HOW GOD CALLED US TO LCBC

My first visit to Lewis and Clark Bible Church was on June 3rd, 1973.  My next visit would come 17 years—almost to the day—later, on June 1st, 1990.  I have in my office the LCBC Guest Book that bears my signature from way back then.  Along with my signature, I gave my address and listed my home church as being “St. Matthews, Hillsboro.”  In reality, it had been a long time since I’d set foot in St. Matthews Catholic Church, but that was the only church I’d ever been in and I didn’t have anything else to put in the box.

I was a lost 17 year old, without God and without hope in the world.  I hardly remember a thing from that long ago visit.  I’m not even sure why I had come, though I imagine it was because my Uncle Bob—who I had always looked up to— had invited me.  Uncle Bob had been saved through the ministry of LCBC back in the early 70s.  Some teens from the church had gone out doing visitation, speaking to people about Jesus and inviting them to church.  They were taken aback by what they found when Bob invited them in.  He was contrary and difficult.  They went back to the church and asked people to pray for this wild fellow.  He soon visited the church and received—contrary to what he had expected–a warm welcome.  Later, he responded to the gospel, becoming the first member of my extended family to be saved.  And he was eager to pass on what he himself had experienced.  

Thinking back to that 1973 visit, I would have never imagined that God would call me to pastor any church, let alone this one.  If anyone would have suggested such a thing, I would have thought them to be crazy. But God does indeed work in mysterious ways His wondrous deeds to perform!

A year and a half after that visit, I joined the Navy.  It was partly out of frustration that I did.  I didn’t have the money or wherewithal to go to college.  Not knowing what else to do with my life, I signed up for the Navy’s Nuclear Power Program.  After a couple of years of schooling, I found myself serving in the submarine service and stationed in Pearl Harbor.  By that time, other members of my extended family had come to know the Savior.  And they were praying for me.  And I was growing increasingly concerned about my sins.  I believed in God, but didn’t know anything about Him.  I didn’t know who Jesus was or that He had died for my sins.  I had never read the Bible and didn’t know the difference between the Old Testament and the New.  But people were praying for me.  And the Spirit was working in my heart.  I knew that something needed to change, but I didn’t know what or how.  I had done a lot of stupid, sinful things, and couldn’t imagine how God could possibly save or forgive me.  I visited some churches.  I remember visiting a Baptist church in Honolulu.  I can even remember an instance when a man in that church tried to share the gospel with me.  But at that point, I was not understanding and was not responding.  Some fellow sailors started attending a church in Kailua.  They had met some girls there and I suppose that was a part of the reason that I went with them.  I heard the gospel preached there, but it was not until a member of the Navigators spoke to me personally that I trusted in Jesus.

After my discharge from the service, I got a job with Portland General Electric at the Trojan Nuclear Plant.  It was a year later that God brought Laura into my life in answer to my prayers.  We were married in August of 1983.  Soon afterwards, I landed a job in the Training Department.  It was a good salary job that paid very well.  We bought a house in Columbia City.  We were attending St. Helens Community Bible Church in St. Helens where I was serving as an elder.  Our firstborn, Claire, was born in 1985.  I had a good job, a nice home, a great church, and a wonderful family.  I should have been happy.  But I was becoming increasingly dissatisfied in my job, feeling as if I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing.  Try as I might, I couldn’t get away from that.  I talked to Laura about it.  I talked to my co-worker friend Jeff about it.  I mulled it over in my mind and prayed much about it.  And at last, I (we) made the decision to resign from my job to attend Western Seminary in Portland.  My co-workers thought I was nuts (unbeknownst to them or me at the time, Trojan was destined to close down a few years later).  With PGE’s help, I had received a bachelor’s degree in Nuclear Technology, so I could enroll at Western to get my Master’s.  I also had Veteran’s benefits that would help out with my educational expenses.  I resigned, but PGE offered to keep me on part time in my salary position.  God was gracious in abundantly providing for all of our needs.  So I went to school.

In the last year of my seminary education, Laura and I applied to Northwest Independent Church Extension.  Once accepted, I would be made available to churches that were looking for a pastor.  It was in April of 1990 that we invited Roy Sprague, the Director of NICE, to dinner at our house.  He spent quite some time talking about the various churches around the northwest and in Nevada that had need of a pastor.  Then he asked me something to the effect of where I sensed God might be calling me to serve.  I remember saying to him, “something on the Oregon coast; something like Lewis and Clark Bible Church.”  Of course, I didn’t mean Lewis and Clark Bible Church itself (as far as I knew they had a pastor), but for whatever reason, God had put that thought of serving on the coast in my heart.

In the next month or so, there were some potential pastor placement opportunities, but none of them quite fit.  And then one day, we returned home to find a message on the answering machine.  The message was, in fact, two messages because the caller couldn’t fit everything into the first call.  In a thick Norwegian accent, the caller, Vic Albertsen, was saying that he and a man named Jim Thompson had called Roy Sprague asking for help because they needed someone to fill the pulpit.  Roy had given them my name as someone who might be willing to come.  I found out later that they had considered closing the church, but had decided instead to pray, asking God to intervene in their needy situation.  I called Vic back and told him that I would be glad to help.  It was arranged that we would come on June 1st, 1990.  Not quite seventeen years after my first visit.

Jim would henceforth often speak of those days.  He would remind the church of how he and Vic had set their hearts to pray and how God answered their prayers by sending me.  He would tell that story to the church, sometimes with tears in his eyes, to encourage them.  I always felt a little embarrassed when Jim did that, but appreciated his perspective.  He was a man who believed that God could restore the church.  He trusted God and prayed.  He was faithful to pray for the church.  He prayed for new families to come.  He prayed for God’s provision of additional leaders.  In those early days, it was sometimes only Jim, Vic, and me at prayer meeting.  But those two faithful men kept on trusting, serving, and praying.

The previous ten years had been none too kind to LCBC.  Four pastors had served the church during that decade.  A preceding 50-50 church split had worked to soil the church’s reputation in the community.  The building project that had started 20 years before still was not finished.  The church yards were unkempt.  The parsonage was in a bad state of disrepair.  The departure of another pastor was accompanied by sadness and despair.  More families had left.  There were about a dozen in attendance on that June 1stSunday.  Our first month’s giving would amount to about $600.  There were a host of reasons to be pessimistic.  But we arrived that June 1st Sunday.  I preached a way-too-fast sermon from Colossians chapter one on the supremacy of Christ.  When we left that day, I had no doubt whatsoever in my mind that God was calling me here.  And the marvel of it all has never escaped my thoughts—God brought me to pastor the church that had been used by Him in the salvation of the first member of my extended family!

Soon after my first filling-the-pulpit Sunday, a pastor from Astoria called.  He wanted to meet with me.  Not knowing his exact purpose, I nonetheless agreed to travel from Columbia City to have lunch with him at the Logger Restaurant in Knappa.  The purpose of the meeting soon became apparent.  He wanted to warn me of what I was getting myself into.  He told me that LCBC had a reputation of devouring pastors and I should think twice about involving myself and my family in such a situation.  I thanked him for his concern but countered that if God was calling me to pastor the church, then He would take care of us in whatever manner He deemed best.  I didn’t subsequently give much thought about that pastor’s warning, until one day when I asked one of our leaders what was under the big mound of dirt in the front yard of the church.  Jokingly, he told me that was where all the ex-pastors were buried.  Sometime later, we excavated that mound of dirt and found some pieces of an old sidewalk.

Helen Leigh, a founding member of the church, invited me over to lunch one day.  It was Helen and her good friend Harriet who first came up with the idea of converting the old Seppa Dairy seed barn into a church.  They were delightful older ladies and I have fond memories of them both.  Helen played the organ.  Harriet played the piano.  Harriet would continue playing the piano until she was no longer physically able (she served in that role for 50 years!).  I didn’t realize it at the time but Helen had an ulterior motive behind her invitation.  Though she wasn’t the decision-maker, she wanted to interview me.  I can recall but one of her many questions.  She asked me what I thought was the most important virtue for a pastor to possess.  I answered, humility.  She thought integrity.  We agreed that both are important.  From that point forward, Helen accepted me in, and I was blessed to count her a friend.

We accepted the call to pastor the church in an August 1st installation service.  Ethel Gustafson, a wheel-chair bound, long-time respected and loved member of our church (now home with Jesus), wrote a letter to the church for that service exhorting her fellow members to exercise care in their treatment of their new pastor.  Her letter was later published in the Voice Magazine (the monthly publication of IFCA International).  This is what she wrote: “We have a challenge to overcome how we are regarded by those in the area: bad attitudes; we’re a church that gobbles up pastors.  We can change if we: examine our own hearts; resolve differences as soon as possible; do not quibble over trivial matters; work together as a team with pastor, deacons, trustees, and others; remember our pastor is human (he’ll make mistakes, get tired, and be overworked); remember no good pastor is good at everything; remember he has physical needs, financial problems, family needs just like we do; remember he needs a living wage; remember he needs time to be left alone for devotions and Bible study and prayer; remember his children are no better or worse than ours; remember his wife has as many needs as any wife and can’t be expected to be at every meeting much less be in charge of all of them; remember he is a special target of Satan and needs our daily prayers; remember each of us needs to be available to do something and make it known we are.  Remember to get things into perspective and ask ourselves, ‘Why do we exist?’: to improve our own spiritual lives; to worship together; to be a corporate witness of Lewis and Clark Bible Church to the area (one bad apple will spoil the whole box); we are a support group each for all and all for each.”

That first year of ministry was difficult.  I met every week with Harriet Pollard, the treasurer, to figure out how we could pay the bills.  I kept my part time job at Trojan and commuted once a week to supplement our finances.  Eventually, I quit that job and took a job at Clatsop Community College teaching beginning algebra.  But since we were living in the parsonage, we didn’t need much.  After a year or so, I was able to give up part-time work.

I have fond memories of those early days.  There were a lot of obstacles.  Many doubted that the church could recover.  But God worked to restore unity and make a church family out of our small group.  We have a friendship quilt that was given to us by the church on our one year anniversary.  Each family in the church made their own quilt square.  Each square is beautiful in its own way, but put together, the beauty of the whole mosaic is greater than that of any individual part.  The body of Christ is kind of like that.  Its beauty lies in its glorious Lord and Savior who indwells and unites them all.  And we can trust the One “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” to do a good work in His church and in our lives (Cf. Ephesians 3:20).  It is a glorious work that He is doing.

My part? I came, because God sent me here. I stayed, because God kept me here. I’m still here because God hasn’t sent me anywhere else. So much has happened in 25 years! And though some from those early days are still with us, many are now with Jesus. I did more than my share of funeral services back then! I sometimes say that ministry includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. We’ve experienced all of these things—both wonderful blessings that rejoice the heart and heart-rending trials that lead to despair. But praise God for His faithfulness! He has done a great work in us and made us to be, in Christ, a people apt to love and serve! We can count on Him to finish the work that He started in us and to supply the grace for the work that He calls us to (Cf. Philippians

They Told Him About Her

53700285_10215712883108210_7834016830325784576_nMark 1:29-31, “And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

The true identity of Jesus was made evident from the beginning of His earthly ministry through the miracles He performed. With divine power and authority, He cast our demons and healed the sick. These miracles testified to the truth that He is “the Christ, the Son of God (Cf. John 20:31). We read of one such miracle in our passage.

He left the synagogue and proceeded to the house of Simon’s mother-in-law, accompanied by four of His newly-called disciples. The location of the house where they lived is known, and those who visit Israel often visit the site of it. It is a large home with multiple rooms and kitchens, which says something about the family’s situation in the city of Capernaum. They were likely of above average wealth and influence.

Showing hospitality was especially important in that culture. We read in Luke’s gospel about Mary’s concern in preparing for Jesus’ visit to their home. And even today, mothers will go to great lengths in cleaning and meal preparation to make a home ready for guests. One can imagine the distress of Simon’s mother-in-law inasmuch as guests had arrived, but she was incapacitated by an illness.

The illness must have been quite serious. She was bedridden. She had a fever sourced in some kind of serious malady. There was, of course, no recourse, in that day, for folks like her. The body would either heal itself or the person would die. Those folks were akin to the people I’ve visited in Africa, most lacking the ability to go to a doctor.

So, there she lay, grieving her sickness though she’d rather be greeting her guests. And suffering though she’d rather be serving. And there she lay, without any hope of help, feeling sick, weak, and incapacitated.

But Jesus had come to visit, and His visit changed everything. The text says that “they told him about her” (Mark 1:30) and they did so “immediately.” It was their first and most important concern in entering the house. Put simply, they took their matter of concern to Jesus. That’s a good formula when it comes to dealing with our problems. In fact, we are exhorted to do that very thing (Cf. 1 Peter 5:7).

In this case they took their concern regarding someone else to Jesus. As most of you probably know, my wife, Laura, has stage IV metastatic breast cancer. We are well past the two-year mark in her struggle. Combined with that, her spine has been damaged from top to bottom. And if that wasn’t enough, she suffers daily from something called post-herpetic neuralgia. Over these difficult months, lots of folks in lots of places have prayed for her, and uniquely so in my recent visit to Africa. We were at a marriage conference in a place called Bukomansimbi. My uncle, Pastor Bob Emrich, and myself had done some teaching. We invited the folks to submit written questions for us to answer after lunch. Then we proceeded to deal with the questions, one by one, until we got to the very last one, as it was nearing the end of the conference. I had spoken earlier in the day of Laura’s condition, so perhaps that is what prompted the question which concerned what a spouse is supposed to do if his or her partner is suffering from a chronic illness. My partners both looked at me, indicating that I should be the one to answer that one. So, I spoke for some time, citing some Scriptures and speaking of the need to follow in the example of Jesus. And to remain faithful and to serve and to do one’s best in giving care and attending to needs, etc.

No sooner had a sat down, then the pastor’s wife of the hosting church stood up. She asked those in attendance, about 125 or so, to stand and pray for Laura. So, they gladly and immediately stood and lifted their hands to the sky, as they do, and began to pray in unison—everyone was praying. Their prayers were in Lugandan so I couldn’t understand what was being said, but the fervor in which they prayed was obvious. When the time came, as if on some mysterious cue, the praying stopped, and they all sat down.

It is a humbling thing to be prayed for like that. Those impoverished brothers and sisters all have their own set of needs and problems, but they’ve got hearts full of faith and tender concern, so when given the opportunity to care, they didn’t hesitate. They did the same thing that those early disciples did— “they told him about her!”

Now there’s a difference between what happened with Simon’s mother-in-law and what has happened thus far with Laura. Jesus took Simon’s mother-in-law by the hand and lifted her up and the fever left her. So far Laura’s experienced no healing☹ But lest we think that their prayers—or anyone else’s prayers—haven’t mattered we need to address a few things.

People have ongoingly and repeatedly “told him about her,” when it comes to Laura’s condition. So, what has He done? How has He responded? To be sure its been hard, hardest for her, but by God’s grace we’ve been well provided for. Laura’s got a wonderful team of doctors who are both well-qualified and compassionate. In unforeseen ways, He has provided all the necessary insurance/funds to pay for all her medical costs (likely now approaching $1,000,000.00). Laura’s condition is not much improved, but her attitude has been amazing. She trusts in Jesus. She reads her Bible. She prays. She doesn’t pity herself in her condition. She finds ways to serve others. She forgives as she always has.

There’s a deeper healing that matters more than just the physical. When we are sick, we want nothing more than to be made well. We’ll go to great lengths, and even spend huge sums of money, to fix our body problems. But even if a person is in perfect physical health, they can still be spiritually sick. And the spiritual sickness is of greater concern than the physical. We are all born sinners (Romans 3:23; 5:12). Jesus alone can free us from the penalty, practice, and ultimately the very presence of sin (1 Corinthians 6:11; Philippians 3:21). He can heal our souls.

Laura’s propensity to smile, as she does, and serve others, as she’s always been prone to do, testifies to the fact that Jesus has indeed heard the prayers of many on her behalf. She’d prefer, of course, that God would heal her body too, as would we all, but God has His own purposes in all that He allows and we can only trust Him, for “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28). As it is, God has, by grace, well-provisioned her with a good measure of hope and peace and joy amidst her afflictions. She’s got a strong testimony!

Having been healed, Simon’s mother-in-law, promptly responded to her heart-felt desire to serve her guests. She was set free to do that which was best. Jesus is good at doing that. We need to take our cares to Him. He cares and He’s able to do something about them.

“What is this?”

Mark 1:21-28, “And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching.  And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.  And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.”

“What is this?” asked the gathered crowd.  They had just witnessed Jesus’ deliver an unclean spirit from a man.  So, they “questioned among themselves” as they wondered as to the true identity of Jesus (Mark 1:27).

“Who is this?”  “What is this?” are good questions to ask when it comes to the identify of Jesus Christ.  A central purpose of the gospel accounts was to address these questions.  Salvation itself hinges on a right understanding of such truths.

Paradoxically, in this account, the wrong group had the right answers.  It was anything but a typical day at the synagogue.  For one thing, Jesus came and taught in an altogether radical manner—he taught as one having authority.  Unlike the Pharisees, who taught by citing authorities and demonstrated their own lack of heart for truth in their religious hypocrisy, Jesus cited no one.  He spoke with the authority of the One who embodied truth.  So the people were astonished as it His teaching, but that in itself did not convince them of His true identity.

If that wasn’t enough, perhaps because the demons could not possibly hide out in Jesus’ presence, a man with an unclean spirit cried out “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are—the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24).  Unlike the people, the demons were not confused as to the identity of Jesus.  They knew immediately who He was (Cf. James 2:19).  Another difference between the response of the people vs. that of the demons is that whereas the people were astonished, the demons were afraid.  They understood that Jesus, the creator of all things, had authority over them.  By Jesus’ mere words, the demons were exorcised from the man—suddenly, dramatically.  We are reminded of Jesus’ response to the blasphemous leaders who accused Jesus of delivering demons by the power of Beelzebub, when He said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.  And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself.  How then will his kingdom stand?  And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out?  Therefore, they will be your judges.  But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12-25-28).  Indeed, the Kingdom had come in the person of Jesus Christ, He spoke as a King and wielded power as the supreme authority.

John MacArthur commented on this matter: “The people didn’t know who He was, the demons did…the demons knew they had reason to be afraid…when sinners come to a true understanding of the authority of Christ as the Son of God, they are also terrified…the [demons]were terrified and could not be saved. The people were amazed and would not be saved…the amazed people and the terrified demons end up in the same hell.”

But, no doubt, there were some who heard what He taught and witnessed what He did and were later Spirit led to a discovery of the truth.  Human rulers are human, they all have their flaws, some more than others.  But what do we find in Jesus—One who knows of that which He speaks and One who has power and authority, to deal with our greatest foe.  “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).  Here we have an example of that, and it reminds us that Jesus has the power to “deliver us (any of us) from the domain of darkness” and bring us into His benevolent Kingdom (Colossians 1:13).

The Miraculous Catch

Mark 1:16-20, “Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets.  And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.”

Luke’s gospel includes a more detailed account of what happened on this occasion, so we are going to look mostly there…

I love to fish and over the course of my life I’ve been fishing thousands of times.  When I was 18, I spent the summer running a dory out of Depoe Bay commercial fishing for salmon.  I caught my share of fish but was “skunked” (caught no fish) on plenty of occasions.  I can relate to Peter’s experience.

Peter and his friends “toiled all night” fishing and “took nothing” (Luke 5:4).  They were boat fishermen.  They fished at night because that was when the fish could be found along the shoreline.  And at night the fish were naïve to the existence of the encompassing nets that would spell their doom.  For hours they labored hard and despite their efforts no fish were to be found.  So, they made their way back to shore and were washing out their nets.

Jesus was there.  The crowd was pressing in on Him.  Jesus got into one of the boats and from there taught the people.  When He finished speaking, he said to Peter, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4).  This was not Peter’s first introduction to Jesus.  On a previous occasion Peter’s brother, Andrew, had told him about Jesus.  “We have found the Messiah” he said (John 1:41).  Having been brought then to Jesus, Jesus changed his name from Simon to Peter (‘Peter’ is from the Greek word for ‘rock’; John 1:42).  From the beginning Jesus had plans for Peter.

Peter was a fisherman.  He knew about fishing.  He had labored all night to no avail.  Daytime was not the time for good fishing, but He nevertheless obeyed Jesus and they went fishing together.  I’ve fished with plenty of different people and some real good fishermen, but Peter was privileged to fish with the “Master of the seas.”  And so, when they let down their nets “they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking” (Luke 5:6).  So great was the quantity of fish that they even filled another boat so that “they began to sink” (Luke 5:7).

It was said of Jesus following another miracle that “He has done all things well” (Mark 7:37), and that was the case in this case.  His supernatural wisdom, power, and sovereign control over all things were dramatically demonstrated to Peter.  And that explains Peter’s response as he and his friends were “astonished at the catch of fish” (Luke 5:9).  “He fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (Luke 5:8).”  Peter saw something of the glory of Jesus, and in that was made aware of his own shortcomings.  The miracle worked to simultaneously expose truths regarding both Jesus and Peter.  But Jesus was well aware of Peter’s needs.  Peter bid Jesus to depart, but Jesus instead called that sinful man, that ordinary fisherman, to follow Him, saying, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10).

On another occasion, some years later, Peter would again experience another miraculous catch at Jesus’ bidding (John 21:4-8).  That would happen not long after Peter’s biggest failure and disappointment.  He had self-confidently asserted his loyal allegiance, saying, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Matthew 26:35)!  But he failed to live up to his assertion and denied Jesus three times.  But the Jesus who renamed him and called him and prayed for him and loved him, worked to restore him.  His ministry began with a miraculous catch and with a miraculous catch the resurrected Jesus put Peter back to work.

And then there came that day.  At Pentecost the Spirit-filled Peter stood before a large crowd of People.  He boldly proclaimed the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  And the people responded.  3000 souls were added to the church (Acts 2:41)!  Peter the fisherman was made to be a fisher-of-men, according to Jesus’ purpose and design.  In every case it was Jesus Himself who caused the miraculous catch, but He was well pleased to call and use that ordinary fisherman.  I love a good “fish story,” but it was more than a story about catching fish, for it speaks to the truth regarding Jesus.  The Great Fisher of men still works in the lives of ordinary men and women in miraculous ways to accomplish miraculous things.

 

Good News of a Kingdom

Mark 1:14-15, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

In Mark’s gospel, before we read of any of what Jesus did or the miracles He performed, we are told that he went out preaching.  Specifically, he went out “proclaiming the gospel of God” (Mark 1:14).  We read also, in the context, of how his teaching was unique and how others were astonished in hearing him, because “he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22).

What’s the significance of this?  Its possible for us, especially in this day, to lose sight of the importance of the authoritative preaching/teaching of the Word.  But as with the prophets of old, and what would be the case in the church following Jesus’ ascension into heaven, preaching has always had a significant role in God’s plan.  The Apostle Paul instructed Timothy, “Preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2), and the admonition to the pastor/teacher stands in effect to this day.

The one major difference in Jesus’ preaching was that he was not only the messenger, the message was all about him.  He was proclaiming the gospel (the good news) of God.  His message was “The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).  He represented and embodied the good news that he himself was preaching.

Jesus is good news.  Remember the message of the angel of the Lord to the shepherds, “Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).  What was the good news?  It was the good news of the birth of a Savior.  Good News indeed.  The shepherds saw the truth of it and went and shared the good news with a bunch of other folks.

Here the good news has to do with a kingdom?  According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, the word translated “kingdom” here refers to “the sphere of God’s rule.”  Vine’s goes on to explain, “The fundamental principle of the Kingdom is declared in the words of the Lord spoken in the midst of a company of Pharisees, ‘The kingdom of God is in the midst of you,’ (Luke 17:21)…that is, where the King is, there is the kingdom.”  Vine’s goes onto explain that there is also a future aspect to the expression “kingdom of God,” so in one sense the kingdom “is at hand” inasmuch as Jesus was “at hand,” in another sense the fulfillment of all that would transpire and accompany the reign of Christ was yet in the future.

We should make note of something else here in this account.  Jesus spoke of a kingdom, but where was the palace?  Not only was there no palace, there was no throne, no royal robe, no royal entourage, no royal crown, no royal feast or anything, in the earthly sense, that would lead one to believe that Jesus, the one who was speaking, was in any way associated with the rule of which he was speaking.  The kingdom of God, the reign of God, was fully founded and invested in His person, not lesser things. Though the full majesty of his divine glory was “veiled in flesh,” by divine disclosure the truth was apprehended by some (Cf. Matthew 11:25-26; 16:17).  It will be apprehended by all in a future day (Cf. Philippians 2:9-11).

Jesus proclaimed the good news of the kingdom.  We’ve a message of good news, a matter of first importance, that centers around the person of Jesus Christ, to proclaim in this day (Cf.1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead.  Salvation is by grace through faith in Him (Cf. Ephesians 2:8-9), the One who died once for all for sins (Cf. 1 Peter 3:18), and then rose from the dead, defeating sin, and death, and the devil himself.  He saves those who come to Him by faith, and then reigns in their hearts forevermore.

 

A Day in the Life of the Servant King

Mark 1:14-34

It has been well noted that Mark’s gospel uniquely sets forth Jesus as the perfect servant.  It contains no genealogy of his heritage and no mention of His birth.  His works are emphasized, not His words.  Mark 10:45 is a key verse: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

But Mark began his gospel by asserting an essential and glorious truth, the perfect servant is none other than the divine Son of God: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). These two truths—the divinity and servanthood of Christ—are wonderfully coalesced in His person and gloriously revealed in His work. Both majesty and meekness serve as fitting descriptions of our Lord Jesus.

The many works of the servant Jesus recorded in this gospel account are indeed the works of a servant, but no ordinary servant. He is the Divine Son of God, the creator of all things (John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-16; Hebrews 1:1-4). That He would come in human flesh to dwell among men testifies to the love of God (John 3:16; 1 John 3:16). That He would die for our sins speaks to the extent of His amazing love, grace and mercy (Cf. Ephesians 2:4; 3:18-19).

Amongst other events, Mark chapter 1 gives an account of a day in the life of the Servant Jesus (Mark 1:21-34).  The events recorded all happened on ONE DAY in the town of Capernaum.

Jesus preached in a synagogue.  We are not given the particulars of His message, though we know from Mark 1:15 something of the spirit of His teaching.  The people were astonished at his teaching “for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22).

There was a man in the synagogue, who having an unclean spirit, cried out to Jesus.  With a word Jesus rebuked the spirit and it came out of the man.  Again, the people were amazed.  “They questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this?  A new teaching with authority!  He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him’ (Mark 1:27-28).

On that same day he left the synagogue for the home of Simon and Andrew.  Simon’s mother-in-law was ill.  Jesus was told about her condition.  “And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them” (Mark 1:31).

On that same day, but after sunset, Jesus’ long day of ministry came to a close in remarkable fashion.  According to Jewish reckoning, the Sabbath day ended at sundown.  That being the case, the people could now bring, without violating the Sabbath, their sick and demon-possessed to him.  So, they came.  “The whole city gathered together at the door” (Mark 1:33).  “He healed many” and “cast out many demons” (Mark 1:34).  It was a long day indeed.  A long day in the life of the Servant Jesus.  One would suppose that His life on earth was filled with many such days.  He came to serve (Mark 10:45).  Wherever you look in Jesus’ life that is what you find.  “This is our God, the Servant King, He calls us now to follow Him; to bring our lives as a daily offering, of worship to the Servant King” (The Servant King, Thankyou Music, 1983).

Yet Without Sin

Mark 1:12-13, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.”

The first event recorded by Mark after Jesus’ baptism is His temptation.  Matthew’s gospel includes more details regarding what transpired.  There it says that He was “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.   And the temper came…” (Matthew 4:1-3).  Three times He was tempted.  Three times He responded quoting Scripture.  Through it all He never sinned.

Jesus never sinned.  Not then, not ever.  He “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  He never thought a sinful thought, never did a sinful deed, never said a sinful word (Cf. 1 Peter 2:22; Hebrews 4:15).  He perfectly fulfilled the Father’s will in every respect.  Never before or since has there been anyone like Him.  The Devil tempted Adam and Eve and they sinned.  Sin entered into man’s existence and every other soul born since has sinned (Romans 3:23).  But Jesus never sinned.   O Blessed truth!

In his allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan likened our world to a “Vanity Fair” where travelers are enticed by countless temptations: “Almost five thousand years ago … Beelzebub, Apollyon and Legion, with their companions, perceiving that the pilgrims made their way through this town of Vanity, they contrived here to set up a fair wherein should be sold all sorts of vanity, and that it should last all year long. Therefore, at this fair are all such merchandise sold as houses, lands, trades, places, honor, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures, and delights of all sorts as whores, bawds, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not. And, moreover, at this fair there are at all times to be seen jugglers, cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves and rogues, and that of every kind. Here are to be seen, too, and that for nothing, thefts, murders, adulteries, false swearers…”

John Bunyan wrote also of the temptation of Jesus: “The Prince of Princes Himself went through this town to His own country, and that upon a fair day too; yea, and as I think it was Beelzebub, the chief lord of this fair, that invited Him to buy of his vanities; yea, would have made Him lord of the fair, would He but have done him reverence as He went through the town. Yea, because He was such a person of honor, Beelzebub had Him from street to street, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a little time, that He might, if possible, allure that Blessed One to cheapen and buy some of his vanities; but He had no mind to the merchandise, and therefore left the town without laying out so much as one farthing upon these vanities.”

Jesus knew no sin—He never sinned.  He was therefore qualified to be offered up as a substitutionary sacrifice for us as a “lamb unblemished and spotless” (1 Peter 1:19).  On the basis of His death and resurrection He provides for the believer salvation from sin in every respect–freedom from its penalty, power, and—in heaven—its presence.

“He was tempted in all things as we are” (Hebrews 4:16).  Yet He never sinned.  He is therefore able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” and “come to our aid” (Hebrews 2:18).  “Jesus knows all about struggles, He will guide till the day is done; There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus—no not one!  No not one!”

Jesus was tempted with the temptations that are “common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13) –“the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16; Cf. Genesis 3:6).  But He, the Word, responded with the word (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10).  In this respect He has provided for us a great example.  It is as the Word, the sword of the Spirit, is treasured in our hearts, that victory over sin is assured (Cf. Psalm 119:11; Ephesians 6:17)).  Indeed, the “young men” of First John were commended because they were strong and overcame the evil one.  How were they made strong?  The Word of God abided in them (Cf. 1 John 2:14; Cf. Colossians 3:16).

How precious to know that in this world where sin is an ever-present reality–and terrible and tenacious foe–there is One who never sinned and indeed won the victory over our great enemy of our souls (Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:55-57).  “Wretched man that I am!  Who will set me free from the body of this death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).

 

An Unexpected Baptism

Mark 1:9-11, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

I recently had opportunity to witness a couple of baptism services.  In one of those services two men in their 80s were baptized…the people in attendance were especially joyful realizing that it somewhat uncommon/unexpected to see people of that age being baptized.

The baptism of Jesus was kind of unexpected and surprising when we consider the context.  We are told in Mark 1:4 that John was baptizing with a “baptism of repentance.”  Matthew 3:6 speaks to how the people were “confessing their sins.”  But Jesus never sinned and therefore had nothing to repent of (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).  So why was He baptized?

The gospel of Matthew speaks to John’s own questions regarding the matter.  Matthew 3:13-14, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’  But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness’.”  Though it seemingly represented a reversal in roles, it was fitting in the circumstance in the doing of what was right before God.

Baptism has to do with identification.  John’s baptizing was consistent to his God-given purpose to serve as the forerunner of the Christ.  The people being baptized thus identified themselves with the repentant community that was thereby being prepared.  A believer’s baptism is symbolic of the believer’s identification with Christ and specifically with Him in His death and resurrection (Cf. Romans 6:3-4).  The key thought underlying baptism is identification.

All that being said, Jesus’ baptism was a part of His identifying Himself with us.  He knew no sin and never sinned.  He had no need to repent of anything.  But He came into the world to save sinners.  According to Hebrews 2:17 it was necessary for Jesus “to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”

Let’s endeavor to fully appreciate the humility expressed in this event!  Thousands were baptized by John.  Every one of them a sinner.  They had hearts that were burdened by guilt.  They cried out to God for forgiveness, confessing their sins.  Time after time, from one person to the next, the story is the same.  The community is weighed down by guilt and sin and neediness.  Now here comes Jesus, He’s the only one in the crowd who had committed no sin.  He has no need to repent.  But He has come, as John would say of Him, to be “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  He who identified Himself with sinners in baptism would one day be completely identified with sinners and their sin at the cross (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).

We needn’t wonder as to God’s view on the matter, for we are instructed in what happened following Jesus’ baptism.  He saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descended upon him and he heard the voice from heaven of the Father’s approval, saying, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).  All three of the trinity are there—the Spirit falling upon Jesus, and the Father voicing His hearty approval.

Radical

Mark 1:2-8, “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

If only John the Baptist had consulted with the church growth “experts,” he would have done things differently, but instead he decided to do things his own way—God’s way.  He was a radical and his ministry was radically distinct from the norm.

He was a man “sent from God” (John 1:6), in fulfillment of prophecy (Mark 1:2-3).  “He came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through Him, He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light” (John 1:7-8).

He came to share the news of the coming of the Christ.  His ministry was utterly unconventional.  The religious leaders of that day sat “in the chief seats in the synagogues” (Matthew 23:6), John the Baptist “came baptizing in the wilderness” (Mark 1:5).  The Pharisees and Scribes espoused a religious of self-righteousness “(tying) up heaven loads and laying them on men’s shoulders” (Matthew 23:4), John the Baptist preached a message of repentance in view of the immanent appearing of the “Kingdom of Heaven” in the person of Christ (Matthew 3:2-4).  The leaders of his day richly adorned themselves with religious garb drawing attention to themselves, John the Baptist–akin to the prophets of old—“was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist” (Mark 1:6).  Those leaders loved “place of honor at banquets” (Matthew 23:6), John the Baptist ate “locusts and wild honey” (Mark 1:6).

Despite his unconventional ways (or, because of them) the multitudes were drawn to him—“And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him” (Mark 1:5).  Even the religious leaders came, only to suffer his rebuke as he sensed their hypocrisy (Matthew 3:7-12).  Amongst his followers were some who would later become Jesus’ disciples (John 1:37).

He came to “bear witness of the light” and that is a matter in which his example has direct relevance to us.  He was always directing people to Jesus (not to himself).  When the religious leaders sent men to ask, “Who are you?” he replied, “I am not the Christ” (John 1:19-20).  When they asked again, he affirmed his God-given role as a “voice crying in the wilderness (to) make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:22-23; Isaiah 40:3).  He spoke of the One who would come after him “whose sandals (he) was not worthy to untie” (Mark 1:7).  He saw Jesus and declared “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  Though he was born first, he spoke of the eternity of Christ in saying “He existed before me” (John 1:30).  When it came time for Jesus to be baptized, he hesitated, saying: “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me? (Matthew 1:14).

He spoke to the essence of his ministry endeavor this way: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  He came to make much of the Christ, not of himself.  And that is the nature of the ministry of any legitimate witness for Christ—to make much of Jesus.  We are far too easily drawn to fads, methodologies, distinctions, and culturally relevant matters that distract from the task we have bee