Jesus calls his disciples to a transformational mission.
The challenge for them was to capture the vision, scope, and heart of his plan. They often missed it. Let us not miss the life-changing mission that God has for us right under our noses if we will only have the ears to hear and the eyes to see.
Sermon preached at St. John the Divine in Houston, TX on 19 September 2021. Come visit: https://www.sjd.org/
Mark 9:33-37 (ESV Version)
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
Is Jesus challenging you today?What question are you too afraid to answer, and what answer are you too afraid to give?And what is the mission to which God is calling you to engage that is right under your nose?
The resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything for us. He is making us new from the inside out, and, in the words of 1 Peter, he have given us “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1:3).
People often wonder why Christians usually meet to worship on Sunday, the first day of the week. I’ve heard it explained that it is because the resurrected Christ first appeared to his disciples on the first day of the week (John 20:19), and many other resurrection sightings took place on that day. As Christians, we choose this day to gather as a celebration of new beginnings and new life. Every Sunday is the possibility of a new start, a new resurrection that can happen in our lives.
So what is it that is being made new for Christians? How is the resurrection made real in us? Let’s look at how it happened for the disciples.
First, the resurrection is an opportunity for us to say goodbye to insecurity and fear in our lives. In John 20, the disciples are hiding behind locked doors in fear, and Jesus walks straight past those locked doors to bring incredible peace to them. I feel like this has a direct application to our current context. We are stuck in our homes behind our doors because of quarantine due to the coronavirus, out of fear of spreading the illness. Stay at home right now is an appropriate action, but I just want to acknowledge that Jesus can bring his peace straight through those locked doors.
Metaphorically, what fears and insecurities are keeping you behind locked doors? Allow the resurrection of Christ to bring fresh hope and new life to those areas of your life.
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
Second, he also commissions them to go out with apostolic authority. Although we cannot physically go out because of our stay-at-home orders, the Gospel is not chained behind locked doors. We have technology that can still allow us to communicate, and we can use all of those media to spread the truth of Christ.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
Third, as he sends them, he also empowers them with his Holy Spirit, and he gives them the responsibility of being the very means of God’s grace and forgiveness in the lives of others.
He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
We are ambassadors of his ministry of reconciliation. Maybe this current context can give you the opportunity to think about relationships you have where there are problems that need to be resolved. Is there anyone that you can extend grace and forgiveness to right now?
As the Scripture passage continues, we learn that poor Thomas was the only disciple who wasn’t there at that time, and so he missed the spectacular encounter that the others had with Jesus. I call him “poor Thomas,” because I think he has gotten a bad reputation from this story as “Doubting Thomas.” Yes, Thomas did doubt at first, but who wouldn’t when presented with such an outrageous tale as this? Later, when he does personally encounter the risen Christ, he is one of the first people ever recorded as calling Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” What a marvelous response to the truth of the resurrection! I think a better name for him would be “Worshiping Thomas.”
If you find yourself struggling with doubt like Thomas, please know that God wants to directly address those doubts the same way he did with Thomas. He wants to speak his peace into your heart, to bring new life and confidence to your insecurities, and he wants to commission you to become a means of his grace in this world. He wants to use this trial to test the genuineness of your faith (1 Peter 1:6-7).
John goes on to say:
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Jesus wants each of us to claim the new life that he offers through his resurrection. He offers us the fullness of his resurrected life.
My sermon on Sunday was about the New Temple, and it reminded me of the below blog post that I originally wrote in 2014. Find the sermon video at the bottom.
Little Lies We Learn as Children
There is a little children’s rhyme that we all learned as children. It uses hands to creatively teach about the church:
Here is the Church
And Here is the Steeple
Open the Doors
And see all the People!
The childhood rhyme is Biblically incorrect! While we often call the physical building and place of worship for the people of God, a Church, that is a misnomer. I go so far to call it a little lie. Little lies like this have been taught to us as children, and they have done great damage. Subtly and powerfully, they shape our vocabulary and thus our thinking and values as the people of God. The Church is NOT a physical building with a steeple and doors. Yet, we persist in using the word with that reference and meaning.
The institutional church itself has reinforced the vocabulary. A couple of years ago, the Bishop corrected me when I referred to my church’s worship space as “the Sanctuary.” He said, “Properly, the sanctuary is the space behind the altar rails and building should be referred to as ‘the church’.” From a technical architectural vocabulary perspective, he was not wrong.
The reforming instinct in me cannot accept his correction. I have worked hard to never refer to a physical building as “The Church” because of the misaligned priorities on buildings, programs and institutions.
In the New Testament parlance, the Church is the gathered worshiping People of God. Rather than the building, the Church would be what you see when you open the doors and look inside the physical building. Monday through Saturday, the Church has left the building! Without the resurrected People of God gathered, the building stands vacant like an empty tomb!
As the angel who told the women looking for Jesus inside the rock-hewn tomb, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen!” Yes, there are many beautiful “church” buildings built around the world, with wonderful architectural features and gorgeous stain glass windows. They are built to the Glory of God! However, without a vibrant Holy Spirit filled, worshiping body of Christ, they are empty albeit beautiful sepulchers.
Whenever the New Testament uses the term “church”, it is always referring to the redeemed and holy people of God. It does describe church in terms of building and structure but always as a building made with living stones on the divinely appointed cornerstone.
The church building is alive!
Biblically, we should not say we go to church as so many of us are apt to say, but rather we should say we are the church! The church is a community of people whose lives are completely centered on Jesus, living stones built into the precious cornerstone.
Paul used this same imagery in his letter to the Ephesians. He says,
“You are being built into a holy temple, one stone placed upon another, incorporated with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone. In him, the whole building is joined together and rises to become a Holy Temple in the Lord. In him, you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
So does that mean that we should not build physical buildings for the church? Not at all! Yet, the institutional tools and structures that we have created with human hands out of wood, metal, bricks and mortar are merely tools and institutional supports for the spiritual living Church, the body of Christ. This is an incredibly important distinction for us. Why? Our primary focus is properly on the living organic Temple of the Lord.
The resurrected life is centered on the Person of Jesus Christ and the community and people that have been incorporated into the New Temple that is his Body. As in times of the Old Testament, the People of God find themselves serving worldly physical and institutional structures, rather than the physical and institutional structures supporting the people of God.
This was the corruption of the political, religious and economic systems which Jesus confronted in his day when he overturned the tables of the money changers in the old Temple.
The challenge in our day is to renew our emphasis on the True Church, the Living Stones, the New Spiritual Temple, The Body of Christ. The people of this world value the physical stones, but the Lord values the living stones. As the Apostle Peter writes, they are chosen by God and “precious to him.”
Question for thought and discussion: Do you agree that the people of this world place more value on worldly structures and institutions than people? Do you see this happening even with the Church? How do we get back to the right emphases?
Jesus calls us to new life in Him. But we don’t have to wait until our resurrection day to begin that new life. New life in Jesus begins now!
Before we look at what new life looks like, I must warn you: there is always a great temptation to stay in our old life or return to it again. Even the disciples experienced this setback. When Jesus called His first followers—Peter, James, and John—they were out on the Sea of Galilee fishing from a boat (and not doing too well at that!). Jesus challenged them to go out into deep water and put out their nets again. Peter was exasperated, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets” Luke 5:5, NRSV).
You remember the rest of the story. Peter, James, and John pulled in a miraculous catch. Thus began a great adventure with the incarnate Lord and Savior of the world as Jesus called them from their profession as fishermen to become fishers of men.
Fast-forward three years. Peter, James, and John have now experienced amazing things as disciples of Jesus. They have walked beside the Lord witnessing His mighty acts of healing, listened to his teaching, and even participated in miracles. And yet, even they returned to their old ways— fishing for fish instead of men (and not doing very well at that!). Read John 21:1-25.
After the dramatic events of the His death and resurrection, Jesus again appears where the men are fishing. He calls to them to cast their empty nets on the other side of the boat. Another miraculous catch. Recognizing Jesus, John whispers to Peter, “It is the Lord!” And in true “Peter” fashion…
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish… Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” (John 21:7-12)
The story begs the question: why did Peter and the disciples go back to their regular jobs of fishing again? Jesus had called them to so much greater.
The reason is clear from an earlier account in John’s Gospel. Remember that before the crucifixion, Peter had denied Jesus three times. If that wasn’t bad enough, his denials were in spite of a personal vow that he would go to the death with Jesus: “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times” (John 13:37-38).
After his denials, Peter was acutely aware of his own inadequacy, his own failings, his own weakness. Rather than stepping into the Resurrected Life and moving forward with Jesus’ call on his life to be an apostle, Peter had reverted back to being merely a fisherman. And evidently, he had brought the others with him. Like an athlete who lets down the team in the big moment, Peter had fumbled the ball after vowing to be a superstar! He was discouraged and disillusioned.
In our own walks with the Lord, very often some major disappointment or failing on our parts hinders or blocks us from truly stepping out into the fullness of the Resurrected Life. Is there any disappointment in your life that would have you fishing again rather than boldly living for the Lord? Is there any unworthy feeling holding you back, some guilt or shame, that would prevent you from truly walking in the newness of life that the Lord has for you?
In a wonderful moment of restoration, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” (John 21:15-17). The disciple who once vowed, “I do not know the man!” now says to Jesus, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you” three times. In reversing his three denials, those affirmations became a reaffirmation of Peter’s calling to be a shepherd to the flock of the Lord. Jesus sealed Peter’s affirmations with, “Feed my sheep.” By taking Peter back to the beginning, to the moment of his calling, Jesus gave Peter a new start and a new challenge. Peter would indeed be fishing again for people!
The Lord would do the same for you. The Lord has a special call upon your life. It’s a call that will require you to step into a new reality, a new life. The temptation will be to return to the old ways and to the old life. And yet Jesus, your risen Lord, will meet you in your failings and challenge you to get back to your calling, to living once more for His kingdom.
What’s holding you back? Is there any failing in the Christian life that has disillusioned you and hindered you from living the Resurrected Life? Have you been fishing on the wrong side of the boat again? Jesus restored Peter, and he will restore you!
The stage is set for a climactic revelation of Jesus’ glory through the resurrection of a dead man. The disciples are very much aware that a return trip to Judea could result in Jesus’ persecution and death by stoning. Jesus persists in His determination to return to Bethany in Judea because “Lazarus has died.” Jesus hints at some great sign He will perform “that you may believe.” Thomas has his doubts as he girds up to go and die with Lazarus (and Jesus).
The miraculous raising of Lazarus from being dead three days becomes not only a demonstration of Jesus’ divinity but also of His humanity. “Jesus wept” (11:35), is both the shortest verse in the Bible and perhaps the most profoundly compassionate. When He sees Martha and Mary, and Lazarus’ friends and family all weeping, Jesus is described as being “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” Not only is Jesus acquainted with human sorrows and grief, He shares in them.
Jesus also is the one who can reverse human suffering and sorrow. One day, He promises to wipe away every tear from our eyes. In a display of the “glory of God” (11:40), Jesus calls a three-day-dead Lazarus to “come out!” (11:43)
Here, Jesus utters the fifth of His seven great “I am” statements.
Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (11:25-26)
Jesus is God in the flesh; He is the great “I am.” Jesus wept.
He holds the power of life and death in His sovereign hands. He is the bread of life, the only one who deeply satisfies our hungers. He is the light of life who disperses falsehood and darkness. He is the source of living water who heals our hurts and quenches our deepest thirsts. He is the only gate which leads to eternal life. For, He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep.
Do you believe this?
Martha’s response was, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
What is your response? Do you believe this? Today in prayer, offer your “Yes Lord; I believe” to the Lord and Savior of the World.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life. Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.
Jesus compared the generation of Pharisees and scribes to a then-popular children’s song:
‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ –Luke 7:32
The song invites the hearer into response, but no response is given. That generation was skeptical of the invitations of God offered through John the Baptist and Jesus. Hence, they did not dance, and they did not weep. The Gospel writer Luke says that they had “rejected the purpose of God for themselves” (7:30).
John the Baptist called them to a baptism of repentance, but they refused to be baptized by him. The prophet sang the dirge, but they did not weep.
Jesus proclaimed the Good News of forgiveness and restoration for the sinner and the brokenhearted. He celebrated and ate with them, but they refused to come to the party table. The Lord played the flute, but they did not dance.
Today, we celebrate–the Lord’s day of resurrection. Where is your heart on this day? Is it filled with joy? Or have the flaming arrows of the evil one pierced your heart and stolen your joy? Jesus would challenge the skeptical and critical spirits in us. Oh you of little faith! Beware of the negative spirit. It is possible to be so cynical of being taken in that you refuse to enter in to the abundant life that God has for you. Such attitudes rob joy from the people around you.
Do you know that an angry and critical spirit is a mask for unresponsiveness to God’s call? Remember, that in refusing to be baptized, the Pharisees “rejected the purposes of God for themselves” (Luke 7:30). Are you humbly responsive to the purposes of God on your life? Are you open and responsive to enter into the joy and free gift of the resurrected life?
In the last book of C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia series, there is a group of hard-hearted dwarfs who are pictured in a building surrounded by a glorious banquet prepared for them by Aslan, the Jesus figure in the series. Only, the dwarfs cannot perceive that the food and the table that is set before them as a life-giving, joyous blessing. Their cynicism and skepticism clouds their view of life. Instead of a banquet hall, they perceive that they are in a stable eating hay and drinking out of a water trough.
Everyone around them can clearly see that they are self deceived. The children in the story are dismayed at their disbelief. With the heart of an evangelist one of the children asks, “Are you blind?”
“Their prison is only in their minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out” (CS Lewis, The Last Battle).
“No,” respond the dwarfs, “we’re here in the dark where no one can see.”
“But it isn’t dark, you poor dwarfs,” says Lucy, “look up, look round, can’t you see the sky and flowers – can’t you see me?” Then Lucy bends over, picks some wild violets, and says, “perhaps you can smell these.” But the dwarf jumps back into his darkness and yells, “How dare you shove that filthy stable litter in my face.” He cannot even smell the beauty which surrounds him.
Aslan teaches the children, that with some hard-hearted souls, there is no way of helping them: “Their prison is only in their minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.” (CS Lewis, The Last Battle)
It is easy to stand on the sidelines and be a critic of faith and belief in the midst a sinful and fallen world. Faith requires us to open our eyes to reality of God’s kingdom and call. I have noticed that malcontents often find each other and flock together like angry birds. “The dwarfs are for the dwarfs,” they reassure themselves! Yet the group-think only serves to further limit their vision and sharpen their rejection of the life which God is offering them. We all know people like this–perhaps you see yourself in the dwarf tribe!
The Lord invites you out of self-imposed darkness into the light of life–the light of Christ, thanks be to God. He has prepared a table before you.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwellin the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23:5-6)
Today celebrate and proclaim the breaking forth of the new life to which the Lord invites you. In his resurrection, he has prepared for you a glorious table of life with anointing oil and overflowing cups of abundance. God’s kingdom is one where goodness and mercy pursue you all of your days.
Do not doubt, but believe!
The first witnesses of the empty tomb were several women. They told the disciples and the rest the Good News of new life bursting from the tomb!
Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles,but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them (Luke 24:10).
The women were filled with wonder, joy, faith and belief. But, it was met by the dwarfish skepticism of those who dismissed their words as an idle tale.
I ask you, where are you seeing death among things that are alive, and seeking life among things that are dead? The Lord would have you enter into the divine drama as a fully engaged participant. Give your entire heart, life and faith to Him. Surrender to the Lord in prayer right now. Plead with him, “Lord I want to receive your life, where ever you lead me!” The responsive Christian life in Jesus is never dull!
The kingdom of God calls you to enter into all the ups and downs of faith, hope and love. At times, the Lord sings the dirge that you might plumb the depths of repentance and weep over your sin and brokenness–this is the season of the Cross. At other times, He plays the flute with a joyous invitation to dance with the rhythmic freedoms of His grace and redemption–the glory of the Resurrection! Today the joyous flute is loudly playing for you. Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia! Will you dance with Jesus in faith?