Yesterday’s message …
- Dug a bit deeper into the short story from Mark 1 that is our basis for the entire “No Problem” series;
- Acknowledged that some people actually like their problems and derive their identity from them;
- Led to an opportunity to say Yes to Jesus, even with a text message option;
- Had this point: No problem is too big for his ability.
So last week we talked about Small Problems as the NO PROBLEM series started, and this week, as you can tell by the title of the message, it’s about Big Problems. And do you know what the primary difference is between small problems and big problems? A small problem is the one that SOMEONE ELSE has and a big problem is when YOU HAVE THE EXACT SAME THING. Kinda like “minor surgery” is the surgery happening on the other guy; anything happening to you and on you is major surgery indeed.
I’ve told a lot of you before that as a teen the biggest, THE BIGGEST problem for me was acne of the pimple variety. And you’re like, “that’s so minor, so insignificant, so temporary!” and I’m like you’re only saying that cuz the pimples weren’t on YOUR face. Small problems become big problems with their problems turn into your problems.
But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg of problems that we’d call big. One of my great privileges as a pastor is the incredible level of trust you place in me and so I know that in our gatherings there are marriage problems, money problems, addiction problems, children problems, depression problems. That’s even before we tackle huge national problems like the national debt, the political divisions, the state of our schools, the breakdown of the family, and the enduring popularity of Phil Collins. Those are problems.
And the great temptation in the face of problems national and problems personal, both those you have and those you’re glad have “passed over” you while afflicting the house next door, is to throw your hands up. I got nothing. I give up. Inertia takes over. And if that’s the great TEMPTATION, the great DANGER is even worse: the problem you have, the big one, becomes a problem that has you. It defines you; becomes part of your self-understanding. I AM the divorce. I AM the addiction. I AM the bankruptcy. I AM the unemployment. Yep, some of us even get to the place where we are just A LITTLE TOO COMFORTABLE with problems that have us.
Jesus has the most interesting encounter with the epic scale of big problems in Mark 1:29-34, a story that grounds us for the entire three weeks of this series. And I told some of you last week and want to let the rest of you know now about Mark’s bio and how he starts it: Here’s the scene: it’s Mark 1 and you just need to know that Mark himself is in such a hurry. Check out Mark 1:1:
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,[a] the Son of God,
No Xmas story, no Jesus at 12, no genealogy, no “in the beginning,” no preliminaries, all LET’S GET ON WITH IT ALREADY. The whole beginning of Mark is dominated by words like “immediately” and “at once” and “as soon as” … and remember, writing was both backbreaking labor AND very expensive in ancient times, so when an author like Mark repeats the same phrase so often, he means for you to notice it.
And our story picks up in 1:29 – yet Mark has been in such a hurry that just 29 verses in and Jesus has already been baptized, called his entourage, and had an EXORCISM – exorcism! – in the area synagogue. It’s as if we arrive at 1:29 out of breath, trying to keep up with Mark the author and Jesus the rising celebrity. This breathless pace and dizzying speed is by design, it’s on purpose, and it’s brilliant. Because it highlights ever more starkly what happens over the next few verses.
So AFTER Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law – a RELATIVELY small problem – word gets out. A deluge comes his way. Check 1:32a:
32 That evening after sunset
“After sunset” … do you know why? Because it’s the Sabbath, and they wanted to wait for the Sabbath to conclude before asking Jesus to do more “work.’ But consider what else can happen in the dark: things can get dangerous. Shady. Out of control. How often in your life has something REALLY GOOD happened after, say, midnight? Rarely! Instead those are the times by and large you come to regret and many times it’s because the crowd was up to something and you went along with it.
Look what it says next in 1:32b:
the people brought to Jesus all
“the people brought to Jesus all …” – which brings up an obvious question: who are YOU bringing to Jesus? And how far are you willing to go to do it? GULP. And then 1:32c & 33:
the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door,
Oh, Lord. ALL the sick. ALL the demon possessed (two separate categories in Mark’s mind). The WHOLE TOWN! OK, it’s dark – things easily become scary and out of control. Then in that atmosphere, the whole town sort of storms a small house. That’s a CROWD. Lotta people in a small space. Do you know what happens to crowds at night? They become mobs. Mobs turn ugly.
So all of a sudden all these people’s problems – ALL THE SICK AND ALL THE DEMONIC! – become Jesus’ problem. He’s got problems! Event Management! Crowd Control! Logistics! Live Tweeters! The sheer mass of humanity crowding at one door. But deeper that all that is the sheer weight of problems that faced him: leprosy, fevers, halitosis, crippling arthritis, cancer, tumors, bi-polar, Crohn’s Disease, male pattern baldness, all of it. Big problems.
And listen – when I think of that crowd, I think not only its size and the dark and the potential for violence if they don’t get served quickly or well, if Jesus somehow overpromises and underdelivers. I think of something much more sinister. They were people in that crowd who had been so sick for so long that they have gotten used to it … and kinda like it. The problem defines them and if the problem goes away so does their sense of self. I don’t know how many in that throng were like that, but if ancient times were like modern times, I bet quite a few.
Then check 1:34a:
34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases.
Now at first I was kinda disappointed. ALL came but MANY were healed. What was Jesus batting? 300? 500? 700? But then I dug a little deeper and found out how they used the language back in that day and guess what? “Many” is a figure of speech in the ancient language that means … ALL. If you’re skeptical of that, consider English figures of speech where the meaning is almost the opposite of what we say. “Lit” doesn’t mean “bright”; it means “great.” A decade or so ago, “phat” didn’t mean “heavy” it meant “cool.” And today, if you say to someone, “I haven’t seen you in a minute” it actually means “I haven’t seen you in forever.” In the same way, when Mark says “many” he means “all.”
Oh my gosh. Faced with his BIG PROBLEM of all these BIG PROBLEMS, Jesus bats 1000! So you know what? Do you know why Mark tells the story as he tells it, why he stacks the odds up against Jesus in terms of both atmosphere and volume? Why does he make the situation seem almost impossible and then mention almost in passing, “Oh, this guy? Got them all. Every. Single. One.” So we’d know: No problem is too big for his ability. Nope. None. He is able. More than able.
And the church collected this story, chose Mark, highlighted these words because nothing has changed. The truth remains. What Jesus did in the flesh in Galilee then he does through the Spirit in the Carolinas now. His ability never became disability.
It’s like Dr. MKL Jr said in God Is Able: READ UM Hymnal #106!
Leader: Is someone here moving toward the twilight of life and fearful of that which we call death?
People: Why be afraid? God is able.
Leader: Is someone here on the brink of despair because of the death of a loved one, the breaking of a marriage, or the waywardness of a child?
People: Why despair? God is able to give us the power to endure that which cannot be changed.
Leader: Is someone here anxious because of bad health?
People: Why be anxious? Come what may, God is able.
All: Surely God is able.
No problem is too big for his ability.
Or it’s like the way people trust me not only with their problems but with their progress. And some of the lives that are surrounding you RIGHT NOW are remarkable … remarkable not only for the depth of despair previously but the heights of redemption right now. Like my friend who had a rough patch years ago that involved drugs. And one time I asked, “like how bad?” “Like heroin,” he answered. And today? Same guy is drug free and Scripture full. Glory! No problem is too big for his ability.
Or even the woman – only 86 – who shares meals with my 104 year old mother at the assisted living facility in TX. She told me that for forty years she smoked. And then one time about 30 years ago – got math? 86 now. Smoked from 16 til 56? – she was in the hospital for something unrelated to cigarettes. And, as happens and as some of you know from experience, she couldn’t wait to get out of the hospital and take her first drag. Even though she figured it was killing her, she was obsessed with the next cig. So she was discharged and as she was being wheeled out on the sidewalk she reached for her cig box when the words of the LP came into her mind: Lead us not into temptation. BOOM! Delivered. Never smoked since. Now he doesn’t ALWAYS work that way; he generally uses a process, but mark my words, he works. On problems. No problem is too big for his ability.
Where is it with you? What’s that big problem that has you throwing up your hands in surrender to IT rather than to God? Is it the marriage? Guess what? No problem is too big for his ability. Is it the wayward child? Guess what? No problem is too big for his ability. . Is it the bankruptcy? Guess what? No problem is too big for his ability. Is it the disagreeable, aging parent? Guess what? No problem is too big for his ability. Is it the compulsion – you don’t have it; it has you? No problem is too big for his ability.
Now hold on here. Ready for something both convicting and liberating? Something I alluded to earlier? Some of you here … LIKE your problems. They give you an identity. You nurse them, tend to them. Complain about them. And if you didn’t have it you wouldn’t feel whole. It’s your badge of honor. And I want this message to liberate you from that. To raise your awareness of what’s going on – NOT WITH HIM OR HER BUT WITH YOU! – and then to have it so deeply in your heart that you’re propelled out of victimhood. You’re no longer a victim OF circumstance but a victor THROUGH them.
Yep. THROUGH circumstances. God rarely takes you around those big problems but instead guides you through them. Because let’s admit: many of his answers are delayed. Others are diverted. Others are absent for reasons we usually only figure out later. Because in the same way dough needs fire to become CAKE, you need problems to become whole. Through the same Jesus who didn’t avoid the crowd, run away from that peril but entered it. Through the same Jesus who had another crowd, one at Golgotha, a crowd that DID turn ugly, a mob that did turn violent. He went through it because he is able to solve the biggest problem you or me or any of us will ever have – the habit of sin and the tendency to self-destruct. And you just realized with stunning clarity that you are the biggest problem you have and you’ve never invited Jesus to bring his saving ability to your problem-finding ways. I’m going to give you an opportunity to say Yes to Jesus right now. Some of you have said “maybe” to him, others have said “later” to him, others have said “no” and still others said “yes” but that was a long time ago and there is water under that bridge.
Today: say Yes to him as Lord and King. Stop surrendering to your problems and start surrendering to him.
If you’d like to say Yes to him today, EVEN AS YOU READ A SERMON YOU MAY NOT HAVE HEARD, text:
Yes2Jesus to 704.741.7676.