GETTING THE MESSAGE RIGHT (2)
Intro – A young American was traveling by train when he was greeted by a friendly conductor who knew no English. They young man knew no German, so they had an animated chat using hand signals. When the conductor left, a woman seated nearby asked the young man if he spoke German. He replied, “Not a word.” She nodded, “That explains why you didn’t get off when he said you were on the wrong train.” Garbled messages lead to wrong destinations! Jesus wants His disciples to get the message right as they go out to preach.
I. Their Provisioning – Last week we saw how He provisioned them. No distractions or encumbrances, but power to minister. We saw that He equips every believer differently through spiritual gifts, used under the authority of the HS to enable us to make a dent in eternity – to have a telling impact in God’s sight on our world.
II. Their Proclamation (Substance and Substantiation)
A. The Substance
V. 2, “and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God.” Preach God’s kingdom! Most Jews thought their Jewishness qualified them. They needed to be taught otherwise. “Proclaim” means to “preach”, like they’d seen Jesus do. Simple method. II Tim 4:2, “Preach the Word.” Forget methods, strategies, entertainment or clever techniques. Just preach the Word. Preaching has fallen on hard times. Many insist that in a media-saturated society with short attention spans we must use dialogue and plays and videos -- all fine in their place. But God says “Preach the Word.” He says in I Cor 1:12, “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach (literally, the preaching) to save those who believe.” Why preaching? Because the power is in the Word, not our cleverness.
Mark fleshes out Jesus’ instruction in 1:15: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” That’s a loaded verse. What is the kingdom of God? The Jews thought they knew. It was Messiah kicking the Romans out and setting up shop. They were partially right. That will happen. BUT the kingdom of God begins not outwardly, but in the human heart. The kingdom of God is the rulership of God, and it moves from inside out.
What made Eden the perfect? The rule of God. There was one authority, one rule and one will, and one God. There is always only room for one God. But what happened? Adam and Eve succumbed to the great temptation “you will be like God.” Why did they sin? They wanted to be their own God. They left the kingdom of God for the kingdom of me – the kingdom of darkness into which we are all born. There’s the essence of sin – to be one’s own God. Salvation is a return to God’s rule – return to God’s kingdom that Adam lost. Do you see? And how does that happen? “Repent and believe in the gospel.”
Repent. Turn around. Do a 180. Away from Self and toward God. Rejoin God’s kingdom. That happens at the core of our being. The kingdom is God’s rule in our hearts. It will be outward one day, but it starts within. Paul says in Col 1:13-14, “ He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” So kingdom of God, kingdom of heaven, kingdom of the Son – all the same thing – God’s rule in any heart that invites Him in -- beginning the process of reversing the curse that started with Adam. That’s what God is all about; and that is the message the disciples were taking to the people of Galilee who mistakenly thought the kingdom of God was only political deliverance. They need to learn it is first a spiritual deliverance. Kingdom of God = God in my heart, on the throne of my life.
Many, like the Pharisees, see the kingdom as socio-political and believe we make it happen! They define the gospel as addressing social injustice. And we should do that – but our job is not to create the kingdom. We represent the kingdom, not make it happen. We cannot build the kingdom. God does that! That’s why it’s called, the kingdom of God. We don’t somehow establish the kingdom; we receive it. Jesus told his disciples in Lu 12:32, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” We preach the kingdom by urging others to accept God’s rule in their hearts, but it is all God’s making. Okay? Got it? The kingdom of God – His rule, first in hearts, later the world.
Now Jesus adds one more element. He says, “Repent and believe in the gospel.” The gospel. What is the gospel? The word is ευανγελιον which is composed of αγγελος, “message” or “news” with the prefix ευ, “joyful.” Literally, “good news” or “news that brings joy.” Originally it was used to describe, earth-shatter, history-making, life-shaping news as opposed to just daily news. It described watershed events. When Persia invaded Greece and the Greeks won battles at Marathon and Solnus, they sent “evangelists” – bearers of good news to those cities: “We have fought for you and won. You are no longer slaves; you’re free.” That news changed their lives forever – which is exactly what the gospel of Jesus Christ does – if we accept it.
It is precisely at this point that Christian faith differs from every other religion, including no religion. Tim Keller contends the essence of religions is advice. The essence of Christianity is good news. Religions say, “Take this advice to earn your way to God.” The advice differs one religion to another – but it always imposes a burden. It may compel or inspire. But in the end, would religion that demands performance leave you feeling like the listeners in Marathon felt when victory was announced and they were free? Can religion leave you feeling that your burdens have fallen off? Do you feel something great has been done for you and you’re not a slave anymore? Of course not. It weighs you down. This is how I have to live. It’s not a gospel; it’s advice.
The gospel says you can’t connect to God -- but God connects to you based on Jesus’ death and resurrection. The victory over sin is already won! You don’t earn it; you accept it. That is history-making, earth-shattering, life-changing good news! A line in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: “The hands of the king are healing hands, and thus shall the rightful king be known.” That is Jesus to the core. It is the gospel He sends His disciples to preach. Not, do and hope, but repent and receive! That’s our message, too. We dare not mess it up. It is the only hope for our world. Life is not living by the right advice; it’s receiving the good news. That’s the substance of the message.
B. The Substantiation
But what is going to happen when the disciples show up and preach something totally different than people have been taught. “Why should we believe you, Peter? You’re just a fisherman telling us that we’ve got the kingdom wrong – that we’re sinners and must repent? Forget it! You have no credentials, no background, no theological training – no credibility.” They needed substantiation! And Jesus gave it. Lu 9:2, “and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God (the substance) and to heal (the substantiation).”
Matt 10:8 adds, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” That is substantiation! If someone hits town healing people, casting out demons, and even raising the dead, you’d give them a listen, right? That was the point. Miracles served two purposes – to demonstrate kingdom conditions – and to authenticate the messenger. This authenticating miracle power carried over into the early days of the church. Miracles are routine in the early part of Acts. Why? II Cor 12:12, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.” Miracles authenticated the message prior to the NT.
So, does God authenticate His message with miracles today? Generally, no. That doesn’t mean God never does miracles. He can never be put in a box. But authentication today is by the Word. Apostles were foundational to the church and not a continuing office. How do I know? Eph 2:20. The church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” Christ and the apostles are gone: the foundation is done – complete. As the apostles died out, so did their authenticating gifts. In his later years Paul is praying for his friends and advising them on medical remedies, not healing them. But as the gifts diminished, the Word took shape!
Today, the Word authenticates. Remember the rich man in Lu 16 who wanted his family warned and thought a resurrection would be just the thing to get their attention? Abraham told him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Lu 16:31). Someone who rejects the Word would reject an authenticating miracle. God puts a lot of store in His Word.
I think God still occasionally authenticates the message today through miracles where the Word is not readily available. But our credibility rests primarily on the Word. That’s why it is so important that we learn it, know it, use it and distribute it everywhere. It is the Word that is the “power of God unto salvation to all who believe.” That’s what substantiates our message now.
III. Their Protestation
V. 5: “And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” Jesus knew many would reject the gospel. But rather than plead He says, move on. Jesus never stoops to cheap manipulative methods. He hates unbelief; He warns against it; He cries over it at times. But He never changes the message and He never runs after rejecters. He honors their right to choose condemnation. In John 6 when many of His disciples turned away when He rejected the crown and would not feed them again, He did not pursue them. When the young ruler in Mark 10 sadly chose his money over Jesus, tho Jesus loved him, He did not pursue him. When the Gadareans asked Him to leave them, he got into the boat and returned [home]” (Lu 8:37). Jesus doesn’t force Himself on anyone. Having done what He can to soften hard hearts, He departs. Rejects rejecters.
Shake off the dust of their feet. This is what Jewish people routinely did when re-entering Judea from a foreign country to symbolically rid themselves of pagan influences. Now Jesus instructs His disciples to do the same where the message is rejected. This was a startling way for one Jew to treat another. Why do this? “As a testimony against them.” A final protest. This isn’t hatred; it’s grace. A final act of grace – warning that actions have consequences. They are rejecting their God and the kingdom they so long for. So close – yet so far.
In Randy Alcorn’s novel Safely Home, Chinese Christian, Li Quan, states that Jesus is the only way to God. His American friend, Ben Fielding responds, “Are you seriously saying all those hundreds of millions of Buddhists are lost?” Li replies, “Yesu said, ‘No man comes to the Father except through me.’ I did not make up those words. I simply believe them.” “Isn’t that arrogant and judgmental?” “God is entitled to pass judgment—he is the Judge. You think him judgmental? I do not think he cowers in fear of your opinion. He will not stand before you in judgment. You will stand before him.” Li notes if God died for our sins, it is foolish to think some other way would be acceptable. There is no other way, which is what the disciples signify by shaking off the dust. It says, Think hard about what you are doing.
IV. Their Provocation (They had an impact)
A. A Perplexing Investigation
The activity of the disciples did not go unnoticed. King Herod Antipas, a wicked man, became aware, was perplexed and launched an investigation. “7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, 8 by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen.” He was haunted for lack of straight answers. Why? Well, he had seduced and married his brother’s wife. When John the Baptist called him on it, Herod imprisoned him. But when his wife’s daughter enticed him with a seductive dance at a drunken palace party, he promised her anything. Mom said, “Get John’s head on a platter. ” Revenge – Herod had to comply. But now some are saying, “He’s back!” and Herod is terrified. People suggest Jesus may be, “Elijah or one of the prophets”, but the answer that causes Herod’s blood to go cold is John. Guilt haunted him.
Who’s Jesus? That’s the right question. But Herod was asking all the wrong people. You’ll never get Jesus if you take the word of the world. They will tell you he was a great guy, compassionate, loving, kind, bright – a great prophet. That’s what He was. But it wasn’t right then or now! A few years ago Patty and I did a walking tour of old New Orleans. We came upon a beautiful old restored home that belonged to Anne Rice. Anne Rice is a very popular secular novelist, a constant best-seller – books like Interview With a Vampire” and other “horror-erotica”. She lost her faith in college, married an atheist and became wealthy off her books. So it shocked the literary world a couple of years ago when she announced that she had turned to Christianity. She explained her turnabout in the afterword of her novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. She said of her research: “The whole case for the nondivine Jesus who stumbled into Jerusalem and somehow got crucified . . . that whole picture which had floated around the liberal circles I frequented as an atheist for thirty years -- that case was not made. Not only was it not made, I discovered in this field some of the worst and most biased scholarship I’d ever read. When she began to read the Bible she found the true thing – the real Jesus – God in the flesh come to seek and to save the lost. It takes God’s revelation to get where men’s opinions will never go.
B. A Pointed Inquiry
Herod couldn’t get the answer, but he had the right question. V. 9, “Herod said, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he sought to see him.” The right question – “Who is this?” The disciples were doing a great job representing Christ. They’re all over, preaching and healing – yet Herod isn’t even interested enough to ask their names. They have so faithfully represented Christ, so clearly identified with Him, that He is all that Herod cares about. Who is He? That’s the question we want to provoke.
Conc – So who is asking, “Who is Christ?” because of our life? Are we getting the message right? Jim and Jean Mader moved next door to crotchety old Alice who was the terror of the neighborhood. She refused all attempts to talk of Christ: “I’ve been a church member all my life. Don’t need the Bible to tell me what to do.” They began to pray, but years went by. One day they returned from vacation to find Alice’s house empty. She’d had a stroke, was in a nursing home. Altho she couldn’t speak, they took flowers, brought news and shared pictures. After several months, Jim asked one day if he could read Psalm 23. Alice nodded. From then on, they read a passage each time they went. One day they noticed that Alice was looking at Jim as he read rather than staring straight ahead as usual. After a couple of times, Jim felt the time was right. “Alice, would you like to invite Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and give you peace with God?” Alice bowed her head and Jim led her in a prayer of acceptance of Christ. When she raised her head her eyes were filled with tears – a new citizen of the kingdom of God. It had only taken 12 years.
Beloved, don’t give up. Don’t garble the message. Buy some Four Spiritual Laws tracts to give out, invite people to church, events, Bible study, a lunch or dinner. Pray. Love them to Christ. Garbled messages lead to wrong destinations. Let’s pray.