Tag Archives: repent

Wait for the Lord

Mark 1:29-39, Isaiah:40:21-31

Jesus had a very busy day in Capernaum. Last week, we heard about his exorcism of a demon who dared to interrupt Sabbath worship in the synagogue. This week, we learn that no sooner did he leave the synagogue to go home with Peter for lunch than he was accosted with another problem. Peter’s mother-in-law was sick. The family probably rushed up when he came in the door to let him know that the meal was going to be delayed and inferior due to the illness of the mother-in-law.

Jesus solved that problem, but his day was not over. People waited till sundown, the official end of Sabbath, to bring him more problems, but the line was long and the Bible says the whole town gathered. It would have been late by the time he could go to bed.

The next morning, by dawn, the crowds were starting to gather again. They just assumed that the show would continue. It was a pretty good show. Bring up a sick person, get that person healed, shout and laugh, then do it again. It is exactly the sort of show Satan would like. This performance made Jesus a sideshow, not a savior.

Jesus, however, had a message: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15) The miracles were evidence of his power and authority as God, but they were not the central message. Only the sick and demon-possessed got any real blessing out of the healings. Everyone else received entertainment. Nobody repented, and nobody even heard the good news. They were all focused on the magic of the moment.  Jesus had not come to earth to become a celebrity. Jesus came to invite everyone into the kingdom of God, and to put God on the throne of every heart.

This is the reason that he went out very early the next morning, before dawn, before the crowds began to line up at the door, to pray. Jesus, true God, had all the power of the universe in time and eternity at his command, but Jesus, true man, needed time with the Father, time for refreshment and courage and inspiration.

We know that Jesus knew the Bible very well. When Satan mounted a frontal attack on him in the wilderness, Jesus responded to every assault with scripture. But the only Bible that existed at that time was the Old Testament. It seems completely reasonable to think that when he went out to pray, he turned to scripture for consolation. Did he wonder if he could ever get the crowds to focus on the real message? Did he wonder if he were really up to the work he had to accomplish? In other places in the gospels we read that Jesus warned the disciples that he would suffer and be killed. Did he wonder if he could carry his message to enough people before that happened? Did he wonder how he would endure what he knew was coming? Did he simply need to connect with his Father and spend some time enjoying that fellowship?

It seems reasonable to believe that in those moments before dawn when he sat all by himself somewhere outside Capernaum, Jesus thought about the first lectionary reading for today—Isaiah 40:21-31.

Isaiah wrote about God as we might see God in his heavenly, eternal throne room. From the narrative in the book of Revelation, we see that the Lamb of God stands beside God in that heavenly throne room eternally. Did Jesus let his human mind wander to his heavenly memories that morning? He knew he had a battle on his hands. Did he ask for more strength and wisdom to combat his eternal enemy?

One part of the text from Isaiah would have comforted him. It comforts many people who read it and even inspired a great song. As he contemplated these words, he would surely have been refreshed and encouraged to move on with his message of hope and repentance to all the people.

those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.  Isaiah 40:31

 

Jesus knew that his job was not to entertain the people. It was going to be very hard. People much preferred to receive some immediate benefit. They were not so eager to follow him in a life of repentance and service, going against the current of the people around them, maybe being rejected or persecuted themselves. He needed to lead them not only to repent and believe the good news, but also to be willing to turn to God for the strength and courage it would take to live that life.

Today, 2000 years later, the challenge is still the same. People prefer to get something out of their religion rather than give something. Today, Jesus still asks us to give ourselves to him in repentance and service. It isn’t easy to make ourselves do it. In fact, we cannot make ourselves do it. Like Jesus, we need to spend time in prayer in order to have the strength to live our lives as faithful followers. We all must be like Jesus and trust God for the strength to do his work. Isaiah promises us that if we remain connected with the Lord and wait faithfully for his guidance, we will receive the strength we need.

                                                                                      

The War Against Evil

The Harry Potter novels chronicle a fantastic parallel universe in which the crusade against evil is fought in the person of a young man who unknowingly carries an element of his adversary within. That war culminates in a final battle worthy of a James Bond movie. In that story, the kingdom of evil ends with a bang. The confrontations with evil that most of us recognize are much less dramatic. Our gospel for today points us to a sure strategy to experience victory in those battles whether they end with bangs or whimpers.

Mark’s gospel, the one that led the way for many others, is quite concise. The reading today is a brief but dense telling of a powerful story. Its subject might seem a bit quaint to modern readers who do not believe in demon-possession. It is included in the book for an important reason: We need to know how Satan feels about us, and we need to know what to do when we see him at work.

Describing the beginning of Christ’s ministry, a few short verses before today’s story, Mark introduces the message of the ministry. He says, “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’” (Mark 1:14-15) Before the story we read today, Jesus called some of his disciples, so we have reason to believe that Peter, Andrew, James and John, and possibly others, were with Jesus on the day he first preached in Capernaum. On that day they were introduced to the warfare that would be the central feature of the rest of their lives.

The story of this day is extremely important. Jesus’ message of the kingdom and repentance and good news was not good news to Satan. Satan had already tried to appeal to Jesus’ human nature in numerous temptations that would have put a stop to this message. Satan tried to turn Jesus into a traveling medicine show that would have been great entertainment without changing lives or freeing people from Satan’s grip. Even though Satan had lost the day, he never gave up, and today’s story is only one of many episodes in which he continued to attempt to take Jesus off message. He would have loved to see Jesus explode in rage or fly out of control like Moses at the waters of Meribah, and he never stopped trying. To this day, Satan never stops trying to squelch Christ’s message. He never wants to hear the words  “the kingdom of God has come near.”          

When Jesus strolled into Capernaum, Satan was ready and waiting. Jesus went to synagogue on the Sabbath, as anyone who knew him would expect. Because word had gotten around that he was a teacher, he was invited to teach that morning, just as any other wandering rabbi might have been invited to do. We already know the substance of his message. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” People were quite impressed and began to talk among themselves about this unique message and this unique teacher. Why, he taught as if he knew what he was talking about. He didn’t waste any time quoting old rabbis. He taught with authority.

But Satan was ready. Satan did not want people to hear the good news. He did not want them to repent of self-worship. He did not want them to enter into the kingdom of God. He had placed someone in the crowd to put a stop to this nonsense. Right in the middle of Jesus’ teaching, this man interrupted with scornful words. “What are you doing here?” he shouted.” Who do you think you are? I know who you are, you Holy One of God.” Spoken in this tone of voice, those words sounded like an accusation of fraud and deception. Spoken at this particular time, those words were intended to divert people from thinking about Jesus and distract them to think about this demented man. Satan wanted them to turn away from Christ’s message that had inspired them. He preferred them to look at this wild man whose behavior might be entertaining. Satan wanted the people turned away from the message of Christ. He also hoped that this interruption would take Christ off his message.

Satan failed. Jesus did not get angry about the intrusion, and he did not speak scornfully to the man whose state of mind might have earned him a rebuke from most scribes or rabbis. Jesus loved the man and hated the demon. Instead of rebuking the man, he rebuked the demon. The rebuke itself reinforced the message that the kingdom of God had drawn near. Jesus said to the demon, “Muzzle yourself!” It was the same command he would use later to calm the Sea of Galilee in a storm. It emphasized to the demon that the words of Christ were the words of God, the words that nourish the hearts of men and terrify demons. Christ ejected the demon from the man and from the situation. He took back control of the circumstances. He modeled for the assembled worshipers the message he brought to them.

When Christ healed a man possessed of a demon, he showed everyone what repentance could do. He said very clearly, if you turn away from evil, you, too, can be healed like this man. When he sent the demon packing, he showed the people that he actually had the authority he seemed to have when he was teaching. He was the real thing. They could rely on his words. Look what his words could do. When he acted with love toward the man while exerting his authority against the evil that had imprisoned him, Jesus showed them what it took to face down evil. The old saying about hating sin and loving sinners is so very true, and Jesus demonstrated in Capernaum exactly what that looks like. When we say that we want to be Christlike in our daily lives, this example is quite important. We meet evil every day of our lives in the words and deeds of people around us. Many people serve the cause of evil and work for Satan’s goals without even knowing it. It is not for us to malign the people and belittle them or even for us to shout at them in righteous rage. Our call is to love them, just as Jesus loved the demon-possessed man used by Satan that day in Capernaum as an emissary of the kingdom of hell. Yet even as we love people enslaved by evil, we must not allow the evil to succeed.

We are called to confront evil every day. Satan’s emissaries are everywhere. They may be intentional servants, who delight in saying they worship Satan, but those are few in number. A lot more of Satan’s emissaries claim humanist values and decry religion of any kind because of the failings of people of faith. A number larger than we might like to acknowledge are fellow believers whose weak faith and weaker resolve are overridden by Satan’s relentless onslaught. Regardless, we will encounter a lot of evil in our lives. When it happens, we need to remember this story. However, we are not likely to be asked or even expected to perform exorcisms. We must trust the One with the power and authority to do that work. We must follow Christ’s example and demonstrate that the kingdom of God is near.

When God in the person of the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we are emissaries of the kingdom of God wherever we go. When we face evil, our mission is to be like Christ. We must demonstrate the fruits of his work in our hearts — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – and trust him to eject the demons. We stand firm in word and deed against evil and its whole agenda. We love the people and hate the evil.

We can never vanquish evil by resorting to its attitudes and behaviors. Evil shows itself in greed, lust, aggression, vengeance, hatred and destruction. Christ shows himself when we act like him. When Christ faced the victim of evil, he loved the victim and vanquished the evil.

Satan never rests. In the time/space universe where we live, he roams free. He still wants to put a stop to Christ’s message. He still does not want anyone to hear that the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.

We see him at work in individuals and nations, in disease, in fractured families, in economic crises and personal despair. He uses any weapon that comes to hand in his attempts to make us doubt God and turn away from the kingdom. Christ shows us in today’s gospel that he has the authority and the power to defeat Satan if we trust ourselves and our warfare to him.