THE STORY – CHAPTER 23
Readings: Psalm 145:1-9, Isaiah 48:6-11, Luke 5:17-26, Romans 8:31-39.
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, September 25, 2016
Last week we began our journey into the New Testament section of “The Story.” We witnessed the birth of Jesus and concluded with Him visiting the temple around 12 years of age where He astounds the priests with His teaching. The next thing we hear of Him is as a grown man, being baptized, by John in the River Jordan.
Chapter 23 of “The Story” begins and ends with John the Baptist. John is the forerunner and the affirmer of the unique ministry Jesus would demonstrate through His life, His deeds and His teaching. John is truly the link-person between the Old and New Testament, Jesus declaring that John the Baptist is the Elijah figure who would pave the way for a new experience of God's love in the world.
Jesus is baptized by John, both as a commissioning for service and as a way of identifying Himself with all humanity. He is then led to a period of temptation in the wilderness, from which He emerges as One who has the ability to counteract all the wiles of the Devil. The stage is set for His ministry to begin.
In the earliest portions of the Gospels we observe Jesus laying down a pattern for ministry that would become the mission of the Church. We see Him declaring the purpose of His ministry. And we discover who the people are that He calls to walk with Him in His ministry. Pattern, Purpose and People.
A Pattern for Ministry
A threefold pattern emerges. Deliverance, Healing and Forgiveness.
When Jesus goes to teach in the synagogue in Capernaum, a man possessed by an impure spirit cries out “Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are – The Holy One of God!” As He travels throughout Galilee we read of numerous encounters with spirits who cry out, “You are the Son of God.” In each instance Jesus fulfills the petition we speak every week from within the Lord's prayer, “Deliver us from evil.”
Exposing and calling out evil, be it on an individual or corporate level, has always been the mission of God. From Old Testament encounters with idolatry and faithlessness, to present day encounters with racism, poverty and injustice, the church, in Jesus name, is called to challenge all deathly powers of evil that cheapen and destroy. We desire that people be delivered from cycles of poverty and need and violence. We seek to destroy powers that make existence an experience of hell on earth.
Closely related to deliverance is healing. Drive around any city in the Western world and you will see hospitals dedicated to Saint this or Saint that and you will encounter medical services that would not exist without Christ's mandate that His people reach out with healing hands. Be it in medical research, be it down at a Food pantry, be it a work camp to a disaster area, be it in medical missions across the globe, it is such a part and parcel of the gospel message that I'm stating the obvious! The first part of the word salvation is 'salve' – a word we use to describe ointment that brings healing, but has the wider use of meaning to soothe, ease, lighten, alleviate, and comfort.
From Simon's mother-in-law to crowds so deep that a paralyzed man has to be lowered through the roof, from children to victims of leprosy, the gospels offer page after page of healing stories.
Healing is not only a matter of health. The third strand is that of offering forgiveness. A leper was ceremonially unclean. A woman with an issue of blood was considered outside God's circle of acceptance. To a paralyzed man Jesus declares “Your sins are forgiven!” an act which causes those who oppose Him to cry “Blasphemy, blasphemy.”
Jesus responds; “Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins." So He said to the paralyzed man, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.” (Luke 5:23-25)
Deliverance, healing and forgiveness. They complement each other and are a part of God's original intention for our life that we be made whole, physically, mentally and spiritually. Which is a convenient way of moving into thinking about;
The purpose of Ministry
Nowhere is the purpose more clearly stated than John chapter 3, verses 16 and 17. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”
From the start of looking at “The Story” we have spoken about there being an “Upper Story” - a story about God's desire for humankind. From the beginning it has been the same thing. God desires for us to live in unbroken fellowship. That is made gloriously possible through the life, dearth and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Everybody is invited. Nobody is excluded. Nowhere is that clearer than in the stories of Nicodemus and the lady of Samaria. Nicodemus is the ultimate insider. A devout Jew who has kept the law all his life. A man with a good heart, who has studied the law and is desperate for God's acceptance.
Jesus praises him for his growth in understanding, but also outlines to him, that it is not through our own striving that we gain acceptance by God, but that we need to be 'born from above' or 'born again' by the work of God's grace ,and the action of God's Spirit. It has to be that way, because that is the only way that levels the playing field!
Only by grace can an outsider like the Samaritan lady by the well, ever have a hope of knowing God. As Jesus talks with her, it becomes obvious He can see right into her soul. He knows the troubling times this lady has faced in her life. She is the ultimate outsider. That's why she is down at the well in the heat of the afternoon sun, when nobody else is there to accuse her or condemn her.
Jesus offers her living water. The living water of His acceptance and love and presence. The first miracle recorded is that of Jesus turning water into wine. Elsewhere in John's gospel Jesus tells whoever will listen “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (John 10:10-11)
That's what we need! Not the stagnant water of everyday experience but the living water of God's Holy Spirit. When we gather around the table of communion we talk about Jesus being the living bread... the substance of what life is all about... and we drink wine, the wine of the new covenant, to express how His life and death and resurrection continue to nourish and refresh and revitalize our lives, now and forever.
This was God's eternal purpose in Jesus. That through His life our lives can become deeply rooted in God's love. That any excuse or reasons for separation be abolished, be it sin or hate or death, be it powers above or powers below, in Paul's words from Romans, “There is nothing in all creation that is able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:39 NIV)
The purpose of ministry is that our lives may be all that God intended them to be, that we find our story in God's story. Our pattern for ministry is no different than that which we see in the gospels. Deliverance, Healing and Forgiveness. But who is supposed to let everybody know about this great and good news?
The people of ministry.
The early chapters of the gospel see Jesus putting His team together. We know them historically as the 12 disciples, but there may not have been only 12 of them and they were certainly not the only ones who were faithfully following Him. Indeed at the end, there is not one of them left standing at His crucifixion. Only some of the ladies, who barely get a mention elsewhere, are faithful enough to do that.
We receive mention of many other faithful folk. We've mentioned Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. And there's Joseph who gave up his tomb. And the father of the daughter He raised to life. And the leper who came back to say thank you after he had been healed. And Mary and Martha and Lazarus. The list goes on and on.
For sure there were some who received a special calling to get the show on the road. But they were a motley crew. One of them was a traitor. One of them denied ever having known Him. Another, even after everybody else said, “He's alive” just plain, flat out did not believe it. And one of the most famous of all, Paul of Tarsus, never even knew Him till after the resurrection.
Our topic today has been “Jesus' ministry begins.” We are here because it began. The Story is not meant to end here. It's an ongoing story. But that is dependent on one thing. The same thing that God's Kingdom from the very beginning has depended upon.
Faithful people. People who respond to what God has done for them by loving others. People who are prepared to follow the example of Jesus in leading the way in ministries of deliverance and healing and forgiveness. People who know that it is by grace alone they can make it through. People who know what it is to be “born from above” by the action of God's love.
That's why we re here. To learn how to be the people of God. To receive afresh God's Holy Spirit in our hearts. To be inspired to work and live and “BE” the people of God for
our day and our time and our families and our communities and our schools and our places of work. We are the ministry. As we write on our bulletin covers “Ministers” The Congregation. Our mission statement; “Growing in Faith, Called to Serve”
In these early chapters of the gospels, what do we find?
A pattern for ministry. We see how Jesus leads the way in ministries of deliverance, healing and forgiveness.
The purpose of ministry. God is seeking for our lives to be made whole, that any estrangement we fell from His love is erased by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and that we may serve the Kingdom free and forgiven, overflowing with the the new wine of eternal hope.
The people of ministry. You. Me. All of us. Saints past, present and yet to come. Wherever we are, whatever we do, may we find a way to allow God's love to be a significant part of it, so that others get the message that they are loved, accepted and needed by the God who gave us all a life in the first place. Amen.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.