Introduction. Jesus sends them away. Let me read the first two verses again and this time listen very closely to hear the strong note of danger in the text. Mark 6:45-52 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. Jesus had performed one of His greatest miracles. He fed somewhere between five and fifteen thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. As I said last week that miracle was the most public of all Jesus’ miracles and maybe of all of the other miracles put together. It was huge, very impressive, a huge attention getter and a praise getter. What did Jesus do after the miracle? He immediately made the disciples go away in a boat (the word made means compelled or forced). The sense here is that the disciples didn’t want to go, it’s late, they were in a deserted place and they didn’t want to leave Jesus by Himself. But Jesus prevailed and sent them away. Then He quickly dismissed the huge crowd. The disciples are immediately sent that way, the crowd is sent the other way and Jesus headed for the hills to spend several hours in prayer. What’s going on here? John gives us the answer in his telling of this story:
Outline of Malachi: Malachi’s prophecy is made up of a series of charges answered with How questions. 1:2: I have loved you, says the Lord. But you say, How have You loved us? 1:6: O priests who despise My name. But you say, How have we despised Your name? 1:7: You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, How have we defiled You? 2:13-14: He no longer regards [your] offering. Yet you say, For what reason? 2:17: You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, How have we wearied Him? 3:7: Return to Me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, How shall we return? 3:8: Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, How have we robbed You? 3:13: Your words have been arrogant against me, says the Lord. Yet you say, What have we spoken against You? Eight complaints in the form of a question are answered with eight responses from God. We will take the first one this evening.
What a great and so familiar story. It must be great and important to God because it’s the only miracle before the resurrection that’s repeated in all four of the Gospels. It demands more than just ordinary attention. Jesus wants to speak to you and feed your soul through this text, I urge you to listen and to believe and to respond. Jesus, have compassion on me and enable me to preach though my ability is small, and have compassion on all of us and feed us spiritually the bread of life that we need. Teach us and change us for your glory and our benefit. Come, Bread of Heaven, feed us until we are full and want no more. Amen.
We come this evening to the penultimate OT prophet. Only Malachi remains. After 70 long years of captivity in Babylon under oppressive foreign rule, God’s people start returning to Judah and Jerusalem. Haggai and Zechariah are the two prophets who journeyed back home with Ezra and Nehemiah and about 50,000 Jews to find their homeland and their great city and temple completely destroyed. God sends a message of hope, and a call to start again, to rebuild. The first message was delivered by Haggai and a couple of months later a second message comes from the prophet Zechariah. Haggai encouraged the people to rebuild the temple based on making God their first priority. Zechariah encouraged the people to rebuild the temple based on the future and the hope they have because of who God is and what God is going to do through His people. The prophecy of Zechariah is the longest of all the Minor Prophets and perhaps the most challenging to understand. His prophecy divides neatly into two parts. The first eight chapters are eight dramatic nighttime visions. The second part of Zechariah, from chapter 9 to the end, is very different from the first part, it seems to be written after the temple is completed about four years later and focuses on the future and to the time of a Messiah. Zechariah is called the most Messianic book in the OT.
As we turn to this text let me remind you that we are once again in one of those literary sandwiches Mark is known for. Our text is the meat fit in between two slices of bread. The bread was Jesus sending out the twelve apostles in verses 7-13 and verse 30 when the apostles came back and told Jesus all they had done and taught. Inserted into the middle of that story is this story about the death of John the Baptist. As we consider it together one of our questions is why Mark interrupted his other story to insert this story, what’s the connection?
To apply a baseball analogy to the Minor Prophets, we are rounding third and headed for home. Literally. The final three books of the Minor Prophets, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, all deal with the Israelites return to home. This is an entirely new chapter in Israel’s history. The seventy year exile in Babylon is over and the people have returned to Jerusalem and Judah under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel and Joshua. God had moved through the heart and will of one pagan king to attack and destroy Judah. That had been prophesied by Habakkuk and Zephaniah and it happened when Babylon attacked in 586BC and exiled all the people of God. God raised up two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, men of God’s Word, to call the people to faith and faithfulness, to reorient their priorities. God used Haggai and Zechariah to motivate the people to resume the task. Haggai’s message is a message of challenge and encouragement, of rebuke and reassurance. It covers a period of four months. As a result the temple was finished in four years and dedicated in 516BC. Unlike some of the Minor Prophets we have encountered, this one is precisely dated.
We come this morning to a very personal text about Jesus and His family and His hometown of Nazareth. We are reminded that Jesus is very human, and He has what we all have as humans, parents, siblings, a hometown and a home church, people who knew us when we were little and when we were growing up. He experienced all the things growing up that we experienced. Nazareth was a small hillside village of 200 to at the most maybe 500 people. It was nothing to boast about. It’s never mentioned in the OT or any other ancient or Jewish literature. Jesus grew up in a construction family, He was a carpenter. He worked six days a week with His hands, He came home dirty, sweaty and tired. He who made the heavens and the earth by speaking a simple word, labored to make things with His hands using wood and nails, saws and hammers. He was a common working man. This is the story of a “local boy made good.” The return of a famous son and prodigy was bound to have caused a stir in such a small town. When Jesus returned to His hometown He did what most of us do when we go home, on Sunday He went to church with His family. Since he had gained a reputation as a teacher He was asked to read Scripture and preach. They were duly impressed and amazed at His preaching and speaking. They were astonished by the stories they have heard about Jesus’ wisdom and His mighty miracles. Their amazement was that they knew Jesus well, they watched Him grow up and for thirty years live and work among them. He was from a carpenters family, not a family of educated rabbis or priests or scribes. They knew He hadn’t followed a rabbi, He hadn’t done an apprenticeship as a disciple of a wise man. So where did He get His wisdom? They were amazed, but not in a good way.
If the verses of the Bible were a mountain range some would be foothills, some would be mountains reaching several thousand feet, and some would stretch far above the tree line into the rare air, snow covered and glistening in the bright sun full of glory and truth. Habakkuk 2:4 is a tall mountain text that stands out and commands our attention. It makes us stop and look and think long and hard. It challenges preconceived notions and human ways of thinking of things. It’s one of those verses that changes everything. Habakkuk 2:4b “…the righteous shall live by his faith.”
A few weeks ago I started a sermon with the intention of preaching about two aspects of fatherhood, called the Pleasure and Pain of Fatherhood. I had one key Scripture text for each aspect, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that if I was going to do either text any justice at all I was going to have to devote a sermon to each text. So last time I preached I spoke on what Scripture teaches about the pleasure and delight of fatherhood from the words of God the Father to God the Son at the Son’s baptism. This morning I want to address the question of how we love our children when they sin. What about when they disobey and cause us much displeasure? What does Scripture say about discipline and how do we do it in the context of love and pleasure and delight? Many of us discipline the way our parents did, what we need to do is learn to discipline the way God does. What I want to do again this morning is say some things I wish I had heard 30 years ago and not just heard but taken to heart and put into practice.
Why? Why, why, why? That’s the deepest and hardest kind of question. Why do we ask why questions? We ask why questions because there’s deeply ingrained in us a fundamental belief that somehow life on this planet should make sense. Something deep in our souls begs for meaning and purpose. I got an e-mail recently from a fairly new Christian, someone who’s just starting to learn and grow and ask questions about God and our world. “God created all and arranged all. God loves people. Why did God kill all people except for Noah’s family? Why did God allow terrorist to kill 3,000 people on 11/9? Why doesn’t God eliminate all bad things and leave only good things for people?” (Robin’s e-mail). He is like us, searching for meaning, trying to make sense of things that don’t make sense. Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? Why does God allow bad things at all? Why? Habakkuk is our brother, he’s one of us. He asks why questions.