Sermon for September 5, 2021

“Doing Your Best”

Mark 7:31-37

 

Someone Give Me a Well Done

When I was in Seminary, I had a class with one teacher of the New Testament who was noted for being rather demanding. The first paper I wrote in seminary was in one of his classes and I got a “C”. His comment on the paper was to ask me if I had read my assignment. I had, but I just did not quite understand what he expected out of the paper I was to write. Then I began to take his higher standards as a personal challenge. I wanted to see if I could get an “A” on the papers I turned in to him, and I eventually succeeded. I learned what he was looking for, did my best, and when I handed in my paper, he eventually would return it with an “A” and the comment “Well Done.” I always felt like he should have added, “Well Done, good and faithful servant,” but he didn’t.

That made me feel good about myself and the work I had done. Whenever you get a well done, it helps to increase your own sense of self-worth and boost your confidence, doesn’t it? You feel like you are on the right track. You are doing what you are supposed to be doing.

Jesus Gets a Well Done

Now Jesus in our text today has this word spoken of him. “And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.” Yes, Jesus did do all things well. This is sort of the conclusion that the gospel writer wants us to arrive at concerning Jesus’ ministry.

It is notable that there are two stories in Mark where Jesus is seen as providing food for the multitudes. There is the feeding of the 5000 in Chapter 6, and the feeding of the 4000 beginning in chapter 8. In between these two similar stories is an image of Jesus ministry.

How he is dealing with people, contending with the pharisees, crossing certain barriers (about the idea of what makes life clean versus what makes it sinful) and crossing boundaries. Jesus traveled northwest of Galilee up to the cities of Tyre and Sidon. These towns were a part of the ancient Phoenician culture and associated with the Canaanites. Although influenced greatly by Greek culture in Jesus’ time the area was still rooted in paganism and idolatry. Yet even here Jesus cast a demon out of a young girl. Our text has him returning from this area after trying unsuccessfully to escape people’s notice. He arrived back to the area east of Galilee and here the people brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment.

Jesus took him to a private place. Put his fingers in his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. He looked up to heaven, sighed, and said be opened. There is so much of a description of Jesus actions that this healing impressed someone. Amazing it was. Amazing it is. Life does have its moments. Jesus’ healing of this man who was deaf seems to be that type of event. Well, remembered, WELL DONE!! Both near and far Jesus did all things well.

The Messianic Secret

But if that is the case then why did Jesus charge them to tell no one. We read in verse 36, “And he charged them to tell no one; but the more he charged them, the more zealous they proclaimed it.”

Wouldn’t you think that Jesus would have felt good about the recognition he was receiving, and more confident that the kingdom of God was finally being realized? Wouldn’t that have been our response? Well, done. Yes, that sounds good. I did do well, didn’t I? But Jesus charged them not to tell anyone.

Why? The answer to that question rest in understanding a common theme that runs throughout the Gospel of Mark. The theme which biblical scholars call the Messianic secret. Throughout the Gospel of Mark Jesus warns his disciples or the person for whom he has worked a miracle to keep silent about who he is or what he has done. (Mark 1:34,44; 3:12; 5:43; 7:36-37; 8:26; 30; 9:9) Jesus instructed them “do not tell anyone”.

Perhaps there are several reasons for this: One may be that Jesus did not want to be considered just a miracle worker. Perhaps, He did not want his teaching ministry hindered by too much publicity being given to his healing ministry. He also may have wanted to teach his disciples privately. There was much he could not do if he was constantly surrounded by crowds. Fame and fortune were not his goal, and he didn’t want to be seen as just a great miracle worker, or a great healer, or even as some type of magician.

Mark’s Gospel makes it clear that people did not understand what Jesus’ life was about. The Disciples did not understand. Mark’s Gospel even tells us that the disciples’ hearts were hardened to the truth. Jesus knew that his way led to the cross but who could understand this.

This whole conflict is best seen in Jesus’ confrontation with Peter in Chapter 8. Jesus asks Peter: “Who do people say that I am?” Peter says, ” The Messiah”. But then Jesus begins to teach that the Messiah must suffer and die! Peter would not accept this.

Jesus Best lead to the Cross

The truth is that Jesus’ best led him to the cross. It was not just to make a man physically well, or to have ten thousand followers.

The fact is that the “Well Done” from the crowd was not the praise or support Jesus was seeking. The Well-Done Jesus wanted to hear was from God. Maybe that is why Jesus sighed when he looked up to heaven, because he knew what would be coming, as far as people’s understanding of his purpose. His compassion and mission compelled him to have pity on this poor deaf man, but he knew this man’s healing might only get in the way of others truly understanding what God wanted of us all. Jesus was not calling people to a prosperous and easy life. Rather, he was calling people to take up their own cross and follow him. We are to be quiet until we understand the cross. We are to be silent until we are ready to truly follow in the humble path Christ has shown us.

Where Does Our Best Lead Us?

The lesson in this text for us comes in answering the question, “When we do our best, where does it lead to?” Jesus best led to the Cross.

    The man who was deaf and unable to speak, at first his best probably led him to tell everyone about how he was healed. Who could blame him? Who among us would have kept silent? The Lord still delivers today. There are many people who have been delivered from sin, illness, addiction to alcohol or drugs, or other problems of life, and once something like that has happened to you, how do you not speak?

    But as we think about this particular man who was healed, I might wonder what was his witness after Jesus was crucified? Did he speak just as glowingly about the man who healed him? Did he come to understand that his faith and belief in Christ was calling him not just to be made well, but to love and serve God with all his heart, and strength and might and not just perhaps with his voice.

In Christian history there is a story about a monk named Telemachus who wanted a holy life, so he went into the desert to pray, to fast, and to save his soul. In that lonely life, he sought nothing but God, but it finally dawned on him that that was not selfless, but perhaps selfish. So, he made a long pilgrimage to Rome where he could serve people. When Telemachus got there, (he lived in the early 5th century) he discovered that even though Rome was becoming Christian they still had the gladiatorial games.

Telemachus could not bear to watch the savagery of persons for whom Christ died for, killing one another for entertainment’s sake, and so he leapt into the arena even though he was elderly and frail and still dressed in his hermit’s ragged clothing. He came between the gladiators and for a moment they stopped. The crowds roared its disapproval. According to the account that was written by a historian of that time the crowd then proceeded to stone him to death. “When the admirable emperor was informed of this, he numbered Telemachus in the number of victorious martyrs, and put an end to that impious spectacle.” Telemachus’ sacrifice is often credited with having brought an end to the gladiatorial games. (Theodoret of Cyrus (Cyrrhus in Syria), The Ecclesiastical History  Book V, Chapter XXVI: Of Honorius the Emperor and Telemachus the monk.)

Telemachus best led down the same road as Jesus best did. Not to a well done by the crowds, but to a literal surrendering up of his life for the sake of others.

I have a friend who is a pastor, and he once told me that we are called to be faithful, and not successful. I think he is right. To truly be part of the kingdom of God and to hear the Lord saying to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” requires more than just words, and more than just seeing Jesus as the one who has delivered us. We must see Jesus as the one who leads us and calls us to love God and one’s neighbor.

If we are to do our best, then we must seek what is best for others. Give praise to God only if you are applying your life to understanding the cross. A good example of someone who was called to be faithful was the Apostle Paul. He could have stayed as a tent maker or continued in life to become a wealthy and successful Pharisee. Instead, Paul did his best for God and gave up the life he could have had to tell others about the life that Christ gives to all. The Apostle Paul said in these words, “In everything I did, I showed you by this kind of work we must help the weak, remembering the words of Jesus: It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35.

Do you want to hear God’s “Well done good and faithful servant spoken to you.” I hope you do. I hope that is part of where your faith is leading you but know that the way may not always be easy. God requires something of you, but you surely will be richly blessed beyond measure if this is your journey. May we always strive to do our best. Amen.

Published by Rev. Russell

Pastor at the Lake City United Methodist Church in Lake City, Michigan.

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