Monday, July 05, 2021

Willing to Believe?

[Here's yesterday's message from worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Below the text is the YouTube video from the second worship service. Have a good week. God bless you!]

Mark 6:1-13
By the time of the events recorded in today’s Gospel lesson, Mark 6:1-13, the gospel writer Mark tells us that Jesus has already created a stir by announcing that in His appearance, the kingdom of God has invaded the world and that, in response, people need to repent and believe in Him.

Jesus has already undergirded the legitimacy of His apparent claim to be Messiah and God-in-the-flesh by performing notable miracles.

Now, disciples in tow, Jesus comes to His hometown of Nazareth.

I’m convinced that Jesus did this quite deliberately. We’ll see why in a moment.

Once in Nazareth, Jesus goes to the synagogue. It was the custom then to ask visitors or members of the synagogue who had been away for a time to speak on the reading from the Torah for that day. So, Jesus was bound to be asked to teach. It’s likely that Jesus’ disciples went to the synagogue anticipating that Messiah-come-home would receive a hero’s welcome. They would soon be disabused of such ideas.

Mark tells us that while listening to Jesus, the hometown crowd was “astonished,” the word Mark uses in the original Greek meaning they were shocked, at a loss to explain Jesus’ words, wisdom, or miracles.

Their astonishment doesn’t spring from faith or pride though. The Nazarenes are appalled by what they see as Jesus’ presumption.

Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…?” Mark says, “...they took offense at Him.” (Mark 6:3)

Two scorpions in a bottle with an open top would rather sting each other to death than help each other escape. As human beings, let’s face it, we’re not much different from the scorpions: Our sinful natures resent it when others are higher than us, especially when those others are people we think we know, even when that other we think we know is God Himself.

Jesus had already revealed Himself to be God and Messiah by the time He returns to Nazareth in today’s lesson. But the Nazarenes refuse to believe in Jesus or the gospel of new and everlasting life for all who repent and believe in Him He brings. As a consequence, Jesus, Who has been performing miraculous signs right and left everywhere He went “...could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them…” (Mark 6:5)

Faith, of course, is a gift from God. It comes to us when, through the Word spoken, read, or explained to us or given to us in Holy Baptism or Holy Communion, is used by the Holy Spirit to create belief in Jesus within us. As we’re told in Romans 10:17: “ comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” You can’t manufacture or talk yourself into faith in Jesus. Faith isn’t derived from feelings or thoughts.

The question is whether we’re willing to receive the gift of faith or not?

Are we?

God’s Word tells us that Baptism saves us, because when the water covers our heads, we participate in both Jesus’ death and His resurrection. Baptism, the apostle Peter writes, “now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 3:21) And Baptism, the apostle Paul says, causes us to be “buried with [Christ] through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4) Are you willing to trust in the salvation that God’s Word says you already have?

God’s Word tells us that we can only confess that Jesus is Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit: “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit,” 1 Corinthians 12:3 says. Are you willing to believe that the 

Holy Spirit is working in your life and empowering you with faith?

Jesus, the Word of God, says to His followers in reference to the signs of the Kingdom He opens to all who believe in Him, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) Are you willing to trust in that promise?

Jesus commissions all of us who bear His name to go and make disciples, teaching them to observe all that He commanded them, then getting them baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, promising that as we faithfully pursue this mission He will be with us “always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) Are you willing to take Jesus at His Word?

Friends, I can tell you with certainty, if we are willing to believe God’s Word in Jesus Christ, we will believe.

I can say with equal certainty, that if we aren’t willing to believe, we won’t.

The gift of faith is there for us to be received one day at a time. Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves [meaning, deny your skepticism, deny your addiction to sin, deny your need to be in control or to know how everything’s going to turn out] and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Are we willing to believe in Jesus?

Jesus’ fellow Nazarenes weren’t willing to believe. Nor did they have a faith in Jesus that would cause them to share Christ and His Gospel with others. To see this must have been stunning for the disciples to see.

Listen: It’s possible for people to receive the Gospel, whether through the Word or the Sacraments, and for people still not to believe.

If you carry the Gospel to others, they may refuse to believe in the only Savior Who can give them eternity with God. As Jesus is about to send the disciples out in pairs to share His message and do His signs, this is what Jesus wants the disciples to know. If you follow Jesus and, from a place of love, you share Him with others, expect to be rejected. Expect it. If you are faithful, you will have your good news spurned, even by those closest to you.

This is why Jesus tells the Twelve as He sends them out, “if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (Mark 6:12) Disciples should expect to be rejected for their faith in Jesus just as Jesus Himself was rejected.

But, as disciples of Jesus, we need not be discouraged.

Instead, we need to pursue our faith-sharing mission with urgency. The reason for the urgency is simple. When the people we know die, they will have no more chance to repent and believe in Jesus.

Jesus Himself makes this point in His parable of Lazarus and the rich man. After each of them die--the rich man who paid no heed to God or neighbor and Lazarus, the poor beggar, who trusted in God despite his suffering, the rich man goes to hell and Lazarus is safe in eternity in the bosom of Abraham.

The rich man begs first, that Abraham will send Lazarus to bring him relief from the condemnation he chose in rejecting God. Then he asks that Abraham will send Lazarus to preach repentance and faith to his brothers.

But Abraham says that can’t happen; beyond the gates of death, there is a fixed chasm between the living and the damned that can no longer be crossed. God alone can close the gap between Himself and those of us born into sin and separation from Him. He did that in Jesus.

And Jesus sends those of us willing to believe that Jesus is God-come-to-us to people who will die under condemnation if someone doesn’t take the risk of sharing Jesus with them! “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

Are we willing to believe in Jesus?

Are we willing to share that belief in Jesus?

God has already done everything necessary for us to have such faith and to live with such belief.

Our call is to get out of God’s way so that we can believe and we can share Christ with the world.

A few days ago, our son posted on Facebook, “God gave me the opportunity to share my faith with someone today. Please pray that the Spirit guides and enlightens both proclaimer and recipient of the Gospel.” Philip doesn’t know what God will do with the Word about Jesus he planted in the life of that spiritually-disconnected person. And Philip will be the first to tell you he doesn’t have all of life together and that there are times he’s probably had the opportunity to share the Gospel and he hasn’t. (I know that’s true of me as well.) But, quite honestly, when I read that post, I was proud of his willingness to trust in Jesus and share Jesus’ Gospel with someone.

Friends, God is only looking for people willing to believe in Jesus; He will do the rest.

May God daily work such willingness in us. Amen