We have begun reading the book of Mark together as a church family at Fellowship. Our 16-week sermon series will cover the life and times of Jesus and his earthly ministry. As has been said, this book will confront you with the person of Jesus in a way that will leave you no choice but to choose – who will you serve, yourself or Jesus? This is perhaps the greatest question presented on every page of the Bible. Even dating back to the first account of man. Satan convinced Adam and Eve to believe the lie God did not love them nor was God willing and able to care for them. Satan succeeded at changing their perspective. So, as the result, Adam and Eve chose to worship sin and self over a commitment to a right and holy relationship with God. For the person has not repented of sins, believed on the name of Jesus, and been spiritually born again the question of who you will serve is of eternal significance. But even for the born-again Christ-follower, who we you will serve is a question of life-altering trajectory.
In Mark 1, after Jesus establishes himself as the Son of God and after he makes clear his plans and purposes for coming to earth, he begins his earthly ministry by healing people in desperate physical need. He calls his disciples (those who would follow Jesus’s teachings and life) then gets straight to work. He frees a possessed man of multiple demons, cures the fever of Peter’s mother-in-law, and rocks the social world of Galilee by physically touching a leper. When merely words have done the trick (as seen in v. 25), Jesus goes as far as being the first loving embrace this man undoubtedly had had in a very long time. This physical touch not only rocked his world but did a radical work to get the attention of anyone who may have been present.
But as Mark records, Jesus sternly gave the former leper specific instructions (v. 43) to not tell anyone of the miracle. One cannot overlook the irony of what happens next – Jesus tells the man not to tell and he tells everyone. We as modern-day Christ followers are exhorted by Jesus in his Word to tell everyone the good news and yet we so often remain silent (but that’s a different post for a different day, I suppose.) So, what to make of this story? There are several valuable truths that can be accurately drawn from the verses, but I want to share with you a brief reminder that the Lord has taught me.
First, a wrong perspective of self. I do not fault the former leper for giving in to this temptation. Imagine, living your life as the absolute worst possible person in society. As you may know, not only was a leper physically isolated, he or she was socially outcast. This is more than being without a date for the homecoming dance. He was subjected to daily shame. If he were walking down the street, he would have to shout a verbal announcement of his coming so people could get out of the way. COVID quarantines are no fun, but imagine living your daily life, 365 days a year in physical separation from everyone. The social loneliness must have been overwhelming. So, to receive this incredible gift of healing and new life would make it very tempting to suddenly live however you wanted to live – to do all the things you have always wanted to do and never could. To go where you wanted, hug who you wanted, and no longer be cast out by society. To be king of your own castle. The plight of the leper is a wonderfully accurate illustration of receiving life in Christ. We were literally dead in our sin, isolated from God. Once spiritually born again, we are made a new creation. It is incredibly tempting to have an over-inflated view of ourselves. To misunderstand security in a relationship with God for the opportunity to be lord of our own lives. To abuse the grace God has given us. To hear what he is teaching but aspire to be in charge. To receive all the goodness of God, but refuse to humbly submit to his plan, purpose, and priority of our lives.
Second, a wrong perspective of Jesus. He is more than a genie in a bottle or a perpetual Santa Clause. Jesus did not come to earth, live a sinless and perfect life, die on the cross, and defeat death in the grave in order that we may only live a comfortable life. In fact, he teaches the opposite. He teaches in John 15 that things will often be tough as Christians. It is understandable to be tempted to believe Jesus’s only and primary role is to give us what we ask for and to bless us. So we will obey his commandments whenever we determine it is in our best interests. We may come to the place where we no longer have an inflated view of ourselves, but we still must realize Jesus has a plan and purpose that is bigger than us. There are reasons why Jesus has taught us his commandments and we must trust that his ways are higher, better, more perfect than ours. The former leper didn’t do this. The former leper heard the stern instructions but chose not to believe Jesus knew what was best nor did he believe Jesus had a holy plan and purpose.
With a wrong perspective of Jesus, we will be guilty of getting in the way of the gospel. How many times have I as a pastor been tempted to hear the teachings of Jesus, read the direct expressions of the gospel, yet continued to live and lead however I choose? Jesus may articulate his priorities, but I am going to still priorities what I think is most important. Jesus teaches it is a man’s heart that matters most, yet I rush to prioritize performance. Jesus models humility and teaches the priority of conversion, yet I rush to prioritize numbers and the size of a ministry experience as success. With a right perspective of Jesus, I will trust him not just as Savior but also as Lord. That if the Spirit has moved to lead me to understand his will for my life, I won’t selfishly live out my own wants, I won’t go and do whatever I want to do anyone. I will be a husband, father, pastor, and friend who submits my life to the instructions of Jesus and trust him with the outcome.
Mark 1 is a wonderful chapter. Like so many other “chapters ones” in history, this whets your appetite to learn more of who this Jesus is and what his redemptive work will be. But before the reader sets off down that road, may we be willing to surrender our pride. Let’s pray for healthy and right perspectives of who we are and who God is. Be willing to embrace the declaration of John the Baptist in John 3:30, “He must increase, I must decrease.” As great and generous as Jesus is, may we not abuse this grace and nudge him off the throne of our hearts. May we be found following him and no longer running off to do whatever we want to do. May we take seriously his commands for our lives and not treat the word of God as mere suggestions. He loves you, is with you, and can be trusted to be a good and gracious Lord.