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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Sermons: Darrell Thomas, October 2, 2011 - What has Jesus to do with us?

As some of you already know, Pastor Thomas's message last Sunday got interrupted before he could finish. I also printed out his message and it will be on the guest book stand in the narthex. - Anne

Mark 1: 21 28
It's hard to imagine a more exciting but difficult moment in the life of the Capernaum synagogue when Jesus came to preach. As he taught, he taught as a person who knows what he was talking about. This was in contrast to the scribes and Pharisees who tended to parse words and say “on the other hand.”

It is not said, but it appears that Jesus's presence drew into the synagogue a disturbed man, or as Mark writes, “a man with an unclean spirit.” He cried to Jesus, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

Jesus healed him. Amazement rippled through the congregation.

There's an old saying, "Everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it." Since Mark Twain made those words famous, we've learned to do this, at least in a small area: We air condition, heat, or humidify our homes. Anyone feel uncomfortable? The ushers will fix it with a thing called a thermostat.

What great news! However, there's bad news. There are no human contrivances to control the soul. When the mind is swept by sin, or even call it a mistake, turning down the thermostat gives an impression of control, but it's no use. We know we can't make everything perfect.

The one person in the synagogue who knew this was the deranged parishioner. He seemed to be the only one present who recognized how "hot" an authority Jesus was. He didn't like what he saw and asked just like most people caught in sin, “What have you, Jesus of Nazareth, to do with me? Are you going to use your power to destroy me? I know who you really are, the Holy One of God!

No one of us, today, really wants anything out of the ordinary to disturb this worship service. After all, the service is called an Order of worship. Thus, when we read the Gospel, deep down we determine to resist disorder. It would seem important to either remove Jesus from the synagogue or the disturbed man.

I read in John Wesley's journal for January 24, 1743, that he was preaching in the famous resort town of Bath, England. In an upstairs meeting room, Wesley made four points.
1 by nature all people are inclined to sin;
2 all these natural ways of acting and thinking are corrupt and shameful, including
3 all their words and works which could never be made better unless by faith, and further that
4 A natural man has no more faith than the devil, if that much.

As Wesley pressed the points, a well to do man jumped to his feet and cried, “‘Tis hot! Tis very hot!” and bolted from the room. His heated conscience made it impossible to stay.

Our time in history is not much different. I'm very sure that many people, if they met the unvarnished Gospel, might ask if Jesus really belonged in the worship service: what has Jesus to do with me? What has he to do with you? Despite thermostatic words, like "I'll get over it" or the "devil made me do it," people know something has come into their lives in Jesus Christ and they are not sure what to do with it.

Scripture is filled with stories of people who heard God's word and began to burn with guilt. It's full of times when the Holy Spirit of God altered people's personalities and behaviors. It can happen in a sanctuary, a King's court, a pig sty, or in our homes.

I don't think Wesley preached just to rile up persons. It was just that when people heard the Gospel and the convicting power of the Holy Spirit come upon them, they naturally got agitated. What does this have to do with me? Has he come to destroy? John Wesley could not avoid the convicting effects of the Holy Spirit on the minds of his listeners. Some responded in quiet tears. Some were so stricken that they fell on the floor. Some, like the fashionable lord, ran out. Some were so incensed that they organized resistance to John Wesley.

John Wesley was involved in over 600 riots and disturbances in his lifetime of preaching.I once read a sentence that gave me pause: God is forever violating people’s lives. At first hearing, it makes us grumpy and even outraged. But if one reads it from the Bible's position, that is exactly what God always does.

Let me be clear: Disturbing people for disturbance's sake is not acceptable in the Church. Boasting in ourselves is not the same as boasting of the power of the Gospel.

When the Apostles came to the temple to preach and the Holy Spirit fell on them as tongues of fire.

It reminds us of what happened when King Josiah ordered the House of the Lord cleaned up. They found the Book of Law! Strange things turn up when you clean house. King Josiah got the message and a major change came in Israel's relation to God (2 Chronicles 35).

CV Anthony, one of the first historians of Methodism in California, wrote of one of the first times he heard William Taylor preach. Taylor announced at conference that he would hold preaching services on the street near where conference was meeting. During the sermon, to make a point of his listeners’ need for repentance, he suddenly “caught up a child, and lifted him high where all could see. ‘Look at this little innocent child. The blush of shame has never yet colored these beautiful cheeks, remorse for sin has never given him a moment's pain. Such as he is all of you were once during the years that have passed. Some of you have traveled a long way from that point of innocence. How you wish you were pure again as this little child. You may be if you will.’”

A man burst into tears and sat down on the sidewalk, his feet in the gutter, and pled for God's mercy. Anthony wrote, “The arrow had gone straight to the mark.” (P.25, 50 Yrs, Methodism, Meth. Book Concern, SF, 1901)

King Agrippa confronted Paul's accusing word, and cried, “Paul, in a short time you think to make me a Christian!” Paul replied, “I would to God that not only you but also everyone who hears me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.” The king got up and left. He wanted out. Yes, King Agrippa, ‘Tis hot” (Acts 26).

Think on these Biblical incidents:
From the moment God called "where are you?" to Adam and Eve, to Nathan's blunt accusing words, to King David, to Jesus starting his ministry with authority, to Agrippa side stepping "God's sword," to the prodigal coming to himself, to Pilate washing his hands of Jesus, to all the times when God speaks through prophet, priest, and common persons, to the moment that a Christian remembers his heated soul, the Bible crackles with fiery words,
How long will you stand between two opinions?
How long will you turn away to die?
The Philippian jailer cried out, “What do you have to do to be saved?”

Now there is a hot question. We try many extinguishers to quench the fire eating at our lives. We will do most anything to distract our minds so we can continue to live with lust, vengeance, pettiness or we could just go along, not wanting to be disturbed.

In my Wesley study, a woman minister said in obvious sincerity, “I don't know that I can ever say what Wesley said about ‘avoiding the wrath to come.’”

A preacher friend of mind told me about a caretaker of a storage building. The man had on a hat with the initials “PK” on it. He asked the man, “What do those letters mean?” The man said they stood for “Promise Keepers.” He told my friend that weeks before he had gone to a certain church because he had heard that they had something of a program for people like him. What he found was a mini revival. The preacher came to him at the close of his message and said to the audience, “How many of you would like to give your heart to Jesus Christ?” Suddenly, the man said he had the deepest urge to get up from his seat and go forward. He was so disturbed that he reached over and picked up his five year old daughter and put her on his lap so he would have an excuse not to get up. It helped. But the preacher issued the invitation again. And this time his little girl turned to him and said, "Come on, Daddy, I have got to go up there.” What does the Bible say but “a little child shall lead them.”

When I was 16 I was a member of the church and in my own way believing, but skeptical as the man at the Promise Keepers meeting. I had no assurance of God's mercy. I was so distraught that I determined to follow literally Jesus's injunction about praying. In the King James version of the Bible, I read that if I wanted God to hear my prayers, I should go into my closet and pray. I did. For more than an hour I poured out every fear I had. I was convinced there was no use trying to fool God. As I read Psalms 30:9, a peace came in my soul and body, the likes of which has never been equaled.

My friends, 'tis hot in life. Sometimes 'tis very hot! Don't run for the doors. Do what you need to do. Take your "excuse" off your lap. Call on the name of Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.

You might be fluctuating between repenting and insulating self deceit. You may be cringing in a recess to avoid the truth. You may be fighting fires with other fires, like setting backfires to get rid of what might catch fire close to you. I know what it means to sit amidst the flames, trying to think my way out.

What can we do but tell our story in the belief that Jesus has everything to do with us. It's why we are here today.
1, Be plain. Don't use words that sound good. Use words that do you good: Plain, truthful, straight, telling it as you know it.
2, Ask: What must we do to Be saved? This was the approach of the jailer in the Philippian earthquake. Paul replied to him, “Repent and believe the Gospel.” It's that simple. Guilt produces heat and prepares the soul for the blessed assurance of God's forgiveness which is the Gospel. Believing the Gospel is to accept the transforming power of Jesus Christ.
4, Don't let the heat turn you away: All heat can Be faced in faith. God has the power to deal with it. By repentance we establish full disclosure. The contrite heart of the publican commends itself. The cry of faith is the beginning of repentance.

The deepest need is for straight talk and ridding yourself of thermostatically controlled explanations of sin. Don't parse by saying, “It all depends on what it is.”

I invite you to turn around.
Face the fire and be found!
You will know what I came to know:
"It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of thee." (#341, Anon.)