Sermon preached by
Text a) Mark 1:34 "He would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was" Text b) 1 Cor 9:16 "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel"
Two texts which at first seem in direct opposition to each other. Jesus seems to be trying to stop the spread of the gospel while Paul is so full of the good news about Jesus that he cannot contain himself.
Politicians, leaders of causes whether charitable or otherwise, magazines and entertainers all have one thing in common - they thrive on publicity.
You may have seen the court case this week with Michael Douglas and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones suing a gossip magazine for publishing unauthorised pictures of their wedding while the rival magazine had been given an exclusive contract to cover the nuptials. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case one thing you can be sure off - everyone benefits from the publicity generated.
If you are trying to sell an idea or a concept you need maximum publicity to get the message across.
And so at first glance the first of our two texts appears to be very odd indeed. Jesus seemingly doesn't want anyone to know who he is.
He performs many healing miracles on the sick and diseased and you would think he would want as much publicity as he can get. Surely it is much more powerful for someone else to speak a testimony about him from their own personal experience than to rely on the raising of awareness just through the power of public speaking. And particularly so if it was from former enemies who are then discredited such as those demons whose power is neutralised.
If I stood here and performed an amazing miracle instead of merely speaking about Jesus you would be much more likely to remember what has happened in a week's time rather than what I have said.
Actions can speak louder than words.
So why is Jesus so reticent? Was he not ready to reveal himself - perhaps it was too soon in His ministry. Perhaps it was to the wrong audience.
I think his reluctance was more about the Jews not being ready to receive the message. They had been awaiting the coming of the Messiah, the leader promised long ago. They were suffering greatly under the harsh yoke of the Roman occupier of their country.
Situated strategically in the fertile crescent of the Middle East, Judah had always been at war with and often conquered by its neighbours (Egypt, Syria, Babylon, Persia, Greece then Rome). They longed for the Saviour promised to them by God long ago, the deliverer, the mighty king who would lead them to victory over their enemies.
Jesus knows of course that his message will not be to their liking since he comes not to deliver them from these sort of conquerors but from the bondage of sin within which if allowed to flourish is far more damaging. The self-centredness, the perversion of religion trying to be so upright and holy while all the time manipulating religious zeal to justify one's own ends and the failure to protect the vulnerable members of a community. These are the damaging influences which ultimately so corrode society and weaken it that it collapses from within.
The vested interests of the Jewish leaders are of course appalled by such a challenge to their authority. Jesus know this and wants to make sure that the ordinary people, the "man in the street" so to speak is ready to accept Him so that those who will want to oppose him to protect their privileged positions find themselves out of step with the populace at large. He doesn't want the demons to speak out at this time as that would not advance His cause at all until people can understand his message.
He wants people to fully appreciate what is really a simple yet a hard message - "deny yourselves and follow me" as the means to salvation. The opportunities for pushing this message hard come later when people have had more time to assess this fundamental truth which is being presented to them.
So why then the many episodes of healing so important and remarked on in a major way by St Mark at this stage of Jesus' ministry if they are not to be used to publicise the cause?
Simply that healing comes from Jesus's great compassion for his fellow human beings. He cannot bear to see them suffer a moment longer than they need and His heart reaches out to them to relieve them in their distress. One of the great characteristics of the Son of God.
Paul on the other hand is the publicist "par excellence" - the exact opposite to the story about Jesus and the demons. His writings and travels come after the life of Jesus on earth has run its course and he has the benefit of knowing about everything that was to happen to Jesus during the crucifixion and resurrection. And more importantly fully realising the full significance of those tumultuous events.
And so Paul speaks driven on by a miraculous personal conversion experience on the road to Damascus. Do read that marvelous story again in Acts 9 to see just how gripped Paul was by this revelation about Jesus as the Messiah.
He preaches the good news about Jesus Christ because he feels compelled to do so, because for him there is nothing else in life and because he finds not a material reward in doing so but that his daily needs are met while he truly believes in a personal Saviour who had died for him.
Paul was writing to a people at Corinth who were in a very large city (estimated as a population of between 600,000 and 700,000 persons) which was the epitome of Greek culture. At the same time it was a place where all sorts of idolatrous worship and immorality were rampant. Indeed the temple worship of the goddess Aphrodite effectively meant religious prostitution. It was a city of intrigue, divisions, and jealousy. Even the church was split by marital difficulty and faction, instability ,lawsuits and misuse of spiritual gifts.
In short we find a picture of a society devoted to self indulgence and seeking to protect itself from the world outside.
Perhaps a world not unlike our own in a number of ways
Paul's letter to the church at Corinth seeks both to instruct and inspire the Christian congregation as a pastor and friend. He wants to tell the people where they have gone wrong and where their concept of Christianity is at variance with the principles laid down by Jesus. He issues warnings against intemperant conduct and gives instruction on the right propriety in worship.
He also points out (as in the lesson appointed for today) that he does not do any of these things seeking a reward but is driven by a sense of discharging the trust committed to him as result his meeting with Jesus in his conversion encounter. He preaches the gospel of Jesus simply because he must.
In summary Paul is totally consumed by the wonderful revelation that a personal experience of God's greatness and power and mercy and grace is freely available to every person who will take heed, listen and respond to the message of Christ "I have come so that you may have eternal life in all its fullness - deny yourselves and follow Me ,your sins are forgiven".
A message as relevant and fresh to us in this day and generation as it was 2000 years ago. A message for a world longing to know the truth about God and His purposes for men and women.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"
And I said "Here am I. Send me!"
Is that your response?