The first chapter of Mark is an amazing chapter. Here we are about to end our Epiphany season and we are still in chapter one. In this chapter we’ve had the story of John the Baptist including his imprisonment; We’ve had the baptism of Jesus.
We’ve had the temptation and 40 days of fasting by Jesus. We’ve had the exorcism of an evil spirit in the synagogue. We’ve had the calling of the first disciples. And today we’ve had the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and the gathering of all the people bringing Jesus their sick. And we have still got a fair bit to go yet.
Mark is trying to set the scene of who Jesus is – that there is a lot to know about this special person that has arrived on the scene for us to grasp. But it is all summed up in Jesus words today to his disciples who have not yet connected with his mission to the world. They think it’s to do all this miracle work in order to build up a bigger and bigger following – As the crowds started building up looking for this ‘miracle worker’ Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” They want Jesus to come back and keep doing the miracles – the healings – if he wants people to follow him. But that is not what Mark focuses on.
The miracles were a means to spreading the Gospel message. Jesus knows that he has come for a different reason and responds: Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that this is our mission as church and as Christians – to proclaim the Gospel – the Good News. Sometimes we get sidetracked on social justice issues or ensuring theological integrity is our mission. Now, these are important. In fact our reading begins with social justice – Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law.
But look at how Paul sees the importance of spreading the gospel is: If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! Is that a message – a warning – to the church today? Have we been sidetracked? Have we stopped proclaiming the Gospel as our primary goal and replaced the mission of the church with something else? Paul made great sacrifices as he went around telling the Jews and the Gentiles about Jesus Christ: And he said: I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. Isn’t that what we want? To share the blessings we have received. Isn’t that our motivation to share the blessings of God.
Sadly our motivation has often been on getting our churches bigger so we can balance our budget. I say that because that has often been my motivation. This is an increasing difficult and important task as we grow in a society that really has no idea about God or about Jesus. And if they know something about God and Jesus then it’s probably a misconception of the reality and most likely negative. This is not a new challenge. In fact this was Paul’s great challenge where had to go to great lengths in order to preach the gospel to the unbelievers. He said – For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.
Paul made all these great sacrifices just so he might save “some”. If our motivation is to increase our numbers rather than sharing the Gospel and our blessings then we will quickly become disheartened when we don’t see results. Paul worked tirelessly to save “some”. He knew the momentous task ahead of him but he also remained realistic and trusting in God who seeks the one lost sinner. Maybe there is just one person that God has sent to us. Remember – Jesus left 99 to go looking for the one lost sheep. Jesus said there is more rejoicing in heaven over ONE person who repents rather than 99 who need no repentance. Sometimes we feel like giving up because it seems like we’re not making any headway but here Paul says – it’s worth it, even if it’s just some and not all.
It even seems like Isaiah in the Old Testament was needing to break things down to basics: Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in;
There seemed to be a lack of knowledge amongst the Israelites – God’s own children – who had lost their way. It’s the same challenge we have today to a generation that doesn’t know God. Who has lost their way. Have you not known?
Have you not heard? We have an enormous challenge to let the world know about Jesus Christ. But let’s not look a the big picture because that can be quite daunting. Let’s look at the small picture – the one lost sheep who is in search of meaning. Not so we get them into church – that would be great – but so we can share the blessings we have experienced. As Paul says in Romans 10 The Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But how can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
How beautiful it is to bring Good News that God loves us unconditionally and sent his son Jesus Christ to us. The Gospel is the gift that keeps on giving for both the giver and the receiver.