Thursday, September 26, 2013


The CounterIntuitive Christ: Mark 8:27-38

Some have asked for my notes from my sermon in Seminary chapel, so here are the notes I used that day.

The CounterIntutive Christ—Three Questions 

Intro—Working in the bookstore coffee shop, I learned that some dark roasts have less caffeine than lighter roasts if measured by volume (i.e., by the scoop).  This seems CounterIntuitive. Definition—Contrary to expectations; Not in accordance with what would naturally be assumed or expected. When I was learning to drive, I was told that if the car began to skid then I should turn in the direction of the skid. That seems wrong. Most of us would naturally expect to turn away from the skid. If you do, however, you will crash.  Counterintuitive things run counter to what we would naturally expect.

Jesus’ entire ministry may be considered as counterintuitive in some sense. He was born of a Virgin (the Romans and some Jews would make light of his “illegitimacy”). He was born of low estate. Yet in spite of his bad “pedigree,” he was declared a King, even the Messiah!  Jesus even had a habit of doing and saying things that ran counter to what was expected—the Wedding in Cana (John 2)—instead of buying wine, he made wine. The lame man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5)—Jesus commands the man to get up and carry his bed on the Sabbath.  That got both men in trouble! Raising Lazarus—waited until Lazarus died instead of healing him on his sick bed.

Mark’s Gospel includes similar stories. Mark 2—man on a pallet lowered by his friends, Jesus extends forgiveness as a way to heal. Mark 3—healed a withered hand on the Sabbath at the synagogue. Claimed his family was made up of folks who did what God wanted, NOT flesh and blood. Mark 4—slept in the boat during the storm.

Mark 8 is no exception. Jesus has been teaching and doing miracles among the people.  Now he and his disciples arrive at Caesarea Phillipi.  This is a city known for its devotion to Caesar and Rome. It is a very political place. And here Jesus engages in a conversation with his disciples that at first sounds political, but the disciples are about to receive something they did not expect.  Jesus’ counterintuitive ministry raised a lot of questions, in our passage today I want us to consider three questions brought up by our text.  We will see that Jesus’ responses to these questions are indeed unexpected. 

Mark 8:27-38

Mark 8:27-30 Question 1—Who is Jesus? 

The fundamental definition of a person is wrapped up in the question “Who are you?” or “Who am I”?  Jesus begins the discussion with a question. Who do people say that I am?  This was an opportunity for the people around him to show what they thought of him; what were their expectations. To ask that question in a political environment like Caesara Phillipi (the center of power politics) transforms the query from an idle question of curiosity into a loaded question bristling with implications. He asks what seems to be a political question in the center of adoration of Roman occupation!  Jesus seems curious about the opinions of others.

What does the world say about Jesus today?  He is a fine teacher, he is a fiction, he is one way to God, etc. People will always try to identify Jesus or God on their own terms, and often they will make him in their own image.  Are we guilty of the same crime?

But after the responses are listed, Jesus digs deeper—Who do YOU say I am? Jesus goes beyond the opinions of those outside of his circle and asks his own people how they define him. 

Peter’s response—You ARE the Christ. Peter’s answer reveals a bit of political zeal here. Given where they were, that confession was like going to Washington D.C., standing outside the White House, and hoisting up a placard that declared, "Impeach the President!"   

Jesus responds: “Don’t tell anyone.” Jesus didn’t want to play politics as usual.   You see, there were differing views of Messiah out there—Jews expected a conquering figure who would run the Romans out of office. Yet the Counterintuitive Christ refused to even campaign for the office. In spite of the support, Jesus refused to participate in the popular way to do things. “Keep it quiet!”   

Who is Jesus?  He is the Counterintuitive Christ—a Messiah not made in the image of human heroes. When we think he should shout his presence, he is sometimes almost mute in his response! He does not operate on our definitions or our time table. He is who he defines himself to be. He will soon define his mission, but his lack of enthusiasm for being a political hero is counterintuitive.  Jesus is not a Messiah who does things the way we expect. Jesus isn’t what the disciples think, is he what we think?  This leads to our second question, a question of mission. 

Mark 8:31-33—What is Jesus' mission? Peter acts like he thinks he is Jesus’ political handler or PR man.  After the rousing announcement of Jesus’ candidacy for Messiah, Jesus refuses to run and then offers a definition of the mission of Messiah that causes some problems for Peter. Jesus’ Messiah will suffer before he will reign. He will die at the hands of the current rulers. And Jesus said these things in plain language so that folks would get it.  I am Messiah, but I will die instead of kill. I will rule by resurrection and not by sheer power. 

Peter “rebukes” Jesus (the same word used in “rebuking” demons elsewhere in the New Testament) for his negative take on the campaign. Jesus sees the other disciples around (in that moment, did he entertain the idea that Peter may be right, that an alternative was possible?  No, that alternative was not God’s way). Jesus says that Peter represents Satan’s approach and not God’s. Here in a political environment, Jesus rejects a purely political solution. He knows that the way to win is to lose. The way to victory is to die. The way up is down. He knew his mission was to die. 

Fully 1/3 of the Gospel of Mark is focused on the last week of Jesus’ life. The Passion. One theologian of the early church said that the Gospels are passion narratives with extended introductions. Jesus’ mission is to die.  The CounterIntuitive Christ comes not to rule (politically), but to serve and to die and to rise again. Jesus often comes to us in unexpected ways. If his own life ran counter to human expectations, how much more should our lives run counter to the expectations of those around us?  What would Jesus demand of his followers?

Mark 8:34=38—What does he demand of his followers? He calls us to follow him into this counterintuitive life of his.  What does it mean to follow? When I go to a restaurant and the hostess says “follow me,” then I will follow her to the table if I want to eat. Jesus calls us to follow. 

To be his disciple is to learn from him. Discipleship is not optional, it is not possible to be a Christian without making progress toward becoming a disciple.  Can you imagine what would happen if everyone here took seriously this call to be a disciple? 

To be a disciple means to live a cross shaped life.  It means to do like Christ and learn that the way up is down, humble service leads to useful service, to die is to live, to follow is to lead, etc.  To be a disciple is a call to die, to do that which is counter-intuitive, against common sense.   

This flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Jesus reveals a secret so counter-intuitive that only the mind of God could have come up with it. Jesus says we need to sink deeper into the number one problem that plagues this world: death itself. It turns out that the redemptive escape hatch out of this world and its enslavement to decay is down, not up; it's in the depths of Sheol not up in some false paradise that could be constructed through human ingenuity and the exercise of raw political power.  "Take up your cross," Jesus says. In other words, "Live under the sentence of death." Somehow, in so doing, we travel a path that leads to life precisely because it passes through death. 

Philippians 2:5-8—Jesus emptied himself to become a servant faithful unto death and in so doing not only made the universe turn the corner from darkness into light, he left us an example by which now to live as his disciples. But it's a hard lesson to learn. It's even more difficult actually to put it into practice. It is this kind of conundrum that has long vexed Christians. The problem is learning to live in the world but not being of the world, about having things as though having them not. 

Jesus wants all of us. We must give all we have to be his. His demand on us is total, and our response must be total surrender. The only response to the CounterIntuitive Christ is reckless abandon, the willingness to lose it all to gain him. If humility was right for Jesus, it must be right for us (To paraphrase Dr. Gary Habermas—How can we expect to be treated differently than Jesus?)  C. T. Studd—"If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him.

Now What? (James 2:14-17) These questions did not lose their strength or relevance after Jesus’ experience with the disciples sometime in the early first century. They are still relevant today. We all must ask today—Who is Jesus?  Who do we say that he is?  Jesus’ mission was to die for you so that you might live.  His mission was to become poor so that you may be rich, to become sin so that you might become the righteousness of God in him, etc.

We must also ask—what does he demand of us?  We must live cross shaped lives.

Ways to die—stop thinking of those things that will benefit you and look for things that will benefit others even (or maybe, especially) at your own expense.  Take someone in, be kind to others, give money to those in need, even money you’ve set aside for your own pleasures.  Help those who can’t help themselves. Be counterintuitive in responding to Jesus—die that you may live. 

Thanks for reading!  

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Saturday, September 21, 2013


Authentic Love: Luke 13:10-16

Several weeks ago I preached at Clover Bottom Baptist Church.  My text was Luke 13:10-16, and my topic was "Authentic Love."  Here are my notes from that sermon.

Authentic Love:  The Example of Jesus

IntroductionToday I want to talk about authentic love.  This is a love that is not hypocritical, it is a love that responds to others not according to what they deserve, but according to the grace received from God.   

The nature of authentic love is to share it once you’ve received it. 1 John 4:7-8; If a person is born of God, then they should express authentic love, God’s kind of love.  A relationship with Christ should cause you to be a more loving person.  If your life does not display compassion for others, then your relationship with God may not be what you think. 

Augustine: “Love slays what we have been that we may be what we were not.” 

Authentic love changes things.  It takes sinful people and by the blood of Jesus and the genuine love of God makes them saints.  God’s love invades our lives and slays all the old distorted images of ourselves; making us acceptable, lovable and capable, and God invites us to share that same love with others.  

Love is not only the verification and validation of your faith, but it is the telltale sign of a growing faith.  It’s not knowledge, or a change in habits, or how many times you come to church in a month.  The best indicator of spiritual growth is an ever-increasing love.  

In Mark 12 Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to love God and to love others.  You can’t love God without also loving others.  So, to get a picture of how God wants us to love other people, let’s go straight to the source and see Jesus’ example of authentic love.  

Luke 13:10-16—Authentic love follows the example of Jesus.  What did Jesus do?  We find five clear items that, if applied, could radically change how we love others.

 1. See OthersJesus was teaching in the synagogue--just another preaching event in the life of a traveling preacher.  The crowd was into the sermon, and as Jesus looked at them he noticed one special person: A woman who was bent over and couldn’t stand up (v. 16 tells us that a demon had caused her problem). 

Notice the important word in Luke 13:12—Jesus “saw” the woman—he noticed her.  Jesus locked his eyes on this poor woman and had compassion for her.  One of the unique aspects of Christianity is the idea that God notices us—the God of all creation pays attention to us.  This is an amazing idea when you think about it.  God has numbered the hairs on our head (Matt. 10:30—but that doesn’t mean he’ll replace the missing ones!).  Cf. Matthew 9:36—Jesus looks with compassion on others.

Two things to recognize here: 1. People want to be noticed, they want attention 2. To notice others may require us to slow down. 

Attention is one of the most powerful forces in the world.  People want our undivided attention.  They want us to show interest.  Every day we pass people who simply want to be noticed, to be acknowledged.  They are bent over, even crippled by a lack of compassion or notice, and they are waiting for a friendly face.  To see them we must slow down.  If someone was standing on the side of the road, would you notice more if you flew by them at 75 MPH, or if you walked by them on the sidewalk?  The speed of our lives causes us to miss many people who God wants us to notice. 

This week, take time to notice people.  Take the time to look people in the eye, notice them, encourage them.  Slow down enough to spend some time reading the Gospels—pay attention to how Jesus treats people and ask his Spirit to help you to treat others that way.  

Authentic love sees others as God sees them.  Once we’ve noticed people, we need then to take a risk and engage them.

2. Engage OthersLuke 13 tells us that Jesus didn’t just “see” the woman, he took the risk to engage her and her need.  Jesus spoke to her in the synagogue (something taboo in the first century—an unattached male speaking to a woman that is not his family member).  He called her over to himself and healed her.  

Jesus demonstrated bold and almost reckless behavior to show compassion to this woman.  Sometimes love requires bold action in its expression.  Authentic love requires engagement—we must get involved in the lives of others in order to love them. 

C.S. Lewis said “To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one.” The Four Loves.

Our culture encourages us to disengage, to remain isolated, and to plug into the internet instead.  Stay out of touch!  Who knows what might happen if you get involved?   

The truth is, entering into other people’s lives or experiences is messy, but nevertheless we are commanded to love:  see Matthew 5:46-47.  We don’t have to do it perfectly, but we must show up.  We must take the risk, take the initiative, and get involved in spreading grace to others.  (2 Cor. 5:14-15) 

This week, how can we engage others in love?  Where do we need to take a risk? Make some time this week to listen to someone’s story or find a way to bless someone. 

Authentic love takes the risk to engage others, but to do that we must reach out to them.

3. Reach OutMost of all, love reaches out and gives.  Giving is how love expresses itself.  (see John 3:16) 

Everyone you meet is made in the image of God.  You never lock eyes with another person that doesn’t matter to God.  Jesus notices this poor woman, he engages her, and now he reaches out to her.  Luke 13:13 says he laid his hands on her and healed her.  He stepped outside of the “comfort zone” of his society and ministered to her need.  

Notice how Jesus reached out to this woman:  1. By the words he spoke; In verse 16, Jesus refers to her as a “daughter of Abraham”  (he sees her potential, not her condition).  He doesn’t see her as an elderly crippled woman.  He sees her as a child of the great patriarch of the Jewish people.  Our words can heal or destroy.  2. By his touch; Everyone needs some touch.  Luke 5:12-16—Jesus heals a leper—he actually “touches” him!  All people need human touch.  Studies have been conducted showing that people who experience meaningful touch on a regular basis actually have a longer life expectancy.   

This week, hand out some hugs, a gentle touch, or some kind words.  Authentic love requires us to reach out and touch others.  When you do this, however, don’t expect everyone to understand or to praise your effort.

4. Expect Criticism/ResistanceNotice the reaction of the synagogue official in v 14.  An amazing miracle has happened in his "church" service, and instead of rejoicing in the amazing mercy shown to this woman, the official gets upset that his “order of worship” was changed.  Where the synagogue official saw a policy issue, Jesus saw a person.  

What you will notice in the Bible is that Jesus showed incredible patience and grace to those who were broken and seeking.  However, he had little patience with pompous, self-righteous religious people that cared nothing for people or their needs.  

Jesus received criticism for his kindness and for hanging out with the “wrong kind” of people.  (Luke 7:34)  In spite of the criticism, Jesus continued to love on others.  He refused to stop. When we decide to follow Jesus, we may well find ourselves doing things that others will criticize.   If we are doing the works of Christ, however, we should keep it up and love even those who criticize or persecute us (Matt. 5:43-45).  In fact, we should pray for those who abuse us.  That is one way to deal with criticism or resistance.  Authentic love requires us to persevere and to pray even when criticized.  

5. Look for opportunitiesIn this passage, Jesus finds himself involved in a normal Sabbath activity—he was in the synagogue and he was teaching.  He did not let the mundane or normal activity keep him from looking for opportunities.  In the midst of the “usual,” Jesus looked for a moment to do something unusual.  He seized the moment that God provided. (1 John 3:18 and 1 Thess. 3:12).

Let’s take advantage of the moments God gives us.  Authentic love looks for an opportunity.

This week, in the midst of your normal activities, do these things:  Look around and see what is happening—look for the need, see the people; Take a chance, risk engaging others with God’s love and grace; Reach out and touch those who need it; Pray for/love the critics; Seize the moment.

Authentic love compels us to sacrifice for others as Christ did for us (take up your cross)—how can we respond to this? 

Discussion Questions

—  In what ways were you “crippled” by your life and sin?  How did Jesus heal you?

—  Describe a time when extravagant love overwhelmed your life.  How did you respond?  How did it make you feel?  What was the impact of this love?
  Describe a time when someone took a risk and touched your life. 
  Who in your life is “bent over” or “crippled” by circumstances or Satan?  How can you bring the grace of Jesus into that situation?
  What is your routine?  Who are some of the people you see on a regular basis?  How can you engage them and touch them with the love of Christ?
  What can you do or say this week that will show the love of God to another?
  Will you risk it?

Thanks for reading!  

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