Where, How and Who
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 3:20–3:35
The Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 6-7, 2015
“Where, How and Who”
So, if you are an elementary school, middle school or high school student, it’s that time of year when the countdown to the end of school has begun! Woo hoo! That’s the good news. Now, here’s the not-so-good news: before that happens, all those dreaded SOL tests have to be taken. For those who don’t know what “SOL” means, just ask any school-aged young person around you. They’ll probably get a pained expression on their face, sigh deeply, and then tell you that these are the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests for math, history, and science that students in Virginia must take each year. And there is a lot riding on these test scores for not only for students, but for teachers, administrators, schools and entire school districts also. As you might imagine, there are all sorts of “where,” and “how,” and “who” questions on these standardized tests. And we see those same “where,” and “how,” and “who” questions popping up in today’s Scripture lessons. Not a quiz here, but earnest and searching questions posed by God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. So, we’ll take a look at these today on this Second Sunday after Pentecost under the theme “Where, How and Who.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
First off, let’s take a look at today’s Old Testament lesson (Genesis 3:8-15), the account of what happened after Adam and Eve disobeyed God and fell into sin. So the backstory here is that after creating our first parents, Adam and Eve, God placed them as caretakers in the Garden of Eden, where they enjoyed life as God intended it with their Creator, one another and all that God had made. There was one proviso, and that was God prohibited them from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Being tempted by the devil, both man and woman did what God commanded them not to do, and they ate the forbidden fruit. They had been warned that “in the day you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). So what died, you may ask? Their sinless and trust-filled relationship with God their Creator died that day, as well as their own relationship with one another and all of creation, something we live with to this day. This is where today’s lesson picks up, and in it we hear God ask a question: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). Because God is omniscient and knows all, this is a rhetorical question. God knew full well where his children were, but his desire was that his children come clean with him and confess their wrongdoing. Sadly, they did not, and so began our age-old fall back mode of blaming someone or something else for what went wrong, rather than assume personal responsibility. In fact, Adam blames God himself for what happened: “The woman whom you gave to be with me…” (Genesis 3:12). “Where are you?” God continues to ask that question of his children today, sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, who are hiding and afraid. We are no different from Adam and Eve. Like them we try to cover over the ugly reality of our own disobedience and blaming with a few fig leaves that may fool some, but not God, who sees all. The truth remains that we have missed the mark of what God would have for us. The question is, do we want to be found God? Or do we want to remain in hiding? It is in this dark place that the psalmist cries out: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice!... If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:1, 3-4).
God doesn’t wait for his hiding and fearful children to come to him. No, God takes the initiative and goes on the hunt to seek out his children – not to destroy them in white hot anger, but to restore them with mercy and grace. And in the final verse of this lesson, we hear the first promise of how God will restore this shattered relationship: “I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). The offspring of the woman, promised here but fulfilled countless generations later, is that very One who not only would bruise the serpent’s head, but crushed it along with his power to deceive and destroy. Here is the promise of a Savior, who would take our sin and disobedience upon himself, giving us his own righteousness. Where are you? By the grace of God, we are where this Savior Jesus is!
Let’s move on to the “how” question, which Jesus asks in today’s Gospel lesson: “How can Satan cast out Satan?” (Mark 3:23). Jesus’ power to heal, his miracles, his preaching and teaching, had caught the attention of the religious rulers in Jerusalem, and so they sent out a SWAT team (Spiritual Words and Theology) to check out Jesus. Their conclusion: everything Jesus was doing was due to satanic power and influence. Even Jesus’ own family thought that he was literally out of his mind (Mark 3:21). They were looking to have a family intervention and put Jesus somewhere where they could keep an eye on him. Hence Jesus’ question: “How can Satan cast out Satan?” In other words, if Jesus is serving Satan, how is Satan allowing Jesus to cast out demons, heal the sick and undermine Satan’s power? It doesn’t make any sense. This, then, leads to Jesus’ teaching on the sin against the Holy Spirit; that is, the persistent, deliberate and obstinate refusal to receive Jesus or come to him. It is stubbornly and steadfastly to shut, bolt and lock the door against the gift of forgiveness, life and salvation that Jesus came to bring. If you want to know what the work of Satan is, this is it: deceiving people into thinking that they don’t need Jesus. People of faith sometimes get confused over what the sin against the Holy Spirit is, and get concerned that they may have done this in their own lives. Here is a simple rule of thumb: if you are concerned that you have sinned against the Holy Spirit, then you have not done so. How can Satan cast out Satan? He can’t, but Jesus can – and Jesus has! Jesus has cast out Satan and his power through his innocent suffering and death upon the cross, where He took your sin and mine upon himself.
Finally, there is the “who” question, which Jesus asks at the close of today’s Gospel lesson: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (Mark 3:33). Jesus expands the definition of family here to include not just blood relatives, but “whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35). And this is where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. Notice what Jesus says: “whoever does the will of God.” Not whoever talks about the will of God. Not whoever writes about the will of God. Not whoever preaches about the will of God. But whoever does the will of God! We can sit here until Jesus comes again and avoid doing God’s will in our daily lives with all sorts of things that on the surface look very spiritual and godly. But at the end of the day it comes down to this: are we actually doing what Jesus has told us to do? When Jesus comes again, that is what He will ask us: did you feed the hungry? Did you give drink to the thirsty? Did you welcome the stranger? Did you clothe the naked? Did you visit the sick and the prisoner? (see Matthew 25:31-46). Did you love others as I have loved you? And the “who” we are to do all these things to knows no boundaries or limits, just as Jesus’ love knows no boundaries or limits. This is what it means to join Jesus on his mission – at home, work, school, or wherever God calls us to be.
Where? How? Who? Good questions for us to ponder as the family of God in Christ Jesus – his brother and sisters. But don’t spend all your time pondering. Get out there and do the will of God, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.