November 1, 2010 David Balzer

Mark 1:14-2:12: Priority One

mowingI’m pretty easily distracted. I start Saturday morning with a whole list of jobs that need doing. But the MAIN one/ is I need to make sure the lawn is mowed.

As I head out to the backyard, I notice some tools that need to be put away. I’ll just do those first, then get onto the mowing.

As I’m putting the tools away. I notice the fertiliser, and I remember that the plants really need fertilising. So I go and do that.

On the way back from the garden, I notice that the side gate has a squeak in the hinge, so I go and get some oil to fix the squeak.

While I’ve got the oil in my hand, I remember that the gears on my bike are a bit sticky, so I spend the next hour fixing those, and adjusting the brakes, and checking the tyres.

Then I remember that the air pressure on the car tyres is a bit low too. So I drive down to the service station, check the tyres, and the fluid levels. And then on the way home I swing by the hardware store to buy some sandpaper for the windows.

While I’m at the hardware store, I notice five OTHER things I’d been meaning to buy for a while.

And so it goes on until, you guessed it, I get to the end of the day… And the grass hasn’t been cut.

It’s easy to get distracted from what’s REALLY important. All sorts of good things to be doing, all competing for my attention.

Even when you’ve got your priorities CLEAR, when you KNOW what’s most important. It’s hard when you’re surrounded by competing cries.

Or what about as a CHURCH? How do we work out the important things WE should be doing?

Because different churches take different approaches, don’t they? For some churches, SOCIAL WELFARE is the most important thing. Soup kitchens, meals on wheels, or drop in centres. Meeting people’s physical needs.

OTHER churches focus on being RELEVANT. On having a political voice on current issues. Their emphasis is abortion or asylum seekers or gay marriage or climate change.

Others churches see that MEETING COMMUNITY NEEDS is what they should be doing. And so their week is full of self-awareness workshops, Alcoholics Anonymous, running schools or pre-schools or nursing homes. Parenting courses or marriage seminars.

They’re all good things to be doing. But there’s so many competing cries. How do we DECIDE what our priorities should be? And how do we STICK to them?

And even when you’ve got your priorities CLEAR, it’s hard when you’re surrounded by competing cries.

Which is how it must have been for Jesus. People pulling him in a dozen different directions. That’s what we see in this passage. So many people. So many needs. And yet for Jesus the top priority is very clear.

1. Jesus’ priority (14-20)

You can see it in his FIRST RECORDED WORDS. Chapter 1 verse 14. A statement that spells out EXACTLY what matters most. V4.

(Mark 1:14-15 NIV)  “… Jesus went into Galilee, PROCLAIMING THE GOOD NEWS OF GOD. {15} “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. REPENT AND BELIEVE THE GOOD NEWS!””

So, his PRIMARY OBJECTIVE, his TOP PRIORITY, is PREACHING… PREACHING for REPENTANCE and BELIEF.

He wants people to change from the heart.  To recognise that they’ve made a mistake, and correct it. Priority Number 1. Turn around, repent, and your sins will be forgiven.

THAT’S his message. THAT’S his mission. Jesus has come to PREACH.

So it’s no surprise that’s exactly what you find him doing when you get to v21. They arrive in Capernaum, and Jesus heads to the synagogue TO TEACH.

(pause) But can you see? Straight away, there’s a competing cry. A huge need. A man possessed by an evil spirit. He’s crying out. Have a look at what he says V24

(Mark 1:24 NIV)  “”What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!””

So what does Jesus do? He says, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” And v26 the evil spirit shakes the man, and comes out of him with a shriek. And the evil spirit does what it’s told.

A competing cry. And Jesus deals with it.

Let’s keep going. V29 Jesus leaves the synagogue with Simon and Andrew. They go home. And Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. They tell Jesus about it. A CRY FOR HELP. So Jesus touches her and she’s healed.

And a bit further on. V40-45 HERE’S a cry. A man with leprosy comes and begs on his knees. “If you’re willing you can make me clean.”

And of course he’s willing. Jesus is filled with compassion. “I am willing,” he says. “Be clean!” And he is.

 

2. The people’s response:

It’s amazing stuff, isn’t it? All these competing cries, and finally here’s someone who can actually DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Heal the sick, drive out demons, clean lepers.

They’ve GOT to be the things to major on, SURELY – the important things – the priorities? ANYONE can preach. But how many people can do THINGS LIKE THAT?

Relieving suffering is FAR MORE IMPORTANT than preaching.    ISN’T IT? The LOVING thing is to give people what they think they need most… ISN’T IT?

If you’re trying to draw a crowd, THIS STUFF’S GREAT. FAR MORE IMPORTANT than preaching about repentance and forgiveness of sin…    ISN’T IT?

At least, that’s what the CROWDS THINK. Which is why so many people are crowding around Jesus: THE ULTIMATE CROWD PLEASER! Have a look at how the crowds keep growing.

V28 News about him is spreading like wildfire. Right around Galilee. V32 Sunset. People are bringing all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathers at the door.

The end of v45. The people came to him from everywhere.

Chapter 2 v 2 Jesus the ultimate crowd pleaser. He nearly creates a riot.

{2} So many gather that there’s no room left, not even outside the door”

It’s like in the movie “Notting Hill”. Julia Roberts is a famous movie star; She’s staying the night at a normal house in a normal street in Notting Hill. And the paparazzi turn up outside the door.

And when she answers the doorbell in the morning, there’s an ABSOLUTE CIRCUS OUTSIDE. Thousands of camera flashes going off. There’s shouting and movement and pushing. EVERYONE wants a piece of her.

And it’s getting like that for Jesus.

3. Jesus’ response:

So what’s Jesus’ do? What’s his response? How does he DEAL with a situation like that?

It’s tough sticking to your PRIORITIES when you’re surrounded by competing cries. But that’s exactly what he does.

a) He sticks to his priorities by CONTROLLING THE PUBLICITY.

The FIRST thing he does is to CONTROL THE PUBLICITY. Look back at v25. How does he respond to the evil spirit? He tells him to be quiet.

Perhaps he’s not doing anything more than showing him who’s boss. But it SEEMS like he’s deliberating trying to keep his mission under wraps.

And again in v34. He’s healed many with all sorts of diseases. Driven out lots of demons. But look what it says. v34

(Mark 1:34 NIV)  “HE WOULDN’T LET THE DEMONS SPEAK because they knew who he was.”

Same thing a bit further on. This time to the leper. He’s just been healed. Have a look at v43

(Mark 1:43-44 NIV)  “Jesus sent him away at once WITH A STRONG WARNING: {44} “SEE THAT YOU DON’T TELL THIS TO ANYONE..””

Jesus is ACTUALLY TRYING TO KEEP THINGS QUIET. To control the publicity. To stop people focussing on the less important things.

You’d think that if Jesus was on about PREACHING, and GETTING HIS MESSAGE OUT, then he’d be HAPPY for the publicity.

But we see WHY he’s doing it when we look at what happens NEXT. Why he wants to control the publicity. V45. (The EVIL SPIRITS might obey Jesus, but THIS man doesn’t.)

(Mark 1:45 NIV)  “INSTEAD he went out and began to TALK FREELY, spreading the news. AS A RESULT, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.”

This guy’s talk actually makes it HARDER for Jesus to go into the towns. To preach where the people are. Because there’s healing riots. People DISTRACTED from the MOST IMPORTANT thing/ by a GOOD thing.

So Jesus’ first strategy was attempting to control the publicity. To try to keep people’s attention on his priority.

b) To keep preaching

His second strategy is to keep preaching. To keep DOING what his priority was.

We can see it best in the episode starting at v35. It’s stuck in the middle of all the healings, and it doesn’t seem to fit. Until we take a closer look.

 

It’s the morning after the night before. A huge night of healing. You’d think everyone would be entitled to a sleep-in. But not Jesus. He’s up before sunrise. He’s found a quiet place for some quality time with his Father.

But there’s not much peace and quiet. Because his disciples find him. And their concerns are different from Jesus. They’re concerned about SATISFYING THE CROWD. That’s the competing cry. When they find him, they say the words you can see in v 37. “EVERYONE IS LOOKING FOR YOU!”

 

And what does Jesus answer? What’s his strategy for maintaining his priority when there are competing cries? Verse 38

“Let’s go SOMEWHERE ELSE–to the NEARBY VILLAGES–so I can PREACH THERE ALSO… because THAT’S WHY I’VE COME.”

Jesus keeps preaching. It’s TOUGH sticking to your priorities when you’re surrounded by competing cries. It’s tough, but that’s what he’s going to do. He’s here TO PREACH. To call on people to REPENT. And be forgiven for their sins.

 

(pause) Now let’s be clear. It’s not that Jesus didn’t WANT to heal. He didn’t IGNORE the competing cries. When people crossed his path, he healed them.

Jesus healed because of WHO HE WAS. His NATURE is to help. To love. He healed because he had COMPASSION.

But he also PREACHED because he had compassion. Only PREACHING could meet people’s GREATEST need.

The WAY he dealt with the competing cries was to make sure they didn’t interfere with HIS MAIN PRIORITY. He found a way TO KEEP PREACHING.

c) To give what’s needed most (2:1-12)

The third part of his strategy was TO GIVE WHAT’S NEEDED MOST. To meet the GREATEST need.

The people want ONE thing, Jesus wants ANOTHER. The disciples value ONE sort of attention. Jesus values a DIFFERENT sort.

And you can see the contrast most clearly at the start of Ch 2. Jesus is back in Capernaum. It’s a few days later. He figures things might have settled down.

But the crowds are bigger than ever. And they’re still hungry for HEALING. While Jesus STILL wants to PREACH. Look at Ch 2 v2

(Mark 2:2 NIV)  ” So many gather that there’s no room left, not even outside the door, and he PREACHES THE WORD to them.”

But have a look at what happens. There’s one group who are SO DESPERATE for HEALING, they do something amazing.

They don’t just push and shove, they RIP THE ROOF OFF; then they lower their paralysed mate down, on his bed. The ultimate cry for help. It’s a dramatic moment isn’t it?

There he lies. On the floor in front of Jesus. Helpless. Desperate. Surrounded by a great crush of people. With his friends peering down expectantly through the hole in the roof.

What does THIS man need most from Jesus? His greatest need? Isn’t it obvious?! I mean he can’t walk! …

Jesus looks down at the man. The man looks up at Jesus, His friends look down at Jesus… Everyone leans forward in their chairs. Healing or preaching. What’s he need most? New legs or forgiveness of sins?

There’s a hush.. and Jesus says, it’s there in v5…. “Son, your … sins are forgiven!

Imagine the crowd! What’s FORGIVENESS got to do with it? It’s HEALING he needs! ANY FOOL can see THAT – he can’t even WALK!

But somehow for Jesus – the big thing’s eternity- and where you stand with God. Which is a whole lot more significant that fixing the guy’s legs for THIS LIFE.

But notice again, he doesn’t IGNORE the guy’s pain. He actually HEALS HIS LEGS TOO! Because he’s powerful and loving. And he does it to PROVE that he really CAN forgive sins.

And the guy DANCES out of the house. With forgiven sins AND strong legs. The BEST thing AND the GOOD thing.

And everyone PRAISES GOD. Because Jesus IS God. The BIG, BIG GOD, who’s in charge of EVERY part of life. And who cares enough to fix it ALL up. Body, soul and Spirit.

Conclusions

So what’s this have to say to US?

The first thing to recognise is that Jesus’ priorities haven’t changed. What was important THEN is still important now. THE GOSPEL IS STILL THE PRIORITY.

It’s hard to believe, isn’t it. Especially if you’re struggling with some sort of chronic illness. That you need to REPENT. And have your sins forgiven more than you need physical healing.

You need to REPENT and have your sins forgiven more than you need a long life, or a new job. You need to repent and have your sins forgiven more than you need that holiday, or that spouse, or that new house.

If you haven’t repented, and allowed Jesus to be boss, then NOTHING ELSE MATTERS!

So how does this work itself out in the things we do?

What about PRAYER? What sort of things do you PRAY about? What sort of things are you determined and committed and regular about praying for?

Are they things to do with your immediate needs? Protection and comfort and safety and health. GOOD things?

Or are your prayers filled with the MOST IMPORTANT things? That God would be growing his kingdom. Bringing people to repentance. Raising up workers. Opening eyes. Building bridges. Strengthening ministries. Breaking down barriers. They’re THE MOST IMPORTANT things.

When you pray for the people you love, do you pray for GOOD things? Or the most IMPORTANT things?

And what about us AS A CHURCH? There are LOTS of good things we could be doing, but unless we’re telling people the gospel – the good news about repentance and forgiveness and a relationship with Jesus, then we aren’t doing our job. ESPECIALLY as we start some new things here.

We could find jobs for the unemployed. Some churches are doing that. Great government funding! We could run injection rooms for heroin addicts. Or soup kitchens. Or pre-schools. All sorts of good things we COULD do.

But if they’re not BUILDING BRIDGES. If they’re not HELPING us introduce people to Jesus. And not challenging them to repent and turn to him, it doesn’t matter HOW MANY good things we do, we’re not really helping WHERE IT MATTERS MOST.

Whatever new things we consider doing. Let’s make sure we hold up the measuring stick of how they’re going to help us take the GOSPEL to people. They don’t all need to have a SERMON as part of every event. But they need to be part of A STRATEGY. They need to fit into a PLAN. A series of steps that move people towards Jesus. Towards getting right with God.

A full stomach, or a job, or new parenting skills, or quitting smoking. They’re ALL GOOD THINGS. Jesus CARES about those things. Jesus came to DEAL with those things.

But they’re not THE BEST THING.

We need to be a church whose NUMBER ONE PRIORITY is the same as Jesus. We need to be a church who PREACHES THE GOSPEL as our TOP PRIORITY. In as many different WAYS as we can. To as many different PEOPLE as we can. As winsomely and engagingly and lovingly and fully as we can.

It’s what Jesus was on about. And it’s what we need to be on about too.

The gospel – the CALL TO REPENT AND BELIEVE in Jesus – is the most important thing!

No matter what competing cries there are. Let’s not forget that!

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