Bob's Sermon for Sunday, February 25, 2017


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“The strong warning one guy would not obey”


 Mark 1:40-45   NIV


          “A man with leprosy came to him (Jesus) and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’

     “(41) Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ (42) Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.


      “(43) Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: (44) ‘See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’


     “(45) Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.”


     Scripture often connects faith, hope, and love to form a trilogy. The famous love chapter ends with that trio: “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”[1] Of the three, love is most important, but faith always comes first.  


      In today’s reading, the leper seems to have that first quality, faith. But the term “faith” does not appear in the text. Did Mark avoid the word faith for a reason? In my view, something was amiss in the leper’s faith? Mark told us that something went awry, but few catch how Mark said it. Faith can’t stand by itself any better than you could stand all day on a pogo stick. Faith makes a good beginning, but by itself faith is incomplete.


     What was deficient in the leper’s faith? Is your faith sufficient, or does it lack the same fundamental? People of all backgrounds speak of faith, and the need for it. Faith figured significantly in Martin Luther’s differences with traditional Catholic teaching. Their disagreements rarely included love and hope. That part of the subject we can discuss another day, God willing.


     The last time I preached on this passage, I confess that I missed two vital points.

Few faith discussions include them. Not telling you about them is like allowing you to board a ship that has no life boats.


     Defining faith is not as simple as ABC. Many famous intellectuals have not come close to characterizing it. The French novelist, George Sand (you might remember from literature classes that Sand was a woman) defined faith this way: “Faith is an excitement and an enthusiasm; it is a condition of intellectual magnificence to which we must cling as to a treasure and not squander [in] . . . priggish argument.”[2] I think she meant that even if it is akin to puppy love, faith is a powerful, beautiful, emotion and it is silly to argue about it. Do you wonder if she felt faith when she carried on her affair with the French-Polish composer Chopin?


     The usually cynical H.L. Mencken said this about faith: “Faith may be defined as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.”[3] I think Mencken meant: faith lacks a logical basis; sensible people do not depend on it.


     In respect to applying faith, most Americans, it seems, are pragmatists. When pragmatists consider things, whether a religion or a refrigeration system, they ask, “Is it practical? Does it work?” Before we invest in something, we want to know if it does something for us. That’s the American way, isn’t it? Will believing in God and going to church benefit me as much as sleeping in, watching ballgame or playing a video game?


     Harvard psychology and philosophy professor William James popularized pragmatism.[4] James taught that certain beliefs have value even if they aren’t based on fact. What is important is that you intensely believe, said James. It is that belief that brings value, he taught.


     Some time ago, I listened to an NPR report on the results of a certain popular drug. A reporter stated that 50% of the people in this study took a placebo, a pill with no drug. The placebo takers got the same result as the people who took the actual drug.

Those who did the study concluded that believing (having faith in the drug) was the important issue, not the effect of the medicine. Medical truth or accuracy was not necessary for certain persons in the study, they said. We should be careful about drawing too many conclusions from studies such as this. It is possible that the drug wasn’t effective in the first place.


     On the other hand, most of us have seen examples of folks who believed they could do something and overcame great odds. Allan Fromme, Ph. D. illustrated William James’s point this way.[5] Here it is with a little modification. Imagine all of us are at a picnic and someone reports that numerous rattlesnakes appear to be moving in our direction almost as if they are migrating. Many persons report hearing rattles. We start running as fast as we can.      


      Are you with me? As we run, we come to a wide crevasse. At the edge of this crevasse, we stop. It seems beyond jumping distance. That rhumba of rattlers seems to be gaining on us. If we stay at the edge thinking we cannot jump over the crevasse, we shall face countless serpents.[6] Our apparent choices are: —fight snake venom or fall into    that deep crevasse? Suppose we think we might make it if we back up a bit, get a running start, and leap mightily. Whether we remain at the edge to face a rhumba of rattlers or fall into the crevasse with limbs stretched and pumping, the result is the same. But if we make strenuous, calculated effort, we just might make it. So we run, jump, make it, and escape.


     Is that what faith is? Is faith the will to do something combined with extraordinary effort and tenacity? That’s how many see faith. Belief unites with great determination, and that mix saves them; thus faith works. Is that what this leper had?


     What is faith, really? In cases of physical healing, there seems to be a correlation between being positive and being negative in attitude. Because our emotions fluctuate, those qualities are extremely difficult to measure. If you have faith, in what is your faith placed? Is it your smarts, your luck, your agility, your strength, your spouse, your money? All of us face defining moments of faith as this leper did; what was with this fellow?


     What does the Bible tell us about faith? “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”[7] The term leprosy was used then to describe any disease or open wounds or sores that did not heal. In the case of this man, disease devoured him. Some of us with chronic conditions know the story firsthand.


     Disease ravaged the leper’s body and cut him off from all social contact. The Law of Moses, in effect for centuries, had stringent requirements.

·         Infected people had to stay outside the city limits.

·         They could make no contact with well people.

·         They had to cover their lips with a cloth, dishevel their hair, and cry out to people who approached them warning that they were “unclean.” 

·         Anyone who touched them would be unclean.

·         If they thought they were cured, a Jewish priest had to examine them.

·         They had to offer several animal sacrifices, bathe and wait eight days, and be reexamined by the priest before they could return to their families and activities.   


     The leper had been cut off from his family, his religion, his work, and his friends.

When Jesus came near the leper saw an opportunity: “A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’" Norma and I recently heard a prominent church leader talk about the power of prayer. Unless you pray to a being that has power to alter your situation, prayer is of no more effect than believing you can leap across that crevasse.


     By itself, does prayer have anything beyond a placebo effect? The leper believed Jesus was able to heal him. A literal translation would read: “Jesus you have the power[8] to do this, if you are willing.” To the leper, healing depended on Jesus’ willingness. Jesus rewarded his faith. “Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.” According to the law, had Jesus not healed the man, Jesus himself would have become unclean.


           1.      This episode teaches three things about faith


     The man’s faith was in Jesus, not himself. The leper had no capability; he voiced total belief in Jesus’ power to heal him."If you are willing, you can (have the power) make me clean." We must believe that God can do anything he wants. The Bible says: “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”[9] Many do not experience miracles because they do not believe God does them now.


     What can be impossible to the Creator of the Cosmos? Nothing is beyond God’s power. The leper believed it was up to Jesus, “If you are willing.” Faith is always based in God’s willingness, not any virtue or extraordinary ability of ours.

Faith absolutely trusts God and His mercy; it is not “the power of positive thinking,” or “the power of prayer.”


           2.      Faith apart from obedience to Jesus and his Lordship is off base and improper.


     Note in our text what Jesus did and said: “(43) Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: (44) ‘See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’”[10] From the few times the word translated “strong warning” appears in scripture, it seems to reflect deep concern and emotion.[11]


     Think of a child facing a momentous decision. The child is about to make a bad choice.

The parent speaks to him/her. Groaning inwardly, the parent warns profoundly and passionately. That’s how intensely Jesus warned the leper against two decisions: 

A.    Do not tell anyone about your healing.

B.     Go to the priest and offer sacrifices.

Why would Jesus be so fervent about these two matters?


     Let’s answer the second question first. Why did he say: “go . . . to the priest, offer the sacrifices . . . Moses commanded for . . . cleansing, as a testimony to them”[12]? Because that was the law of the land. Jesus never told anyone to break any law. He counseled people to not follow tradition, but never to snub standing law. That leads to anarchy, which some church and political leaders seem now to be fostering. The leper disregarded Jesus’ instructions. 


     The world mocks God’s word. About 80% or more of those right now professing Christianity follow what religious leaders tell them, not what the Bible teaches. So called enlightened people think they know better than what God’s word says “The Bible is outdated,” they contend.  


      How seriously do you follow the Word of God in Scripture? We learn Jesus’ instructions in the New Testament; not from a catechism book, or a denomination booklet, or televangelist’s sermon. Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."[13]


     Is following Christ your primary aim? As the leper did, many want help with their problems, but they do not want to submit to Christ. That is misguided faith with misdirected love, and it is totally devoid of hope.


           3.      This brings us to point three.


     Instead of following Jesus’ strict orders, the leper, “went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.” “Jesus became more famous; what is wrong with that?” you ask. Jesus healed people out of compassion, but physical healing was not his main mission. Neither was changing society.  “But isn’t that what we need? Haven’t we had enough school shootings, corruption, wars, and mass starvation?” Society is sick and dying. More laws, more police, or fewer guns are not the cure.


     Mark 1:14, 15 read: “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. (15) ‘The time (kairos) has come’ he said.” The word “time” is not clock time; it (Kairos) refers to the right season or moment. “The kingdom of God is near (engidzo). Repent and believe the good news!” Jesus was not informing folks that everything on earth would suddenly change so that bad people would act right and society would become perfect.


     Have you noticed the solutions experts keep putting forth? Fewer guns, better tracking of troubled people, tighter security, increased monitoring of social media, etc. accompanied by lots of finger pointing and blame. On one thing most people agree: anger, rage, fear, and greed are on the increase. As Jesus announced the: “The kingdom of God is near (engidzo),” he also warned everyone:  “Repent and believe the good news!”


     All of us must change: Jesus expects us to modify our behavior and attitudes and put God first (repent).

·         The kingdom of God is as near as putting Jesus fully in charge of our lives.

As the Bible says: “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. (31) For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”[14]

·         Unless God is first with us in all that we do and think, we shall never see His kingdom.

·         That is Jesus’ main theme—his good news; God must rule every heart.

·         That means we rid ourselves of bitterness, anger, greed, sex sin, etc., and follow Jesus’ example. 

·         That message should be the primary goal of every church and everyone in it.

·         Jesus did not teach us to influence governments or try to change society (other people’s behavior)...

·         We deny ourselves—stifle our pride, open our hearts to Jesus’ full control, and encourage others to willingly do the same for God’s glory.


     “The kingdom of God is near (engidzo). Repent and believe the good news!”


     How close are you to allowing Jesus’ full control and enjoying God’s loving good news, which is full of hope?



[1] Verse 13 NIV

[2] May 25, 1866  

[3] Prejudices, Third Series, 1922

[4]  1842-1910 - Among his famous works are Pragmatism and Varieties of Religious Experience.

[5] See Our Troubled Selves: a New and Positive Approach, Farrar, Straus and Giroux,

New York, 1967

[6] In researching whether rattlesnakes migrate, I learned that in the Ozark Mountains, the U.S. Forest Service closes a road twice annually so copperheads, timber rattlers, and cotton mouths can migrate to and from higher and lower locations. See “Bay Nature” magazine October-December, article by Michael Ellis, October 1, 2015.

Other sites provided information on what large groups of rattlesnakes are called: Rhumba, den, bed, pit, or nest; for most people, a nightmare.   

[7] Hebrews 11:6 NIV

[8] The Greek word “dunamis,” from which dynamite is derived, is used here.

[9] Hebrews 11:6 NIV

[10] See Leviticus 13, 14 for Mosaic Law requirements.

[11] See John 11: 33 & 38 where the TEV translates “deeply moved.”

[12] Leviticus 13 & 14

[13] John 8 :31b & 32

[14] Acts 17:30, 31 NIV


Bob Blair

PO Box176

Cleghorn, IA 51014




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