I am so sorry that I am not with you today. I’m really sad about that. But if we’ve learned anything over the past year, it is to embrace the weird and unpredictable. And so, I am doing that under the sovereignty and love of God. I’m in my little 10 x 10 office at home, recording this very unprofessionally on a laptop because yesterday I tested positive for COVID. So, you definitely don’t want me with you! But I am hugely burdened for the message that God has put on my heart from Mark 1. I am so thankful for technology that allows me to love you well by staying away from you, but still record this message that I believe God has for all of us to hear. So, whether you’re at North Hills or online or overseas … wherever you are, let’s take our Bibles and turn to Mark chapter 1, trusting that God’s Word never returns void, no matter what vehicle of communication I use, however unprofessional it is. Let’s pray as we begin.
Father, thank you for giving me strength today to feel good enough to share your Word with my much-loved brothers and sisters. And wherever we are, even though we’re separated from one another today, you are our dwelling place in all generations. Because you reign, we rejoice. Because you are with us, our hearts are satisfied, Lord. We want to be careful today to remember to pray for our new President, President Joe Biden, his wife, Jill, their two kids, their seven grandchildren, Vice President Kamala Harris, her husband, Doug, and their two children. Father, we pray your blessing on these, our new leaders. You are sovereign over their position. We pray that your blessing would be on them, that they would look to you, that they would humble their hearts and see their need of you, and that you would lead them. We pray for us, Lord, whether we voted for them or not, that, as your people, we would be careful to lift them up, to cry out first for their souls and for their families, but then for you to give them wisdom so that they would follow you as they lead us, that they would make wise decisions for the good of our nation, for the protection of the unborn, for the benefit of those who most need care and protection.
We pray that we, as your church, would become once again salt for healing and light for seeing in this nation that desperately needs your healing touch and your vision to see clearly. Please, Lord, do that in us for the advancement of your gospel, for the good of our neighbors. And now, Lord, speak to us through your Word. We’re waiting. We’re ready. We’re open. We’re looking to you. In Jesus’s name, amen.
Essentialism (not the philosophy) is both a time management movement and a New York Times best-selling book. The author, Greg Mc Keown, argues that the enemy of true success is fake success. That is, succeeding at what doesn’t matter actually prevents us from succeeding at what does matter. So, we end up getting caught up in the trivial, many things so that we fail to focus on the vital, few things. Mc Keown says it this way:
“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It’s about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is the essential.”
Now, Mc Keown is writing from a secular business perspective, and he’s brilliant at communicating one of the ways life really works. And these strategies, I believe, are super helpful, especially for those of us who try to answer every problem with a do-more-work-harder approach. By the way, sickness is one of our Father’s most effective tools to make us focus on what is essential if we’ll hear him in those moments. And you can tell I’m preaching to myself.
But ultimately, modern essentialism leaves us on our own to actually figure out what is essential, what is dispensable, and what is indispensable. If we slow down long enough to look to and listen to Jesus, we will get a glimpse of a kind of authentic essentialism that he lived thousands of years before essentialism was the rage. We see this in Mark 1:37.
“And they found him and said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’”
Everyone is looking for you. Now, obviously, there’s hyperbole here, but no doubt, Jesus was trending. Everyone wanted to be near him. However, Jesus did not seem to be impressed with the reasons everyone wanted to be near him. So, in one sense, we could say that everyone was seeking him. In another sense, we could say no one was seeking him.
What do we mean by that? Well, let’s step back and look from 10,000 feet at the Bible as a whole. Romans 3:11 says, “No one seeks for God.” No one seeks for God. Isaiah 53:6 says, “We have turned — every one — [no exceptions] to his own way.” In other words, no one apart from the grace of God is seeking God. And even when we seem to be seeking God, we do it in a way that has turned away from who he really is, what he’s really like. And we warp the image of God through our own way. Psalm 58:3, we “go astray from birth.” This is not just an American thing, a 21st-century thing, an eastern, western, southern, northern thing. All of us go astray spiritually from who God truly is from our birth. This is why Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” So, if you are genuinely seeking him today, it is because he is graciously drawing you. The Bible makes this clear.
Let’s think about this from the gospel of Mark as well. Back to Mark 1:37: “Everyone is looking for you.” The word looking is the Greek word zeteo, “to seek.” This is the first of nine times this word appears in the gospel of Mark. And you will notice that it increases as the book goes along, in both use and hostility. Let me show you what I mean. Let’s run right through the book of Mark and look at every occurrence of this word zeteo, “to seek.”
Here’s the first one: Mark 1:17, “Everyone is zeteo you, looking for you.”
The second one is Mark 3:32, “Your mother and your brothers are outside seeking you.” Now, when you first look at that, it seems positive, unless you read a few verses earlier. Jesus’s family thought he was out of his mind. They were seeking him in order to rescue him from himself.
Next, Mark 8:11, “The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.”
Mark 11:18, “And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.”
Mark 12:12, “And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people.”
Mark 14:1, “And the chief priests in the strife were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him.”
Mark 14:11, “[Judas] He [one of his disciples] sought an opportunity to betray him.” Notice how many times this is occurring in chapter 14.
Mark 14:55, “Now the chief priests and the whole council [that is the Sanhedrin] were seeking testimony against Jesus to put them to death.”
And finally, Mark 16:6, when an angel calmed the women at the tomb by saying, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth. He has risen; he is not here.”
So, you can see the fact that people are seeking him does not necessarily mean that is a good thing. In light of this — this is the part we want to focus on today — what does Jesus do? In light of the fact that everyone has an agenda for who he is and what he should do, what does Jesus do in this passage (Mark 1:35-45) in response to the fact that everyone is looking for him? He does three things.
First, he starts early to pray. Look at 1:35: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” Jesus prioritized time and space to be alone with his Father to pray. The time to slow down, the space to step away to a desolate place (this is the word for “wilderness”) contradicts and resists all the forces around him. Everyone is looking for you. He blocks that out, resists that pressure, and begins his day alone with his Father.
Everyone is looking for you, Jesus. Everyone has an idea of what kind of Messiah you should be. Everyone has an agenda as to the political problems you should solve, the social issues you should address, the medical problems you need to heal, the educational issues you need to bring enlightenment to. Everyone is looking for you. And what does Jesus do? He begins his day with what is essential. And he not only begins his day with what is essential, but he also establishes the trajectory of his day. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth [this day] as it is in heaven.” He starts early to pray.
Second, he stays on course to preach. Mark 1:38, “He said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.’ And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.”
So, once again, Jesus resists the crowd’s agenda in order to keep doing what God had called him to do. The statement, “For that is why I came out,” is a purpose statement. So, what’s the big deal with preaching? Why is he so focused on preaching as an essential? One of the distinctives of preaching is that it reframes our agenda, which is exactly why many people don’t like it today. It’s exactly why Paul said in 2 Timothy 4, Timothy “preach the Word.” Why? Second Timothy 4:3, “For the time is coming, when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
This is so prophetic, especially regarding the internet. Today, beyond anything we’ve ever experienced in history, you can find a teacher who will modify the agenda of the Bible, the words of Jesus, to suit your political passions, to suit your sexual passions, to suit your financial passions. If you have a passion, you can get online and find a teacher who will modify the Word and teach the Word consistent with your particular agenda, your desires, your passions. And the people then were no different from people today. They wanted a cure. Jesus came proclaiming a kingdom. They wanted temporary relief. He came announcing his permanent reign. So, when he performed miracles, or whatever Jesus did, you can see the crowd misinterpreting the point of what he’s doing. So, what is the point of miracles? Listen to the way Jared Wilson describes this.
“What are the miracles, then, but glimpses of the way the world is meant to be, glimpses of the way the world is actually becoming? In and through Jesus, the kingdom is coming, and God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus’ miracles are the very windows into heaven, and through them heaven is spilling into earth like sunlight through panes whose shades have been violently rolled up.”
Miracles are prophetic acts of what Wilson calls “heavenly normalization.” Leprosy is not normal from God’s perspective. Blindness is not normal from God’s perspective. Demonic control, not normal. So, Jesus steps onto earth, Emmanuel, God with us, announcing this kingdom, this good news of the kingdom that is revolutionary, not because of its political agenda. It is subversive, not because it’s some kind of military uprising, but because it is announcing prophetically a coming kingdom that is transformative not only in the moment, but for eternity.
So, the miracles are not magnets to get people to come and hear his preaching. The miracles are dress rehearsals pointing toward the real thing. He is preaching to reframe people’s agendas back to what is essential, back to the King and his Kingdom, which is going to look very different from anything any of these people anticipated. Now, you can see how significant this is. But Jesus wan’t merely trying to make people’s lives a little better. He obviously does that … he cares about people. But think about the fact that every person Jesus healed eventually got a disease and died. So, if that’s the only reason Jesus came, his life was a failure. But Jesus’s mission was much bigger than that. He knows what is essential.
He starts early to pray. He stays on course to preach. And then, he slows down to pity. Mark 1:40, “And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you will, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity …” Just take that in for a moment. Here’s Jesus, the ultimate person of focus. He knew exactly what was essential, and he would not turn to the left or to the right. Yet in the midst of that, focusing on what is essential, he was deeply moved with pity. “…he stretched out his hand and touched … [the untouchable!] and he said to him, ‘I will.’”
The leper asked, “Will you?” Jesus answered, “I will; be clean.” And you can, if you look really carefully, you can see the bacteria bow in his presence. “And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean” (Mark 1:41).
And Jesus then does something completely unpredictable. Mark 1:43-45, “And Jesus sternly charged him [which is a very strong word in the Greek] and sent him away at once, and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone, [double negative, emphatic in the Greek] but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.’ But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.”
Think about where we began. We began in verse 35: Jesus, in a desolate place, everyone seeking him. Now in verse 45 we end the passage: Jesus, in a desolate place, everyone seeking him. The big question in many of our minds is, why did Jesus command the man he healed to be silent? He does this a lot. Look at this chart which shows when Jesus commands silence in Mark: three times to demons, four times to those he healed (so we’re going to see it a lot more), two times to the disciples. He does it many other ways, as well. Why? Was Jesus shy? Was he an introvert? Agoraphobic? Was he part ninja? Why all the stealth?
Jesus knows that the quickest way to fail at what matters is to succeed at what doesn’t. He is not interested in a kind of marketing that misrepresents his person or his mission. I guess you could say that the one thing worse than not getting the message out is getting the wrong message out, which seems to deeply concern Jesus.
So, how do we respond to what we’ve just heard in this passage? I think, first of all, we must stand in awe of Jesus. This is the most important response. Just look at the One who was manipulated by no one, coerced by no one. His agenda was not shaped by the culture he lived in or by his family upbringing or by his context. Everyone wants a piece of him. Everyone was seeking him. But he would not turn from his divine agenda.
And his Father loves this about him. How do we know that? Well, we see it in many places. Let me show you one example from Isaiah. The Father, speaking of the servant who is the Messiah, Jesus, says, “Behold my servant.” You can picture the Father saying, “All of you, let me tell you the most essential thing you could do right now. Look at my son.” Isaiah 42:1, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen [One], in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”
How is he going to do that? Isaiah 42:2, “He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” But he will do it in a way that does not bring forth more injustice, as we always do. Look at the beginning of verse 2 again: “He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street.” What the Father is doing is saying, Gaze on my Son. And notice, the manner of his ministry is not characterized by powerful propaganda or loud activism. He is not shouting down opponents, nor is he pumping up fans. His ministry is characterized by truth, self-sacrifice and compassion. “A bruised reed, he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.”
When we gaze on Jesus, we have to ask ourselves if we are going to be like our culture or like our Savior. And will we trust Jesus for who he is, or will we try to make him what we want him to be? The main response to the message of God for us today is to stand in awe of Jesus. And as we do, he washes us clean of the propaganda and nonessential junk that clings to us.
Second, start your day aware of his presence. Jesus obviously modeled this for us. If we don’t start our days in the presence of our Father, we will spend our days serving the priorities of our culture. Let me say that again. If we don’t start our days in the presence of our Father, we will spend our days serving the priorities of our culture.
Lately, I’ve been waking up early while it’s still dark outside. I go up to this little room on the east side of our house. The window on that side of the room looks out on the woods. And each morning with my cup of coffee, reading through Genesis, the sun rises as I’m in the presence of my Father. And his Word, by his Spirit, washes me clean of my own agenda and sets me on a trajectory — his agenda. Some of us, I know, struggle with this because we’re thinking, “Hey, I got too much going on. I’m too busy. I’ve got important things in public to do.” But we forget that we will be ineffective in public if we are not humbling our heart in private. John Tyson, a pastor from New York, says this:
“I often wonder whether this is why the church lacks credibility in our world. Maybe it’s not just our big scandals and cultural failures. Maybe it’s something much smaller, more common, more deadly. Maybe it’s our exhaustion. Maybe we are just too tired to model agape love [that is sacrificial love], too scheduled to show compassion, too distracted to pray, too much like the exhausted culture around us.”
We fail at what matters because we succeed at what doesn’t. Let’s start our day in his presence, soaking in his Word, and let it reorient our priorities and fill us with power to do what he’s called us to do in our jobs, in our schools, in our neighborhoods.
Third, say “no” so that you can say “yes.” Say “no” so you can say “yes.” For Jesus to say “yes” to his call, he had to say “no” to the crowd. You see time and time again the crowd seeking to surround him with their own agenda, and he slips away, or he is out alone, or he moves on to the next town. It is not that he hates them. He actually loves them. But he knows what is essential.
Brett McCracken, in a recent article titled, “Are Churches Losing the Battle to Form Christians?”
“The church is increasingly just one voice among many speaking into a Christian’s life. A church’s worship habits may occupy two hours of a Christian’s week. But podcasts, radio shows, cable news, social media, streaming entertainment, and other forms of media account for upwards of 90 hours of their week. How can a few hours of Christian formation [and during COVID, maybe zero hours] compete with the tidal wave of media rushing over our people? Largely devoid of meaningful immersion in Christian formative practices, Christians are instead being formed in whatever online echo chamber they call home.”
That is such a significant statement. Christians instead are being formed in whatever online echo chamber they call home. So, my question is, who is discipling you? Don’t think you are not being discipled by someone. It could be a talk show host or news commentator or someone on social media, but someone is discipling you as to what is really essential. For many of us, those voices are not bad. They’re not evil. They’re not telling you to go out and do horrific things. But they’re not essential.
And what some of us need to do is perhaps put a governor on those voices, limit the amount, whether it’s Netflix or news or whatever it is — put a governor on it. We’ve done this in the past, and I always get very encouraging emails when we do this — I would challenge some of you to take this next week to fast from some of those voices so that you can immerse yourself in his, hearing his voice. Pick one “voice,” whether it’s news or technology or social media. Say “no,” not because you’re trying to earn favor with God. No, that only comes through the sacrifice of Jesus. His love is on you. He’s paid for all your sin. Do it because you want to say “no” to something lesser to say “yes” to something better, something truly essential.
Let’s pray. Jesus, you just wreck our assumptions as to what a Messiah would be. You come in like a bulldozer. You plow everything to the side. You tear us down. You strip us bare, not because you hate us, but because you love us. And then you then you begin to build us back up and to clothe us with your righteousness and to send us to do what really matters. Oh God, do that work in us now, by power of your Spirit, we pray in Jesus’s name. Amen.