Bob's Sermon for Sunday, February 4, 2017


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“Would you follow Jesus if he invited you?”


Mark 1:14-20


       (Mark 1:14 NIV) “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. (15) ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’

     (16) “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. (17) "‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ (18) At once they left their nets and followed him.

      (19) “When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. (20) Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.”


     You have heard the maxim: “Oh, East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.” Rudyard Kipling penned that adage.[1] Kipling was England’s first Nobel Prize winner and is noted for his poem “Gunga Din.” Some of his stories became famous movies: e.g. The Jungle Book, Captain’s Courageous. Kipling was born in Bombay, India, and spent time there, in England, and in the U.S.


      Kipling knew with the truth, which God reminded Adam and Eve:

               “We are dust and we return to dust.”[2]

           The closing lines of his moving poem “Recessional” read:

            “All valiant dust that builds on dust,

             And guarding calls not Thee to guard--

                         For frantic boast and foolish word,

            Thy Mercy on Thy People Lord!”

Kipling’s remains are in Westminster Abbey, which smells dusty and musty. Whether Kipling ever expected divergent cultures of East and West to meet and agree, I don’t know. “Never the twain shall meet,” does not sound hopeful, does it?


    Not just hemispheres, cultures, and races separate people. Families, faculties, and football fans divide over trifles.


    God’s way helps people agree and get along with one another, but as you know, few people listen to our Creator. The majority prefers to follow the advice of the world’s experts. Misery multiplies and replicates. Human spats resemble two kids fighting over a glass of milk. Instead of sharing it, they fight and then spill it. It soaks their clothes and messes the floor. They don’t regret the loss; they would rather waste the milk than to see others enjoy it. 


     A different outcome is possible. Our text tells us how to get there. But something must happen before we can apply the Lord’s solution. Accord is attainable, but not the way most expect. Peace, harmony, and goodwill are byproducts of something else; we do not achieve them by pursuing them as ends on themselves.


     We start by recalling a few facts.


     John 1:14 clearly states that Jesus is God and came to our planet in human form.

As true of us, He was born of a woman and faced all the urges, lures, and desires we do. But Jesus never gave in to the cravings, compulsions, and itches that beset us. 

Jesus fully obeyed the Father and lived a perfect life-example for us.[3] He humbled himself and became obedient even to death on the cross.


     Questions about obedience vex us when we are young—and even when we get old. Why does God make us obey him? As long as we are not hurting others, what is wrong with doing as we please?


     Life itself provides many answers to our enquiries. Children are not born knowing what is good and what is harmful. Parents realize the consequences of disobeying that kids do not yet see. That is why we teach them, and within limits, let them experience consequences of certain actions. Sometimes kids catch on, but not all do. After years of education, many do not know the dangers of eating soap pods. In the same way, God knows consequences of disobedience we adults do not yet see.


     Eight decades of life and exposure to God’s word firmly convince me of some truths:


      Truth One- Every law of God promotes life. Violate laws of the Cosmos such as gravity and you immediately feel the effects. The consequences of violating other laws often take time, but they are just as deadly. Not all poisons kill you in minutes. Some such as nicotine and asbestos can take years. Our sampling of life is so short we do not see the effects of many actions we take. In some cases it takes years to see the consequences of violating God’s laws. But logic, life, and reason support every law God has given us.


      Truth Two - State-of-the-art school buildings and well-trained teachers do not guarantee a better society. Education that lacks God’s ethics and morality usually leads to disaster.I think it was Mark Twain who said that you can take a hobo who is stealing from the railroad box cars and educate him, but unless his ethics change, you will only enable him to steal the whole railroad.


      Truth Three - Selfishness, greed, and pride skew our perspective so that we often do not see the bad effects of our behavior. We assume we clearly see others’ imperfections, but our vision often fails when we do self-exams. It has taken me too long to admit that my thoughtless pride and impatience cause others great pain. 


     For every decision and step, we need God’s counsel and management: that’s why Jeremiah wrote: “Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps.”[4] When we do not follow God guidance, we hour by hour step through fast-triggered minefields.


     So where do we begin? Whatever the subject, we start with basics.  Little Jimmy Dickens told the story of three guys my age who took a memory test.

The doctor asked the first guy?

         How much is 3 times 3?

           The old guy replied, “374.”

         He asked the second guy. “How much is 3 times 3?

          He answered, “Tuesday.”

     He asked guy three the same question.

             He answered, “Nine.”

“Very good,” said the doctor, “and can you tell me how you arrived at nine?”

“Easy,” said the old guy. “I subtracted 374 from Tuesday and there it was.”[5]     

Whether those guys were any better at math when they were seven years of age than at eighty is questionable.


     What fundamentals did Jesus demand that so many Christians neglect? Some attend church and Bible studies for years and never hear these essentials. Mark opened his gospel telling good news: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (2) as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way’ — (3)‘a voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight[6] paths for him.”’”


     Most scholars think that Mark wrote originally to the people of Rome[7]. Power and efficiency stirred the Romans. Those are two main reasons they built a remarkable highway system.  

·         First, they wanted to move and place their armies quickly and efficiently.

·         Second, they aimed at having business people speedily transfer their products.  

Successful businesses produce tax revenues, which politicians seem to enjoy spending. So the Romans prized power and efficiency.


      Mark’s Gospel stresses those two qualities. His gospel is brief and he accentuated Jesus’ effective power over disease, nature, and evil. As you read his gospel, you see Mark’s repeated use of the word “immediately.” The term Mark used for “immediately” is related to the word straight. The quickest, most immediate (fastest) way is usually the straightest route.


     The Lord values efficiency and getting things done, and thus verse three reads: “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight[8] paths for him.”  The word “straight” here is related to the word immediate which Mark used so often. This passage is about Jesus’ advance man, John the Immerser, and what did John teach? John began with fundamentals.


     As we noted last week, droves of people came to John wanting him to baptize them. In about 26 AD, he was like the Billy Graham of Israel. Everyone wanted to join his crusade. John was not a glad-handing, feel-good speaker; he was shockingly straightforward. Mark tells us that John preached a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”[9] He spoke directly to people’s heart and did not worry about insulting them. (7) “Crowds of people came out to John to be baptized by him, ‘You snakes!’ he said to them. ‘Who told you that you could escape from the punishment God is about to send? Do those things that will show that you have turned from your sins . . . (9) Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’"


     Various people asked John how they should change.

·         Whoever has two coats and sees someone without a coat should share, said John.

·         “Do not collect more than is legal,” he advised tax collectors (IRS).  

When soldiers asked what they should do, he answered: Don’t take bribes or make false accusations, and “Be content with your pay.”


     From the start of his preaching, Jesus, too, insisted that everyone repent. Today’s text begins: “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. (15) ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’” That is not the same as “God loves you the way you are,” is it?


     Peter reaffirmed that God’s help is conditional: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”[10] Scripture clearly shows that not only do we stop sinning, we repay any outstanding debts.


     Public figures often say: “I take full responsibility for this matter.” Yet they do nothing to restore, repay the debt, or to make amends for the wrong they have committed. Here is what God required of an Israelite who wronged another: “He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner.”[11]Pay what they owed plus 20%. In addition they also offered a pricey sacrifice to God.[12] 


     Most of us remember from Sunday school the little tax collector Zacchaeus. He climbed a tree to watch Jesus’ parade. “Get out of the tree, Zach. I want to come to your place for tea,” is the little song we learned--roughly translated, of course.


     People muttered about Jesus keeping company with this despised tax man. At dinner, Zacchaeus stood up and announced the change (his repentance) that day: “Look Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” From the expression, “behold,” translated, “Look, Lord,” I get the impression that his servants were already bringing out goods Zacchaeus intended to give to poor people.[13] He was repenting and already bearing fruit of it. “Today, salvation has come to this house,” said Jesus.      


     Further into our text, Jesus announced: “The kingdom of God is near.” People keep looking for God’s kingdom. They expect to see wholesale change where everyone plays fair and all is well. Peace prevails and everyone is happy. They are looking for something that will never happen in this life. God promised Israel a future similar to that, but it was contingent on their obeying him. They never obeyed so it never happened.


     Later generations have looked for the God’s kingdom. The scholar John Bright extensively studied the concept of the Kingdom. He based his conclusions on the way the New Testament uses the term. The kingdom of God means, God’s rule. The kingdom of God is near, close-at hand, in the vicinity. It is as close as our repenting of pride, turning our lives over to God, and letting him fully rule us. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”[14] “Denying oneself” means putting God in charge, having him manage or rule us, doesn’t it?


     In the late 1960s, a young couple moved to Los Angeles and began attending the Hollywood church. She was a Christian; he was not. He seemed interested in the Lord. We met on several occasions, read the Scriptures together, and discussed what he must do to follow Jesus. Jesus was clearly inviting him—calling him as he has all of you—as he did Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Numerous Scriptures outline what Jesus expects of those who believe:  repentance, dying with Christ in baptism, and living a life ruled by God.  


     Decision time came: would he fully commit his life to Christ, by dying with Christ in baptism and the serving new life in Christ? For several minutes, he stood looking at the baptistery, considering his decision. He finally said, “I can’t do it.” His wife attended services for a while, but then stopped. They moved and we lost track of them. I did see Paul once more, however. I accidentally ran into him in Hollywood. His appearance strongly suggested that things were not going well.


     Do you recall what Peter said to the people in Jerusalem? “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”


     Living according to God’s Spirit brings life to our mortal bodies.[15] I pray that we shall all fully accept Jesus’ invitation. He changes our lives for the better now and prepares us for life in the age to come.


[1] Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), Ballad of East and West

[2] Genesis 2: 7 & 3: 19

[3] See John 1:1-14, Philippians 2, and Hebrews 2:14-18

[4] Jeremiah 10:23 NIV

[5] Seen on “Country’s Family Reunion, Nashville, Pt. -5” Little Jimmy Dickens 1920-2015 

[6]εὺθείας εὺθέως and εὺθύς

[7] They point to the use of Latin loan words in Mark, e.g. executioner  in 6:27

[8]εὺθείας εὺθέως and εὺθύς

[9] Mark 1:1-4 NIV

[10] Acts 3:19 NIV

[11] Leviticus 6:5, 6

[12] See Leviticus 6: 1-7

[13] Note the way “behold” is used in Luke 19:20, where the KJV reads, “Behold, thy pound. 

[14] Luke 9:23 NIV

[15] See Romans 8:9-11


Bob Blair

PO Box176

Cleghorn, IA 51014




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