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Nov 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 28, 2018 – Mark 8:34-38

The Exploration of (Empty) Space

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his soul? For what what a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:34-38

Intro: You probably noticed this painting – perhaps stared at it

But I doubt you paid attention to the space between yourself and the painting
– “Why notice empty space?” you may ask
• the answer: Because there’s no such thing
◦ people have sustained serious injuries when bringing an open flame too close to an “empty” gas can
◦ there may have been no liquid in the can, but it was still “full” of fumes
• “empty” can be an illusion
– to notice empty space, can help us expand our awareness
• this is a theme Mark has developed through several chapters
– in the verses I read, Jesus’ message sounds harsh
• but we need to see it in its context
• the lesson here is so essential, we cannot afford to miss it
◦ it helps us discover what fills “empty” spaces

We will retrace Jesus’ steps through the previous three chapters
– pay special attention to the ways Jesus attempts to enlighten people

In chapter 5, A man begged Jesus to heal his daughter

But on the way to his home, they learn she died
– Jesus told the man, Don’t be afraid. Just believe

There is a way for us to move out of our fears and anxieties
– it involves expanding our vision
• my dad used to stress the importance of “the eternal perspective”
◦ big problems immediately before us can be overwhelming
◦ but our reaction changes when reflect on our situation in the light of eternity
• anxiety is a natural response to feeling trapped
◦ and we can feel trapped by “time”
(also by space, by our responsibilities, and so on)
◦ there must be a way out of anxiety traps if:
Jesus can say, Don’t worry about your life (Mt. 6:25)
or Paul could say, Don’t be anxious about anything (Php. 4:6)
– an expanded awareness frees us from the feeling of being trapped
• this is God’s, I am with you–or, as in this instance, Jesus saying, Just believe
• trust gives our brains the peace they need to stretch awareness

In chapter 6 Jesus is teaching in the countryside

This has the disciples nervous, so they tell Jesus,
“Send the people home before the shops close and they can’t find food”
– but Jesus responds, “Why don’t you feed them?”
• the disciples thought that was impossible
◦ then Jesus worked a miracle so that everyone ate and there were even leftovers
• when the disciples climbed in the boat, Jesus stayed on land to pray
◦ rowing against wind, the disciples were getting nowhere–until
◦ Jesus came walking toward them across the surface of the water
– the disciples were totally amazed
• Mark felt that he had to explain their amazement:

. . . for they had not gained any insight from the loaves, but their heart was hardened (Mk. 6:52)

• doesn’t that seem like an odd statement?
◦ the loaves were talking to the disciples, but they weren’t listening
• “hardened” does not mean they resisted understanding, but they were mentally “stuck”
◦ their hearts had been formed in a way that constricted their aware

In chapter 7, the Pharisees called out the disciples for a purity violation

Unwashed hands contaminated food (spiritual impurity, not germs)
– then the food ingested brought impurity into the body and defiled the person
• Jesus called the crowd to himself and announced,

Listen to Me, all of you, and understand (Mk. 7:14)

◦ he is going to give them new instructions regarding purity
• impurity doesn’t come from what we eat, but from what is already inside us
◦ we make ourselves impure by letting out the evil thoughts, hate, theft, etc. (Mk. 7:21-22)
– later, alone with disciples, they asked Jesus, “What were You talking about?”

Then Jesus took them to task, Are you so lacking in understanding also? (Mk. 7:18)

• perhaps the Pharisees’ doctrine had so permeated their culture,
◦ that it closed off the disciples’ imagination and creativity
◦ they knew only one way to think about purity
• the teaching of Christian Fundamentalism has had a similar effect on people
◦ those of us raised in it do not struggle to understand certain verses
◦ we’ve heard them used to make the same point so many times that our minds are locked

After this, Jesus healed a man who was deaf
– it actually seems as if he used a “method” different from all his other miracles
• He said, in Aramaic, Ephphatha! or “Be opened!”
◦ this strikes me as an odd expression for healing deaf ears
◦ “Be opened” makes sense if he were speaking to blind eyes; but ears?
• nevertheless, I want Jesus to speak these words to my ears;
◦ to my heart, to my mind, to my spirit
◦ I want Jesus to open my understand and widen my awareness

In chapter 8 Jesus fed another large crowd

The build-up for this event is much different from the previous meal
– it is now Jesus who brought up the issue and explained his concern
• afterward the feast, Jesus and his disciples moved on
• in a footnote, Mark tells us the disciples forgot to bring bread,
◦ and they didn’t have more than one loaf
◦ but this is a set-up – Mark is leading our thoughts to the same conclusion the disciples made
– somewhere on the lake, Jesus said to them,

Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod (Mk. 8:15)

• the disciples interpreted leaven as a reference to bread
◦ to them, the message wasn’t about the Pharisees,
◦ but their failure to bring adequate provisions
• Jesus straightened them out – carefully read what he said to them

And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces you picked up?”
They said to Him, “Twelve.”
“When I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of broken pieces did you pick up?”
They said to Him, “Seven.”
And He was saying to them, “Do you not yet understand?” 
(Mk. 8:17-21)

The same questions he had asked them before:

Do you not see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? (Mk. 7:18)

– Jesus has been trying to get them to work at understanding
• “understand” what?! – THAT FOR JESUS,
◦ physical needs and challenges are never a problem
• that if he can heal disease, drive out demons, calm storms, and walk on water
◦ he is not concerned whether they have enough provisions
◦ his concern is for people–and their relationship to God
– the leaven of Pharisees referred to their way of doing religion
• using it to break away from God while acting pious

We can think of the physical blessings Jesus gave as a secondary grace
– healing them, feeding them, and freeing them was meant to prepare them
• prepare them for what? To receive the primary grace
◦ that is, the kingdom of God – eternal life — God himself
• people who receive the primary grace make a discovery:
◦ that they can life without the secondary blessings
◦ this will be illustrated when Jesus invites a wealthy man to give away everything and follow him

. . . go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me (Mk. 10:21)

– after misunderstanding Jesus regarding the leaven, Jesus heals a blind man
• and like the deaf man in chapter 7, this too is an unusual healing
◦ in fact, there are several striking similarities between these two miracles
• with this healing, Mark closes the circle he began with the deaf man
◦ and in between the deaf ears and blind eyes, he asks the disciples whether they can hear, see, and understand

This particular healing is unique, in that it occurred in stages
– this is good news for the disciples and for us
• if we do not see clearly at first, Jesus keeps working with us until we get it

It’s time to summarize our overview of these chapters

Reality consists of two parts: one part can be seen and the other is unseen
– the part we know is the visible part
• that is the limited view through the human lens
◦ the part of reality that we know by physical experience
• the other part of reality is the environment of God
◦ whatever can be known about that part must be revealed to us
◦ but even revealed, we have to work at perceiving it
– this has been the disciples’ struggle all along
• they could answer Jesus’ quiz regarding the two miracle meals,
◦ but they could not read the meaning of those “statistics”
• they looked, but did not see; they listened, but did not hear; they observed, but did not understand
◦ their awareness was constricted to one part of reality
◦ the part they knew through their senses

What Mark has been showing us is that there is a difference
– after Jesus healed the blind man, he asked the disciples,

Who do people say that I am? (Mk. 8:27)

• Peter gave the correct answer, but Jesus went straight to predicting his death
◦ this disturbed Peter so much that he rebuked Jesus
◦ he was stuck in his one-dimensional mind, and Jesus made this clear

He rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Mk. 8:33)

◦ this distinction, between the things of God’s concerns and the things of human concern, was made in the verses I first read

The visible part of reality: man’s interests, which are those of this adulterous and sinful generation
The unseen part of reality: God’s interests, which are those that have to do with the glory of Father and the holy angels

– Peter’s mind-set was that the idea of a crucified Messiah was shameful
• but actually, there was honor in a Messiah who died for his people
◦ even more than honor — his death brought him glory
• there is no shame in owning a crucified Messiah
◦ the shame is being disowned by him when he comes in glory of His Father and the holy angels

Conclusion: We need to become aware of that other part of reality

But how? That is the whole life of Jesus; every miracle, every parable, every touch
– God’s reality appears through surface of the stories, like light pouring in through stained glass windows
• but that light bursts through in brilliance here when Peter exclaims, You are the Christ

Jesus is the revelation that enlightens us to other part of reality,
that gets us out of our shrunken field of awareness
And it can come through anything – a loaf of bread, a spare tire, a dead plant
Prepare yourself for what Jesus wants you to see, to hear and to understand
You can do this by:

Relaxing your concentration once in awhile
Instead of focusing intensely on one thought,
take in everything at once
and calmly notice what grabs your attention

Then, when you look closely, remember to see
And when you listen carefully, remember to hear 
And when you observe, remember to understand 
Then may Jesus grant us a greater breadth of awareness

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