Becoming a Spiritual Lifeguard, Mark 4:35-5:20

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Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Centreville Presbyterian Church, Centreville, VA

Invocation

Heavenly Father; God of all seasons and all times; Lord of places familiar and places unfamiliar; God of our emotions and our thinking.   In the power of your Holy Spirit silence any voice in our ears but yours.  Make your presence known to us today in the words spoken and the words heard.  In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Story of Reluctant Swimmers

In thinking about this afternoon’s message, I kept coming back to my experience in high school as a swimming instructor at Goshen Scout camps. At one point I was asked to teach a troop of special needs scouts how to swim. Talk about scary moments. The image of a lake full of drowning scouts still comes to mind.

By the end of the week, however, two of these scouts, Elmer and Freddie, had passed their swim test. Both had the swim routine down before I met them, but both also faced certain obstacles to finishing the course.

Elmer

Elmer swam the American crawl perfectly, but only in shallow water where his fingers touched the bottom. He loved to show off his great form, but in his heart of hearts he thought swimming was a scam.  He became visibly upset when I prodded him to venture into deeper water.

Freddie

Freddie swam just fine, but thought it was more fun to be rescued by the lifeguard. He would begin his swim test and swim a lap or two. Then, a great big smile would come across Freddie’s face and he would pretend to drown. I can still see the horror on the faces of those watching me as I got mad at this drowning scout—that is, until they saw Freddie stop drowning and finish his swim test.

Isn’t that so like us when hear God’s call? (2X)

Stop focusing on myself and finish the race?  Who me, Lord?

Swim into deeper waters and trust you to support me? Who me, Lord?

The moment we get over our pretensions and really appreciate how much Christ has done for us, we want to tell the whole world.  When we do, we become spiritual lifeguards.

Scriptural Background

Our scripture lesson is taken from the book of Mark who recorded what is believed to be the witness of the Apostle Peter.  The story of the healing of a man with an unclean spirit appears in the three synoptic Gospels and in each case follows the account of the storm on the Galilee [1].  Mark’s version is the longest and offers details of obvious interest to a modern reader.  The length of Mark’s account is particularly striking because Mark wrote the shortest Gospel.  Why does Mark spend twice as much time on this particular story as does Matthew or Luke? [2]  (2X)

Uniqueness of Mark’s Account

Only in Mark, for example, do we learn that the crossing of the Galilee involved multiple boats and took place in the evening (Mark 4:35-36).  The storm on the Galilee inspired fear, in part, because it happened after dark.  Nightfall might also explain why Jesus was sleeping [3].

The Man with the Unclean Spirit

Two details suggest that Mark expressed great sympathy for the man with the unclean spirit [4].

The first detail is his use of the term, unclean spirit (ἄνθρωπος ἐν πνεύματι ἀκαθάρτω (Mark 5:2 BNT)).  By contrast, Matthew starts by saying the man is demonized (δαιμονιζόμενοι (Matt 8:28 BNT)) while Luke reports that he has a demon (ἀνήρ…ἔχων δαιμόνια (Luke 8:27 BNT)) [5].  The term, unclean spirit, is less judgmental and evokes the image of ritual impurity rather than demonic manipulation.

The second detail is also unique to Mark.  Only Mark tells us that this man cuts himself with stones (κατακόπτων ἑαυτὸν λίθοις (Mark 5:5 BNT)).  In other words, he was a cutter.

What is a Cutter?

In case you have never known a cutter, a cutter is someone, usually a young person, whose emotional pain is so deep that self-induced physical pain comes as a relief.  Cutters feel abandoned by their friends and family.  Cutters are not normally suicidal although they may accidentally kill themselves.  Mark gives us a picture of a young person in unbelievable anguish which is in sharp contrast with Matthew’s image of a raging, fearsome maniac (Matt 8:28) [6].

Can you feel the pain being communicated here?  (2X) If you could heal this kid, would you take the risk to step into his messy life and do it?

Moral Ambiguity

Other details in this passage evoke less pathos but focus more on moral ambiguity.  The synoptic Gospels, for example, differ on the location of this pericope but all place the location in Gentile territory known as the Decapolis, region of ten cities.  Mark and Luke locate this story in the Gerasene while Matthew cites the area of Gadara [7]. Scholars place the location at Gergesa, a relatively unknown location on the Sea of Galilee with a steep slope. The Gerasene and Gadara locations, while better known, are not on the Sea of Galilee [8].

In summary, the location, the man’s lack of clothing, his presence in a graveyard, the presence of demons, and the local raising of pigs (Lightfoot 1979, 254) all reinforce the image of the man as ritually unclean and probably a gentile.  The idea that this man was a gentile makes sense because Apostle Peter led the church in accepting gentile ministry (Acts 10).  Peter’s leadership in accepting gentiles into the church may also explain Mark’s special interest in this story.

Jesus’ Pathos

Jesus’ pathos for the pain of this young man is obvious.  There is a sense here that the man with the unclean spirit is the personification of unrepentant sinner undergoing a difficult conversion (Garland 1996, 212).  As the Apostle Paul put it:  If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17 ESV).  Through the story of this young man, Mark has painted a picture for us of both the old self and the new self in Christ (Eph 4:20-24).

Salvation Message

What does God’s salvation look like to you?  (2X)

The Apostle Paul described salvation in these words: if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved (Romans 10:9-10 ESV).

Exodus as Salvation

For me, salvation evokes memory of the Exodus story when God rescued the people of Israel and brought them out from the land of Egypt.  Remembering the Exodus, the Prophet Isaiah writes:  But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you (Isaiah 43:1-2 ESV).

Downing as a Metaphor

Have you ever felt in over your head?  Do the waters of life leave you grasping for life-preservers that are nowhere to be found?  Do you feel like Jonah trying to run away from God and end up being thrown overboard?   Here in Mark we find the disciples in a raging storm in the middle of the night on the Galilee.

As the Psalmist  writes:  Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.  Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven (Psalm 107:28-30 ESV).

The Lifeguard

Do you see the lifeguard at work?  (2X)

Jesus simply says:  “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm (Mark 4:39 ESV).  What’s the big excitement?  Where is your faith? Jesus asks.

But what if the storm in our lives is more personal?  (2X)

Postmodern Haunting

What if we find ourselves in a strange land, surrounded by strange people, confronting death or, worse, confronting people living hollow, haunted lives?

Jesus, why are you still here?  Jesus, why do you torment me?

But our lifeguard is still on duty.  Jesus asks:  what is your name?

Name?  We have many names!  What name would you like?  Anger? Depression?  Fear? Guilt? Grief?  Humiliation? Shame?

Our lifeguard simply says—you have my permission to give them up.

Anger…(snap) gone.  Depression…(snap) gone.  Fear…(snap) gone.  Grief…(snap) gone.  Guilt…(snap) gone.  Humiliation… (snap) gone.  Shame…(snap) gone.  Gone…gone…gone…(Snap 3 X)

But what happens when the storm is over?  Jesus says:  Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you (Mark 5:19 ESV).  We are called to be witnesses of our own healing and lifeguards for those around us.

Closing Story

Let me close with another story.

A woman by the name of Debra used to live outside my office when I worked downtown in Washington.  Debra lived on the sidewalk there outside my building for seven years—longer than I had worked there.  When I was feeling all full of myself and generous, I would visit with Debra and give her lunch money.  When I was mad at the world and feeling sorry for myself, I sneak out the building so as to avoid her.  I felt the judgment of God in her presence because I was rich, warm, and well-fed while she was poor, cold, and hungry.  For this reason, I prayed that God would cure her of her mental illness and cure me of my moral cowardice [9].

Confronted with someone in pain in a morally ambiguous situation, what do you do?  (2X)

Confronted with a young man in great emotional pain, Jesus set aside his own agenda and healed him.

Prayer

Almighty God.  Father of all compassion.  Beloved son.  Holy Spirit. Thank you for your presence in our lives.  Calm the storms that plague us.  Heal us of the names that haunt us.  Make us whole people created in your image.  Help us to model your love to the people around us.  In Jesus’ mighty name, amen.

Footnotes


[1]Mark 4:35-5:20, Matthew 8:18, 23-34, and Luke 8:22-39.  Note also the allusion in Revelations Rev 21:2. In each account the man with the unclean spirit declares Jesus to be the Son of God (Matt 8:29; Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28).

[2]The word count in Greek is approximately:  Mark (472), Luke (407), and Matthew (236).  This is shocking because the Book of Mark (12, 015) is the shortest compared with Luke (20,683) and Matthew (19,474) (BNT, BibleWorks).  This implies that almost 4 percent of the Mark text is devoted to this story while less than 2 percent is devoted in either Luke or Matthew.

[3]An episode of near drowning in a boat on the Galilee evokes a dramatic image of the exodus from Egypt—a communal baptism.  Because baptism is frequently thought of as a symbolic death and resurrection (Rom 6:4) which is similar to the allusion evoked in mental illness (Foucault 1988, 16), the storm on the Galilee is thematically related to story of the demoniacs that follows.  Both are also miracle stories and display Jesus’ authority (France 2007, 333).  By contrast, Saint Jerome (1977, 163) saw an allusion to the prophet Jonah (Garland 1996, 193).  Taken together, the literary argument is implicitly from the greater to the smaller, if Jesus can command the wind and waves, he can surely cast out demons in a possessed gentile.

[4]The OT provides at least two examples of demonic possession (Judges 9:23 and 1 Sam 16:14-16), but no exorcisms. Casting out demons is a NT innovation.  ἐκβάλλω (exorcise) is frequently used in this sense in the NT, but the LXX uses this word primarily in a military sense of driving one’s enemies out.  The allusion most likely in mind for a first-century Jewish audience is:  then the LORD will drive out [ἐκβαλεῖ] all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you (Deut 11:23 NIV).  ἐκβάλλω (BDAG 2328) . The only hint of a spiritual use of the word in the LXX arises in 2 Samuel 7:23 (driving out nations and their gods), Isa 2:20 (cast away his idols), and Jeremiah 23:31 (against the prophets).

[5]Even authors that question Jesus’ divinity acknowledge that he performed exorcisms (Sanders 1993, 149-154).   Porterfield (2005, 36-37) cites John Meier writing:  What made Jesus unusual, if no unique, was not simply his role as an exorcist but rather his integration of the roles of exorcist, moral teacher, gatherer of disciples, and eschatological prophet all into one person.  She also notes that in Mark, the first even in Jesus’ public life was the healing of a possessed man (Mark 1:23-27).   The early church routinely performed exorcisms as part of the baptism ritual and exorcist was a church office, much like elder or deacon.  For example, see (Hippolytus AD 215, 21:10; Cyprian AD 250).

[6]Because Mark is thought to be recording the experiences of the Apostle Peter, is this sympathetic view of this man a reflection of the heart of the Apostle Peter for the mentally ill?

[7]France (2007, 340) reconciles this discrepancy citing Josephus (Life, 42) who places Gerasene within the jurisdiction of Gadara—a Roman stronghold .  This is more subtle way to make a political inference than naming the demons:  Legion (the name of a Roman military unit).  Later manuscript variants explicitly substitute the Gerasene for Gadara in the Matthew account suggesting that the inference may have been too subtle for a gentile audience to pick up.

[8]Schnabel (2004, 255-256) writes:  Gergesa is identified with ancient Chorsia and located near ruins of modern Tel el-Kurst (Kersa) situated on Wadi Sermakh on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, an area that belonged to the Decapolis.  Near Tel el-Kursi there is a steep slope toward to the lake….A localization in Gergesa, a small and insignificant settlement, could well have been changed by a copyist in West to the well-known city “Gerasa,”  which copyists in the East would have “corrected” to “Gadara.”

[9] Foucault (1988, 26) sees mental illness as a metaphor for death (p. 16) and as a mirror on society.

References

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Ed. Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. <BibleWorks. v.8.>.

BibleWorks. Norfolk: BibleWorks, LLC., 2011. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

Cyprian.  Epistle XVI. Translated By Ernest Wallis.  Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. ANF5.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.  In BibleWorks, V.8. AD 250.

Foucault, Michel.  1988.  Madness and Civilization:  A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. New York:  Vintage Books.

France, R.T.  2002. The Gospel of Mark.  New International Greek Testament Commentary.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

France, R.T.  2007. The Gospel of Matthew.  New International Commentary on the New Testament.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

Garland, David E.  1996.  The NIV Application Commentary:  Mark.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Hippolytus.  The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome. Translated by Kevin P. Edgecomb.  Cited:  31 March 2010.  Online:  http://www.bombaxo.com/hippolytus.html, AD 215.

Jerome.  Commentaire Sur S. Matthieu (398).  Translated from Latin into French by Emile Bonnard.  Paris:  École Normale Supérieure, 1977.

Josephus.  Life of Flavius Josephus.  1:42. In BibleWorks, V.8.

Lightfoot, John.  1979. A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica Matthew – I Corinthians (1859).  Vol. 1.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House.

Porterfield, Amanda.  2005. Healing in the History of Christianity.  New York:  Oxford University Press.

Sanders, E.P.  1993.  The Historical Figure of Jesus.  New York: Penguin Books.

Schnabel, Eckhard J.  2004.  Early Christian Mission.  Downers Grove:  InterVarsity Press.

Becoming a Spiritual Lifeguard,

Mark 4:35-5:20

Also see:

Prayer for Shalom 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Resting in God, Psalm 23:2

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Riverside Presbyterian Church, Sterling, VA

Invocation

Lord God, heavenly King, loving Father – Rest with us this morning. In the power of your Holy Spirit, inspires the words that are spoken and illuminate the words heard. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Introduction

Monday, February 12, 2007 was a long day for me.

Driving on Route 66 halfway to Washington at about 6:40 a.m., I received a phone call from my mother. She told me that my sister, Diane, had suffered a heart attack and stroke. She is asking for her brothers. After the call from mom, I turned around and headed back to Centreville. A few minutes later, I picked up my brother and we drove to an unfamiliar hospital in Philadelphia. Upon arriving at the hospital at the end of the morning I found my parents. My sister was in a bed on life support. Unfortunately, it was too late. Diane had left us.

We read together Psalm 23, we said goodbye to Diane, and prayed.

Psalm 23 is familiar and powerful. Why do we find comfort resting with God?

Passage

He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters (Psalm 23:2 ESV).

Anyone familiar with the Middle East knows that green pastures are hard to find and wars fought over scarce water resources. The desserts are best known for nasty weeds and drought. So when our verse speaks of green pastures and still waters, the psalmist makes an allusion to the Garden of Eden, one of the biblical visions of heaven. Listen to the words in Genesis:

And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.  And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers (Gen 2:8-10 ESV).

Eden pictures restoration. Here the world’s corruption is not present. Nor there is no sin. We are in full communion with God. There is no death, there is no fear. Here we find peace in the biblical sense of Shalom, which means not only the absence of conflict, but also a fullness of spirit caused by communion with God himself.

Consequently, resting with God gives comfort deeper than just green grass and clear water, because all conflicts and struggles have been eliminated.

He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters (Psalm 23:2 ESV).

Interpretation

The theme of rest appears in the New Testament. Jesus said: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (ἀναπαύσω (BNT), Matthew 11:28 ESV). The author of Hebrews expands on this idea and uses the word, rest, four times with four different meanings. Listen for the four uses of rest in Hebrews 4.

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.  For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.  For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,'” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world.  For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” (Heb 4:1-4 ESV)

These four lines are dense. We could have a Sunday school class on nothing but these four verses. By the end, we see the word, rest, interpreted four different ways: physical rest, Sabbath rest, rest in the Promised Land, and heavenly rest. Please stay with me when I explained why. Vaya conmigo!

The story begins in the Greek text with the word for the rest: κατάπαυσις.  Here is the only place in the New Testament where it is used. However, the text refers to two passages from the Old Testament: Genesis 2 and Psalm 95. Allow me a few minutes to look at these passages.

Genesis 2. This passage is familiar because God rests on the seventh day. Here rest means to stop working. If you think about it, however, this idea seems strange. Ask yourself: was God physically tired when He rested on the seventh day? OBVIOUSLY NOT:  exhaustion is a problem for us, not for God. God was never physically tired from creating. Maybe God stopped creating for spending time with us (2X) (Murray 1996, 159-60).

Psalm 95. This Psalm is less familiar. We read in verses 10-11: forty years I was angry with that generation, and said: For forty years I loathed that generation and said, They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways. Therefore I swore in my wrath, They shall not enter my rest. (Psalm 95:10-11 ESV)

The rest here is a metaphor for the Promised Land. The generation of Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, they could not enter into the rest of God, because they did not believe that God would keep his word (2X) (Murray 1996, 156).

In Hebrews 4 includes a mystery. Why does the author say that the promise of rest still stands? When this book was written, the people of Israel had lived in Palestine for a long time. How could the author say that the promise of the Promised Land is still standing? The image here is of Jesus as our new Joshua who leads us from this earth to heaven (Murray 1996, 160-61). Here we find heavenly rest.

So we see the word, the rest played four ways in Hebrews 4:  physical rest, Sabbath rest, rest in the Promised Land, and heavenly rest – a return to Eden. Each of these inferences applies also to Psalm 23.

Application

Christian psychologist Henry Cloud, asks the question: which values ​​are not optional in your life? (2X) Our deepest values ​​are not the most urgent, but they determine the quality of your life and are easily overlooked (Cloud 2008, 133-142).

How can we rest as God intended? Three are obvious: practice physical rest, observe Sabbath rest, and mediate on heaven.

First:  Practice Physical Rest. The obvious place to start is the physical rest. If you want to feel more holy, take a nap (2X). People hurried have decreased ability to love God and neighbor. Hurry is not just a messy schedule, but a messy heart (Ortberg 2002, 72, 79, 81). Practice physical rest.

Second: Observe Sabbath Rest. Spend quality time with your family in front of God.  As the psalmist writes:  Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! (Psalm 46:10 ESV).  Abraham Heschel (2005, 15) describes the Sabbath as:  a palace in time that we build (2X). Observe Sabbath rest.

Third: Mediate on Heaven. Heaven is two important things: a place where God lives and our eternal destiny. Because we know that the future lies with Christ, we can afford to take greater risks in life to bring heaven to earth. C.S. Lewis (2001, 134) writes: If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were those who thought most of the next. Mediate on heaven.

In short, the rest practiced three classes: physical rest practice, observe Sabbath rest, and mediate on heaven.

Prayer

Almighty Father. Thank you for the spiritual gift of rest. Help us to rest with you now and always. In the power of your Holy Spirit, guide our thoughts and keep us close to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

REFERENCES

Brueggemann, Walter.  1984.  The Message of the Psalms:  A Theological Commentary.  Minneapolis:  Augsburg.

Cloud, Henry.  2008. The One-Life Solution:  Reclaim Your Personal Life While Achieving Greater Professional Success.  New York:  Harper Business.

Heschel, Abraham Joshua.  2005.  The Sabbath (Orig. Pub. 1951).  New York:  Farrar, Straus, and Ciroux.

Lane, William.  1985.  Hebrews:  A Call to Commitment.  Vancouver:  Regent College Publishing.

Lewis, C.S.  2001.  Mere Christianity (Orig. Pub.1952).  New York:  HarperCollins.

Murray, Andrew. 1996.  The Holiest of All (Orig. Pub. 1894).  New Kensington: Whitaker House.

Ortberg, John.  2002.  The Life You’ve Always Wanted:  Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

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