More Than Crumbs (Mark 7:24-8:10)

Today's passage is unsettling at first. You can't read it without wondering if Jesus is being a tad insensitive - even rude - to a woman who genuinely needs help. It also leaves you with some questions. Why is Jesus so dramatic when he heals a deaf person? And then it also seems a little repetitive. Jesus feeds another crowd with a few loaves and small fish. So it's a passage that gets under the skin and raises all kinds of questions.

But it's also a startling passage that actually gives a lot of hope to those of us who feel like we're the least likely people to be part of what God is doing. If you feel like you don't quite belong, or that there's a whole list of reasons why you shouldn't be in relationship with God and part of what he's doing, then this passage is for you.

Let's look at the three stories this morning. We're going to see first why we're not worthy to be part of Jesus' kingdom, why this doesn't matter, and then why this is good news for everyone here this morning.

First, let's look at all the reasons that we're not worthy, all the reasons why we shouldn't be part of God's kingdom and what he's doing.

In verse 24 we read that Jesus leaves from the Sea of Galilee area to the area around Tyre, which would have been on the coast of the Mediterranean. To understand what's about to happen here, you need to know why this is significant. Jesus is moving from a predominantly Jewish area to an area that was much more Gentile, much more Greek. He was traveling to an area that was known for its paganism. Tyre is a place known in the Old Testament as being wicked. It's the hometown of Jezebel, one of the famous villains of the Hebrew Scriptures. Josephus, who was a Jewish historian who lived shortly after this time, said that the people of Tyre are "as our bitterest enemies." It's also an area that, at the time, was known to be economically oppressive towards where Jesus was coming from. Tyre was known for eating food produced in Galilee while Galilee itself went hungry.

Why did Jesus leave Galilee for this Gentile and, from a Jewish perspective, somewhat shady place? I think there are a couple of reasons. Twice now Jesus has tried to get away with his disciples for a period of rest. Every time he tries to get away, though, the crowds follow him. It looks like this may be another attempt. "He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it," according to verse 24. If you study this passage carefully and map out Jesus' route, you'll notice that he goes way out of his way to avoid Galilee. Jesus is aware that the crowds want him as king, but that the political and religious leaders want him dead. So he takes some time to get away with his disciples out of the spotlight and away from all of the demands. They are trying to lie low for a while after Jesus has said and done some risky things. They are not there to preach and to heal. They just want to get away for a short time.

This helps us understand the emotional tone of the end of verse 24. "He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret." It also helps us understand a little bit about the exchange between Jesus and the Greek woman born in Syrian Phoenicia. There is hardly a less likely person to get anything from Jesus in all the gospels. She's Gentile and is not part of the covenant that God made with the Jewish people. She has no business approaching a Jewish rabbi.

She really has three strikes against her. One: she's a woman at a time when women were not viewed as equal to men. Two: she's a Greek Gentile at a time of great tension between Jews and Gentiles. The Messiah was expected to subdue and expel the Gentiles, not to visit and embrace them. Three: she's from pagan Syrian Phoenicia, which is a pretty shady place for anyone coming from Israel, especially from Galilee. You could even add a fourth strike: Jesus isn't there to heal or minister. He's there to get away. There's no reason to expect Jesus to respond positively to this woman.

That's why Jesus responds the way that he does to her. She came to Jesus and begged him to drive the demon from her daughter. Jesus replied in verse 27: "'First let the children eat all they want,' he told her, 'for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs.'"

What is this? In Jesus' day, Jews often referred to Gentiles as dogs. We're not talking men's best friend either. We're talking about wild dogs, repulsive scavengers that get into your garbage and eat everything and are never satisfied. They were seen as the most despicable, insolent, and miserable of creatures. It seems shocking that Jesus would buy into this type of language. It's pretty hard to avoid seeing these words as being somewhat scandalous, somewhat offensive.

But if that's all you see, then you aren't seeing enough. Jesus didn't use the normal word for a scavenger dog. The word he actually used was not the one that was normally used by Jews to refer to Gentiles. He didn't call her a wild scavenger dog roaming around the countryside. He used a word that means small dog, the type of dog you would keep as a household pet.

This still sounds offensive, and it probably should sound a little offensive, but we need to see what this woman actually came to see. Jesus was speaking using a parable. He's giving us an image that communicates a message. When Jesus had sent the disciples out, we read in Matthew that he said, "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel" (Matthew 10:5-6). Jesus was clear about his purpose. His purpose at this point was not to spread the gospel to the Gentile world, but to tell the Jewish people that their long-awaited salvation was at hand. He came to bring salvation to Israel. Later on the gospel would be shared with the entire world, but not yet. Jesus had a specific task and limited time, and this woman was jumping the queue. Jesus was saying, in essence, "I really need to feed my family first. Your turn is coming." Jesus wasn't called to go around and be helpful to everyone. He had to bring his salvation and his kingdom to Israel before it could be offered to the whole world.

We're going to see in a minute that this woman actually gets and agrees with Jesus' statement. But let's pause for a minute and consider that there are probably some of us here who can relate to this fascinating woman with four strikes against her. There are probably some of us here who would have to say that there's no real reason why Jesus should choose to respond to our cries. There are some of us who were raised in church, and you've never done anything scandalous in your life. You look like you've been in church every Sunday in your life, except for two weeks when you were sick back in the second grade. But there are others here who could easily come up with four reasons why Jesus should look at you and say, "Sorry, not interested." We can come up with lots of reasons why Jesus should look at us and say that it's not our turn just yet. What happens to this woman matters a lot to us.

And that's why it's so surprising to discover what did happen. This woman finds a way through.

Let's look at how this woman teaches us that our unworthiness doesn't even matter when we come to Jesus.

What's shocking is that this woman, with so much against her, actually gets it. This is amazing. Hardly anyone in Mark's gospel grasps what Jesus says to them, but she does.

How would you respond if Jesus said to you like he did to her? Some of us would slink away. Jesus has used the image of a dog. You've seen a dog with its ears tucked down, tail between its legs, scampering away. That's what some of us would have done. Jesus' challenge would have been enough to put us off.

Some of us would have defended ourselves. We would have said, "How dare you compare me to a dog?" We would have put up a fight saying that we deserved some of what Jesus offers. Our argument would be about who we are and what we deserve.

But this amazing woman doesn't scamper away, nor does she defend herself by arguing based on her merit. Look at what she says instead: "'Lord,' she replied, 'even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs'" (Mark 7:28).

This woman has a clearer understanding of Jesus' mission than anyone else we've met in Mark so far. She's the first person in Mark to get it and to engage Jesus in a constructive dialogue. She refuses to take no for an answer, and she becomes like a female version of Jacob wrestling with the angel, saying, "I will not let you go unless you bless me" (Genesis 32:26).

And what is the basis of her argument? Her argument is that the life-giving bread of Jesus' kingdom is so abundant that there is more than enough to feed not just Israel, but the entire world. She gets it. Bread here is an image of all the blessings of the Messiah's ministry. She understands that there is so much blessing found in what Jesus is doing that there's food enough for her, even though she is the most unlikely of persons to share in what God is doing.

Do you understand what she's doing? She's actually given us insight into the only way we can share in the blessings of Jesus' salvation. We're not worthy. We should never come to Christ arguing that we have a right to the blessings that he brings in his kingdom. We clearly don't. But we can grab ahold of Jesus, admit that we don't deserve the blessings of his kingdom, and then argue based on the abundance of God's grace. Because God's grace is so abundant, even the crumbs will be enough. The bread of Jesus' saving kingdom is so abundant that it's available to all, even the most unlikely person.

When we scamper away, or argue based on our merit, we forfeit the blessings of what Jesus has done. But when we down at his feet and argue based on the abundance of his provision, we're on very solid ground. There's more than enough in what Jesus provides to overcome anything that could keep us away.

Jesus replied to her, "For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter." And then we read, "She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone" (Mark 7:29-30).

Somebody's said, "Her only cover letter was her desperate need." But when we come to Jesus, all we need is need, because the bread of Jesus' saving kingdom is so abundant that it's available to all. Martin Luther said of her, "She took Christ at his own words. He then treated her not as a dog but as a child of Israel."

We've seen all the reasons why this woman shouldn't have received the blessings of Jesus' kingdom. And we've seen why this didn't matter: because she understood that there's more than enough in what Jesus is doing for everyone. Mark wants us to see one more thing from this passage.

He wants us to understand why this is good news for everyone here this morning.

Mark follows this incident with two other ones, not because they happened next. In fact, there are some hints that the last incident he mentions didn't necessarily happen next. He ties them together because he wants us to see that this woman was right. He wants us to see how the abundance of the bread in Jesus' kingdom is really good news for everyone.

In verses 31 to 36, Jesus travels to another Gentile region on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. There Jesus encounters a man who's deaf and has a speech impediment. You'll notice the drama involved with the healing. Jesus takes him aside, touches his ears and tongue, looks up to heaven. What's Jesus doing here? His healings aren't usually this dramatic. What's he doing? He's signing. He's communicating through his movements what he is doing to someone who can't hear his words. Just as Jesus has healed those who belong to Israel, Jesus now heals a Gentile. Remember that the miracles of Jesus point to what the kingdom will one day look like? Jesus demonstrates here that Gentiles are going to share in all the blessings of the kingdom, where there will be no evil or illness or death. What Isaiah prophesied is true even for the Gentiles:

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened

and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,

and the mute tongue shout for joy.

Water will gush forth in the wilderness

and streams in the desert.
(Isaiah 35:5-6)

And then we read about Jesus feeding four thousand with just a few loaves of bread and a few small fish. He's just fed five thousand back in chapter 6. Why include a similar event here? There are some differences. There are fewer people, more loaves, and less food left over. The biggest difference, though, is that this meal takes place among the Gentiles. Jesus makes his bread available to a wider Gentile community. He is the living bread for Gentiles as well. They also ate and were satisfied. Mark is telling us that everyone is invited to participate in the Messianic banquet. All are invited to come and be satisfied.

And that's why it's good news for everyone here this morning. Even the most unlikely person is invited to come. Your invitation to eat the bread has nothing to do with your worthiness; it has everything to do with the abundance of what has been provided for us in Jesus Christ. All you need is need. You can come eat the bread of life, and be satisfied.

Father, this morning I pray especially for those who are the least likely to experience the blessings of the kingdom. There are many here today who would never think they would have a place at the table with Jesus.

But today you've shown us that the blessings are available to everyone, because the blessing is not based on how worthy we are. It is based on the abundant provision of blessings that are available in Jesus Christ.

This is very good news. So I pray that the most unlikely people today would come and wrestle, refusing to leave until they get a blessing. May they fall before Jesus' feet and argue for even crumbs from his table. May their ears be opened, and may they find their place at the table. May they understand the salvation that is available to them through Jesus and what he has done, and may they eat and be satisfied. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

Becoming Clean (Mark 7:1-23)

At first glance, today's passage seems like it's a fight over an arcane issue that doesn't involve us at all. But, actually, this passage is very much about an issue that concerns all of us. The issue is really what is wrong with us, and what we should do about it. In this passage, the religious leaders of Jesus' day point out a problem that, when we think about it, affects all of us. Jesus even agrees with them that there's a problem. But then Jesus shows us that the way we normally deal with the problem is wrong, before we get a hint of the right way to deal with the problem.

So first, what's the problem?

The real issue in this passage is simply moral purity. It's easy to lose what's really under discussion in this passage because the problem is expressed in terms of the Jewish laws and traditions about being clean, but the underlying issue is one that touches all of us. It's the sense that something is wrong with us, and that we need something that is going to cleanse us, something that is going to change us so that we are who we know we're supposed to be.

If you read the Old Testament laws, especially in the book of Leviticus, then you discover that there are a lot of laws about uncleanness. Over and over again you read about clean and unclean and holy in the book of Leviticus. Some of the laws seem so arcane that when we read them we get frustrated and wonder what in the world they have to do with us.

One of the problems we have is that we think that clean means hygienic, like when your mother tells you to wash your hands because they're dirty before you come to eat your lunch. Clean in the Bible really doesn't have to do with hygiene, but of being purified and cleansed so that you could approach God. Because God is completely holy and without any defilement at all, God required that the people approach him in purity. And so Leviticus spends a lot of time explaining what makes people clean and unclean. The term occurs over 70 times in the book of Leviticus. We don't understand all the reasons behind all of these commands, but we kind of get the idea that we can't approach God just as we are because we're unclean. We know that there's something wrong with us. The issue, again, isn't hygiene, but our readiness to approach God.

The bottom line in Leviticus is that if you're unclean - and there are many ways that you can become unclean - you have no access to God. If you're an ordinary person and you are unclean for whatever reason, then you are temporarily cut off from the other people until you're made clean again. But if you're a priest, then it's even more serious. God says to the priests, "For the generations to come, if any of your descendants is ceremonially unclean and yet comes near the sacred offerings that the Israelites consecrate to the LORD, that person must be cut off from my presence. I am the LORD" (Leviticus 22:3).

As you read the Old Testament, you at first think that it's all about these arbitrary rules about what you can touch and what you can eat. It's frustrating too because there's no real way you can avoid becoming unclean at least some of the time. It's only later that you begin to see that it's not really about rules and technicalities. All of these point to something much deeper: our hearts. So when Isaiah encounters God, he's filled with fear and cries out, "Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty" (Isaiah 6:5). He knows that he's in no condition to stand in God's presence. His very life is in danger. Isaiah says again in chapter 64, "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away."

If we're honest, all of us can look at ourselves as well and acknowledge that yes, no matter who we are, that this is a problem. All of us sense that there's something deeply wrong, deeply unclean about our hearts. And it affects even the best of us. Kay Warren, a pastor's wife, tells of the first time she visited Rwanda. She had heard about the 1994 genocide that had left a million people dead - tortured, raped, and murdered. "I naively assumed I would be able to look men and women in the eyes and tell if they had ben involved," she says.

I was full of self-righteous judgment...Instead of finding leering, menacing creatures, I met men and women who looked and behaved a lot like me...There were no monsters in Rwanda, just people like you and me...Before that trip, I can't tell you the number of times I reacted to evil I read about or witnessed by saying, "I would never do that!" But thousands of years of bloody human history prove differently. Fifty-four years of my own history prove differently. We are all proficient in our ability to conceive, plan, and execute evil...You might as well face the shameful truth: You and I, put in the right situation, will do absolutely anything. Given the right circumstances, I am capable of any sin. I've grown more afraid of the monster lurking in the dark corners of my soul than of any monster lurking in the dark corners of my house.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn puts the problem well:

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

This is our biggest problem. And if you look carefully at this passage, Jesus agrees that this is our problem. In fact, he even raises the stakes in identifying the seriousness of the problem. We are unclean. We're like Lady Macbeth, crying, "Out, damn'd spot!" This is our problem.

So how do we normally deal with this problem?

As detailed as the laws in the Old Testament are, they only required priests to wash hands before offering a sacrifice. Only priests, and only when offering a sacrifice. Exodus 30:18-21 says:

Make a bronze basin, with its bronze stand, for washing. Place it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it. Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it. Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting a food offering to the LORD, they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come.

God's Law never required that ordinary people eat regular meals in a state or ritual cleanliness. But we get to Mark 7, and we read in verses 3 and 4:

The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.

They had taken instructions meant for priestly washing at the moment of sacrifice, and applied it to all of life in a way that God had never intended. This wasn't written in Scripture, but we read that these traditions had developed - as yet unwritten rules that many held to be on par with God's written commands.

What had happened is that people had identified a legitimate problem: the impurity of our hearts. And they had devised a system of dealing with this problem: manmade rules that, if kept, made them feel like they were no longer unclean. And not only did they adopt these manmade rules for themselves, but they used them as a club to judge others. In this passage, they use their manmade rules as a way of clubbing Jesus. When we sense the uncleanness of our hearts, we always look to some other justification, some other standard by which we approve ourselves and judge others. This is actually the basis of all religion and even many within Christianity: we think that if we meet certain standards and do certain things, unlike those dirty people, then we're in. Then we've dealt with our uncleanness problem. These are outside-in approaches. We think if we adopt certain behaviors and meet certain standards, then we're in.

Let me give you a test. If I said, "What makes you acceptable to God?" what would you say? Most of the answers we give reveal what we're looking to in order to be justified before God. If we think that there is anything that we have done or can do to make us clean before God, then we are in the exact same position that these religious leaders were in. We're trusting in something to justify us before God that won't work no matter how well we meet the standards.

Jesus had very harsh words for this. He just tears into the religious leaders. There are two basic problems with trying to justify God through our manmade, external rules.

First, Jesus says, we end up undermining the Word of God. When we create manmade rules in what starts out to be a well-meaning attempt to justify ourselves with God, it isn't long before we create rules that end up rejecting God-given priorities. He gives the example of somebody making a vow to dedicate some of their money to God, therefore making that money unavailable for honoring their father and mother. But there are other examples:

  • being so careful about morality that we forget that Christ died for the ungodly;
  • being so focused on church attendance and activities that we neglect our families and our neighbors;
  • being so concerned with good theology that we stop loving those who don't agree in every detail with us

Religion always gets us focused on the wrong things at the expense of what God wants us to be about. "You do many things like that," Jesus says in verse 13.

The other problem is that our when we try to justify ourselves using manmade, external rules, we never really get to the heart of the issue, which is the heart. To illustrate this, Jesus uses a crude example. If you eat a piece of unclean food, he says, it goes into your mouth, and down to your stomach, and eventually, he says, it goes into the latrine. It never gets to your heart. So the problem is actually more serious than you think, because all the hand-washing in the world, all the external manmade rules, never get to the heart of the issue. The heart of the issue is that we have impure hearts. The problem is that at our core, and the center of who we really are, there's something seriously wrong.

Jesus says in verses 21 to 23:

For from within, out of your hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile you.

Nothing you do externally will deal with the problem of an unclean heart. This is actually very depressing. Jesus says that yes, the Pharisees and scribes are right that there is something fundamentally unclean with us. But he rejects religion as a way of dealing with this. There is nothing we can do to scrub ourselves and make us clean no matter what we do. The ultimate problem with us is the impurity of our heart, and religion can't solve that problem.

So this passage shows us the extent of our problem. It also shows us the impossibility of cleansing ourselves. As one theologian put it, "Even saints cannot perform one work which, if judged on its own merits, is not deserving of condemnation" (John Calvin). Where does this leave us?

This passage also points us to what has to happen, what is, after all, our only hope.

So we see we have this problem. We also see that religion and manmade rules really don't solve this problem. So what do we do?

There's an interesting parenthetical comment at the end of verse 19. It's significant because Mark hardly makes any editorial comments. He says, "In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean." What does Mark mean by this? There are all kinds of laws about clean and unclean food in the Old Testament. What Mark is telling us is that Jesus is the fulfillment of all of these laws, and that he has done something that renders all of the laws about clean and unclean food obsolete.

Hundreds of years earlier, God revealed that the day would come that he would deal with this problem.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness. (Ezekiel 36:26-29)

The day will come, God said, when we won't have to worry about our unclean hearts anymore, because God will give us new hearts. "I will save you from all your uncleanness," God promises.

One of the most beautiful pictures of this is found in a passage in Zechariah 3. Zechariah sees a scene in heaven in which Joshua, the high priest at that time, appears before God. Remember how much work the priests had to go through in order to cleanse themselves? The High Priest would only come before God once a year at Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, after a week of preparation because you can't appear before God in an unclean state.

Zechariah sees Joshua appear before God. Satan is there too to accuse him. And we read, "Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel" (Zechariah 3:3). In the original it says he's in clothes that are covered with excrement. It's a picture of how we must look to God as we come before him in all our righteousness. He's there on the Day of Atonement, but there's big trouble because he's unclean. There's no way he can stand before God, and Satan is there to accuse him. It's a disaster.

But before Satan can even speak, the angel says, "Take off his filthy clothes." And then the angel says to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you" (Zechariah 3:4). God strips away his uncleanness and provides clothes that he couldn't provide for himself. He's reclothed in God's presence and even given a turban, which at that time would have signified royalty. He comes before God covered with excrement, and in God's presence he's given ceremonially pure garments as a sign that God accepts him and the people that he represents.

The prophets point us to the cleansing that only God can provide. God, they say, will deal with the uncleanness of his people by providing cleansing and acceptance at the deepest level. God will take away our filthy clothes in his presence, and Satan our accuser won't be allowed to say a word.

Mark has told us that the laws of clean and unclean laws have found their fulfillment in Christ. Christ cleanses the heart.

No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him, is mine! Alive in Him, my living Head, And clothed in righteousness divine, Bold I approach the eternal throne, And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Father, we repent of our efforts to cleanse ourselves. We thank you that in your presence, our filthy clothes can be removed, and we can be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. May everyone here experience that cleansing and sing: Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

I Am in the Storm (Mark 6:45-56)

This Fall, we've been studying the Gospel of Mark, which is the earliest account of Jesus' life and ministry. Today we come to a passage of Scripture that has a lot to say to us. If you're like me, you're going to recognize yourself in this passage, and this passage is going to give you a much-needed rebuke and some hope as well. At least that's what it did for me.

In this passage we learn something about our situation, something about Jesus, and then we face a test. It's important that we pay attention to what this passage teaches us, because if we pass this test we'll be prepared to deal with anything that comes our way.

So let's look at what this passage teaches us about us and our situation.

Jesus has just fed five thousand men, as well as additional women and children, with five small loaves of bread and two fish. In verse 45 we read, "Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd." You sense an urgency in Jesus' actions. He wants the disciples gone, and according to verse 46, he wants to be alone to pray. What's going on here?

What had just happened - the five thousand - became a test for both Jesus and for the disciples.

For Jesus, the test was one that we usually don't recognize as a test. We read in the Gospel of John that the crowd that Jesus fed was ready to force him to become King. Jesus was so popular at that point that he faced the temptation to get sidetracked from his mission due to the acclaim of the crowds. Jesus also knew that the path ahead led to the cross, not to glory and conquest. The glory and victory would come, but not before betrayal and death. So Jesus was going through his own storm, and so he retreated and spent most of the night in prayer.

But the focus in this passage really isn't on the storm that Jesus faced. Mark doesn't even go there. Instead, he draws our attention to what the disciples are going through. We read in verses 47 and 48:

When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake.

Now notice this. Jesus has sent the disciples onto the boat alone. If you know these disciples well, you should have the same feeling that you have when the neighbor down the road goes out and leaves the kids at home alone. You know it's not going to be a good situation. Almost every time these disciples are away from Jesus, they encounter some kind of problem.

But then notice what Jesus had sent them into. This wasn't like the storm they had already faced in which their lives were in danger. This was more like a wind that wouldn't let up. We read that they are straining at the oars making very limited progress. By the time Jesus does anything about it, it's between three and six in the morning. It seems that he doesn't even respond right away.

One commentator says:

This episode is a good illustration of the life of discipleship...It was not through stubborn self-will, but through direct obedience to the Lord's command, that the disciples found themselves in this plight. Thus the storm in now way showed that they had deviated from the path of God's will: God's path for them lay through the storm, to the other shore of the lake. Moreover, it appeared as if the Lord had forgotten them; they were alone, at night, making heavy weather with the rowing. (R. Alan Cole)

Ask yourself: Why would Jesus allow the disciples to go through this crisis alone? The answer has to be that this is part of the preparation process that the disciples needed as part of their training. We are going to be placed in situations, believing that God has sent us. We are going to be straining at the oars making very little progress at all. It's going to seem as if we're alone and that Jesus is off somewhere else. We can expect this to be part of our experience.

There really are three lessons we're expected to learn:

We will face adversity and hardship. Following Christ does not mean an exemption from suffering. Following Christ will sometimes lead us directly into a position of suffering and hardship. We should not be surprised to encounter times of suffering. When we follow Jesus, adversity and hardship will be part of the path.

There are going to be times when we're at the end of our own resources. The picture of the disciples "straining at the oars" is a good one for us. There are going to be times that we are working very hard but seemingly making very little progress. Reaching the point of helplessness and desperation is actually a step forward spiritually.

There will be times that Jesus seems absent. We will be in the storm and it will seem like God has abandoned us.

If you are in one of these moments right now of suffering and hardship, of being at the end of your resources, feeling that God is perhaps absent, then you are in a very good spot. As Eugene Peterson says:

Suffering is not evidence of God's absence, but of God's presence, and it is in our experience of being broken that God does his surest and most characteristic salvation work.

There is a way to accept, embrace, and deal with suffering that results in a better life, not a worse one, and more of the experience of God, not less.

God is working out his salvation in our lives the way he has always worked

We're going to face situations like this, and it's in these very situations that we learn something about Jesus.

Well, what does this passage help us learn about Jesus?

As the disciples face this hardship, what does Jesus teach them, and us, about himself?

There are a few details here that point to something deeper going on here. Verse 48 says, "Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them..." Throughout the years, people have struggled with the idea of Jesus walking on the water. They should too. We all know that people don't walk on water. Scripture teaches that treading the water is something that only God can do. Job 9:8 says:

He alone stretches out the heavens
and treads on the waves of the sea.

This is, by the way, the point. Jesus walking on the water reveals that he is more than a teacher or a prophet. Once again we're forced to ask, "Who in the world is this?"

Then we come to the phrase, "He was about to pass by them..." This seems to make no sense. The disciples are struggling to make progress. Why would Jesus just pass by? Bible scholars have proposed all kinds of theories. To really understand what's happening, you need to understand what it means to "pass by."

In Exodus 33, Moses said to God, "Show me your glory." God replied, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence...When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by" (Exodus 33:19,22). In 1 Kings, God told Elijah, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by" (1 Kings 19:11). Jesus is not only walking on water here, which tells us that this is no normal person, but now he's also passing by. This is the language of God revealing himself. As God revealed himself to Moses at Sinai, and on Horeb to Elijah, God now reveals himself in the person of Jesus Christ to the disciples.

There's one more clue that we need to spot. When the disciples saw Jesus passing by, walking on the water, they thought he was a ghost. Jesus immediately spoke to them and said - in my translation - "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." What Jesus said is actually, "Take courage. I am. Don't be afraid." Do you know what this means? When Moses asked God for his name when God first revealed himself to Moses, God gave his name as "I AM" (Exodus 3:14). I AM is God's personal name. It's how God describes himself. Jesus is saying that the God who created the world from nothing, who set the stars in place, who gave us life, who made a covenant with his people, and who delivered Israel out of Egypt - that great I AM is now walking on the water in the middle of the storm. Jesus passes by them and reveals his presence and identity so that they can have confidence in the storm. The point isn't that Jesus will rescue them from the storm - although, as we'll see in a moment, he does that. The point is that I AM is with them in the storm.

When you begin to put this together with the other events that have taken place, you begin to realize what Mark is teaching about Jesus. Can you of another time that God led his people safely through the waters and fed them in the wilderness when there was no food? During the exodus, when God brought his people out of slavery and into freedom. Mark is saying that Jesus is the new and better Moses bringing his people out of slavery and into freedom. But he's even better than Moses: he's the great I AM in person. That who Jesus is, and that is what he's up to.

Now, let's just pause here for a moment. We said that this was part of the disciple preparation process. Jesus knew that these disciples were going to face many hardships in the future. Jesus knew that the path for him would lead through many sufferings to the cross. He would be rejected and killed and suffer many terrible things (Mark 8:31). He knew that the path for the disciples would also involve suffering and hardship.

If the point of this passage was that God will deliver us from every hardship, and that he will rescue us from every storm, then we wouldn't be very well prepared for what lies ahead. As we've already said today, we will face adversity and hardship. There are going to be times that we're at the end of our own resources, and Jesus seems absent. Every single person here this morning is going to suffer. The point is not that we will be exempt from storms. The point is that the great I AM is with us in the storm. Because he is Lord, we don't need to be afraid no matter how the sea may rage or the winds blow.

But now, this is what the LORD says--
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,

I will be with you;

and when you pass through the rivers,

they will not sweep over you.

When you walk through the fire,

you will not be burned;

the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the LORD your God,

the Holy One of Israel, your Savior..."
(Isaiah 43:1-3)

God reveals his presence and identity so we can have confidence in the storm. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Horse and His Boy, "Aslan was among them though no one had seen him coming."

We've seen that this passage teaches us that we're going to experience times of hardship in which we're at the end of our resources, and in which it seems that Jesus is absent. We've also seen that this passage reveals that Jesus is the great I AM who assures us of his presence. This passage also does one more thing.

This passage leaves us with a test.

Verses 51 and 52 say, "Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened."

Mark ties together the feeding of the loaves to Jesus' revelation of himself as God on the water, and concludes that they had missed something that they should have grasped. They'd witnessed the miracle of the loaves, Jesus walking on water, and many other miracles, but their hearts were hard - a description, by the way, that Mark usually reserves for Peter's opponents.

It seems that things get delayed. The original destination was Bethsaida, we read in verse 45. They don't get there for another couple of chapters. And Mark contrasts the hard hearts of the disciples with the crowds in verses 53 to 56 who come to Jesus with faith.

The disciples failed to grasp who Jesus is. They also failed to consider how God had worked in the past, and apply that knowledge to their current situation.

We're left with the same test. If we understand that God has visited us in the person of Jesus, we can be assured of his presence no matter what we go through. We can have confidence in any storm that we go through.

Let's pray.

The disciples failed the test. But when Jesus passed through the mother of all storms - when he was betrayed and killed, and when he bore our sins - he passed the test. Because he remained faithful in the storm, there's hope for all of us who are faithless. "If we are faithless, he remains faithful" (2 Timothy 2:13).

Father, we will go through hardships. May we grasp that Jesus is the great I AM who is present with us in the storm, and may that change us. Soften our hearts. May his presence give us confidence no matter how the sea may rage or the winds blow. In the name of the one who stills storms and multiplies loaves and walks on water, in the name of the great I AM, in the name of the one who died for our sins and who invites us to repent and follow him - in Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Hungry (Mark 6:30-44)

At first glance, the story that we've just read is a simple one. It's one that we tell our children in Sunday school. Jesus sees a need, and miraculously he provides for that need in a way that can't be explained using just a few loaves of bread and fishes. It's a story that warms the heart.

But as usual, there's more than meets the eye in this passage. This morning I'd like to simply look at three things that this passage shows us: what we need; how Jesus meets that need; and what this means about our role today.

First, let's look at what we need.

The apostles have just returned from preaching and teaching and healing. They were so overwhelmed by ministry that they didn't even have time to eat. Jesus suggested that they get away to a solitary place. But before they even got there in the boat, verse 33 tells us, "But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them." You can imagine their disappointment. They needed to rest, but what they got was more ministry.

The apostles may have been disappointed, but Jesus saw the crowd and saw their need. Verse 34 says, "When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd."

What does this mean, "sheep without a shepherd"? Thousands of years earlier, Moses was a leader over Israel. He brought the people out of Egypt and led them as they wandered through the wilderness for forty years. When Moses was about to die, we read that he said to God:

May the LORD, the God of every human spirit, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the LORD's people will not be like sheep without a shepherd. (Numbers 27:16-17)

In other words, a shepherd was a leader who could lead and care for the people. God answered Moses' prayer by telling him to appoint Joshua, who led Israel to battle as they entered the land that God promised them. When David was made king, the Lord said to him, "You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler" (2 Samuel 5:2). But all of that paled compared to the promise God had made to them.

For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As shepherds look after their scattered flocks when they are with them, so will I look after my sheep...There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. (2 Samuel 34:11-15)

Do you see what this means? The people came with a need. You don't go outrun a boat around a lake unless something drives you there. They came wanting more of what Jesus had to offer. Maybe some of them wanted more teaching or healing. Some of them may have been coming for political deliverance. I'm sure many of them didn't even know what they were looking for.

But Jesus saw them and recognized their real need. He looked at the crowds and he saw there deep hunger for something they longed for but had never experienced. They were starved and impoverished, and nobody seemed to care. Their forefathers had even experienced hints of what they longed for, but they had never experienced the real thing.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes their need this way: "There were questions but no answers, distress but no relief, anguish of conscience but no deliverance, tears but no consolation, sin but no forgiveness."

Now, I know that we're a long way from where these people were. But the irony is that this passage also reveals our need. Mother Teresa once looked at the Western world and said, "The spiritual poverty of the Western world is much greater than the physical poverty of our people. You in the West have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness." Did you hear that? We have everything - success, family, wealth, pleasure - and yet there's still a sense that something is missing.

Most of us can't even put our finger on what the problem is. As a result we try all kinds of things to address our deep hunger. One author said:

It is the desire for God which is the most fundamental appetite of all, and it is an appetite we can never eliminate. We may seek to disown it, but it will not go away. If we deny that it is there, we shall in fact only divert it to some other object or range of objects. And that will mean that we invest some creature or creatures with the full burden of our need for God, a burden which no creature can carry. (Simon Tugwell)

We all have this hunger within us. We can't deny it, because the hunger comes from our most fundamental appetite, one that we can't eliminate. Because we don't recognize our deepest hunger, we try to fill the hole our relationships, our careers, our accomplishments, our positions, our experiences. But none of these can fill the hunger, because our need can only be met by God. It puts pressure on ourselves, our careers, our families, because we are putting a pressure on them that they were never meant to bear. Jonathan Edwards put it this way:

The enjoyment of [God] is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied…. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends are but shadows, but enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean.

So this passage first of all confronts us with our need. We are experiencing a deep hunger that we've never had satisfied, and nothing has filled it no matter what we try.

Secondly, then, let's look at how Jesus meets that need.

Verse 34 says, "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." Later on he feeds them miraculously with bread and fish. From this passage we learn that Jesus meets our deepest spiritual hunger in two ways. First, he feeds us with his Word. Then he points us to the future feast in which our deepest needs will be finally satisfied.

When Jesus saw the need of the people, he responded first by nourishing them with his Word. Now don't forget that we are talking about an ultimate hunger, a hunger that nothing in this world can fill. What Jesus is showing us here is that what they really needed to hear is a word from God. If his teaching was anything like what we read in the rest of the Gospel of Mark, then what they really needed to hear was about the arrival of the Kingdom of God, that God is setting things right, and that they needed to repent and believe. It's why we spend time looking at God's Word every Sunday. What we need at our deepest level is found in God's Word for us. God reveals himself through his Word, and we desperately need it. Jesus himself makes a connection between the Word of God and our deepest hunger. When he was tempted by Satan, Jesus said, "People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). What we long for most can only be met through the God who is revealed in His Word.

So Jesus meets their deepest need through nourishing them through his Word. But then he does something that points forward to when our deepest needs will be met and completely fulfilled. He gets them to sit down in groups, takes a quantity of food that would barely even feed the Apostles, and nourishes the entire crowd so that, according to verse 42, they were all satisfied. Not only that, but there were leftovers. What is all this about?

In the Gospels, miracles are never random displays of power. Jesus never does something to just demonstrate his power or wow the audience. Every miracle is a signpost that points to when the kingdom of God is fully here. So when he heals, he's pointing to the day that there will be no illness. When he casts out demons, he points to the day when evil will be defeated. When he raises people from the dead, he points to the day when there will be no more death. And when he feeds the people in this miracle, he points to the day when there will be no more hunger. Our deepest longings will be met, and we will be fully satisfied. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35).

What Jesus points us to is the banquet that we've always longed for, the one that's promised in the ancient Scriptures. Jeremiah had written:

They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion;

they will rejoice in the bounty of the LORD--
the grain, the new wine and the olive oil,

the young of the flocks and herds....

I will satisfy the priests with abundance,

and my people will be filled with my bounty,"

declares the LORD.
(Jeremiah 31:12, 14)

And God said through Isaiah:

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,

and your labor on what does not satisfy?

Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,

and you will delight in the richest of fare.
(Isaiah 55:1-2)

There will come a day, Jesus said, when our deepest longings will be met, when we will eat and be completely satisfied, and there will be no more hunger, no more illness, no more death, no more evil and injustice. What we long for will finally be true.

And here's the thing: we haven't experienced this yet, but we will. And knowing that this is coming is bread enough for today. Knowing this helps us endure almost anything. Paul wrote, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).

So Jesus nourishes us with his Word and he points us to the day when our hunger will ultimately be fulfilled. But then there's a hint of something else. Did you notice verse 41? "Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all." Taking bread, giving thanks, and breaking it. In a few chapters, Mark is going to write these words: "Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, 'Take it; this is my body'" (Mark 14:22).

Jesus meets our deepest hunger with the bread we're about to eat. But he did so at infinite cost. Bread must be broken if it's going to nourish someone. Unbroken bread will never meet anyone's hunger. Jesus took bread and gave it to his disciples and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:24). At the cross, Jesus who is the bread of life was broken so that we may be filled.

In a few minutes, we are going to come to Communion. Jesus told us to regularly celebrate Communion so that we could look back to what he did for us at the cross. He forgave all of our sins, defeated evil, and conquered sin and death. But it also looks forward to the day when we will eat at the banquet we've always wanted, to when our deepest hungers will be finally satisfied. The reason he told us to celebrate Communion so often is so that we would never forget what he has done for us, and so that we would never forget that it he is the one who fills us, who meets our deepest needs.

The banquet has an infinite cost, but it's been paid for. And now anyone can come and eat freely. There's an open invitation. The only requirement is that you come hungry.

We're going to come to that in just a minute, but there's one more thing we need to see in this passage. We've seen our need. We've seen how Jesus meets our deepest need. This passage reveals one more thing.

Let's finally look at what this passage says about our role today.

What is the role of the apostles in this passage? They are dispensers of bread. All they do is take what Jesus has given them, and they pass it out. That's pretty much all we are as well: dispensers of bread. We have nothing to offer people other than what Jesus has given us to give to them.

The biggest thing that we have to offer anyone is the bread of life, Jesus Christ. The kindest thing we can do is tell them about the Kingdom of God and invite them to the banquet where their needs can be ultimately satisfied. That's all. There's nothing more. We're simply dispensers of the bread that Jesus has given us.

But we also need to see that it's a pretty impossible task. There's lots of sarcasm in the Bible, but I can't think of a more sarcastic comment than the one the apostles made to Jesus in verse 37. The ESV gets at the sarcasm better than some translations. Jesus told them to give something to the crowd to eat. The disciples replied, "Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?" Two hundred denarii represented about 200 days' wages for a laborer. The disciples were being a little testy in their response to Jesus. In their defense, they knew that what Jesus had told them was impossible. They didn't have that kind of bread, and they didn't have that kind of money. They were in way over their head.

And that's just the point. Our struggle ever since then has been to believe that what Jesus offers us is enough, that the little pieces of bread and the little cups we're about to use point us to what can meet the hunger of the whole world. Our greatest struggle is to do what Jesus tells us to do and pass out the bread, knowing full well that we're in way over our heads, that what he's asking us to do is humanly impossible. In the kingdom of God, only the inadequate are adequate. Only the hungry are filled, and only the inadequate get to pass out the bread to others.

I love how somebody put it:

It is not God's intention that we should in ourselves be adequate for our tasks, rather He wants that we should be inadequate. If we only accept the tasks which we think are adapted to our powers we are not responding to the call of God. The church is always in a crisis and always will be. There will be difficulties, limitations, insolvable problems, lack of people and money, a menacing outlook, endless misunderstandings and misrepresentations. We are not only to do our work despite these things; they are precisely the conditions requisite for the doing of it.

Let's pray.

Thank you for inviting us to the meal we're about to celebrate. Thank you that it points us to what Jesus did for us, and to the day when our hunger will be fully and finally satisfied. Thank you for making us dispensers of bread. And thank you that in your kingdom, only the hungry are filled, and only the inadequate are adequate.

So we come hungry.

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.

The Call and Cost of Ministry (Mark 6:7-30)

We've been looking together at the Gospel of Mark, which is the earliest account of Jesus' life and ministry. Today we come to a transition in the Gospel of Mark.

When Jesus began his ministry, he called twelve people. Chapter 3 says, "He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons" (Mark 3:14-15). From the very beginning, Jesus created a community of followers who would be with him and do the things that he does. Up until now in the Gospel, they've been with Jesus, and even that hasn't been too impressive. They're still trying to understand who Jesus is and what he's all about. They've been with Jesus, but they haven't done anything yet. In the passage that we just read, that all changes.

This morning's passage tells us two things we need to know. First, we learn about our calling to ministry. Secondly, we learn the cost of ministry.

Let's first look about our calling to ministry.

Verse 7 says, "Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits."

As we've just said, up until now, Jesus has been preaching and healing and casting out demons, and the Twelve have been watching. They've now spent quite a bit of time with Jesus. He hasn't always been easy to understand. They still haven't come to really grasp who this is, but they know that God is up to something in Jesus. Three of the twelve have even seen Jesus raise a little girl from the dead.

Now Jesus turns to them and commissions them to do exactly what he has been doing. Everything that he has been doing, he calls them to do. Anyone who has ever delegated an important task to someone who just may not be ready understands what is happening here. It's one thing for God in human flesh to go around preaching, healing, and casting out demons. But now God is going to entrust this job to a bunch of nobodies who don't even get it yet? And yet that's exactly what Jesus does in this passage.

Now in a sense, as we're going to see, not everything here applies to us today. Jesus gave these commands to the Twelve and not to us. And yet there are implications for us. God is on a mission, and he invites us to join him. As Jesus is going to say later to his disciples, "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you" (John 20:21). Or as the apostle Paul writes, "We are God's co-workers" (1 Corinthians 3:9). We get to join God in what he is doing. We have been invited to join God on his mission.

This means that God is on a mission in west Toronto - in the townhouses at Clement and Martingrove, in WillowRidge, in Rexdale, at the Tim Horton's at Westway and Martingrove, at the Residence, wherever we are. And he invites us as his people to join him in what he is doing. Jesus calls us to carry on his ministry, to do what he did as he travelled around Galilee. This should blow us away. God is on mission all around us, and he invites us to join him in what he is doing.

We learn three things about our mission from this passage.

First, we learn that our mission is comprehensive. Did you notice verse 7, and then verses 12 and 13?

Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits....They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. (Mark 6:7, 12-13)

You'll notice here that their mission is a comprehensive one. It involves preaching and calling people to repentance, we read. The disciples go out and preach. They have a message that they proclaim, and they are calling people to respond. But that's not all that they do. They also drive out demons and the heal sick people. They point people to God's Kingdom, in which God deals not only with sin, but with all of the effects of sin as well.

This teaches us that our mission has to be a comprehensive one. Some churches are very good at preaching. They are excellent at telling people about forgiveness and reconciliation with God. They're good at calling people to repent. But quite often these churches aren't good at caring for the other needs that people have.

Some churches are very good at caring for sick people and those who are struggling with problems. They are good at social action and justice. But quite often these churches are not as good at proclaiming the gospel.

In this passage we see that we are called to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom and to care for people in every area of life. We are called to take the whole gospel to the whole person to the whole world. The gospel is comprehensive and touches every area of life. We're called to point to a gospel in which God not only forgives sins but will also undo all the effects of sin as well. The gospel is good news to the poor and the sick and the imprisoned and the suffering. We're called to preach the good news and to demonstrate God's care in every area of life. Our mission is comprehensive.

Second, we learn that our mission is urgent. In this passage, Jesus tells the Twelve that they don't really have time to waste packing for their trips. These are emergency instructions for a swift and dangerous mission. There's no time to waste. They can't get weighed down with extra stuff that will hold them back. Israel is at a crossroads.

God's mission is urgent. It's not something that can wait until next month or next year. Over 200,000 people live within five kilometers of where we sit right now. 20,000 of those people are going to move in the next year. 150 people are going to die. Many of those people have never heard about the good news of the gospel: that the Kingdom of God is near, and that God has come in the person of Jesus to bring people back to himself and to set all things right. God is on mission in this community, and he's commissioned us to join him. But there's an urgency. It's not something that can wait. It means traveling light because the mission can't be delayed.

Finally, we see that our mission involves dependency. When Jesus tells them to go out with no food or money, he's telling them that they are going to be dependent on others - and ultimately on God - to provide for them. When Jesus tells them to enter a place and depend on the hospitality of others, it means that they aren't always going to know where they are going to sleep the next night. Jesus even hints that it isn't going to go well for them. There are going to be villages that do not receive them. There are maybe going to be nights that they don't have a place to sleep. They are going to have to learn dependence on others - and ultimately they are going to have to learn dependence on God.

One of the subtle and deadly dangers that we face is self-reliance. Jack Miller was a pastor in Philadelphia. He went through some tough experiences in his life that were so bad that he quit his ministry. Miller looked back on those times and believes that God was teaching him to stop being so self-reliant. He came to realize that when we are self-reliant - when we depend on ourselves, our technology, and our skills - it shows that we aren't dependent on Christ. He wrote to a missionary and said:

What we fail to see is that reliance on people, their capabilities, their keeping their promises is a demonic faith, a cooperation in heart with the powers of darkness. We join the enemy, Satan, when we fail to rely on the promises of God to move on our behalf.

Spurgeon, a famous preacher in Britain, believed that this was one of the greatest dangers facing his church. When the church was doing quite well, he turned to them one Sunday and said:

I tremble for the church of which I am the pastor. I never trembled for it when we were few, when we were earnest in prayer, and devout in supplication, when it was a thing of contempt to go into "that miserable Baptist Chapel in Park Street," when we were despised and maligned and slandered. I never trembled for them then...But I tremble for it now, now that God hath enlarged our borders...O churches! take heed lest ye trust in yourselves; take heed lest ye say, "We are a respectable body," "We are a mighty number," "We are a potent people;" take heed lest ye begin to glory in your own strength; for when that is done, "Ichabod" shall be written on your walls and your glory shall depart from you.

The minute we lose our dependency and think we have what's needed on our own, we're in big trouble. Dependency is essential to mission. When a church is just starting out, they are dependent. They have to be. But churches get established, and by the a church gets to our stage it's easy to lose our sense of dependence. We're about to be tested in this area in the next few weeks. God is asking us to take on some things that are beyond what many of us think we can handle. When God calls us to mission, he calls us to dependence on him. God invites us to join him on mission.

Before we finish this morning, there's one more thing this passage teaches us. We've learned about our call to ministry.

Let's now look at the cost of ministry.

Mark describes the sending of the Twelve in verses 7 to 13. Then he switches the topic to the popular reaction to Jesus and the execution of John the Baptist in verses 14 to 29. Then in verse 30 he returns to the original topic. Verse 30 says, "The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught."

Question: Why does Mark do this? Why does Mark get us going on a subject, then change the subject, and then continue his original subject all over again? Mark does this all the time. Is Mark easily distracted? Does he have ADD? Of course, the answer is no. Mark does this deliberately. They even have a name for this: a Markan sandwich. Mark takes two seemingly unrelated stories and ties them together, telling us that we have to learn something from the combination.

What could Mark possibly be telling us from these two stories? John the Baptist is the forerunner of Jesus, and here he becomes the forerunner of Jesus and all who follow him. Mark here shows us the cost of ministry. Preaching repentance can be deadly. It cost John his life. Later on it cost Jesus his life. His mission is a dangerous one. What happened to John in his mission will happen to Jesus in his mission, and to the disciples in theirs.

Next Sunday is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Today around the world over 200 million are suffering for their faith in Jesus Christ. Paul said that this is part of what it means to follow Jesus. "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him" (Philippians 1:29). When the apostles were persecuted, they rejoiced "because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name" (Acts 5:41).

Jesus calls us to take the whole gospel to the whole person even at the cost of our lives. This is the call and this is the cost of mission.

This morning I have the privilege of standing before you and saying that God is inviting every person here to join him on mission. Every person here has been called. If you look at yourself and feel rather ordinary, then you're in good company. That's exactly what each person in the Twelve was: an ordinary person.

God turns to ordinary people like us an invites us to join him in what he is doing. I know there are people here who are hearing God's call to join him on mission. It involves announcing what God has done through Jesus, and calling them to repent and trust in him. And it involves caring for people in a holistic way.

If this morning you feel inadequate or that you lack the resources, then that's a good sign. You're well positioned to realize how dependent you are on God. I have the sense that the problem with a lot of us - maybe the problem with our church - is that we haven't done anything in a long time that requires us to be dependent on God. We live in safe worlds and we never fail because we never try anything. God is calling some of us this morning to move into his dangerous mission in which it's clear we don't have what it takes. He's calling our church to leave the safety and to join him in mission. It's urgent. There's really nothing more important.

Is it dangerous? Well, it got Jesus and John the Baptist killed. Not just them either. Next Sunday is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Over 200 million Christians today are experiencing persecution because of their faith. Is the mission dangerous? It could get you killed.

But it's the only mission that lasts. Herod killed John the Baptist. Herod's kingdom is long gone, but John's message is still being heard around the world. They killed Jesus, but Jesus' death led to our life. God's kingdom advances despite murderous evil. Nobody wastes his life who gives his life for God's kingdom.

Let's pray.

God has been speaking to some of you this morning through this passage. I know he's speaking to us as a church to leave our places of safety and move into his risky and dangerous mission.

It's not a safe mission. And it's not one that we can handle on our own. It requires dependence on him. If you aren't in the place where you feel your sense of dependence, it probably means you're not on mission yet.

God calls ordinary people like us to join him. How will we respond?

Thank you, Father, that Jesus came to announce the good news that the kingdom is near. Thank you that he left heaven to enter a dangerous world, and that he gave his life so that we may be saved.

Thank you that he invites us to follow him. May we serve as Jesus served. Move us to the place where we have to depend on you. May we even be willing to risk our lives to join you on mission. Move among us now we pray. We ask in Jesus' name, Amen.