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Seeing the Miraculous with Fresh Eyes

Mark 5:15 – And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.

Mark 5:33 – But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.

Mark 5:42b – …and they were immediately overcome with amazement.

There is an old proverb that says that familiarity breeds contempt. Sometimes when you are too familiar with a thing, you stop being amazed by it; you stop loving it.

How close do we come to this as we read through the works of Jesus. If you red your Bible regularly—as you should—you might become very familiar with the scenes of the supernatural. Is it possible that these are no longer jaw-dropping for you? Friends, If you saw them in person, they certainly would be.

In Mark 5, we see three miracles that will blow us away if we will see them with fresh eyes. First, Jesus meets a demon-possessed man. The man is so far gone that he is a danger to himself and others. He is so full of evil and supernatural power that he breaks chains that are intended to bind him for his own safety and that of others.

What happens when this man meets Jesus? The Savior drives out the legion of demons. And when the people see the man, he is, for the first time, clothed and in his right mind. Jesus defeated the powers of the devil. Jesus fixed a man who had been broken for years. Jesus overpowered a man who could overpower large groups of men. Jesus showed great love and great power.

Later, Jesus is met by a woman who had been suffering with a medical ailment for more than a decade. The woman, in faith, touched Jesus’ garment, and her socially damaging and physically crippling disorder was healed.

You know how frustrating medical care is today in a world of antibiotics, surgeries, and technology. How stunning is it to see a long-term illness removed in an instant? How loving? How wonderful?

Then, Jesus stands in a room with a dead twelve-year-old girl and her family. The Savior looks at the body—no breath, no life, no blood flow. The family is weeping. Jesus sends most people away, speaks a word to the girl, and she gets up. The parents, who believed they had lost their dear little one, have her back again. This should blow our minds.

Notice the three responses to the miracles that Jesus performed. Above, we list verses that show that fear and amazement are the responses from everybody. Why? The things Jesus did do not happen in the real world. But they happened in the real world. They happened in the world you walk into every day. They happened in the air you breathe. Jesus beat demons, disease, and death, and he did not break a sweat. Jesus is mighty, mightier than you think. Jesus is gracious, more gracious than you think. Jesus is loving, far more loving than you have ever imagined. You want to know this Jesus. You want to love this Jesus. You want to, as did the crowds, properly fear and be amazed by Jesus. Do not let your familiarity with these accounts breed contempt in your heart. See them afresh, imagine yourself there, and let it stun you with the glory of Jesus.

Jesus Preached the Word

Mark 2:2b

And he was preaching the word to them.

This sentence applies to Jesus. He, the Lord Jesus, was preaching the word to the crowd. Praise god for this little reminder. Jesus preached the word!

When you think of Jesus, do you remember his preaching? We love the miracles. We love the healings. We watch the confrontations. We smile at the kindnesses. But do we think of the fact that Jesus preached the word?

Jesus preached. Our Savior found value in the proclamation of truth. He did not seem to think that his proclamation should be replaced with dramas, with showiness, with mere conversation. Something about the authoritative proclamation of the word was central to the ministry of the Savior.

Jesus preached the word. What is the word? Jesus preached Scripture. Jesus did not stray from it. Jesus did not replace it. Jesus did not run to worldly philosophy. Jesus, God the Son, God in flesh, chose to preach to the people the already written word of God. Yes, during his ministry, Jesus brought new words. This was, after all, a time of an open canon of authoritative revelation. But right here, Mark emphasizes for us that it is the word Jesus preached.

Should this not impact what we think we should be about? In your church, is the preaching of the word central? Jesus preached. Is preaching central? Jesus preached the word. Is the word final and authoritative? If we want to be like Jesus in our churches, we must be devoted to preaching the word.

What does the Touch of Jesus Do?

Mark 1:40-42

40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.

In the Old Testament law, to touch someone sick with leprosy was to make yourself ceremonially unclean. The picture, of course, is that, since God is so totally holy, we, if we want to be near him, must not be contaminated with anything. Touching unclean animals, dead things, or even an unclean person could render you unable to participate in community life.

Without unpacking all of the typology in the law system, without talking about how the laws of ceremonial cleanness helped the Israelite community, I want to simply point to one glorious truth in the passage above. Jesus touched a leper. Jesus made him clean.

The story is simple. The leper asks for healing. Jesus touches him and heals him. In that, we see the great power of Jesus as God to push back the darkness of the fall and bring healing to a body in a miraculous way. WE see the kindness of Jesus, touching one that had been untouchable.

But the thing that grabs my attention is this. In any other instance, the uncleanness of the person would be transmitted to the one who touched the unclean person. But not with Jesus. When Jesus touched the leper, Jesus’ cleanness was transferred to the leper.

I once heard a person say that, if you garden with white gloves, you are not likely to end up with glovey mud. No, you get muddy gloves. That is how the normal world works. Something would have to be spectacularly strange for the gloves to remain clean and the mud to be changed. But, dear friends, this is what happens when Jesus touches us.

Jesus is incorruptible. He is the holy God in flesh. Nothing, not a single thing, could touch Jesus and make him unclean. Instead, if something touches Jesus, the thing that touches Jesus is changed. It must either be made clean or consumed. But the thing touching Jesus cannot change him, as he is the unchanging and unchangeable God.

Praise Jesus for being so much greater than we are. He can reach right into our dirty lives and make us clean. He has no fear of our needs, as he is not able to be made unclean. But, rightly fear Jesus, because his holiness is also deadly to sin.

What will the touch of Jesus do to you? It depends. Are you under his grace? All people will stand in his presence. Those who are not under his grace will be consumed like a piece of tissue paper on the face of the fiery sun. Those who have believed in him and come to him for mercy will be transformed, made holy and clean by the sweet and merciful Savior.

The Gospel Jesus Preached

Mark 1:14-15

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

If we wish to have the gospel, the good news of God, correct, it would be wise for us to know that we are preaching the same gospel Jesus preached. Here in the beginning of mark’s telling of the gospel, we see it. I would argue that this is simple, lovely, and not necessarily what you hear in every church out there.

When Jesus began to preach, he began by telling people that the time was fulfilled. That is not a throw-away line. The time that God had set from eternity past for his fulfillment of his promise to bring about the salvation of his people was finally at hand. That the time could be fulfilled tells us the time had been set. That the time had been set tells us that the plan had been made long beforehand. The gospel is the outworking of God’s eternal plan that has been and still is being perfectly fulfilled.

Jesus tells the people that God’s kingdom is at hand. This too is glorious. God reigns as king over the universe. God holds all authority over the earth. And God is building a kingdom, bringing his king, accomplishing his will. If you know your Old Testament, you know that God has promised and promised and promised a savior who will be a king. Everything about Adam in the garden indicated a man who was to reign over the world as a regent under God. The Lord promised Abraham that kings would spring from his line. God promised David that a king from his line will rule the world forever. So the idea of the kingdom of God being at hand tells us that what Jesus is about to do, what is contained in the gospel, includes God bringing about the rule he has been promising since the beginning. There is no way to have this part of the message of Jesus right while unhitching from the Old Testament.

Then Jesus tells the people to repent and believe the gospel. This is a bit more familiar, though many fail to call people to repent. Repenting involves a change in your thinking, your emotion, and your action. For a person who is outside of God’s family, repenting means realizing that you are lost and need God’s forgiveness. It means realizing that you cannot be lord of your own life and have God as your king. It means letting go of your supposed right to be in charge of yourself, yielding yourself to God, and bowing to him as Lord, Master, King. Repenting means turning from a willful embrace of sin, letting go of that which God forbids and embracing that which God commands. There is no salvation without repentance.

The call to believe is the flip side of the repentance coin. If I cannot rule myself, trust myself, own myself, or save myself, I must rely on someone else. Believing includes a mental acceptance that Jesus is who he claims to be. Jesus is God’s son and our only hope for salvation. Jesus lived the perfect obedience God requires and fulfilled all the requirements of God’s holy standard. Jesus died as the only sacrifice that can actually take away our sins. Jesus rose from the dead, proving he is exactly what he claimed to be. Jesus ascended into heaven where he offered his blood in the heavenly holy of holies once for all who will be saved. And Jesus receives to himself all who will repent and entrust themselves to his care.

Do you preach the gospel Jesus preached? Is it tied to the eternal decree of God? Does it involve the kingdom of God? Do you include a call to repent? Is belief, faith alone in Christ alone, central? I hope so, as the gospel Jesus preached is the only gospel that saves.

No Guard Could Stop Jesus

Matthew 27:65-66

65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.

After Jesus was crucified, the chief priests and the Pharisees approached the governor with a concern. They realized that, during his ministry, Jesus predicted his resurrection. Not believing that Jesus is God, the Pharisees assumed his resurrection to be an impossibility. But they asked the governor to help them by securing the tomb so that the disciples could not come and steal away the body and falsely claim a resurrection. And this move by unbelievers is a tremendous encouragement to all who know Jesus.

Pilate allowed the Jews to use soldiers to officially seal the tomb and make it secure. And the Bible tells us that they did their very best. And this encourages all of us who know Jesus.

Why is this encouraging. The guard made it impossible for the disciples to come and steal the body of Jesus out of the tomb. But they could not seal the tomb against the power of the Son of God. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus, God in flesh, walked out of the tomb. There was no power on earth that could have prevented him from standing again on the earth, under the sky, fully alive once more.

Mankind has tried to control God ever since the garden. And ever since the garden, mankind has been unable to thwart God’s plan at any single step. No guard could hold Jesus in a tomb. Death could not hold Jesus in a tomb. God’s eternal plan included him accomplishing his people’s redemption through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. How glorious is it for us to see that, even though the strongest army on earth tried to keep Jesus in the grave, they did not stand a chance? Praise be to our living Savior.

Jesus Knows Our Future Failures

Matthew 26:34-35

34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

Luke 22:31-32

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

In Matthew 26, on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, the Savior told his disciples that all of them would fall away, running and hiding when he would be arrested. And, of course, all of them said they would never do such a thing. Peter, perhaps the most brash, simply told Jesus he was wrong. But Jesus was able to look at Peter and tell him that, before the night was over, Peter would deny knowing Jesus three times.

In the parallel passage in Luke 22, Jesus unveils for us the spiritual warfare taking place. Satan, the devil, has demanded to sift Peter like wheat. And, for a short season, Peter will be allowed to go through the painful process. But Jesus also tells Peter that, when Peter comes back, when he comes to his senses, when he repents of running and hiding and denying Jesus, he should also be kind enough to strengthen and encourage the other disciples.

What grabs my attention here which I think will encourage our souls is the knowledge of Jesus. Jesus looked at Peter, knew exactly how Peter would fail him in the next hours, and offered him a word of encouragement. Jesus knew how Peter would lie and deny, and yet the Savior tells Peter about what will happen after he turns again to Jesus. Jesus knew Peter’s future failing and his future restoration, so he could speak to Peter with loving kindness in the face of what is to come.

Think about your own life. There are failures. There were failures in your past. There will be failures in your future. Jesus knows them all. Jesus sees them as clearly as he saw what Peter would do. And Jesus knows God’s plan for you. Christians, Jesus knows God’s forgiveness for you. He knows God’s knowing you, predestining you, calling you, justifying you, and eventually glorifying you (cf. Rom 8:29-30). And because Jesus knows all your failures before they happen, and because Jesus still died to cover that sin years ago, you and I can have confidence to know that, if we are in Christ, our sins are covered. Jesus has taken care of our guilt—past, present, and future. We do not surprise him. We do not disappoint him. He already knows it all. And he still chose to love us, save us, and promise us eternity with him.

Jesus knows our future failures. This is no excuse to continue in sin. But it is an encouragement for us when we are weak and doubting. He knows us, and he loves us. He knows us, and he has forgiven us. He knows us, and he will make something of us that we could never make of ourselves. What a glorious grace is the grace of Jesus!

The Savior’s Near Return

Matthew 24:33-34

33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

In Matthew 24, we have the Savior speak to us of world-changing events. Some of them are first century events. Some of them include his actual return. All of them are to get the attention of those who follow him.

Many people have fairly passionate opinions about the promises of upcoming events including the return of Jesus. People differ in their view of the order of events, of a period of tribulation, of a millennium that is either literal or figurative, of the victory of the church and the response of the world. And I will not say that these are irrelevant. But I wonder if we get too bogged down in timing arguments and forget the point that Jesus wants us to see. He will return.

Without reproducing all my sermons on this passage, I would suggest to you that Jesus, in Matthew 24, is letting his church know that his return is near. This is not to say that it will happen soon. Instead, I think that Jesus is showing us that he has fulfilled all the requirements for his return to happen quickly, possibly within any generation. I believe that the Savior wants us to grasp that we cannot look at our age in history, be that the latter first century or the early 21st century and say that there is just no way that Jesus could return in our lifetimes.

So, with timing arguments set aside, let me ask you, believer, do you live as though the Savior could return while you still live and breathe? I’m not saying he will. I’m simply asking if you live with that sort of utterly world-transforming event as a possibility in your mind? Do you live in the light of eternity? Do you live looking for and longing for the Savior to finish setting up his kingdom? Do you live remembering that the wicked of this world will not stand? Do you live believing that the church will be victorious regardless of the persecution of the world? Do you live believing that the Son of god will in fact stand again on this earth and will set all things right?

I believe our world changes when we stop living with our eyes only on this world. We can become practical naturalists, forgetting that the God who made this world has broken into it in the past, still rules it, and will radically transform it. Things like upcoming elections matter. Things like life-saving laws matter. Things like paying your bills matter. But, dear friends, they matter in a temporary sense. The Savior has won. The Savior will win. The Savior is King. The Savior will be King. And we are made for far more than we experience today.

5 Solas

When many think of the reformation, they think of the things recovered. The reformers called on the church to remember 5 “alones,” the solas in Latin.

  • Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura) – The Bible is our final authority, not the opinions of councils or the tradition of those who have gone before us. While we can learn much from our forefathers, the word of God is where God speaks authoritatively.
  • Grace Alone (Sola Gratia) – We are saved by an act of God’s grace alone, not in any way combined with our own goodness.
  • Faith alone (Sola Fide) – We receive God’s grace through faith alone. We do not take part in religious rituals or ceremonies or do good deeds to gain grace.
  • Christ Alone (Solus Christus) – Jesus is the only Savior and only source of our forgiveness. No other person’s merit has anything to do with our salvation.
  • Glory to God Alone (Soli Deo Gloria) – The purpose of our salvation is for the glory of the Lord who made us. We are to live to the glory of Almighty God in all we are and all we do.

The Last Will Be First

Matthew 20:16

So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Much of the conflict between Jesus and the religious leadership in the last week or so of his earthly ministry centered around his words regarding the people of Israel. When Jesus entered into Jerusalem, he should have found a people who were repentant, who had changed their ways, who had prepared for the arrival of the messiah. Instead, he found price-gouging in the temple and religious leadership that told people to be quiet when they spoke Jesus’ praise. And when Jesus began to speak of the notion that the kingdom of God would soon be for all people of any nationality who will come to him, this was more than his religious opponents could bear.

In Matthew 20, Jesus tells a very familiar story. It all involves a landowner who hires workers for his field, some at the beginning of the day, some at the 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 11th hours. When the workers came to receive their pay, it turns out that all who came received the same day’s wages. Some complained, but all were truly blessed. The owner declared it to be his right to do with his money has he pleased.

In context, this is a parable about the kingdom of God. The people of Israel believed themselves to be of a higher rank than the unclean, gentile nations. But God was about to turn the world upside-down. Because the Israelites were refusing to receive their Messiah, God, in accord with the mystery of his eternal plan, was about to build his kingdom in Christ to include all nations. And no matter how unhappy this made the Israelites, God has every right to bless all the nations with his grace as much as he wants.

Assuming you, dear reader, are a gentile by birth, this should give you great hope. The last will be first, and the first last. Jesus wants you to know that your place in God’s kingdom has nothing to do with your nationality. Your place in God’s kingdom has nothing to do with your skin color. Your place in God’s kingdom has nothing to do with the century in which you were born. Your place in God’s kingdom has to do with one thing only: your position as either in Christ or not. If you are in Christ, you are in god’s kingdom and will receive all the rewards of a kingdom citizen. If you do not know Christ, regardless of any rank you think you have, you will have none of God’s eternal rewards.

Some live in places where they can really get what feels like a lot done for the kingdom. Some live in places where doing anything that honors God is a major risk. Some live in places where worship is easy. Some live in places where worship is ridiculed. Some live during a time of great spiritual peace. Some live in times of great spiritual upheaval. Some live in their land’s cultural majority. Some live as cultural minorities. Praise God that, in Christ, last and first and first and last are all the same. God’s grace is for all who will run to Jesus for life and mercy.

The Love of a Warning

Matthew 16:11-12

11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Both the Pharisees and the Sadducees taught falsehoods, but in very different ways. The Pharisees were both moralistic and legalistic. Legalistically, they held to a sort of faith that appeared to embrace righteousness before God through personal obedience. Moralistically, they also were given to adding commands to the actual word of God, making laws and standards that God did not make. In contrast, the Sadducees were the theological liberals of the day, men who denied the supernatural, did not believe in the afterlife, and used religion as a platform for social power.

When the Savior gives us a warning, we want to pay attention. In Matthew 16, Jesus encountered the Pharisees, and he refused to bow to their demands to give them a sign to prove his identity to them. Then he turned and told his disciples to watch out for the leaven of these men. The disciples, for a moment, got hung up on an issue of bread, but Jesus made it plain that he was talking about the teaching of these religious leaders. And both groups of false teachers, because of their positions, turned away from Jesus.

The immediate context here would tell us to be guarded against people who would take our hearts and minds away from Jesus. Whether it is through moralism, straight legalism, or liberalism, we must not allow anybody to come between us and the Savior. Jesus has revealed himself perfectly in the word of Almighty God. We dare not reject him because his ways are not ours. We dare not demand of him signs fitting our desires to prove himself. Jesus is God the Son, God in flesh, greater than all.

Hold on to what Jesus is doing here and see his kindness to his disciples. Even as this is serious, it is so very loving. Jesus warns his disciples to watch out for false teaching. Jesus knows that, during his earthly ministry as well as in the years to come, there will be people who will seek to turn mankind away from a loving trust in Jesus and his word. There will be people who try to make knowing God about our fulfilling religious requirements or keeping religious laws—legalism. There will be those who try to tell us that they can help us know God better if we will just accept rules that are stricter than or different than those God actually requires—moralism. And there will be those who tell us that the supernatural elements of the faith are simply figures of speech, illustrations, pointers to the deep truth of God wanting us to improve ourselves—theological liberalism.

Friends, when somebody teaches the truth about Jesus, embrace that truth. When somebody tries to teach you something beyond Scripture, something that points you away from Jesus, watch out. And when you hear this warning, let it remind you of Jesus, the kind Savior, lovingly warning his disciples against being influenced by the most well-respected and the most politically powerful men of his day. Thank God for a Savior who loves us enough to warn us against danger.