16th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 7:31-37 Sermon
September 24, 2006
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
307 "Jesus Shall Reign Where E'er The Sun"
527 "Brief Life Is Here Our Portion"
405 "Let Us With A Gladsome Mind"
550 "Lead On, O King Eternal"
THE PURPOSE OF CHRIST’S MINISTRY
TEXT (vs. 35-36): “And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And he charged them to tell no one; but the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.”
There is something in every pastor’s ministry that the congregation doesn’t see too often. This happens especially when a church has a nice ad in the yellow pages. The phone will ring, and on the other end there will be a person with some sort of physical need. Someone needs food, someone needs lodging for the night, someone needs fuel for their car, or someone needs money for a bus ticket to go somewhere or to get their car repaired. Maybe it’s something as simple as a hot meal. Sometimes it’s not a phone call either; people will occasionally show up on the doorstep of the church wanting a hand-out of some description.
Why do people do this? Why aren’t they showing up at the BP station, or Pac n’ Save, or Valentino’s, or Wal-Mart? Wouldn’t it seem logical to go there, since those are the places that have what people need, and obviously have the deepest pockets? Why do they phone pastors and knock on church doors for help?
The church does have a moral obligation to help people who are in need. All we need to do is look at what Jesus says in Matthew 25. In verse 35-36 Jesus begins his discourse by saying, “For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
This puzzles the believers who are hearing him. In verse 37-39 they ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”
Then Jesus replies, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of he least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
These are some very important words Jesus speaks. Christians are to be concerned not just with someone’s spiritual welfare, but their physical welfare as well. In many instances, Jesus shows compassion on the physical well-being of people. He didn’t like to see people suffer, and so he steps in and takes care of them in their hour of need.
The problem here, is that people are very familiar with those verses from Matthew that I just quoted—in fact, I’d say too familiar at times. What I mean by that, is that people have come to believe that this is the entire mission of the church, almost to the exclusion of everything else.
I remember reading the results of an evangelism survey which was done some years ago. The question was asked, “In your opinion, what should the church be doing?” The answer frequently came back, “The church should be doing more to help people.” And when they were asked what they meant by that response, they would say things like, “Oh you know, feeding the hungry, helping the needy, etc.” The perception people had of the church was that it was this big benevolent welfare agency. And of course that perception exists today.
And so, we find people taking unfair advantage of the church’s benevolent nature. They might never have set foot in a church in their life; but when they are in need, that’s where they go. Somehow, they figure that the church “owes it to them.” Some people are content to live on hand-outs.
But there is a passage that should also be remembered in all this. II Thessalonians 3, 10 says: “…If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” And verses 11-12 go on to say, “We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.” In other words, don’t live on hand-outs. If you need emergency help, that’s one thing. But the church and the world don’t owe it to you to support your laziness. Go out and get a job.
I’ve gone into this detail to get us into our text for this morning. Our Gospel reading for today is the account of Jesus’ miraculous healing of the deaf and dumb man. In this account, we see two very key elements.
First, we see yet again an example of our Saviour’s compassion and kindness. He could have let the man continue as he was; however Jesus didn’t do that. He healed the man.
And second, we see how the wrong emphasis is put on the mission and ministry of Jesus. Jesus’ acts of compassion were not the be-all to end-all of his ministry; rather they were to point out that he was indeed true God in the flesh, and that through him all things would be possible.
As our story unfolds, Jesus and his disciples had made quite a journey. They went from Tyre north to Sidon, then east and south toward the Sea of Galilee, and then to the area known as the Decapolis, which was east of the Jordan River and southeast of the Sea of Galilee. This area was populated with Greeks. They were Gentiles, and not Jews.
And so he goes and preaches to them. He also performed many miracles there—this miracle of healing the deaf and dumb man being one of them. He goes there to show that he came not only to the Jews, but to the Gentiles as well. He had come to be the Saviour of the entire human race.
Jesus had been in that region once before when he healed a demon possessed man. He cast the demons out of the man and into a herd of pigs, which subsequently ran into the lake and drown. This demon possessed man went and told everyone what Jesus had done for him. His witness brought about a very remarkable change in the people.
So now when Jesus returns to the area, crowds of people gathered to see him. They brought their sick to Jesus to be healed. Among those who gathered was this deaf mute.
He takes the man aside, and in a type of sign language tells him what he is about to do. Jesus sticks his fingers in his ears, indicating he would be able to hear. Then he spits on his finger and touches his tongue, indicating he would be able to speak. Then he looks heavenward to indicate that this healing power would come from God. Then he speaks one word, “Ephphatha,” an Aramaic word meaning “be opened.” And suddenly the man can hear and speak. Truly this could only be an act of God, for only God could do what had been done. Jesus had once again demonstrated that he was indeed true God in the flesh.
But then Jesus immediately tells the people not to tell anyone about what had happened. But they didn’t do what he had said. The more he told them to keep this to themselves, the more they wanted to tell everyone. It was something so miraculous, so fantastic that they couldn’t keep quiet about it.
Now why do you suppose Jesus did that? Awhile back, I remember saying in a sermon that Jesus didn’t want to be known simply as the “go-to” guy when someone needed a little physical healing, or when someone had a few barrels of water that needed to be turned into wine.
The miracles of Jesus were signs or endorsements of who he really was. His purpose in coming to this earth was to save the world from their sins. He came to be the Saviour, and his ministry to the human race would be to save their souls and bring them into God’s family.
However the focus on this was getting lost when it was overshadowed by his miracles. People weren’t interested in the spiritual message Jesus had to share. They were more concerned about having their sick healed or getting fed.
I’ll give you a good example of how this happens. Some years ago, a very nice young lady invited me to her home for an evening meal. I know she had worked very hard on it. We had roast beef, potatoes, gravy, and vegetables—the whole nine yards. Everything was perfect.
Included in the meal was a rice dish which was delicious. Of course I complimented her on the whole meal; but I also made special mention of the rice dish she had prepared, and I asked her how she had fixed it.
She was silent at first, but then she told me in a rather hurt tone of voice that it was Rice-a-Roni. She had prepared it in a hurry, just to add a bit to the meal. And there I was, making a fuss about it, almost to the exclusion of the rest of the meal she had worked so hard on fixing for me.
Talk about making a social faux-paus. I knew that nothing else I would say could make up for me complimenting her rice dish above everything else. Even though I loved every bit of her meal, I basically had rained on her parade.
That’s what happens when people make Jesus’ healing miracles the entire focus of his ministry. Certainly his humanitarian efforts were necessary in keeping with his whole love of humanity. But that wasn’t the primary purpose of his ministry.
Jesus came so that through his perfect life, and his innocent suffering and death on the cross, all who would believe in him would be saved. His healing miracles would only last a certain length of time. The deaf and dumb man in our text for today is no longer on this earth. He eventually died.
Most importantly, Jesus was this man’s Saviour. He was sinful, and needed the salvation Jesus had to offer him. For him, Jesus had also taken care of the problem of eternal death. Through his faith, he would be taken into heaven into the eternal mansion prepared for him.
I think we all tend to look at superficial things and miss the real meaning behind them. We tend to focus our eyes on things of this world and the various attractions of things that are temporary, and lose sight of God’s eternal purpose.
Back in the early 1990’s I believe, a man by the name of Dr. Rick Warren who was the pastor of Saddleback Community Church in southern California started something called “The Church Growth Movement.” He began doing workshops entitled “Building a Purpose-Driven Church.”
Dr. Warren had experienced the stagnation and decline in Bible believing and teaching churches. So he set out to do a type of “reformation” to get things going again.
Worship services became what was called “seeker services,” and were designed to appeal to the unbelievers in the community, or “Saddleback Sams” as he called them. He changed the music to a secular style popular with the people, and even carefully avoided any Biblical references in the services that could remotely be perceived as being negative by anyone. The topic of sin was pretty much avoided altogether. If there was to be any sort of serious Bible teaching, it was reserved for small group sessions, and not for worship services.
In short, Dr. Warren’s idea was to mould and shape the church into what people wanted. Sad to say, what the people wanted and what was happening was far different than what God wanted. Dr. Warren wanted to get people in the door of the church for any reason at all, just to increase numbers. Whatever the people wanted, he was prepared to give them. And he altered his theology so absolutely nobody could take offense at anything.
So often, what the people wanted was so different than what they needed. People would come to the church for the wrong reason, and stayed for the wrong reason. The message of sin and grace, of Christ and the cross had gotten shoved into the background.
When we look at ourselves and our size, I think we can get discouraged. The church growth movement has its appeal. We can ask ourselves, “Why do the mega churches grow and we seem to be standing still?” “What are they doing right and we’re doing wrong?”
But then we need to look at what we have and why we’re here. When sin tempts us to go a different way than God would have us go, we are directed back to the cross again. We can take the allure that sin has in our lives, and lay it at the cross. The cross of Jesus symbolizes what he has done for us, and why he came to this earth in the first place.
Jesus is our Saviour, and through faith in him, we will have eternal life. We have this Gospel, this good news which has saved us. This is for all people, and it is the reason we exist. We have decided that God’s Word in our midst is the most important thing, and sometimes that is at the expense of a full parking lot. We don’t rely on the attractions of secular society to fill our seats, but on the Word of God taught and preached in its truth and purity. Even though some might be offended at what God has to say, it certainly isn’t up to us to make apologies for what God has said, nor are we at liberty to alter things to make ourselves more popular to an unbelieving society.
The ministry of Jesus can get overshadowed by other things so easily. The deaf and dumb man’s testimony served to focus people’s attention on Jesus as the miracle worker, and not on his work as the Messiah, the true Son of God. Jesus did things only God can do. The people needed to focus on what he was saying, that this was God speaking to them, and that his miracles only proved his credentials.
As a congregation, we are to do those humanitarian acts of charity. We are to help those in need, and I believe we take this seriously. We have our food voucher program through Blue Valley Community Action. Then there is the food bank. There is habitat for humanity. And of course there are emergency funds which are administrated through the Seward Ministerial Association for emergency relief. By working through these agencies, we are able to help others who truly need it, while sorting out those who abuse this help. Our church body also has funds for world hunger and world relief.
These acts aren’t the focus of our ministry, but the result of it. We are sinners who have come to know Jesus as our Saviour from sin. Through faith, Jesus lives in our hearts. We love him because he first loved us. Because we love him, we seek to do what he commands.
Therefore, we also love others. We want everyone to know that whatever type of humanitarian acts we do, we do so because we love Christ. Jesus says that if we do it to them, it’s like we do it to him.
So let’s keep the emphasis on where it belongs, which is the Gospel of Christ. When we seek to do God’s will in our lives both individually and as a congregation, we know that everything will be exactly in the order it belongs.