The Unpardonable Sin, Baseball, & Doing the Will of God

Title slide showing a photo of the Pittsburgh Pirates playing at their home stadium

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Churches
April 7, 2024
Mark 3:20-35.   

What is the unpardonable sin? As we’ll see in our reading this morning, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not forgivable. When I was an early teen, I thought this meant one could not say, G-D. Now, we shouldn’t say that word, but the idea of it being unpardonable was scary. Ever hit your thumb with a hammer? If that’s the unpardonable sin, should I give up hope. I’d committed the sin, along with most everyone I knew. And if there’s no hope, we’ll I might as well not worry about other sins. 

But what is this sin. After all, Jesus never clearly defines the unpardonable sin. I would later hear the sin described as one who repeatedly denied the call of the Spirit to repentance until it was too late. That’s the approached taken by the evangelist A. B. Earle, in his sermon titled “The Unpardonable Sin. He preached this sermon frequently while on the sawdust trail across the American West in 1866-1867. 

He told of a Civil War surgeon who patient artery was cut. He could only hold the artery so long. He knew when he let go, the patient would likely bleed out before he could sew it up.[1] He used this story to encourage those at his revivals to immediately get right with God. Earle pulled a few emotional strings by threatening damnation if they don’t accept Jesus. Interestingly, that’s not something Jesus ever did. Yet, Earle definition of the unpardonable sin seems closer to the truth than mumbling the wrong word in frustration. 

As one scholar noted, if we are worried about having the committed the sin, it is obvious that we haven’t committed it. Furthermore, there is no Scriptural record of God denying forgiveness for those who ask for it.[2] That’s the good news!

Before reading the Scripture

After two weeks further ahead in Mark’s gospel, we’ve moved back to the 3rd chapter. Here we see one of Mark’s literary techniques. He creates a sandwich. Here, he places Jesus’ teaching in the middle, between interactions with people.[3]

We will also see a new name for Satan, Beelzebub. There is some question as to the actual meaning of this name. Perhaps it derived from the ancient Baal gods, but we don’t know. Instead, the context in the passage clarifies its meaning, referring to the ruler of demons.[4] Or Satan. 

Read Mark 3:20-35

It’s baseball season. And the Pirates started off hot, winning their first five games! But that doesn’t have anything to do with today’s passage. 

Do any of you remember Red Barber? For a Southern boy, he did good. For many years, Red was the announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1953, he was stolen away by the Yankees. And in the 1950s, before my memory, the Yankees were the hottest things in Baseball and Barber was the hottest thing on radio. 

After his retirement, Red did a short weekly program for National Public Radio. This is how I came to know of him. During this era, I didn’t own a TV and caught the news on NPR.  

Sometime around 8:30 on Friday mornings, Bob Edwards, the show’s host, would give a call to Red at his Florida home. Bob and Red would chat about important things to the kingdom, like gardening and baseball. Red always stole the conversation from the younger Bob, whom he referred to as “Colonel.” “Fridays with Red” always made you feel good, and they kept the show going for 12 years. It was a sad day when Bob announced to his listeners of Red’s death in 1992. 

A year after Red’s death, Bob Edwards published a wonderful memoir titled Fridays with Red. If you’d like to be taken back to a simpler time, I recommend it. He tells this story in the book.

Red was also an Episcopal lay reader. He should have been a Presbyterian, as he grew up attending the Presbyterian Sunday School, but he married an Episcopalian. This is kind of like how things work in baseball. One farm team raises up a player and another team reap the benefits… I suppose our efforts helped strengthen the larger church with Red’s development. Red would become a favorite in the pulpit and often led worship services for the Yankees when they were on the road. (My cynical side thinks the Yankees are always in need of some good preaching.) 

Red titled his favorite sermons, preached many times, “Look Behind the Cape.” He described having once gone to a bull fight. He detested the afternoon. A bull slaughtered for sport wasn’t sportsman-like to Red, but when in Spain you do as the Spaniards. Red admitted, he found himself rooting for the bull. In the arena, the bull becomes confused. That’s why he always loses. Before being released from the chute, the handlers aggerate the bull. Then he charges the only thing he can see, the red cape. He becomes so focused on the cape, that he pays no attention to the matador, the one with the sword. 

Red said he even tried mental telephony, telling the bulling to “look behind the cape.”[5]

That’s good advice. Look behind the cape. What are peoples’ intentions? And, while we are at it, what are our intentions. Where do our allegiances lie? We should also look behind our capes before we go seeking what’s behind others. Jesus said something like this in the Sermon on the Mount.[6]

The third chapter of Mark’s gospel began with the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders breaking out into war. We saw this in verse 6, when the Pharisee’s recruited their enemies, the Herodians, to help do away with Jesus.

But the religious leaders have a problem. Jesus is gifted with great power to do wonderful things. And, because of his miracles, he draws huge crowds. 

So many people flock to Jesus, he’s left with no time to eat. His family is concerned, so they suggest Jesus is out of his mind. 

The scribes are now coming after Jesus on a new tack. They attempt to convince the crowd that Jesus’ powers are demonic. 

Look behind the cape! What are the intentions of the religious leaders? Is it to help those caught up in sin and evil? Or do they desire to protect their power? Jesus used his powers for the good! Not thinking about the good he’s done; the leaders want to do away with Jesus so they can continue to enjoy their privilege spot in society. 

But Jesus is clever. He doesn’t accuse the religious leaders of working for Satan. That would have resulted in each side calling the kettle black. Instead, Jesus asks a riddle, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” “Why would Satan do himself in? If Satan has the power over a person, he won’t give it up without a battle.” Then Jesus tells a parable which is key to understanding his work in the world.

How can a man enter the house of a strong man and plunder the strong man’s goods? On a quick reading, we might think Jesus refers to the crime of breaking and entering. But then, we realize Jesus isn’t talking about a thief. He’s referring to himself. 

The “strong man” house which Jesus breaks into belongs to Satan. But Satan’s possessions don’t really belong to him. So don’t think Jesus is encouraging robbery. Jesus frees people from Satan’s power by tying up the “strong man.” Only by doing so, can he free those caught in Satan’s trap of sin and deceit. 

Next, Jesus refers to the unpardonable sin. Again, as I said at the beginning of the service, this is a difficult passage to understand. In Jesus’ words here, we find encouragement at the possibility of forgiveness. But we’re also warned against suggesting the Spirit’s power in Jesus is demonic. If we want to experience forgiveness, we must be willing to accept Jesus’ offer. 

Finally, Mark lays the other slice of bread onto the sandwich by returning to his family. We’re told that Jesus’ mother and brothers are waiting outside for him. While we are not told whether Jesus goes out to greet them. Instead, Jesus uses this news to teach something else. “Who are my mother and brothers?” he asks. And then he answers himself, “Whoever does the will of God.” 

Jesus crowns this sandwich with this last teaching. We should turn it into a question we ask ourselves, as we look behind our own capes. Are we doing the will of God? Or do we have some alternative motive? Our faith must be centered on God as revealed to us in Jesus Christ. What’s important isn’t our wants and desires, but God’s will. Amen. 

[1] I discuss this sermon in detail in my article on Earle’s revivals. See Charles Jeffrey Garrison, “Bringing In Sheaves: The Western Revivals of the Reverend A. B. Earle, 1866-1867,” American Baptist Quarterly XXXV, #3 (Fall 2006), 247-272.

[2] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 224.

[3] Edwards, 117;  and Douglas R. A. Hare, Westminster Bible Companion: Mark (Louisville, KY: WJKP, 1996), 50

[4] Edwards, 120.  See also Hare, 50 and Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (1991, Hendrickson Publisher, 1997), 115-116.

[5] Bob Edwards, Fridays with Red (New York: Pocket Books, 1993), 145. 

[6] Matthew 7:1-5. 

Easter 2024

title slide with sunrise photo

Jeff Garrison 
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches 
March 31, Easter Sunday 2024
Mark 16:1-8

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, March 30, 2024

At the beginning of worship: 

I’ve told you this story before, but it’s one of the most moving conversion stories I’ve heard. In her book, Traveling Mercies, Ann Lamott writes about being totally down and out. It was 1984. She lived on a small houseboat on the San Francisco Bay. She had an abortion because the father was married. But something went wrong after she was released from the clinic. She started hemorrhaging blood. Instead of seeking help, she self-medicated through alcohol and drugs. She wanted to die. 

Throughout this time, she felt someone sitting at the foot of the loft where she had her bed. She turned on the light. No one was there. But she was sure it was Jesus watching over her. He was gone in the morning. However, for the next few days, she felt as if Jesus followed her like a cat. And, like a cat, she knew if she ever let him in, she could never get rid of him. But after about a week, she relented. She accepted Jesus into her life.[1]

Like Lamott, we may be down and out. We may be filled with grief. We may be looking for direction. And then Jesus shows up. Sometimes, like with Lamott, he’s by himself. Other times he shows up through the actions of another believer who reaches out to us. And Jesus offers hope. The tomb is no longer the end. Life is beautiful and continues. “Come, follow me, let me show you,” Jesus says. 

Before the Reading of Scripture: 

Last week, I talked about how short Mark’s account of the crucifixion is, when compared to the other gospel. Mark provides the basic facts, nothing more. “Just the facts, Ma’am,” as Sargent Joe Friday of Dragnet used to say. 

As it was with the crucifixion, so it is with the resurrection. This is especially if we only look at the original ending. The oldest manuscripts end at verse 8, leaving the reader in suspense. In the third century, there were some attempts to clean up Mark’s ending. A shorter and a longer ending was added. But this was couple centuries later. Most Bibles identity them as a shorter and a longer ending. 

There have been many debates about the reason why Mark’s ending. 

  • Was the original ending lost? 
  • Did Mark not get to finish his manuscript before he was torn away to be martyred? 
  • Is this an attempt at some literary move which forces the reader to complete the story themselves. 
  • Did Mark think that too many people were focusing on Jesus’ resurrection, and Mark wants to emphasize Jesus’ ministry? 

All of these are options as to why Mark cut his ending short. 

While Jesus’ doesn’t appear in Mark’s original ending, Mark continually makes it clear, starting in the 8th chapter, that Jesus would be killed and would rise from the grave.[2] I tend to think Mark wants the reader to finish the story. The empty tomb is frightening. The speechless women leave us pondering what happened and what this story means. 

Read Mark 16:1-8

Mark has an interesting way of telling the Easter story. Just after the sun rises, two women, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome, head to the tomb. We saw these women twice in our passage last week. First, they were off in a distance watching the crucifixion. Then, they saw where Jesus’ body was laid.[3]

They’ve come to the tomb for the sole purpose of anointing Jesus’ body. They know he’s dead., but hey want to prepare the corpse for its eventual decay. As Jesus’ friends, they carry with them spices and bandages. It’s their duty and a way to say goodbye and to put this part of their life behind them. Doing this act, just as we hold funerals, is a marker that allows them to say goodbye and then to resume their lives.[4]  

Because Jesus died late on the day before the Sabbath, he had to be quickly placed in the tomb before the Sabbath began at sunset. So, there wasn’t time to properly prepare the body for the grave.

These women set out to do what they were not able to do on Friday. Yet, they head to the tomb with some faith. After all, they know they can’t roll away the stone in front of the tomb. They have faith someone will show up to help. Along the way they discuss this problem. Unable to come up with an answer, they proceed with faith. 

Surprise at the Tomb

Then, when they reach the tomb, they find the unexpected has happened. The stone has already been removed. And when they look inside, instead of finding Jesus, they see a young man dressed in white. 

Obviously, he’s a messenger from God.  Seeing him, they’re alarmed, which seems to be an unnecessary bit of information. Of course, they’re alarmed. We’d be, too. There’s no body and there’s this strangely dressed man who seems to know their intentions. 

This young man acknowledges they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified. Certainly, those who suffered on the cross don’t rise from the grave. Yet, that’s what he said has happened. Jesus has been raised. They are to go and tell the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. 

And what do the women do? Scared to death, they flee. They don’t tell anyone what happened. After all, who’d believe them? That is the original ending of the book of Mark.[5] And it’s where I am ending the text we’re wrestling with today. 

Mark’s gospel compared to John’s

There is a reason Mark’s gospel contains the least favorite resurrection story. Most of us prefer John account, with its beautiful language and storytelling, which we heard at sunrise this morning. There, we’re told Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb alone. It’s still dark. She comes, probably wanting some quiet time with Jesus’ body, only to find the stone rolled away and Jesus missing. She runs and tells the disciples. Next, there’s the foot race between Peter and John to see which one will arrive first at the tomb.

While Peter and John check out the tomb, Mary Magdalene hangs around outside. A strange man comforts her. She takes him as the gardener. But when this man calls Mary by name, she recognizes him. Out of a deep devotion, she calls him Rabbi… Jesus has made his first resurrection appearance.

Mark’s Endings

But Mark ends his story with the women running away so distraught that they cannot tell anyone. It doesn’t seem right. Of course, they do eventually tell someone, how else would we know. A century or so later, in the end of the second or early in the third century, we have two additional endings of Mark’s gospel. One is short, the other is long. 

The long one contains several interesting appearances of Jesus along with a commissioning that speaks of them handling snakes and drinking poison, something not mentioned in the other gospels and certainly not done in most Presbyterian Churches. Besides, they seem to go against the command not to put God to the test. So that ending is questionable.

The original ending of Mark’s gospel leaves us wondering. How do we finish the story. Do we believe it? And, if so, does it make any difference in our lives?

Where Jesus’ Meets Us

Another way to understand the ending is to consider what the women were told. They were to tell the disciples that Jesus was going to meet them in Galilee. Why Galilee, we might wonder? Well, Galilee is where they’re from. They’re tourists or pilgrims in Jerusalem. They were raised and lived in Galilee. It’s where they work, and their families livet. In other words, Galilee is their ordinary life. 

And where does Jesus meet us? For some, it happens in church, but most often, I suggest, Jesus meets us where we live and work and play. Or Jesus meets us in our pain, as he did with Anne Lamott. In other words, Jesus meets us in the ordinary. 

Hope at the Empty Tomb 

We gather here today as Christians have gathered over the millenniums, because the empty tomb gives us hope and provides us with possibilities of what life is all about. We gather because once we investigate the empty tomb, our lives are changed. No longer do we need to look back, like the women did when they were ready to anoint the body with spices. 

We can now look forward into a new and exciting future being created by God. On Easter, we’re reminded not to only enter the tomb in sadness, but to pause and look around in awe and then leave amazed at what God can do.   


God’s power extends over death, so we no longer must be afraid of dying. God’s power extends over evil, so we no longer must be afraid of what might happen to us in this frightening world. God’s power extends over our lives so that we don’t have to live in fear that we’ll mess us. “Do not be afraid,” the young man said to the women, “for the tomb is empty.” Halleluiah! Christ is risen! Amen.  

[1] Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (New York: Anchor Books, 1999), 48-50. 

[2] Douglas R. A. Hare, Westminster Bible Commentary (Louisville: WJKP, 1997), 223. 

[3] Mark 15:40-41 and 47. See

[4] The Jewish tradition honored the body but didn’t not try to embalm the body like the Egyptians. James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 491.

[5] There are several possibilities according to Bruce Metzger: 1. The evangelist intended to close his Gospel at this place. 2. The Gospel was never finished. Or 3. The Gospel accidentally lost its last leaf before it was transcribed. See Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (1971, United Bible Societies, 1975), n7.  

Sunrise off Laurel Fork Road, March 21, 2024

Jesus’ Crucifixion as told by Mark

Title slide with photo of a cross draped with a purple cloth

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Churches
March 23, 2024
Mark 15:20-47

Sermon recorded at Bluemont Church on Friday, March 21, 2024

Introduction at the beginning of Worship:

Over the past few weeks, I have read two books most people would consider totally dissimilar. Both I reviewed in my blog this week.[1] One is the novel by Chimamanda Ngogi Adichie, a Nigerian born author, titled Half a Yellow Sun. The story, set in the 1960s, takes the reader from shortly after Nigeria received its independence from Britain through the Biafran Civil War. 

The second book is The Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson. He’s a favorite author of mine who writes non-fiction which reads like a novel. The Garden of the Beast is about the American ambassador Franklin Roosevelt appointed to Germany in 1933. Hitler had just taken over and Roosevelt had a hard time finding someone to assume the position. He ended up with William Dodd, a historian and academic who had spent a few years studying in Germany. Dodd took his family, and the book mostly focuses on his and his daughter, Martha’s, experiences. Do you see what I mean by dissimilar.

The inhumanity shown in both books

But both books show us how inhumane people can be toward others. In Half a Yellow Sun, the Igbo people are slaughtered in Nigeria, especially in the mostly Muslim north. The terror these people experienced was horrifying. As a result, they tried to pull away from Nigeria and create their own country. And the war was equally horrifying. We, as Americans, probably know less about the war because we were up to our necks in Vietnam at the time. 

Of course, we all know what happened in Germany. Dodd and his family were there at the very beginning. No one would listen to his warnings about just how bad things might become as Hitler militarizes the German people and scapegoats the Jews. 

Both books deal with a group of people demonized by those in power: the Jews and the Igbo. Sometimes, it is hard to realize that people can be so evil. But it continues. After the holocaust and Biafra, we’ve had the Kimber Rouge in Cambodia, the ethnic wars in Bosnia, the killings in Rwanda, and most recently the Russian strikes against civilian targets in Ukraine, the horrific Gazan attack in Israel followed by Israel’s brutal revenge in Gaza, and this weekend terrorist attacks on Russia. 

Our world is a mess. But this should not be surprising for Christians. For we believe in a God who came to us and unjustly suffered a horrific death at human hands. 

Palm or Passion Sunday?

Today is known as Palm Sunday, but it’s also Passion Sunday. We’re focusing on the latter. When you jump from the celebration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, Palm Sunday, to Easter morning, you skip the ugly side of humanity. The crucifixion is the central focus of our faith. It shows, not just our capacity for evil, but also God’s love which forgives our sinfulness and defeats death and evil. 

Introduction to the Scriptures

We’re jumping forward in Mark’s gospel, skipping over 12 chapters. I’ll come back to the rest of the gospel after Easter. Today, as I said, we’ll hear about the crucifixion of Jesus. I am going to break up the scripture into three readings. A different person will read each passage, and then I will follow the reading with brief reflections. 

This is a long piece of scripture, from the 15th chapter of Mark’s gospel, which begins with Jesus being led to his crucifixion and ends with his burial in the tomb. Before the first reading we learn of Jesus’ mocking by the Roman soldiers. Ironically, they call him the King of the Jews, but we discover he’s the King of Kings.[2]

Mark builds up to the Jesus’ death going back to the Pharisees and Herodians conspiracy at the beginning of the 3rd Chapter.[3]

Mark’s account of the crucifixion is brief. As one of my professors wrote in his commentary on Mark, “Jesus is not portrayed as a model of courageous faith to be imitated but as a unique instance in the history of God’s saving activity.” As Mark has already informed us, Jesus’ death is a ransom for many.[4]

In our service this morning, different people will read the various texts of scripture.

Morning:  Mark 15:20-32    

readers: Leslie Shelor/Jerry Potter

One of the interesting things about Mark’s description of the crucifixion is that he doesn’t focus on Jesus. Instead, Mark focuses on those around Jesus, at least at first.[5] You have the soldiers who compel a foreigner in the crowd, an African, to take the cross. We’re not given a reason and left to assume that Jesus physical state was such he’d died before he got to the place of execution. 

Once on the hill, they strip his clothes and gamble for them, which fulfills prophecy.[6] Refusing the drink designed to deaden his pain is Jesus’ only actions.[7]  Everyone mocks Jesus: the religious leaders, those passing by, and even those crucified with him. One is crucified to this right, the other to his left. The staging of the crucifixion reminds Mark’s audience of James and John’s request to be on the right and left hand of Jesus in God’s kingdom.[8]

There’s irony in the mocking of Jesus. They all speak of Jesus not being able to save himself, not realizing that through his death he open salvation to all. 

Afternoon:  Mark 15:33-41 
reader:  Jack Palmer/Libby Wilcox

Things around the cross change in the afternoon. First, the taunting from the morning disappears. Something strange happens. Darkness descends over the land. This is not a natural phenomenon, such as an eclipse. An eclipse would be quickly over and occurs during a new moon. The Passover always falls on the full moon. God called forth the darkness,[9] almost as if cosmos returns to its pre-creation state of chaos.[10]

Only now, does Jesus speak. But it’s not the gentle voice of our Shepherd Savior. Instead, we hear the agony of a man in pain. Jesus carries the weight of the world’s sorrows. Mark gives us both the Aramaic phrased cried out by Jesus along with a translation. He’s quotes 22nd Psalm, asking why he’s been forsaken. Jesus feels totally abandoned. 

But those watching don’t understanding. Because of the cry, they think Jesus calls on Elijah to come save him. Someone wants to give Jesus something to drink, perhaps thinking a bit of moisture in his mouth would make his cry more understandable. But others want to wait, curious if Elijah will show up. Because Elijah didn’t die but was taken up into sky in a fiery chariot,[11] it was thought he could back to rescue the faithful.[12]

But it doesn’t matter. Exhausted, Jesus cries out in pain and dies. The curtain in the temple splits. Mark doesn’t interpret this for us, but again we see Jesus is doing something new. The wall between God and us, symbolized by the curtain, has been torn down.[13]

We’re given two reactions to Jesus’ death. The first comes from the Roman soldier assigned to Jesus’ execution, who having experienced everything of the day, acknowledges Jesus as God’s son. While some question the meaning of the soldier’s words, the idea that a deified man would undergo such treatment would have been a scandal to anyone: Jew, Greek, Roman or barbarian. It would have been considered foolish.[14]

Did the soldier’s statement come from a revelation he had into the mystery of our faith?[15] If so, it would be just like Jesus, the one who encourages us to love and pray for our enemies and persecutors,[16] to have the first post crucifixion conversion be the one responsible for his execution. If that’s the case, there’s hope for us all.  

I have a feeling when we arrive in the kingdom, we’ll all be surprised by some of the others in heaven. 

The women are the second reaction. These women followed and supported his ministry. Now they gather to watch from a distance. While they don’t say anything, we’ll see them at the beginning of chapter 16 bringing spices to anoint Jesus’ body. This action reinforces the idea of Jesus’ death. Once death descends, hope dies. They honor him by preparing his body and then will attempt to pick up their lives and continue. 

Evening Mark 15: 42-47  

readers: Barbara Wagoner/Jeff Garrison

Our final scene is Jesus’ burial. Normally, the Romans kept bodies of those executed exposed. Crucifixion reminded everyone of Rome’s power. The message, “Don’t mess with Rome” was visually reinforced. The body remained to warn others. It was left to decay and to be picked at by birds. 

However, Rome was also practical and knew this went against Jewish sensibilities. The Hebrew scriptures forbid abusing the bodies of the deceased. Even a criminal deserved burial.[17]

Wanting to keep the peace, Pilate, after making sure Jesus was dead, allows Joseph of Arimathea to take Jesus’ body and bury it. Furthermore, as the Sabbath approaches, this meant they had to work quickly to get the body into a tomb before the sun set. 

Mark sets the stage for what happens next. The women watch They know where to go on the day after the Sabbath. 

Mark’s account of the crucifixion contains numerous reminders of Jesus’ death. He didn’t want his readers to think that perhaps the disciples took Jesus off the cross while still alive and, after a few days, recovered.[18] Dead and buried, Jesus takes our sin to the grave. He pays the ramson for our sin through this horrific death.  

Death by crucifixion was ugly and messy. It displays the worse of human behavior. Yet we know it’s not the final word. The crucifixion shows the extent God will go to reach a fallen human race. Somehow, through Jesus’ death, our sins are forgiven. We are freed from that burden and opened to the hope we’ll experience on Easter Sunday. Amen.


[2] Douglas R. A. Hare, Westminster Bible Companion: Mark (Louisville: KY: WJKP, 1996), 210. See also Revelation 17:14, 19:16).

[3] Mark 3:1-6. See my sermon on this passage at

[4] Hare, 211. Mark 10:45. 

[5] Hare, 2011. 

[6] Psalm 22:18.

[7] See Psalm 69:21. Luke links this drink to a charitable act by the women of Jerusalem, Luke 23:28. 

[8] Mark 10:27

[9] Hare, 215. James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 475.  The crucifixion happened during the Passover which falls on the full moon. Edwards also rules out a dust storm, but the spring is the rainy season in Palestine.

[10] See Genesis 1:1-2.

[11] 2 Kings 2:1-12.

[12] Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (1991, Hendrickson Publishing, 1997), 376. 

[13] See Hebrews 9:1-5.

[14] 1 Corinthians 1:22-25. 

[15]  Edwards, 480-481. 

[16] Matthew 5:43-44. 

[17] Deuteronomy 21:23. Edwards, 487.

[18] In Matthew 28:11-15 we hear a similar account in an attempt to discredit Jesus’ resurrection. 

Jesus appoints the 12

Title slide with photo of a cross with a purple cloth hanging on a rock church wall

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Churches
March 17, 2024
Mark 3:7-19 

Sermon recorded at Mayberry Church on Friday, March 15, 2024

Thoughts at the beginning of worship:

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! May you enjoy some corn beef and cabbage today.

My first time in Ireland found me in Dublin on the Lord’s Day. I decided to worship at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which today is a Church of Ireland congregation. The ornate cathedral was built in the 13th Century, on a site where an older church had once stood. It’s also the site where St. Patrick supposedly baptized Irish converts. Of course, that’s questionable, as is much about Patrick’s life. 

Supposedly, at the age of 16, Irish pirates kidnapped Patrick from his home in England. They took him to their homeland, where as a slave he helped herd animals. In his early 20s, he escaped and made his way back home. There, he studied for the priesthood. He returned to Ireland as a missionary. While there is evidence of some Christian presence in Ireland before Patrick, in folklore he’s seen as the man who brought the gospel to the Irish island. 

What we can learn from Patrick

There are lots of folklore legends about Patrick, from using the shamrock clover to teach about the Trinity, to driving snakes out of the country. While we don’t know what’s true and what’s legend, I like the idea of the former slave helping to free his former owners from their own bondage through Jesus’ gospel. While it’s understandable for a slave to look at their master with contempt, Jesus gives different advice. We’re to love our enemies and work for the well-being of our persecutors, something the legendary Patrick fulfilled. 

Let me point out another thing. As we’ve been working through Mark’s gospel, we’ve seen that it’s all been about Jesus. And while there is truth to our faith being all about Jesus, it’s also true that Jesus depends on others, like the 12 disciples and Patrick and you and me to carry out his work. 

Before reading the scripture:

We’ve come to a transition point in Mark. As we saw last week, the Pharisees are willing to do whatever it takes, including conspiring with their enemies, to do away with Jesus. For the rest of Mark’s gospel, Jesus walks in the shadow of the cross. 

Next two weeks

On a side note, next week is Palm or Passion Sunday. I will jump ahead in Mark’s gospel to the crucifixion, followed with Mark’s treatment of the resurrection o Easter Sunday, before picking back up at the 3rd chapter the week after Easter. 

Perhaps because of the threat to his life, we’re told in today’s passage that Jesus and his disciples leave where they’d been (we assume it was Capernaum)., They head out to seashore. Of course, Capernaum is on the sea, so Mark must mean that Jesus went to a more deserted shoreline.[1] Crowds still follow him. Then he takes the disciples up to a mountain and names the Twelve. 

Read Mark 3:7-19

There are two things I hope you will take away from this passage. First, while the gospel is always about Jesus, it’s not just about Jesus. It’s also about us. And second, Jesus chooses us, not the other way around. 

Exploring our text

Now let’s look at our text. In a way, these verses serve as a transition between Mark’s opening, where he emphasizes the power of Jesus, to where the disciples receive power to do Jesus’ work. 

Jesus leads the disciples out by the sea. As I said, it must be away from the shoreline in Capernaum, probably to a more deserted shoreline. But perhaps not too far away as it appears his fisherman disciples has access to a boat. If Jesus took the disciples just to get away, he wasn’t successful. People now flock from all over to find him. 

Jesus draws the attention of people from all around

We’d seen earlier in Mark how John had folks following him from around Jerusalem and Judea. The territory from which Jesus draws followers is more extensive than Johns.[2]  In fact, there are so many people, Jesus has a boat waiting just in case he needs to back away. Furthermore, sound travels better over water (as long the wind and the waves are subdued), so addressing the crowd from just offshore allows his voice to be heard by more people. 

We are given no insight into what Jesus does with (or says to) the crowds. Instead, come because of his reputation as a healer, for he cured many. They weren’t coming because they thought he was the Messiah or the son of God.  

Jesus draws the attention of demons

However, we are reminded that the unclean spirits, the demons, are present. They know Jesus’ true identity and purpose. But Jesus doesn’t want the spirits to give him away. Mark creates tension as to Jesus’ identity, allowing his reader to decide for his or herself Jesus’ identity after he tells of the empty tomb.[3]

Calling disciples

In verse 23, we move to the second part of this passage. Jesus heads up on a mountain and calls those he wanted to come with him. This sentence is a little awkward and leaves us with questions. Did Jesus just call those who were to make up the twelve to head up the mountain? Or did Jesus take along all those following him and only appoint the twelve once they were on the mountain. Of course, it doesn’t really matter. 

Verses 12 and 13 shows that Jesus is in charge. Jesus calls and he appoints. The same is true in our lives. Jesus still calls people to serve in his ministry. 

The role of mountains

Furthermore, mountains are often seen as a place where God encounters people. Moses was in the mountains when he experienced the burning bush. Israel was by the mountain when Moses received the commandments. Elijah encountered God on the mountains, and later in Mark, Jesus and three of the disciples experience the transfiguration. As with those examples, something important is happening on the mountain during this time. 

Apprentices for Jesus

While our text reads Jesus’ “appointed” the twelve,[4] the word here in Greek means “made.” Made is probably a better translation as it implies that Jesus doesn’t just lay hands on their heads and then send them out. Jesus calls the 12 to be near him so they can learn by watching him before they are sent out into the world. 

We might say the 12 are apprentices to Jesus. Like a carpenter or an electrician works first as an apprentice to learn the trade, disciples are made by working alongside Jesus.[5]

Once the twelve are trained, Jesus grants them authority to go out into the world and continue his mission of not only calling the kingdom to be at hand, but to have point over the enemies of the kingdom. Jesus gives them the ability to cast out demons. 

The list of disciples

We’re then given a list of the 12. This is one of four places in which we’re provided a list. You can also find it in Matthew, Luke, and Acts.[6] The lists are similar, but not exact. Certainly, the key leadership remains the same.  The number here, 12, is more important than the names. It reminds Mark’s readers that Jesus is doing something new. There were 12 tribes of Israel and now there are 12 apostles.[7]

Verses 14 and 15 define their purpose. They are to be with Jesus. As I suggested earlier, they are apprentices. And they are to be sent out to further Jesus’ ministry, with the power over evil. 

Interestingly, this list includes Judas. You’d think Mark, writing three or so decades after the fact, would want to forget Judas. But he includes his name with a twist. Judas will betray Jesus. Mark again reminds us that Jesus walks in the shadow of the cross. There are forces out to get him. 

What does it mean for us?

What does this all mean for us, living two thousand years later? Jesus still calls those he can use to spread his message and do his work. Are we listening? Are we able to hear his call? If so, are we willing to spend time with him being prepared to do his work? 

Second, remember the call comes, not from ourselves or our own desires, but from our Savior himself. Of course, with Jesus at the right hand of God and no longer walking among us, how do we really know if we’ve been called? Such calls, we believe, are confirmed by the church which Jesus left behind to be his body in the world. 


As the church, as Christ’s body in the world, we should seek out those with necessary gifts and encourage them in their discernment as to whether they’re called to a church office or into the ministry. For the harvest is ripening and we need to be diligent in ensuring there are enough harvesters. So, if you feel a call, come talk to me or to an elder of the church. But don’t think it’ll be easy. For it requires spending time with Jesus and learning his ways. Amen. 

[1] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 103.

[2] Mark 1:5. See Edwards, 103.

[3] Douglas R. A. Hare, Westminster Bible Companion: Mark (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1996), 46. 

[4] Most text translates this verb as appointed, ordained, or chose. Both the NRSV and NIV use appointed. See

[5] Edwards, 112. 

[6] Matthew 10:2-4, Luke 6:14-16, and Acts 1:13. 

[7] Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to St. Mark (1991, Henrickson Publishers, 1997), 111.

The Plot Against Jesus

Blog title slide with a photo of a cross with purple shroud hanging on rock wall of a church

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
March 10, 2024
Mark 3:1-6

Sermon recorded at Bluemont on Friday, March 8, 2024

At the beginning of worship:

In the opening part of his book, Losing Our Religion, which I reviewed in my blog this past week, Russell Moore talks coming of age in the church during the 1980s. He was told not to “conform to the pattern of the world,” except, it seemed to him when “the world’ was the remnant outpost of the Confederate States of America.” 

The cynical side of Moore wondered “if the gospel was just a way to mobilize voters for party bosses or to fund prostitutes and cocaine for preachers on television.” Remember all those scandals in the 80s? Thankfully, with the help of the writings of C. S. Lewis, Moore recovered from his cynicism and saw a different side to the church. This church “spans heaven and earth, time and eternity, awesome as an army with banners.”[1]

Twain and rascals in the ministry

There have always been reasons to be cynical about religion. In a newspaper article in the Virginia City, Nevada’s Territorial Enterprise, a young Mark Twain noted that “a man’s profession has little to do with his moral character.” He went on to say, “If we had as many preachers as lawyers, you would find it mixed as to which occupation could muster the most rascals.”[2]

The production of “rascals” among the religious elite is nothing new. It was going on during Jesus’ time. We must capture a vision of the church such as the one by C. S. Lewis, with its banners flying throughout history. Yes, the church will often disappoint us, but our Savior, Jesus Christ, remains faithful and still uses the church, as broken as we often are, to fulfill his mission in the world. There’s good news in this.  

Before reading the scriptures:

Throughout the second chapter of Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ popularity has grown as has the opposition toward him. It reaches a climax in the beginning of chapter three.[3] Jesus is back in the synagogue on the Sabbath. We’re not told where, but perhaps he’s still in Capernaum. Again, Jesus faces a dilemma. Does he heal a man on the Sabbath? Or is there something else going on here?

Sabbath laws

The Sabbath laws by the time of Jesus were complex. If someone was in immediate need of medical attention, it could be provided. First aid was okay. You could prevent a wound from becoming worse. But you were not allowed to heal. You could stop bleeding because the person might bleed to death. If life was in danger, you could act. Otherwise, the Sabbath was to be upheld. You were not even allowed to set a broken bone. That had to wait because it was not considered life-threatening.[4]

The Conflict

In our story this morning, there’s a man with a withered hand. People look at Jesus, wondering what he’ll do.  Of course, Jesus takes pity on the man and acts. This leads to another conflict with the Pharisees.

The Pharisees see Jesus as such a threat, they are now willing to join forces with their enemies to defeat Jesus! Religious extremism often leads to violence. When someone thinks they are “doing God’s work,” it is easy to justify any means to obtain the desired end. Of course, if God is truly Almighty, God doesn’t need us to compromise our morals to save his reputation. God can take care of himself. 

Read Mark 3:1-6

Our passage today ends Mark’s rapid-fire telling of stories of Jesus in action. Since the first chapter, we have heard only a little of Jesus’ teachings, and most of that we saw last week, at the end of the second chapter where Jesus answered the challenges of the Pharisees. Instead, we have seen Jesus as a man of action. He cast out demons, heals many people including a leper and paralyzed man. Mark has one more story. 

Man with a withered hand: Was Jesus set up?

Again, Jesus is in the synagogue and it’s on the Sabbath. A man appears with a withered hand. I almost wonder if the man was there on the Sabbath as bait, to tempt Jesus to act. Mark creates tension in the story as he speaks of everyone watching to see what Jesus does.  Otherwise, the man might hide his hand from the crowd and from Jesus. But we know nothing of his thoughts. 

Jesus, of course, understands this is a trap. In our last vignette of Jesus, we heard him teach the propose of the Sabbath, while claiming himself to be lord over the day. The Sabbath was made for humanity, not the other way around, Jesus said. The tension in the synagogue is tense. What will Jesus do?

Jesus’ questions

Jesus begins by inviting the man with a withered hand forward. “What kind of action suits the Sabbath best,” Jesus asks.  “Doing good or evil?”[5] Should we save or kill? 

1st Century Sabbath Laws

As I pointed out, from a strict understanding of the Sabbath, healing this man goes against tradition. He could be healed on the next day, and no harm would be done. The man isn’t in a life-or-death situation. Certainly, his hand diminishes his life, making it harder from him to earn a living, but people do get along with only one hand all the time. Yet, I’m sure the man would appreciate his hand healed as early as possible. 

Another question to ponder is if Jesus is really breaking the Sabbath here. While he heals the man, he doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t mix up any herbs or makes some kind of ointment. He doesn’t even massage the hand. Jesus just asks the man to reach out and as he does, his hand is healed. Perhaps, the real anger at Jesus isn’t for breaking the Sabbath but drawing out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.[6]

Jesus’ anger at hardened hearts

Jesus’ questions remain unanswered. He becomes angry because he realizes how hard their hearts have become. They care nothing about the man, only about trapping Jesus in a compromised position in which they can show he has violated one of their laws. It grieves Jesus for people to be so uncaring. But Jesus also has compassion and invites the man to stretch out his hand and as he does, it’s healed. 

Plot against Jesus

The Pharisees have now seen or perhaps heard enough. They go out and conspire with the supporters of Herod on ways to kill Jesus. From here on out, Mark has Jesus walk in the shadow of the cross. 

Pharisees and Herodians: An Unholy Alliance

Let me say a few things about this unholy alliance. First, the Pharisees supposedly hated all that wasn’t pure, especially a Greek culture brought into Palestine by Roman occupiers. They wanted a Messiah to sit on David’s throne and who would thumb his nose toward Rome. 

While there is some question as to exactly who the Herodians were, it’s obvious they were supporters of the half-Jewish king, Herod the Greek, along with the puppet kings and rulers in the following generations. The Herod dynasty, while nominally Jewish, made peace with Rome. After all, they owed their rule to the Empire. This was totally against the Pharisees, who were strictly kosher. They avoided anyone who had anything to with gentiles.[7]

What causes someone to violate their own principals? What causes someone to think winning is so important that any means can be used to achieve victory? Jesus’ death and resurrection shows us that might does not make right. As Paul tells the Corinthians, God uses the weak and the foolish to show the impotency of human power.[8] When the Pharisees finally got their wish and had Jesus crucified, they quickly learned the mistake they’d made. The risen Jesus proved far more powerful than the rabbi from Galilee. But that’s getting ahead of our story.

Who’s the one violating the Sabbath?

The second irony to the Pharisee’s plan, if we take Mark literally, is that they are the ones breaking the Sabbath. They go out and immediately plan for Jesus’ demise. Notice that word, immediately, one of Mark’s favorite terms. We can imagine them leaving the synagogue in a huff and meeting in the parking lot as they talk over what to do.[9]  So much for the sanctity of the Sabbath, using the day to plan a murder.

The Pharisees show the human tendency toward hypocrisy. They portray themselves as so pure but are willing to do what it takes to gain what will become a short-term victory. And, almost unaware of their actions, they break their own laws. They lack integrity. They lack character.  And we should admit that on occasion, we join their club. After all, none of us are perfect. But we should be careful and when we fail to live up to our calling, be willing to confess and to repent of our sin. For our hope is not in our victory, but in Jesus’ victory. Our hope is grounded, not in this life, but in the life to come by the one who shows us the way. 

It’s always easier to point out someone else’s sin

The Pharisees found it easy to point out what they saw as Jesus’ shortcomings. We’re the same way. It’s easy to point out the sins of others. But we must remember that Jesus accepts us as we are and invites us to follow him. Doing so means we must, as he taught in the Sermon on the Mount, cleanse our own eyes before we go trying to clean someone else’s eyes.[10] We need to search our own hearts and find out where we’ve been hypocritical, and then confess our failures to God as we trust in God’s mercy as shown in Jesus Christ. Amen. 

[1] Russell Moore, Losing Our Religion, (Sentinel/Penguin Random House, 2023), 32-33.

[2] I found this quote was found in Henry Nash Smith, ed., Mark Twain of the Enterprise: Newspaper Articles and Other Documents, 1862-1864 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964), 60. It is quoted in my article, “Of Humor, Death, and Ministers: The Comstock of Mark Twain,” Nevada Historical Society Quarterly,#38,3  (Fall 1995), 199.

[3] Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark  (1991, Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 105. 

[4] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 98-99. 

[5] I am using the words here from The Message translation. 

[6] Douglas R. A. Hare, Westminster Bible Companion: Mark (Louisville, KY: W/JKP, 1996), 44.

[7] Edwards, 101-102. 

[8] 1 Corinthians 1:25. 

[9] Hooker, 108. 

[10] Matthew 7:1-5. 

Cross with a purple shroud on the rock wall of Bluemont Presbyterian Church
The Lenten Cross. on Bluemont Church

Jesus and the Law Concerning Fasting and the Sabbath

Title Slide with photo of Lake Superior shoreline

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Churches
March 3, 2024
Mark 2:18-28

Sermon taped at Mayberry Church on Friday, March 1, 2024

At the beginning of worship:

What is the purpose behind laws? 

Some people consider laws a burden on personal freedom. After all, why can’t I drive at 90 miles-an-hour. I’m a good driver. Who’s to be harmed? Of course, if we get beyond our narcissism, we know such behavior can harm innocent people. So, we have laws which set boundaries and forbid dangerous behavior. Ultimately, I suggest, laws protects others and benefits society. If we truly looked out for others, there would be little need for laws. But we tend to think of what we want and forget about how we might impact others. So, laws become necessary. 

God provides us laws. Think of the 10 Commandments as boundaries. If we get outside the boundary, we can cause harm to ourselves and to others. But inside it, we can enjoy life fully. 

Sadly, sometimes we get so hung up on the law itself, that we worship it more than God. Or we use it as a weapon to push agendas which have nothing to do with the original purpose behind the law. We’re going to see this in today’s sermon.

Before reading the Scripture:

As we’ve begun working our way through Mark’s gospel, we have seen a parallel track of events happening. On the positive side, people are excited by what they hear from Jesus. They are in awe of his power, as he heals the sick and frees people of their demonic possession. Words get around. Jesus can’t go anywhere without a crowd gathering. 

But as the crowds grows, so does the opposition to Jesus’ ministry. At first, it was evil spirits or demons. Then came the scribes and, as we saw last week, the Pharisees.  Next Sunday, we’ll end this section of Mark’s gospel with the Pharisees willing to make a pack with evil, to do away with Jesus.[1] Of course, they won’t accomplish this goal until much later. But the seeds are sown which will lead to Jesus’ crucifixion. 

Another thing we’ll hear in today’s reading is what Jesus teaches. In previous encounters, we’re told Jesus taught. Mark, however, hasn’t yet provided details.[2] Instead, we have seen Jesus’ power. But now Mark, in his proclamation of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, tells us some of what Jesus taught. Jesus uses parables and stories and draws on the Old Testament to convey his message. 

I’m combining two stories today. They parallel each other so they kind of go together. While I could preach on each passage separately, if I did that for every passage, I won’t get through Mark during 2024!

Read Mark 2:18-28

Our text begins with Mark informing us that John the Baptist, like Jesus, had disciples. These disciples, like John, live the life of a religious ascetic. They avoid the pleasures of life. From what we find in the other gospels, they abstained from alcoholic drinks and only ate what we necessary to sustain life. 

In Luke’s gospel, we read of Jesus saying: 

“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’[3] 

In our text for this morning and from the one I just read; we see Jesus in a Catch-22 position.[4] He faced a paradox and can’t win. Of course, Jesus was no glutton or drunkard, but neither was he a religious ascetic like John and his disciples. Jesus just can’t please those in powerful positions. By the way, this is by design. By having such silly no-win games, those in power can maintain control. 

Many of the Pharisees fasted twice a week. They want to be seen as being good, over and above everyone else. Two things we should note here. 

First, Jewish law only required a yearly fast, on the Day of Atonement. Other fasts could be called such as during times of calamity, but nowhere does the law require the frequent fasts as called for by the Pharisees.[5]

Second, regularly and frequent fasting seems to have been a requirement made up by the Pharisees to display their spirituality. They wanted others to see their holiness. Jesus addresses this in the Sermon on the Mount, telling them they have received their rewards as he encourages his followers to pray and fast privately. Jesus is not against fasting, but he is against pride.  And perhaps there is nothing more dangerous than religious pride. When we think we’re right, we can be fooled into ignoring the obvious. 

Jesus then uses three analogies to make his point. The first is a wedding. No one would think of fasting at a wedding feast. In those day, these celebrations would go for a week with lots of food, drink, and entertainment. Those invited were to enjoy the party. While Jesus doesn’t say he’s the bridegroom in this text, it’s implied. He’ll use this analogy again in a parable found in Matthew’s gospel, as he speaks of his return.[6] Later, the risen Christ will be seen as the bridegroom to the church.[7]  

While Jesus is with the disciples, they need to enjoy his company. Then Jesus hints at what will later happen. There will come a time that the disciples will fast, after he’s gone. Of course, those present would not have known what we know, that Jesus will be crucified. 

The second and third parables deal with common household examples. You don’t sew on an unshrunk fabric on old cloth, for it will shrink and tear again. Nor do you put new wine in old wineskin, for the fermentation process will cause it to swell and will break the skins. Jesus is doing something new.  He launches a new paradigm which require new cloth, new wineskins. 

Our next story deals with the Sabbath. As with fasting, the Sabbath laws been added to over the years so that they have become a burden to the people. The disciples were out walking and went through a grainfield. Hungry, they pulled off some of the seed to eat. This was allowed in Jesus law. You could eat from a neighbor’s field; you just couldn’t put the sickle to it or harvest it. But since fast food restaurants didn’t exist, taking a handful of grain was allowed. But that’s not the problem raised. The problem is the taking of grain on the Sabbath.[8]

Jesus responds by recalling a story from the time of David about how he and his men ate bread that had been set aside for the priest. Even in the Old Testament, you were allowed to do certain things of the Sabbath for the safety of others including animals. But the Pharisees, to drive a wedge between Jesus and his followers, accuse them of breaking the Sabbath laws. 

Jesus ends his response with a reminder of the Sabbath’s purpose. It was made for us; we’re not made for it. Again, as I said earlier about good laws, they’re for our wellbeing.  How can we take care of ourselves and others? When the law becomes a way to show or to prove our holiness, we’ve got it wrong.

Last Sunday, I spoke about how Christians should have joy in our lives. Unnecessary laws help those in power maintain their power, while stripping us of joy. As followers of Jesus, we’re to be guided by two laws: loving God and loving others.[9] When we impose additional religious laws arbitrarily, we’re no better than the morality police of Iran, running around imposing their strict interpretation of the Koran. 

The Christian faith is not about rules, it’s about a relationship with God through the Son. And that relationship leads to other relationships as we accept God’s grace and extend such grace to others. 

While the law is important, for it helps us to see our sinfulness and guides us as we strive for godliness,[10] it should never overshadow grace. Mark wants us to understand that Jesus is doing something new. And we should rejoice. Amen. 

[1] Mark 3:1-6.

[2] See Mark 1:21-22, 2:2, 13. I’ve address the lack of detail as to Jesus’ teachings in these sermons: and

[3] Luke 7:33-34. A parallel passage is found in Matthew 11:18-19. 

[4] Catch 22 comes from Joseph Heller’s World War 2 novel by the same name. The “catch” was that if you were crazy you didn’t have to go into combat. But, if you knew that combat was crazy, it meant you weren’t crazy, so there was no way out. See

[5] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 88.

[6] Matthew 25:1-10.

[7] We see this in Revelation. In 18:23, we hear of the bride and the bridegroom (church and savior) being withdrawn from “Babylon” (which represents Rome). In chapter 21:2, we read of a cosmic wedding. See Douglas R. A. Hare, Westminster Bible Companion: Mark (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1996), 41. 

[8] See Deuteronomy 23:25 and Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (1991, Hendrickson, 1997), 102-103. 

[9] Mark 12:29-31. 

[10] The Reformed Tradition traditional speaks of three uses of the law: 1. To bring us into a realization of our sin, 2. To help us strive for godliness, and 3. To create fear in ootherhearts to restrain bad behavior. 

Jesus, a Friend to All

Title slide with photo of waves breaking on Lake Superior

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Churches
February 25, 2024
Mark 2:13-17

At the beginning of worship:

Religion often gets a bad rap. People see us as dour and lacking fun. Remember Billy Joel’s 1977 hit, “Only the Good Die Young?” The song is upbeat, but the lyrics are a little disturbing as he describes a boy trying to lure a “good Catholic Girl.” Part of the lyrics go: 

You’ve got a nice white dress and a party on your confirmation 
You’ve got a brand-new soul, and a cross of gold 
But, Virginia, they didn’t give you quite enough information 
You didn’t count on me 
When you were countin’ on your rosary,

Of course, teenage romance has little to do with the joy of life. We’ve all been there and it’s as much about heartache as about joy. Real joy, the joy we find in Christ, can be present in good times and bad. Billy Joel got it wrong. It’s not about momentary pleasure, such as making it with a girl. Real joy, real happiness, comes from knowing God our Creator knows and accepts us, flaws and all. In Jesus’ life and ministry, he showed such love as he enjoyed the company of people, including those often excluded from society. 

Before reading the scriptures:

Last week, the passage we explored ended with Jesus scolding the scribes who thought his forgiveness of sin was blasphemous. While they were chastised, the crowd was amazed with Jesus. He provided a paralyzed man the ability to walk. As we can imagine, Jesus’ fame continued to grow. 

In our text today, Jesus goes out by the sea, by which the city of Capernaum sat. Perhaps Jesus is still trying to get away by himself for some reflection and prayer, but if that’s the case, it wasn’t going to happen. As we’ve seen in other places, a crowd gathers around him. 

In a passage that echoes Jesus’ call of the fisherman,[1] Jesus calls Levi, a tax collector to follow him. 

Think of Levi more as a customs agent than an IRS agent. The first century IRS agents would have been a Roman citizen, not a Jew.[2] However, Jews were employed locally to levies custom duties. 

Capernaum, on the borderland to other providences, was a site for traveling merchants to pay their tariffs. Or, he could have been taking a toll on the fish brought into the city. There is evidence for such tolls also being collected during the first century.[3] If that’s the case, Levi would have known the fishermen whom Jesus had called. 

Regardless as to Levi position, he worked for the occupiers and engaged with the gentiles. Therefore, he was despised by those who considered themselves upright Jews. 

Let me point out something else. While Jesus calls Levi to be a disciple, his name does not appear in Mark’s list of the 12 disciples later in his gospel. However, Levi was “son of Alphaeus. Perhaps he changed his name, as later we find the list of disciples included a “James, son of Alphaeus.”[4]

The other option is Levi remained in the larger group of disciples that followed Jesus. Using a baseball analogy from the end of spring training, Levi didn’t make the cut for the majors. He remained in the minor leagues. We don’t know what happened, but that’s okay, for this story has a deeper meaning.

After calling Levi, Jesus attends a banquet with many such people who were social outcasts. Jesus, in our text, pushes the boundaries of his day to spread God’s extravagant love. We also continue to see opposition to Jesus grow.

Read Mark 2:13-17

Perhaps the Presbyterian Church’s greatest gift to the larger church is the opening question of the Westminster Catechism. In the patriarchal language of the 17th Century, the question is asked, “What is the chief end of man?”  The answer, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” 

I love this answer. It’s beautiful. The focus is on God, as it should be. But our role is one of praise and joy. Sadly, not all our ancestor’s lived up to this worthy goal.

The critic H. L. Mencken defined the Puritan movement, one of the strands that make up the Reformed Tradition, as “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”[5]

But that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. We are to be gracious and loving. And if we desire godliness, should take our clue from the Almighty and be slow to anger and abounding in mercy and love.[6]

In today’s passage, we see through Jesus’ actions a display for how God loves the world and those who in it. Jesus calls an outsider, a tax collector, one who was seen as a traitor to his people. And like the fishermen earlier, Levi leaves behind his lucrative business and follows Jesus.  

Jesus doesn’t do this in a vacuum. He doesn’t slip into Levi’s home in the darkness of night to convince him to sign up as a disciple. Instead, he calls Levi in front of the crowd of people. Jesus wants the crowd to see the radical nature of his ministry, one that reaches out to those normally shunned by society. 

The gospel proclaimed by Jesus and told by Mark shows compassion to those who on the sidelines. It destroys the human tendency to separate people into groups of “good and bad.” As a Christian, we believe as Paul says, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory” and that those who “call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”[7]

Last week I told you about reading Russell Moore’s book, Losing Our Religion. In a section of the book where he speaks of Christians losing our identity, he has some harsh words about the misappropriation of “Spiritual Warfare” by those who think they are fighting a culture war. We must be careful when we equate human beings with demons, Moore insists.  Metaphors like “rats,” “insects,” and “animals” to describe those who we perceive as enemies damage the gospel’s message. Essentially Moore calls for us to love others, not demonizing them.[8]

Jesus demonstrates to the crowd his love for the other by calling Levi. Perhaps Levi was as overjoyed as another tax collector, Zacchaeus, for he throws a big party.[9] Again, this notion that as Christians we are not to have fun isn’t found in Scripture. We can imagine Levi with all his friends in a great party. Sinners and tax collectors are present, we’re told. 

And notice that this isn’t just a meal. Perhaps it even foreshadows the Messianic Banquet at the end of history. Everyone reclines, which implies a closer gathering. They are not just taking care of body needs by eating but are enjoying each other’s company.[10]This immediately raises the hair on the back of the necks of the Pharisees. This is Mark’s first introduction of this important faction within first century Judaism. 

The Scribes of the Pharisees (some ancient manuscripts say Scribes and Pharisees[11]) question Jesus’ righteousness. After all, why would a righteous person, one who ritually clean, sit down and enjoy a dinner party with those who are unclean, who are sinners. 

Furthermore, if you look closely at the text, you’ll see that they don’t take their concerns to Jesus. Instead, they go to his disciples. This classic triangulation, going behind one’s back to cause a rift is alien to the gospel.[12] God wants to bring people together and they’re doing their best to break them apart. 

Jesus overhears what they’re saying and responds with a proverb that both rings true but is also somewhat of a backhanded slap. “If you’re well, you don’t need a physician, but if you’re sick, you do. And I’ve come not for the righteous, but for the sinners.” Of course, if we’re honest, we know none of us are truly righteous. We’re all sinners. Only Jesus was perfect.[13] His quip here maybe implies something different. Let me paraphrase Jesus’ words: “If you think you’re righteous, you won’t see a need for me in your life. But if you know you’re sick, if you know you’re a sinner, I’ll be a breath of fresh air, I’ll be the good news.”

When we compare the Jesus of the gospels to the churches and Christians of today, what do we see? “Jesus gained a reputation as a lover of sinners, Philip Yancey wrote, “a reputation his followers are in danger of losing.[14] Sadly, we’re often more like the Pharisee’s than Jesus. 

When I was a pastor in Michigan, The Olde Town Tavern, a bar and grill had a seedy reputation. It had been in the community for years. For the first several years there, I never step foot inside. But one day Ken, one of our saints who has since gone home to be with Jesus, suggested we go there for a burger. I immediately learned what I had been missing. They had the best burgers in town! And the folks were fun to be with. For the rest of my time in Michigan, I was a regular. 

Shortly after enjoying this burger, the fact I had been seen in the tavern came up in a Session meeting. I wondered where this conversation was going. But cutting the conversation off was an older Elder in the church. He told a story about one of my predecessors, the beloved “Rev. Sharpe.” Sharpe served the church from the mid-1920s until his death in 1958. He was also known to often go and sit at the bar and talk with the patrons. 

Friends, we must not forget those whom others shun. As followers of Jesus, we are not the judge. As Jesus shows, we’re to relate to those on the outside as we do to those on the inside, as friends.[15] Amen. 

[1] Mark 1:16.  For my sermon on this passage, go to

[2] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2002), 82; William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 101

[3]. Lane, 102; Edwards, 83.

[4] Mark 3:18. 

[5]  H.L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy see

[6] See Psalm 86:15, 103:8, 105:8 among others. 

[7] Romans 3:23 and 10:13. 

[8] Russell Moore, Losing our Religion, An Altar Call for Evangelical America (Sentinel: A division of Penguin/Random House, 2023), 131-134. 

[9] Luke 19:1-10.

[10] Edwards, 85.

[11] See footnote in the NRSV for this verse.

[12] On triangulation see

[13] Hebrews 4:15.

[14] Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1997), 158. 

[15]  Moore, 189. The Bible calls us to be “well thought of by outsiders” (1 Timothy 3:7 and 1 Peter 2:12), 189.  

waves on Lake Superior
Waves after a storm on Lake Superior (July 2012)

Good Friends

title slide with photo of Kure Beach, NC

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
February 18, 2024
Mark 2:1-12

At the beginning of worship:

Last Sunday, I spoke about atonement. In our story from Mark’s gospel, we see that Jesus essentially trades places with the leper. I suggested this foreshadows what Jesus does for us on the cross. There, Jesus pays the price for our sin. 

However, we must be careful and not attempt to bind God in our own ideas. Yes, Jesus trades places with us to atone for our sin. But whether such substitution atonement for our sin is required can be debated.[1]

Ultimately, we must confess, the forgiveness of sins is something only God can do. And how God achieves forgiveness for us is up to God. We’ll see another way one is forgiven in today’s scripture passage. Jesus forgives a man without him asking for forgiveness, and long before his crucifixion.[2]

And forgiving sins gets Jesus in trouble. Upsetting the apple cart will cause that, and Jesus certainly did his share of upsetting the proverbial apple cart with the religious folks of his day. We should always be careful and remember that God is in charge. 

Before reading the Scriptures:

Let me recap the last couple of Sundays. Two weeks ago, we saw Jesus leave Capernaum so he could preach in the towns and synagogues of Galilee. Then, last week, we saw how he healed a leper when he was out on this mission. We don’t know how many towns and synagogues Jesus visited. We’re only told about this healing. It made Jesus so popular that he was unable to continue going into the towns because of the crowds. So, he begins to teach in the countryside and allow people to come to him. That’s all we learn about this mission. 

As we begin the second chapter, we learn that Jesus has returned to Capernaum. But, of course, the crowds find him, which is our stetting for the story today. 

Furthermore, we now are informed of opposition to Jesus’ work. Jesus came to proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near.[3] By proclaiming God’s kingdom, Jesus implies that this world doesn’t belong to Satan or evil powers, but to God. And we’ve seen how the minions of evil, spirits, and demons, challenged Jesus. Now we’ll see the attack coming from the scribes, the religious leaders of the day. 

Read Mark 2:1-12

Jesus returns to where his ministry began, Capernaum. I get a sense from the text that he may have been tired from his Galilee wanderings, and he retreats to his home. But it doesn’t take long for the word to get out that the hero has returned. Again, as we’ve seen, people flock to see Jesus and he resumes teaching. The room fills with people. People block the door, and we can imagine fill the yard around the house in the hopes to listen in through the windows This crowd reminds us that there were no fire marshals in the first century to regulate how many people could safely gather in one spot. 

Again, as we’ve seen before,[4] Mark leaves off the details about what Jesus said. The story instead illustrates something else. Mark shows how the opposition to Jesus grew. While Jesus heals a man, the story goes deeper than Jesus just being a Great Healer.

A group of people bring a paralyzed friend in the hope Jesus can help. We’re not told who they are or how they are related to one another. We only know they are on a mission. And their mission, the healing of their friend, demonstrates their faith. 

As they arrive, I’m sure, they’re overwhelmed. There are so many people who have gathered around the home in which Jesus is teaching that there is no way to get their friened inside. But these are determined friends. 

Palestinian homes at this time often had steps on the outside that led up to the roof terrace. Back then, space was a premium and it was economical to have the steps outside. The roof was an important part of the home in an arid climate. Especially in the morning and in the evening, when the sun wasn’t intense, people would hang out up there. It was a place to eat dinner and dry clothes and watch the sunset. These roofs were supported by beams, topped with reeds and limbs, and then covered of clay.[5]

These determined friends, noticing the empty roof, take their friend up the steps. They dig through this roof and four of them, each holding onto a corner of the man’s mat, lowers the man down to Jesus. It’s quite comical, I think. With the digging and commotion, it’s a wonder Jesus continued to teach. 

Imagine the dirt and reeds falling. Jesus and those around him brush twigs and sand from their hair. And then, descending as if in an elevator, the paralytic drops before Jesus. The friends of this man set things up in a way in which Jesus must act. There’s no way he can ignore the unnamed man. 

The faith and determination of this man and his friends impress Jesus. He says something that at first seems out of character. “Child, your sins are forgiven.” By calling the man a child or son, I don’t think Jesus meant that he was a kid. It was more endearing term which implies that, like a child, he’s totally dependent on others.[6]

But what about his sins. We read this situation and immediately think, he doesn’t need forgiveness, he needs healing. (Of course, we all need healing). But there was a belief at the time, supported within the Hebrew scriptures, that illness was often related to sin.[7]

If you think about it, sometimes someone can be so ashamed by what they’ve done that the shame incapacitates the person.[8]Now, they may still be able to walk, but they have a hard time functioning in society. Shame, which results from sin (unless one is a psychopath and without a conscience[9]), can be destructive. However, the man in the story appears to have many friends, which makes me lean toward thinking his illness comes not just from shame. 

We are not privy to the cause of this man’s illness. In a way, this story is not about the man healed nor his friends. It’s an encounter with the scribes. Jesus plants a clue as to his identity, but they are too blind to see.

Jesus, by forgiving sins, raised the eyebrows of the scribes, the religious leaders of the day. This was blasphemy, they think. Only God can forgive sin. And they’re right.

If we think about what Mark does in his gospel, he makes the case that Jesus is God. Jesus’ power is divine. He dominates evil spirits, heals diseases, controls the weather, and rises from the grave.

Knowing the scribes think that Jesus’ blasphemy deserves a good stoning,[10] Jesus decides to have some fun. He confronts their thoughts and the condition of their hearts. Then he asks a question that seems simple, but it’s not. “What’s easiest, saying your sins are forgiven or commanding the man to stand up and walk?” The first, the forgiveness of sins, implies the power of God. Unless you’re God, to pull that off is impossible. Furthermore, how can it be demonstrated? We don’t know the condition of the heart of another person. 

But the latter, telling a man to pick up his mat and take it home, can be observed. So, Jesus, to demonstrate his power (he’s the Son of Man), orders the man to pick up mat and take it home. And he does. Interestingly, as I pointed out earlier, neither inflicted man nor his friends say anything. They essentially serve as a prop to make a point to the scribes. While Jesus is impressed by their faith, from that point out, this is a story of conflict between our Lord and the scribes. 

As I’ve said, the scribes are right. Only God can forgive sins, but they are unable to see the divinity of Christ. I think Mark tells this story so that we might accept Jesus’ divinity. Jesus has the power to heal us, to forgive our sin, and to offer us life everlasting. Are we going to be like the scribes, who judged Jesus in their hearts? Or will we be like those present who were amazed and glorified God?

We must be careful in our judgements. I’ve been reading Russell Moore’s Losing our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America. He writes about how the religious leaders of his day decided the way for them to protect their position of authority was to make an alliance with those they hated, Imperial Rome. Summing up this thought, he warns of the danger of atheism in the church, with the most destructive form of atheism being those which think they believe in God.[11] Sadly, some people may proclaim faith, but their faith is in themselves. 

Were the scribes protecting God (who doesn’t need protection) or protecting their own power? Jesus, I think, exposes their atheism. They believe, not in God, but in themselves. 

What might we take from this passage? Certainly, we should see the divine nature of Jesus. We’re called to worship Jesus as Lord and Savior and God. We’re called to follow him and to place his interest above our own. 

Next, we also might take a lesson from our unnamed disciples in the story who brought the man to Jesus. Who might we help bring someone to Jesus? First, as we see in this story, discipleship is a group effort. Second, we need not to be deterred by obstacles (such as the crowded home). If we make the effort, as we see in today’s text, Jesus just might reward our faith by responding. Amen. 

[1] There are several theories of atonement. Gustad Aulen, Christus Victor (1931) outlines three main theories (Ramson, Substitution, and Moral Persuasion) and then presents a modified form on Ramson (Christ the Victor). 

[2] Brian K. Blount, Go Preach! Mark’s Kingdom Message and the Black Church Today (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998), 174. 

[3] Mark 1:15.

[4] See Mark 1:21ff or my sermon on the text:

[5] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 74-75. 

[6] Douglas R. A. Hare, Westminster Bible Companion: Mark (Louisville, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1996), 36.

[7] Cf. II Chronicles 7:24, Psalm 103:3, 147:3, Isaiah 19:22; 38:17,57:18. William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 92. Even in the New Testament you find such thoughts.  James 5:14-16 appears to be a link between sin and sickness.

[8]See Hare, 36; and Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (1991, Hendrickson Publishing, 1997), 85-86.

[9] For a brief definition of sociopath and psychopath and anti-social personality disorder see

[10] Blasphemy was punished by stoning. See Leviticus 24:13-16.

[11] Russell Moore, Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America (Sentinel: Penguin Random House, 2023), 81. 

Jesus Trades Places with Us

Title slide showing photo of cross on Iona, Scotland

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Presbyterian Churches
February 11, 2024
Mark 1:40-45 (Leviticus 13:45-46)

Sermon recorded at Bluemont on Friday, February 9, 2024

At the beginning of worship: 

Some of you may have read Charles Dicken’s classic novel, A Tale of Two Cities. It’s been decades since I read it, and I don’t remember much of the book. Of course, I remember that memorable opening line, but even people who haven’t read it knows “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I’m pretty sure that’s been a Jeopardy question. 

The only other part I remember is the ending. Charles Darnay has been condemned to death on the guillotine during the “Reign of Terror” in the French Revolution. While waiting for the day, Sidney Carton, a man who both looked like Darnay and who loved the same woman, visits. He comes with another friend and a plan. They drug Darnay and in his stupor, Carton exchanges clothes with him. Carton assumes the identity of the condemned, as the other man leads the condemned to freedom. Waiting for his turn at the knife, Carton comforts a young seamstress who faces the same fate, while contemplating the life he loved and would lose with the drop of the blade. 

What a sacrifice, to give your life for the life of your rival. As the scriptures say, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”[1] But what about when it’s not your friend? Carton gives his life for his rival with a woman he loved. And would you give your life for someone you don’t know?

Today, we’re looking at the closing story in the first chapter of Mark’s gospel. Jesus trades places with a leper. In a way, with the placement of this story early in the book, Mark foreshadows Jesus’ goal. As Jesus says in the tenth chapter: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.”[2] This is what atonement is all about. Jesus takes our place. He pays the price for our ransom. 

Before reading the Scripture: 

It’s taken us five Sundays to work through the first chapter of Mark’s gospel… From the prologue which announced Jesus’ purpose of proclaiming the kingdom of God coming near, Mark stacks on top of each other stories of Jesus’ power. He is no ordinary human. His power extends over evil and over illness. 

Last week, we heard about Jesus leaving Capernaum,. So far, he focused his ministry there. Now he heads out to preach in the synagogues of the surrounding towns. We’re given one example of this ministry as he encounters a man with leprosy or some kind of skin disease. This was a feared illness. The Old Testament prescribed strict guidelines for how to handle the illness. For the sake of the community’s health, the one with leprosy must live outside the city and keep away from people. 

In the middle of the book of Leviticus, there’s a long section dealing with leprosy. I’ll spare you all the details, but let me read these two verses which provides an idea of what those living with the disease endured:

The person who has the defiling disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.[3]

It’s often pointed out that the leprosy of scripture is different from the horrible diseases we know today by that name. It included a host of skin diseases which create open sores on the body of the victim.[4]  

Because Greek had another name for the disease we know as leprosy, the updated edition of the New Revised Standard Version identifies the illness only as a skin disease.[5] Such people were seen as contagious, and therefore for the good of the community, they were kept away from people. As one commentator noted, it wasn’t just bad enough to suffer with the disease, the person also received a sentence, a banishment from society.[6]

Now let’s look at this encounter between Jesus and a man with leprosy or a skin disease.

Read Mark 1:40-45

This passage marks a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. He has headed into the other town of Galilee to preach in the synagogues, but after encountering and healing this man with a skin disease, his popularity soars so high he can no longer go into the towns. His ministry is now limited to the countryside. Still, the crowds flock to see Jesus. 

In a way, if you were a strict Old Testament law constitutionalist, our passage shows two violations. The first comes from the man who approaches Jesus. He was to stay isolated. With unkempt hair and ratty clothes, he was forced to announce his presence as “unclean,” to anyone who may approach him. But the man has faith and feels this is his one chance to be clean. So, he ignores the law and finds deliverance from his sentence which forced him to live as the walking dead. 

The other violator to this strict law was Jesus. If you were without the disease, you were to stay away from those infected. For most people, this was a no-brainer. Who would want the disease. But Jesus reaches out his hand to the man. The illness doesn’t scare Jesus away. 

It’s more important for us to care for others than to be a strict legalist. I’ve been studying to take the test to renew my Amateur Radio license, which expired around the time I started college. One of the FCC rules that surprised me has to do with times of emergency. If life is threatened, you can break rules. If you hear a ships distress call, you can go to a frequency you are not licensed to use, to attempt to respond and get them help. 

There are also good Samaritan laws in many states. We can’t practice as a physician if we don’t have a degree or license. However, if there is no physician on the scene, we can attempt to provide aid when its either that or letting the person die. The law’s purpose is to protect the community and life. Jesus, knowing his powers, willingly intervenes even if it means going against the law. We’ll see more examples of this in Mark’s gospel.[7] Grace and love always triumphs the law. 

I recall the first person I knew with AIDS, back in the 1980s. If you remember, when the disease first appeared, people were scared to be around those diagnosed with it. This woman’s husband, a hemophilic, had contracted the disease through a blood transfusion. He died and she came down with AIDS. Her sister took her into her home so she would have a place to live out her remaining months. But there were people afraid of being around her. Thankfully, those in her sister’s church, which I was pastoring at the time, stepped in and made her feel welcomed.

I recall stories of those suffering from the illness who found hope and solace in those willing to give them a hug or to hold their hand as they were dying. As followers of Jesus, we are to show compassion and grace, even when it requires us to take risks. 

The man in our story today approaches Jesus reverently, kneeling before him. He has the beginning of faith. “If you are willing,” he says, “you can make me clean.” He knows of Jesus’ power. Think of how he felt when Jesus, without saying a word, reaches out his hand to touch the man. Jesus touched the untouchable. For Jesus, the law of love reign supreme, topping even the law of Moses. It’s only after Jesus touches the man, does he speak. Jesus’ word has power. The man experiences healing. 

Only then does Jesus follow protocol. He sends the man to the priests to be examined and proclaimed clean. Such requirements were laid out in chapters 13 and 14 of Leviticus. And he tells the man to keep it a secret about his healing. We’re not told whether the man makes it to a priest, but we learn that he could not keep quiet about his healing. I

It was as if the man received a pardon when facing a death sentence. He can’t help but to brag on Jesus, on what he had done for him. He becomes an evangelist, sharing the good news that he experienced. 

Our passage ends with a statement that Jesus can no longer go into towns because his fame has grown so much that he’s overwhelmed by people. So instead of going to the people, now the people come to Jesus. 

And while the man who had the skin disease is free to go into town, Jesus is stuck on the outskirts. As I mentioned earlier, this is an example of atonement, of Jesus trading places with us. The leper is freed, Jesus is restrained. Mark foreshadows what happens on the cross. Jesus willingly takes our place, accepts our punishment, so that we, like the man in today’s story, experience freedom. 

While I don’t suggest we ignore Jesus’ commands, I understand the man’s inability to keep quiet after his healing. After all, he’s now freed to live and has much for which to be thankful. And, for his blessings, he gives the credit to where it’s due. He doesn’t claim the grace he experienced to his own abilities or hard work. He gives credit to Jesus. May we be as thankful. Amen. 

[1] John 15:13. 

[2] Mark 10:45. 

[3] Leviticus 13:45-46.

[4] See William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 84-85; Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (1991, Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 78-79; Douglas R. A. Hare, Westminster Bible Companion: Mark, (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1996), 33-34. 

[5] The original NRSV, which I will be reading, uses “ a leper.” The updated edition of the NRSV says, “A man with a skin disease.” 

[6] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 68.

[7] In the 2nd chapter, Mark writes about Jesus breaking the Sabbath laws. See Mark 2:23-28. 

Saved for a purpose

Title slide showing a picture of the Okefenokee

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry & Bluemont Churches
February 4, 2024
Mark 1:29-39

Often people speak of seeking Jesus as if he can be found. Instead of us finding Jesus, he finds us. Some think if others can find Jesus, he’ll solve their problems or take up their cause. But that’s putting the cart in front of the horse. While it is worthy to seek Jesus, scripture tells us to seek first the Kingdom of God.[1]There might be a difference. 

We’re not to go out to find Jesus just for him to take care of our issues. God’s kingdom is about something far more important than individual needs. Furthermore, it’s not enough just to seek Jesus. When we encounter Jesus, we must be ready and willing to follow him.[2] We’ll see this in our text this morning from Mark’s gospel. The disciples seek Jesus so that he can tend to the crowds, but Jesus has a different plan. 

In my email “musings” that I sent out yesterday, I linked to an article by James Bratt, a professor emeritus from Calvin College, who describes our purpose in God’s plan in this manner: 

God is not just saving individuals from hellfire but is in the business of redeeming the whole world, the entire cosmos, from the blight of the fall. The “saved” at the end of time will populate the new earth, but in the meantime, they are to witness to that coming kingdom in every domain of human life, here and now. We are means, not the end; agents, not the goal.[3]

Before reading the scripture:

As I have tried to express in my first sermons from Mark, the gospel is fast paced. One of Mark’s favorite Greek words is euthys. Mark uses this word to express immediacy. It’s translated as “soon,” “just then,” “immediately,” “directly” or if you prefer the older English King James Version, “forthwith.” We find this word eleven times in the first chapter of Mark. It’s used a total of forty times in the entire gospel.[4] We see this in our reading this morning. 

Immediately after casting out the demon or unclean spirit, Jesus leaves the synagogue and heads to the home of Peter (referred to here as Simon). Peter and his brother Andrew’s home appears to have been right behind the synagogue. Archeologists are pretty sure where this home was located. Graffiti scratched in the wall in the late first or early second century, identify the site. It became an early church, venerated as having belonged to Peter.[5] There Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. 

Our reading today might be called “A Night in the Life of Jesus.” For after Peter’s mother-in-law was healed, the sun sets. The sabbath restrictions on travel is over. Now, people can freely move about, and they rush to be healed by Jesus. It’s chaotic. Before the sun rises and morning comes, after getting a little sleep, Jesus slips away for quiet time with his father. And the disciples head out in the dark in search of him. 

Read Mark 1:29-39

We can’t control Jesus. He doesn’t serve as our personal physician or miracle maker. Instead, Jesus came to inaugurate God’s kingdom and to show his followers what the kingdom should look like. As we see in this passage, Jesus resists becoming a freak show or circus act. As the crowd builds, instead of basking in their praise, he slips away. Even Jesus needs quiet time. 

Furthermore, Jesus’ message can’t be confined to a particular locale. While a personal relationship with Jesus is necessary, we must never forget that Jesus’ role in God’s plan of salvation is not just for us, as individuals. Jesus came and gave his life for the life of the world.[6]

In this text we also see Jesus’ human needs. His life consists of work, worship, and rest. He heals, then he gets away to rest and to reconnect with the Father. All aspects of his life are important. The same goes for us. We’re to work hard, but we’re not to forget to connect with God through prayer and worship. And it’s important for us to take time for ourselves. 

Now let’s look at the text. Mark uses that favorite word I told you about which emphasizes immediacy. As soon as they leave the synagogue, they enter the Peter’s house. Mark likes to create fast action, but here it might not just be rhetorical. As I mentioned, Peter’s home was next to the synagogue, so it really was immediate. Jesus walks out of one door and into the next door, as Peter and Andrew’s home shared a wall with the synagogue.[7]

As they enter the home, they learn of Peter’s mother-in-law’s illness. She has a fever, which in those days before aspirin and iburpofen, was serious. Unlike other faith healers of the day, or even today, we’re not told of any prayer or incantation. He doesn’t make an ointment. Instead, he demonstrates his power by just taking her hand and raising her up. Instantly healed and starts serving them. 

In a way, it doesn’t seem right. She is healed and immediately goes back to work. Again, as I pointed out in the quote from Professor Bratt, Jesus doesn’t just save us for our own well-being. There is a purpose in our lives. 

Sadly, but not unsurprisingly, some have used this passage to demonstrate how women are supposed to serve men. But that’s a misinterpretation. The word used for serving is the same word used to describe the angels tending to Jesus in the wilderness. It’s also the root of the word Jesus applies to himself. He’s the one who came to serve.[8] As we follow Jesus, we are to serve one another. 

Let me reiterate. This text in no way implies that just women are to serve. Instead, it means that those who follow Jesus (men and women, rich and poor, young, and old) are to be in service to others.[9] God’s kingdom turns the ways of the world upside down. We’re not to look to get all we can for ourselves. All are to be in service to others. A question to ask ourselves, “how are we at serving?”

Of course, the word of this instant healing spreads fast. After sunset, when the Sabbath is over and people can mill around, everyone gathers at Peter and Andrew’s door. 

Me with a girl from Honduras in front of a church, 2005

I remember the first medical mission trip I attended in Jesus’ de Ortoro, Honduras.[10] We announced in the community and surrounding villages there would be American doctors and medical personnel available on a particular day. The clinics opened at 8 AM, and by 7 AM, there was a line of folks stretching down the dusty street. Vendors popped up to sell food as many had to wait for hours. Desperate people grasp at any hope, and so all who have needs come out just as it was in Jesus’ day. Jesus heals many. He casts out many demons. 

After Jesus’ visit to the Capernaum synagogue, the demons know who he is and fears him.[11] Jesus establishes his kingdom by defeating the evil powers in the world. But he doesn’t let them identify himself. He wants his disciples and followers to come to their own understanding to his identity and purpose. 

Now all this happened in the evening. Mark doesn’t tell us what time the clinic closed, but at some point, everyone heads home. Jesus, exhausted, gets a bit of sleep. Then he’s up early, setting off to find a place where he could be alone in prayer. 

Remember, while it’s morning, it’s still dark. And in the darkness, Simon and the other disciples go in search for Jesus. They find him and, in some ways, boldly chastise him. Essentially, they imply, “why are you hiding, everyone is looking for you.” But Jesus can’t be controlled. Instead of returning to Capernaum, he has them pack up and head to other towns in Galilee, proclaiming this same message. Jesus’ fame grows. 

We learn from this passage, as did the disciples, that we should follow Jesus and not try to control him. While we might seek Jesus, we’re not to seek him for our own selfish purposes. If Jesus saves us, he expects us to be of service to others, as Simon’s mother-in-law demonstrates. 

The disciples want Jesus to go tend to their neighbors and kinfolk. But Jesus has bigger plans. And he calls us to follow him, not just to save our souls, but to for us to participate in God’s grand plan to restore the world, not by might, but by love, not by power, but with grace. Amen. 

[1] Matthew 6:33. 

[2] Mark later tells the story of one who sought Jesus but wasn’t willing to follow him. See Mark 10:17-22. 


[4] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 58-59. The use of the word in other translations came from my own research as I looked at the KJV, NIV, Living Bible, RSV, NRSV, and Message.

[5] Edwards, 59. 

[6] We shouldn’t forget that John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world…” not “God so loved me.” God loves us and everyone.

[7] Douglas R. A. Hare, Westminster Bible Companion: Mark (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox 1996), 29. 

[8] See Mark 10:45. 

[9] Edwards, 60. 

[10] I wrote about one of my trips to Honduras in an article for the Presbyterian Outlook in 2007 and reprinted it last year in my blog. See

[11] Mark 1:21-28. See

Chesser Prairie in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Photo taken last week.