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No Problem, Week 3 — The “Stubborn Problem” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Began in a “liturgical” fashion with me inviting viewers to stand and read the Scripture out loud and together as we began;
  • Deal with the thorny issue of the demonic in Scripture and in life;
  • Used Colossians 2:13-15 to bring light to Mark 1;
  • Landed at this point:  No problem is too stubborn for his authority.

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

 

True story: back in the late 90s, a man was gardening his yard in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona and, as you might suspect, he came across a rattle snake (Sound effect plz). But this an AZ guy, somewhat used to such as that, and he hoisted his shovel high above his head and THWACK cut the head off the rattler before it could strike. Raid might kill bugs dead but shovels kill snakes dead. And then Snake-Killer-Guy bends down to pick up severed head to dispose of it … and the snake bit him. A DEAD SNAKE bit a LIVING MAN (tell me that’s not a great headline!)!

It turns out that many snakes have a reflex action in their bite that enables/empowers/ensures that they can bite for up to 15 minutes after death, decapitation, or both. And fully 15 % of people admitted to the hospital from snake bites have been bitten by a dead one. Scout’s honor! Now: can we admit that DEAD SNAKE BITING is a stubborn problem? If any animal can bite you after it’s dead, it’s a problem? It’s a resilient, stubborn, almost life-after-deathy kind of problem. We’ve talked problems over the last couple of weeks – big ones, small ones, and now it’s stubborn ones.

Maybe you have one or more of those stubborn problems whether you have a garden in AZ or not. It could be the heartbreak of psoriasis. It could be a more serious, more dangerous ailment, like a Crohn’s or a diverticulitis. It could be that annoying habit you have of always sticking your foot in your mouth … especially when you meet someone of the opposite sex and you want to make a good impression. It could be the continual loop of financial crisis, and pinballing from one desperate situation to another. Or it could be that persistent depression absolutely unrelated to circumstance or that fragile relationship that is. Or I bet for some of you it’s the way you talk to yourself – you have quickly become your own worst enemy, talking yourself out of what’s good and/or into what’s harmful. Yeah, dead snakes still bit and old problems don’t get gone.

Well, in Mark 1, where we have been parked throughout this series, after facing a small problem and then a big problem, Jesus look headlong into a stubborn problem. Here’s what’s going in as Mark opens up his biography of Jesus. it’s Mark 1 and you just need to know that Mark himself is in such a hurry. Check out Mark 1:1: READ. 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. And Jesus first deals with the “small” problem of one individual sick with a fever (Peter’s mother-in-law) and then the “big” problem of the entire village showing up at his doorstep demanding to be heal. As we saw last week, Jesus bats 1000 on both of those. No problem is too small for his attention and no problem is too big for his ability.

But now look at the final sentence in this little vignette in 1:34b: READ. He drives them out and shuts them up. Actually, Jesus has been dealing with demons for the entire chapter – check 1:23-24:

23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

And he is going to deal with them again in chapter five. It’s as if from the beginning, in addition to setting up a suspense novel about Jesus’ IDENTITY (when will the characters know what the reader does?) Mark also sets up this continual test of his AUTHORITY. Who wins these skirmishes? The Messiah or his opponents.

And, of course, that brings up the whole troubling realm of the demonic. Why so many of them in Scripture? Are they still around? If so, what do they do? Are we supposed to be re-enacting The Exorcist movie in church? Now: I’ve been around some pretty disturbing stuff when I was a young pastor, things that in hindsight bordered in child trauma. But I’ve also been around some super sophisticated Christian preacher types who denied that there is any such thing as Satan and contended that any preacher who believed in him was simple minded. Honestly, I don’t know which of those two extremes is worse. Or more dangerous. Both are deadly.

But as I’ve wrestled with it, one thing that occurs to me is how much more demonic activity occurs in the New Testament BEFORE THE CRUCIFIXION. It’s everywhere before; much more limited after. Why might that be? What does Colossians 2:13-15 say?

13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you[a] alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Whoa. Disarmed powers, authorities, made a spectacle of them, triumphing over them … by the cross. The war with evil was won on that hill and with that blood.

But guess what? For some reason, our Lord allows that dead snake still to bite. Now: he is fighting a losing battle, his defeat will one day be final and public and emphatic when Jesus returns, but for reasons beyond our comprehension, the Lord still allows him space to roam and deceive and seduce and bite even today. Why? Not sure, but maybe it has something to do with our stubborn problem problem. Because look at 1:34 again: READ.

He drove them out. He shut them up. He has dealt with them before. He will deal with them again. He will wrestle with all the debris that they leave in people’s lives. You know what that means for all of you struggling with stubborn problems today? No problem is too stubborn for his authority. He alone has the authority to send those persistent demons AND THE PROBLEMS THEY REPRESENT away and to shut them up (and he shuts them up because the time for him to be revealed for who he is has not come yet. They apparently are noisy and rude and unfiltered and yet he along has the authority to turn chatterboxes into church mice.) He has the power to do that because he has authority over their realm and over ours.   No problem is too stubborn for his authority.

You know what I mean when I talk about his authority? You know how when you’re driving along the highway, maybe five MPHs over, maybe seven over, maybe TEN OVER! … and you see a police officer on the side of the road, what’s the first thing you do? You hit the brake! Try to play it cool, but you slow down! Even though it’s probably too late (or maybe unnecessary) but you slow down. Why? They gots authority over you. And over your insurance rates!

That’s what I mean. Where you know he has authority to stop you, to protect you, to guardrail you, to own you because he bought you. And the authority he has over you extends to the authority he has over ever crevice in your life and even over the most persistent, troublesome issues you have. Your most stubborn problems flee at his authority.

So with me, and this really is a bit sick, it’s worked with my interactions with other preachers. Through this combination of the way I’m wired and growing up playing tennis, I see other preachers as … competition. The enemy. This is not healthy. Yet it has been going on almost 30 years, stubbornly, persistently. And I would JUSTIFY IT in my mind. But you know what God did? He stopped me in my tracks one night and put these words in my mind: My reputation is more important than your vindication. IOW it’s more important that I (God) am GREAT than it is that you are RIGHT. And if I use that preacher or that church to advance my name, what’s it to ya? Gulp. So in this process, it’s now the ppl I used to be most competitive WITH I now pray the most blessings ON. That may not seem like a big deal to you but it’s liberating to me and God did it. Why? Because  No problem is too stubborn for his authority.

Or even the guy I know plagued with self-destructive thoughts. His whole life. Just overwhelming. You may be like that. But for this friend, he got surrounded by good people, had prayer over him that actually opposed Satan and protected God’s child, and now, it’s no more.   No problem is too stubborn for his authority.

And you know what this is REALLY like? For some of you, the solution to your stubborn problem is not some dramatic prayer or personal growth in the NOW. (For others it is!) But for you, it may come down to following what Jesus said A LONG TIME AGO. Those words he said, those words he inspired have AUTHORITY. Like let’s say you have a grudge problem. What did he say, on the cross? Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. What did he say about 70 x 7? Or maybe your stubborn problem is a money problem. What did he say about money? Where your treasure is there your heart will be also? Maybe your money problem isn’t that you don’t MAKE enough it’s that you don’t GIVE enough? It’s why Jesus also said Matthew 6:33: READ. So yeah, all these stubborn problems around money and sex and relationships and all too often we look for new answers when the ones he has already provided us with are the ones with the real power and authority. Hallelujah! Because it really is INSPIRED, ETERNAL, & TRUE.   No problem is too stubborn for his authority.

Because one way I KNOW that the devil and his legions still deceives, the way that dead snake still bites, is how you talk to yourself. THAT is a stubborn problem. It’s a narrative you create in your mind and you use it to process all the events and information in your life. For some of you, you’re good at making yourself miserable. You set up comparisons & competition with others that exist in your mind only, you dwell on dumb things you’ve done or even an imperfection in your appearance, and your self-talk is killing you. Guess what: No problem is too stubborn for his authority. Even THAT.

And others of you, it’s almost the reverse. You don’t make yourself miserable; you make excuses. Your self-talk puts you in the position of victim, excuses decisions you’ve made and, yes, SINS YOU COMMIT and SELF-DESTRUCTION YOU PURSUE, and it’s a narrative that propels every stubborn problem you have. If that’s you, listen: relinquish authority over your mind. To Jesus! TODAY! I’ve already shown you how! Lord, I am powerless without you (admit it!) but because of you I’m never helpless. Glory! REF.

One of my favorite songs goes I fight authority and authority always wins. I love the song but I realize in this message that it is Satan’s motto and Satan’s life. He DOES fight against authority, and authority has won the war and that victory will soon and very soon be thorough, complete, and public.

How about you? You fighting against authority? How about you, today, decide to start fighting WITH it instead? You’ll be glad you did.

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