Topical Scripture: Galatians 6:7-10 / Mark 8:11-26
New Year’s celebrations are the most universal of all holidays. Every religion and culture has its version. The Babylonians started this tradition 4,000 years ago. Their new year’s party lasted for 11 days, if you can imagine. Their most popular new year’s resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. If I have borrowed your tractor, I resolve to return it this week.
Have you made any new year’s resolutions? Has God made any for you? Is there anything you know he wants you to do as 2008 begins?
Is there a person you know you should forgive? Someone’s forgiveness you know you should seek? Sin you know you should confess and stop?
Do you know a non-believer you should try to bring to Christ or church? Is God asking you to make a new time commitment to his service? A new financial commitment to his Kingdom?
My problem with God’s will is seldom that I don’t know what to do–it’s usually that I don’t want to do what I know I should. Mark Twain spoke for me: it’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me–it’s the parts of the Bible I do. I always know more than I do. I suspect you’re the same way.
Paul assured the Galatians that if they would “sow to please the Spirit,” living in the Spirit’s guidance according to God’s will, then “at the proper time, you will reap a harvest if you do not give up.” If we do what God wants, we’ll be glad we did. We can trust God’s will even when it’s hard. We can believe that God knows and wants what is best for us, even when he asks more than we want to give.
I’ve heard that all my Christian life, and so have you. If someone could help me believe it when it’s hard, I’d be grateful. When my faith is tested this year and I don’t want to do what I know God wants–when I don’t want to give or forgive, to refuse sin or submit to his will. Why should I pay a price to follow Jesus? Why should I believe that I’ll reap a harvest if I do not give up? Why should you?
Why to trust God today
This episode in Mark 8 was so important to Jesus’ work that it was recorded in all four gospels. It begins: “The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven” (v. 11). The word translated “sign” means a miracle which proves that a prophet is from God.
The Pharisees wanted Jesus to make specific predictions for the future and then fulfill them, thus proving that he was who he said he was. This he would not do for them. He knew that such signs would do nothing to convince those who will not be convinced. They would not be persuaded, because they had already decided not to believe.
Why is this story in all four gospels? As a warning to us. If we ask God to prove himself before we will trust and serve him, we’ll never trust and serve him. If we wait for him to prove that his will is best for us before we’ll follow it, we’ll never follow it.
What more can he do than he has done to convince us of his reality and character? He created the world, then gave us his law and prophets to show us how he wants us to live. But we refused them, so he sent his Son to become one of us that we might be one with him. But we rejected and crucified him. He raised him from the dead and exalted him to heaven, but we can’t prove that today. What more would we like God to do before we’ll follow him unconditionally?
He could appear to us today in this Sanctuary, but would you trust your senses? Would you believe tomorrow what you saw today? Would anyone else believe your story? Let’s say I told you that God appeared to me yesterday and revealed to me that he wants us to start a Sunday morning worship service in the Cotton Bowl. What is your first reaction? What about the weather? Who will come? How much will it cost? How can we be sure God is in this? My testimony to God’s miraculous vision wouldn’t be enough for you, would it? If you reported such a vision this morning, I’d be just as skeptical. How can you use natural means to prove a supernatural experience?
There is only one way God could prove his reality and power to every person in the human race, and that would be to return to this planet in unmistakable power and divine glory. This he will do on the day when he ends history. When he does, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11). On that day, seeing is believing.
Until he returns, believing is seeing. The only way to prove that God’s will is best for our lives is to follow that will. The only way to know we can trust a person is to trust them; the only way to be sure that a job is right for us is to take the job; the only way to prove that we’re ready to have children is to have them. The only way to be sure that we should do whatever God asks of us this year is to decide that we’ll do what he asks of us.
In the meanwhile, it helps to remember that what God has done in the past, he can do again in the present.
When the disciples got into the boat they worried over the fact that they had only one loaf of bread. This even though Jesus had already fed 5,000 families with five loaves and two fish, and 4,000 families with seven loaves. Now they were repeating the doubts of the Pharisees, when the very Bread of Life was in the boat with them. What he had done in the past, he could do again. If he fed the crowds, he could feed his disciples. He still can.
Where do you need the power of God today? Do you need him to be your Great Physician? If he could heal the sick and raise the dead, he still can. Do you need him to redeem your circumstances? If he could calm the stormy seas, he still can. Do you need him to direct your steps and guide your decisions? If he could lead his followers into the mightiest movement in spiritual history, he still can.
But he can lead only those who will follow.
He is doing miracles and signs and wonders all over the world today. The church is multiplying everywhere except in Western Europe and America, everywhere except in cultures where seeing is believing and we want proof before we will trust. The ten largest churches in the world are all located outside the United States.
God goes where he’s wanted. He leads those who will follow. He shows his power to those who already believe in his power.
With God, believing is seeing. We must step into the Jordan River before it will part. We must march around Jericho before it will fall. We must follow God into the lions’ den before his angels can stop the lions’ mouths. We must go into the fiery furnace to know that God can protect us from the flames. We must leave our boats and nets before Jesus can make us fishers of men.
Believing is seeing. Today, on this first Sunday of 2008, Jesus is asking you to follow him without question and condition. To go out not knowing (Hebrews. 11:8). To “sow to please the Spirit,” believing that in due time you will reap a harvest if you do not give up. To surrender this year to God before it begins. How do we do that this morning?
How to trust God today
Our text ends with a story which is found only in Mark’s Gospel. It begins: “some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him” (Mark 8:22). Jesus took him by the hand and led him outside the village. He spit on his eyes, practicing the medicine of the day. Then he healed the man and told him to go back home by himself. What he did for this blind man, he’ll do for our blind minds today.
How do we trust the future to God? Go where he leads you, a step at a time. We are as blind to the future as this man was to the present. Jesus took his hand and led him a step at a time. He will do the same for us. So pray first. Give the day to him before it begins. Pray before your decisions. Pray when you’re tempted. Pray when you’re hurt. Pray when you begin a conversation. Pray when you begin a worship service. Pray as you listen to a sermon. Seek his hand and help for each step as each step comes.
And let God do something he’s never done before in your life. This was one of the few times he healed a man privately, not publicly. It was the only time in the gospels when he healed a person not instantly but gradually.
Let God lead you where you’ve never been, in a way you don’t understand, to do something you’ve never done, and he’ll lead you to a future you cannot imagine. You will reap a harvest if you do not give up. This is the guarantee of God.
So, what have we learned today? There will come a time in this new year when you won’t want to do what you know you should. You won’t want to follow God’s word and will. You will want to give in to temptation and sin. You will want God to prove that his way is best before you pay a price to follow it. So will I. Some of us are there today. All of us will be there soon.
When that day comes, remember three facts.
One: You cannot prove God’s will is best until you follow it. Don’t make the Pharisees’ mistake. Your relationship with God, like every relationship in your life, requires a faith commitment which transcends the evidence. When you do what you know you should, you’ll know why God was right all along.
Two: What God has done, he can still do. Don’t make the disciples’ mistake. When you need bread, ask the One who fed 5,000 families to feed you. When you need sight, ask the One who healed blind eyes to heal yours. He can do all he has ever done, but only for those who will follow where he leads.
Three: Jesus wants to guide you every day, but you must submit to him every day. Learn from the blind man. Take Jesus’ hand right now. Know that self-reliance is spiritual death. Tell him that you’ll go wherever he leads, whenever he calls, whatever he asks. Will it cost you something to follow God unconditionally this year? Of course it will. Will it cost you more not to?
Mother Teresa knew what it was to serve God at a price. I recently discovered a creed she wrote, and have made it my New Year’s Resolution. I invite you to join me. It goes like this:
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
As Mother Teresa proved, when we live only for God, believing is seeing. This is the word of the Lord.