Sermon from April 17th, 2016

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“In the Footsteps of the Master #3 - The Authority to Move Mountains!”

Ephesians 3:14-21; Mark 1:21-39

By Pastor John Bent

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Sermon Text
Good morning!  Today we begin following Jesus through the Gospel of Mark. Our focus is authority, power, and responsibility.  Amazingly relevant for our culture today!  Let’s open our Bibles to Mk 1:21.  Jesus has been baptized by John, weathered the temptations in the wilderness and gathered his disciples. Now he begins his ministry. 

He has moved from Nazareth to Capernaum, the hometown of Peter, James and John. Mark tells the story this way, “When the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” Mk 1:21-22

How did the scribes and Pharisees teach?  They quoted others. They waxed eloquent with abstract, philosophical words.  They gave lots of advice, but couldn’t keep it themselves.

Mark continues, “Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!”  “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.” Mk 1:23-25

“Pastor John, surely, you don’t believe this is literally true!  There is no such thing as demon possession.”  You wouldn’t say that if you lived in many places in the world today. You would encounter them on a daily basis.  Yes, this was real then and it’s still real today.  Look how the people responded, “They asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching – and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” Mk 1:27

But this is much more than a new teaching!  The Supreme Authority who called creation into being, who cast Satan and the rebellious angels out of heaven, was walking among them.

Mark tells us that as soon as Jesus left the synagogue he went to Peter’s house and healed his mother-in-law of a dangerous fever. That evening, people brought him the sick, the demon possessed, the diseased, and one by one, Jesus healed them all.

If Jesus had that authority and power, why did he minister to these people one by one?  Matthew 8:5 tells us he had the power to heal even at a distance.  Why didn’t he just sweep his hand over the horizon and heal every case of leprosy within 1000 miles? 

Why didn’t he heal every cripple over the whole earth?  It certainly wasn’t because he didn’t have the power to do so. And why didn’t he let the demons tell people who he was? Good questions. Let’s keep reading – vs. 35…

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Peter and is companions went to look for him. And when they found him, they exclaimed “Everyone is looking for you!” Mk1:35-37

Look how Jesus responds! “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” Mk 1:38

Instead of basking in the glory he had just gained in Capernaum, Jesus heads for the nearby villages. Why?  He must have been teaching his disciples something about how to use the power and authority he was going to give them to do ministry in his name.

Three years later after watching Jesus do miracle after miracle, he told them…  “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it.” John 14:12-14

Did they believe him?  I doubt it. Do we believe him? I don’t know. Maybe the question is, “Are we willing to learn to believe what he says?”  Are we willing to believe Jesus is calling us to be agents of the miraculous in our daily lives for the sake of his glory in the world?

What has to happen in our lives before we become agents of the miraculous?  First, we must understand, its not about us!  Jesus never did a miracle to draw attention to himself.  In Philippians 2, Paul tells us that Jesus emptied himself and became obedient even to death on the cross.  Before we will ever be used by God, we first must first die to ourselves.

The disciple’s saw this in Jesus’ prayer life.  What did Jesus pray as he went out early each morning?  Did he bring a grocery list of what he wanted his Father to do for him?  No, he went to his Father to empty himself in order to be filled with the power to do what his Father wanted him to do that day.

Let me tell you a miracle story. It was 1993, two years into my ministry at Christ Lutheran. We had a new building but the mortgage was crushing us. Every month we fell further behind.  Morale was failing.  We were having trouble buying batteries for my wireless mike!

Money that should have gone to ministry and mission was being burned up by debt.  So we humbled ourselves and began to pray. A few months later, a letter arrived on my desk. Inside was a check for $20,000.  Maybe this was the answer to our prayers!

I called Jerry Hanson, our treasurer at the time, asked him how much we could reduce our monthly mortgage if we refinanced and bought down our debt by $20,000.  He did some figures and said, “About $200/mo.”  I was crushed - it seemed hopeless.

Then I thought, “Why don’t we use the $20,000 as a challenge gift and see if we can match it?”  And then the Lord spoke to me so clearly it was almost audible, “John, raise a $100,000”.  I immediately argued, “That’s impossible.”  To which the Lord responded, “If you have the faith of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain be thrown into the sea and it will be done for you.” Mt 17:20

I replied, “Yeah, but that’s mountains, not money!”  To which the Lord replied, “Really!”  This conversation literally took place in my mind in a matter of seconds.
I picked up the phone and called Jerry back.  "Jerry, what if we raised $100,000?”  I love Jerry Hanson, but he’s a stoic Norwegian CPA.  I could hear the excitement in his voice even over the phone!  I thought, “Wow, if God can move Jerry, maybe he can move mountains, too!”

So began our Move the Mountain campaign.  We had six weeks to raise $100,000.  That was like raising a $1M for us today! The campaign was to end the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  Everyone got involved and gave what they could.  Some even collected aluminum cans!

Finally the big evening arrived.  We gathered for a potluck, we sang, we prayed.  We took a final offering.  In the final tally we had raised over $40,000.  It was a bona-fide miracle.  Far beyond what any of us ever believed possible.  But God wasn’t done.

It was time for the benediction, and I stood before the people.  “I have one last announcement.  Last week, a regular first class envelope arrived on my desk.  It seems a long forgotten trust was set up for our church many years ago.  It finally paid out.  Inside the envelope was a check for $67,000 dollars along with a promise of $7500 more to follow the next week”.
Only the Lord knew we were in the midst of a $100,000 fund drive.  And that’s because it was His idea!  We wept and cried and carried on in a very un-Lutheran like fashion.  And we retired over a $100,000 worth of debt.  This was the first in a series of miracles that continue right up to today. Jesus said, “With men it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible”. Mt 19:26

I believe Jesus was teaching the disciples and us to trust ourselves less and him more.  I believe he’s teaching us when we die to ourselves and begin to seek his kingdom first the miraculous will become the new normal of our life of faith.

 Jesus is also teaching us that ministry is relational, one to one!  This person to person ministry in the name of Jesus happens every week at Christ Lutheran Church through  Shepherd’s Hand clinic, the community meals, the quilters and Bible study groups, Fish Sunday School, LOGOS youth ministry.  Miracles happen here day after day after day.

Jesus has given us authority and power to move mountains and throw them into the sea. What kinds of mountains?  How about mountains of shame or guilt?  How about mountains of resentment and un-forgiveness?  How about mountains of addiction, or fear, even debt, unbelief?  Can the Lord move mountains?  He does it every day.  Have you seen it?

Jesus gave us as his disciples authority to come along side those who are blocked in, buried under mountains like these. When God’s people pray and act, when we speak words of faith to others, “God is here, don’t be afraid.  He’s going to make a way for you.”   We will see mountains crumble and miracles happen. Jesus promised!  Will we believe him?

How do we scale unclimbable mountains, push through devastating hardships, overcome impossible obstacles?  In our own power or wisdom or strength?  No way? Jesus said, “Apart from me you can to nothing.” John 15:5

But when we humble ourselves, empty ourselves as he did, turn all that we have and all that we are over to the Father to use as he directs, then, when we pray, we will lay hold of the authority he has given us, we will step out in faith and we will watch him throw mountains into the sea.  Never to our glory, but to his alone!

A hundred years from now the sanctuary we are about to build will be gone, but the grandchildren, great grand-children, great great grand children who will be discipled, cared for and sent out from this new building will continue to take the light of Christ into the world until he returns. That’s a miracle! A big, big miracle!

Do you believe it? Will we take the authority and power Jesus has given us and step out in faith to make it happen? The Lord has already blessed us more than we could have ever imagined.  It’s a whole series of miracles that brought us where we are today and the Lord has many more miracles in store.

I think Jesus gets a bang out of throwing mountains into the sea – and he wants to teach us to do the same. How?  We pray, we act, we step out in faith, we turn all we are and all we have over to him, we seek his kingdom, not our own, we make it our aim to bring glory to him and not ourselves, we bring what we have, our time, our treasure, our talent, our lives, and the miracles begin to happen, mountains begin falling into the sea. 

Let’s read Paul’s words in Eph 3:20-21 together … “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!"


Christ Lutheran Church • 5150 River Lakes Parkway, Whitefish, MT 59937 • 406-862-2615

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