this father stands around helpless as he listens to the disciples squabble with the scribes.

Now, imagine this man. He has watched his son being tormented by the demon his whole life. What had this done to his marriage? How did he explain all of this to his other children? How many times had this father been burned by fire and how often did he jump into the water to save his son? What sacrifices had he made to bring his son to Jesus only to have the disciples fail him? Who has suffered more, the son or the father? It’s a close call.

Jesus enters into this scene like a parent stepping in between fighting children. “What are you arguing about?” The father steps forward and tells his story. At this story, Jesus sighs in frustration against the disciples, the scribes, and possibly even at this father. “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring the boy to me”

The demon shows off – convulsing the boy, making him roll around on the ground and foam at the mouth. The father prays an iffy prayer to Jesus, “If, if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

If you can? Of course I can! You wouldn’t be here if you thought I was unable to help. You wouldn’t have brought your son to Me, away from your family.” But with the inability of the disciples and the questioning of the scribes, this father’s faith is faltering. So Jesus encourages his faith, “All things are possible for the one who believes.”

The question is, Believes what? Faith by itself is worthless. We believe all sorts of things that simply will not happen. You could believe with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength that the chair you are sitting in right now will be able to take you to Sydney Australia, but it can’t. Faith is only as good as the object it is placed in. Faith always has an object. To simply say, “I believe,” is incomplete. When you say, “I believe,” the proper question should be, “You believe what?”

Spiritually speaking, the only faith worth having is faith in Jesus because Jesus is the only God worth having. All things are possible for the one believing in Jesus because all things are possible for Jesus. And so Jesus says, “All things are possible for the one who believes.” These words from Jesus cause the father to pray another petition – and what a prayer it is. It is the constant prayer of all followers of Jesus: “I believe; help my unbelief.”

This is the prayer of the desperate father. This is the prayer of every Christian. And this is the prayer of you who cannot stand on your own. This is the prayer of you who are wavering in your doubt about what Jesus can do and has promised to do for you. “I believe; help my unbelief.”

You see, the father’s problem wasn’t the demon and the torment of his son. And your problem isn’t always what is apparent. Your problem is not sickness, disease, grief, or pain. Jesus has already shown that He can take care of those things. Your problem isn’t even death. Jesus has no problem with death. Jesus is on His way to the cross where He will meet death on death’s battlefield, and Jesus will win. Jesus will strike down death with a killer blow making death a harmless, conquered enemy.

Sinful Tree PersonYour real problem, and this father’s real problem is unbelief. Your unbelief is on full display whenever you face troubles and try everything in your power before finally, in desperation, turning to prayer and God. Of course Jesus can help. Of course Jesus will have mercy upon you. He always does. Just as he does for this boy.

This boy’s story is your story. You too have been under the power of the devil your whole life. You too have been deaf to Christ’s word. You too have been unable and unwilling to sing His praise. You too have been unwilling to submit to Jesus. Yet, you were brought to Jesus, and He took you by the hand and raised you up by the power of His Spirit. But you are also like this father. You continue to fall back into your original problem of unbelief. Because you constantly fall back into the same sins over and over, you begin to doubt and wonder if Jesus has had mercy on you and helped you. In the Spirit, you believe. Left to yourself, you do not. In the spirit you pray. Left to yourself, you do not. On and on it goes. You constantly waver, but Christ will always have mercy on you because He has had mercy upon you as He suffered, bled, and died.

Brother and sister, your even though you constantly and continually waver between faith and unfaith, your faith in Jesus is never in vain. Your faith in Jesus is not empty. Your faith in Jesus is not worthless because the Jesus you trust in is not vain, empty, or worthless. Jesus is the One who can and does break the darkness, free the prisoners, and brings you from death to life, from unbelief to faith. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Mark 7:31-37 – Ephphatha

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Mark 7:31–37  

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.  32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.  Jesus Heals a Deaf Mute Mark 733 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.  34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”  35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.  36 And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.  37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

“Christ has died on the cross for you, and your sins are forgiven.” That is the Gospel message. That is the Good News that Jesus has given His Church to proclaim to the ends of the earth (Lk. 24:26-27). God’s grace and mercy extends to the whole world, and it extends to you. Because Jesus died and rose again, God finds no fault, no spot, no wrinkle, no blemish in you. Because of Jesus, when God looks at you, He sees the perfect, total, complete obedience of Jesus. Who wouldn’t want to hear that message? The unrepentant, the sinner, the very one who needs grace and mercy, sadly, doesn’t want to hear about God’s love.

Why is this? Because our sin has infected us so thoroughly, because we are by nature sinful, we do not want mercy because we do not want to need mercy. We would rather try to work our own way to righteousness than to receive the free gift of Christ’s righteousness.

To give you an example: I’ve been following Planned Parenthood on Twitter since the undercover videos started surfacing. They tweeted a story entitled, “Thank God for My Abortion.” In the article, the author speaks of the kindness of people who helped her abort her unborn child. Her story was full of self-justifying phrases. She was young. She was stupid. Since she couldn’t even take care of herself, she knew she couldn’t take care of a baby. She concludes the article in what sounds like a final attempt at justifying herself, she says, “I suspect this was the one rational decision I made the whole of that year. In short: thank god (note lower case) I had an abortion.” She encourages other women to share their abortion stories and “own” their abortion.

So, I tweeted her back. “Own your abortion, and repent. There is forgiveness in Christ, even for abortion.” She responded, “Um, news flash; I’m not a fundamentalist Christian.” She didn’t even want to hear about the forgiveness that Christ has to offer her. She would rather justify herself, but that will never happen. She doesn’t want forgiveness because she doesn’t want to admit she needs forgiveness. Her conscience will haunt her until she either drowns it out completely or repents. She shut her ears to the Gospel because, to her, the Gospel is only a reminder that she needs forgiveness. It is incredibly sad to see.

To sinners, and too often even to us Christians, the call to repent doesn’t sound like good news. Too often, we are like children thinking mom is trying to take away our toys when all she is doing is calling us to dinner. You see, Biblical repentance has two aspects, two sides if you will – Law and Gospel, contrition and faith. The first side, the Law side, the contrition side, is what we are most familiar with. The Law side of repentance says, “You have done something terrible, something evil. You have broken God’s Law, and you need to feel sorry about it.” That is exactly what all sinners do not want to hear.

We do not want to hear that we have sinned. We do not want to hear that we have offended God and hurt our neighbor. But that is why there is a second aspect of repentance – that is the Gospel, faith, and forgiveness. Yes, you have done something evil and wrong, but God has already forgiven that sin by Jesus’ death on the cross.

Because our sin is so powerful, our ears are completely muffled. You know that you have sinned and you can’t stop thinking about all the transgressions you have committed. So you come to church and hear that Jesus has taken away your condemnation, and the only words you hear are, “your condemnation.” The word that is meant to give you comfort only causes more guilt. You read your Bible and hear that Jesus has taken away the death sentence that was placed upon your head, and all you think of is your death sentence. A voice in your head tells you that this good news, this Gospel, is not for you and can not be for you because you keep giving in to the same temptations over and over again.

Imagine this deaf and mute man responding to Jesus’ word, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened,” by saying, “Stop reminding me that I can’t hear and speak. I haven’t been able to hear and I won’t be able to hear no matter what you say.” That sounds ridiculous, but according to your sinful nature, that is exactly what you do. You fear and you doubt and you close your ears to Jesus. When Jesus says to you, “I forgive you all of your sins,” a demonic voice enters into your head and says, “No. That isn’t true.” And so you are deaf to the word of forgiveness that the Scriptures declare to you. And until that deafness is taken away by the Holy Spirit working through the Word, that deafness will always remain. So what do we do?

We need to shut up and listen to the Word of God. We need to let Jesus’ Word wash over us. We need to stop being so afraid. We need Jesus to do exactly what He did in our Gospel text. We need Him to open our clogged ears, and Jesus’ Word really is that powerful.

This miracle of Jesus is so fascinating. There are plenty of miracles where Jesus simply speaks and healing takes place. He speaks to a lame man, “Rise,” (Mk. 2:11), and the lame man does it. He says to a blind man, “Go your way; your faith has made you well,” (Mk. 10:52). But the lame and the blind are able to hear, they are able to understand and process what Jesus is saying. But here, Jesus speaks to deaf ears – ears that are unable to hear or comprehend what He is saying. But His Word still works. The Word of Jesus works on these deaf ears just as it worked on Lazarus’ dead, deaf ears.

Jesus’ Word works even on dead, deaf ears because that is the very nature of God’s Word. The same creative power which spoke into the chaos and nothingness, “Let there be light,” is in Jesus’ Words. God can speaks into the void, and that which does not exist obeys.

We need Jesus to open our ears to hear His Gospel. 1 Co. 2:14 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Hearing and believing Christ’s Word is the work of the Gospel. Ro. 10:17 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Body of Christ CommunionAs weird as it is, Jesus stuck His actual fingers into that man’s ears and mouth. But He comes here now to stick His actual body and blood into your mouth and your body. Jesus has been crucified as a ransom for your sins. He has bought you back by paying off the devil. And He is risen, alive, out of death for your justification. Jesus comes to you now in this holy Supper to remove your doubt that this is for you. Jesus comes now to drive away all your evil. He comes to you placing His Body into your body. He binds you to Himself. He clears out your ears and loosens your tongue so that you can confess Him clearly and be saved.

Brothers and sisters, “Ephphatha.” Be opened, and do not be afraid. Jesus opens you not destroy you, but to fill you. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.