Everyone Isn’t Looking–Mark 1:36-37

Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

Visit one of the busy shopping districts around town during the holidays, especially if you do it on a weekend, and you’ll feel like saying, “Everybody in town is trying to get to these stores.” If I were a burglar in such a jam, I’d be tempted to go to work, since apparently nobody would be found at home. Of course the reality is that even when cars so jam the area that the stoplights seem to create parking lots and the parking lots seem not nearly large enough, not everyone is shopping right there, right then.

On the morning in question in these verses, Simon Peter had to know that not everyone was looking for Jesus. Of course, this was Peter, who blurted out some of the silliest and best things that a person could manage during his normal day, but still, he had to see his words as exaggeration.

When I was a child, I had a book of Bible stories that I enjoyed. In one of those, before the story of Jesus’ birth, it described him as “The Baby Everyone Wanted.” I had an image of thousands of potential Marys sitting around and pining to be the mother of the Messiah. In reality, of course, most Jewish women of that day did not consider the possibility of giving birth to the Messiah. Most of the people in that land weren’t actively looking for the Messiah at any given time. At any given time, they might be walking or fishing or farming or something, but not really on watch for the Messiah, whatever he might look like.

Today, on Christmas Eve, how many of the people in your family–believer or non-believer–are actively looking for Jesus? How many of those people at Best Buy or Kohl’s seek him? How many of the people who lined up in the pre-dawn hours on Black Friday for “doorbuster” deals would inconvenience themselves in the slightest to gain audience with the Prince of Peace.

This Christmas, as we celebrate the Incarnation, as we marvel at God taking human form, let us not for an instant forget that much of the world has yet to receive this word. Unless, like Simon and his companions, these people actively seek Jesus, they will depend on us to bring Jesus into their lives. This Christmas, let us start with our own homes and work outward from there.

Spread the Word–Mark 1:28

News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

News travels fast. Today, a rumor about a sports team or a politician can fly around the world through Twitter and Facebook in just seconds. When Usain Bolt won the 200m gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, the news flew at 80,000 Tweets per minute.

On the other hand, not all news travels fast. When I Tweet something, it pretty much just sits there. My handful of followers rarely if ever retweet or comment on my items. My favorite hashtag should probably be measured in Tweets per month.

The same goes in less tech-dependent communication. The really hot news, say in your church, will fly around the place. When my church’s youth pastor announced his resignation a couple of months back, it had gotten around the church thoroughly by the next day. When the church announced an upcoming budget meeting, the buzz didn’t quite move as quickly.

Whether it is bad new or good, we tend to spread the remarkable stuff. We want the people in our circle to know how miserable or how fortunate we are. Knowing how my circle might overlap your circle, it just makes sense that the really juicy news will get around in short order.

When we look at the verse today, the response to Jesus casting a demon out of the man in the synagogue, we shouldn’t be surprised that, even without Twitter and iPhones, the people of Galilee managed to get the word around quickly and thoroughly. They had seen something remarkable, something amazing; thus, they simply had to spread the word. My guess is that they did not spread news of the synagogue’s upcoming silent auction with quite so much enthusiasm.

As usual, my interest here is not so much with what some 1st-century Galileans did but with what you and I do. If we don’t spread the “news of him” with the same vigor that those people in Capernaum showed, might that not mean that we don’t really consider the news quite as good as we say? If we’re more eager to spread a movie review, outrage at the government, or the cute thing a child said than we are to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, then perhaps we should look back to that Good News and understand just how remarkable it is.

Voices in the Wilderness–Mark 1:4-5

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. –Mark 1:4-5

“I can be anything I want to be if I want it badly enough.” I’ve heard a variety of people say that over the years, probably prompted by well-meaning but deluded counselors. The simple reality is that “want” won’t get the job done. It doesn’t matter how badly I want to own a house on Miami’s Star Island or fly around the world in a private jet or have to dodge the flash of the papparazzi as I stroll the red carpet in my custom tailored tuxedo. It doesn’t even matter how badly I want to be able to play a Beethoven piano sonata. The simple reality is that unless I take some action, all the wanting in the world is not going to bring anything good to reality.

At the risk of sounding even more depressing, I don’t believe that we can achieve anything we desire simply by wanting it badly enough and working at it sufficiently. For example, I’m fairly certain that no matter how hard I had worked at becoming an NBA power forward, I could not have managed it. I don’t think I have ever had the potential to be a Navy Seal. My body and my emotions simply didn’t give me the raw materials for these and other jobs.

Similarly, people do not simply become reconciled to God in the manner that mushrooms pop up on an old stump. Certainly, some people have a Road-to-Damascus style encounter with Christ, but for the most part, there’s work that needs to be done. Today’s verses explain that work fairly clearly.

Clearly, somebody has to do some form of preaching. Romans 10:4 asks us how people can hear the Gospel without a preacher. Perhaps John the Baptist understood that in order to make straight the way of the Lord, he had to go and preach. That preaching is the first step in the work that needs to be done to bring people into a saving knowledge of Christ.

Second, the people need to respond. They can’t simply listen to the message, nod blithely, and then pick up their certificate of redemption as they exit. Look at how John Mark describes the situation. The people went out to John. It wasn’t convenient to head from all over Judea and Jerusalem to the Jordan River. These people had to cover some miles to reach John. Then they had to confess their sins. Baptism alone didn’t get the work done. Confession came first, but the baptism followed.

And then what happened? The way for Jesus’ approach to these people had been cleared. They believed and trusted without precisely understanding the object of that trust. These people were natural first-generation Christians.

Now, years later, we want the church to continue. But if the church will continue, then the people must come. And if the people are to come, don’t we need to preach in one way or another? Whether in sermons or teaching or some other sort of ministry, be the “preacher” that the Spirit created you to be.

The Trail Blazer–Mark 1:2-3

as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’” –Mark 1:2-3

Recently, I went for a walk in my woods at Shamayim Hill, taking the trail that loops through the southern half of the property. One of the features of that route is the need to make a considerable detour around the eroded gorge of our occasional stream. Having passed through that hairpin segment, I came to about the spot where the path would join up if it could head straight to the south. There, I found a hefty tree, apparently still alive, collapsed across the trail. I’d seen this before. A tree, emerging from rocky soil, would outgrow its root support and keel over. Clambering over the tree, I made a mental note. I’d need to come back here with a wagon and a chain saw to clear the way for mowing next summer.

Paths, it seems, require constant upkeep in order not to be swallowed back by the surrounding forest. A person can still navigate a difficult, overgrown path, but the going isn’t easy.

At the outset of John’s gospel, we hear the voice of Mark, quoting the voice of Isaiah, who looked forward to the person of John the Baptist, who stood as a voice in the wilderness calling others to clear the way for Jesus. Is that complicated enough for you? One of the glories of the Bible is that we needn’t simply take one writer’s word. Instead, we have Mark, whose words are buttressed by the actions of John the Baptist, whose action was predicted by Isaiah. The way has been prepared.

That’s not to say that all of the trail-clearing has been done already. You and I meet people each day who have not yet encountered Christ. Whether it is the older man in the bookstore, the cashier at Taco Bell, or the kid selling candy, we should pray that all the unbelievers we meet will have a clear path over which Jesus can approach.

Let’s be clear. Jesus will climb over downed trees and wade chigger-infested weeds to reach the object of his desires, but I would prefer to stand as a trail clearer for the unbeliever than as one who drops debris in the way, making the journey more difficult.

John the Baptist did his best to “prepare the way for the Lord,” but now the duty has fallen to today’s Christian. Let it not be said of us that we’ve become an obstacle.

Urban Legend?–1 John 5:10

Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.–1 John 5:10

A friend of Emily’s passed on a story that went something like this. (I’ve substituted details as the original is even more disgusting than this one.)

I know a woman who got sick last week after eating at the Food Factory on Noland Road. When she went to the emergency room, they asked her if she had any leftovers of the food. She did. When they tested it, they found that there were rat droppings in the food and she had contracted bubonic plague.

Since we had just eaten at “Food Factory,” this story hit us in the gut, but something seemed off about the account. I punched the words “Food Factory” and “rat droppings” into Google, and found this story attributed to a “Food Factory” in Des Moines from several years ago.

Urban legends are intriguing to me, not because some gullible people–me sometimes–spread them, but because somebody, somewhere, at some time told a story they absolutely knew to be false as if it were true.

Emily’s friend did something just as bad by moving the story from several years ago in Des Moines to last week in Independence. Why? What else could we call this sort of a story but a lie and the person that told it but a liar?

One of the truths of human life, it seems, is that people lie. People lie to get your money or to get out of trouble or sometimes just for the fun of it. If you were to tally up all the breakings of Ten Commandments, I have to believe that “bearing false witness” would lead the league.

Despite the fact that we all lie, at least occasionally, most of us bristle if called a “liar,” and well we should. Most of us don’t go around calling others a liar without carefully considering the consequences. Perhaps that’s why John uses these strong words. Do you want to call God a liar?

If you’re reading this, you’re probably not the sort of person who would reject that testimony of Christ, but there’s still important truth here for us as believers. John suggests in this passage that the testimony of Christ is so powerful that the only way to reject it is to call God a liar. That should embolden us when it comes to witnessing. All too often, we worry about what somebody will think when presented with the gospel. John, I believe, says that the gospel is so clear, so well supported outside of anything you or I relate, that we needn’t worry about that. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not an urban legend. It will communicate. All we need to do is share the truth.