This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Mark 1:35-39
Sermon prepared by Rev. Michael J. Vandyk, Taber, Alta
Congregation of Jesus Christ,
As we read the gospel of Mark, it is clear that there is a battle going on:
The Son of God vs Satan.
We see Jesus being attacked by the devil at every turn: chapter1:14, John the Baptist is imprisoned; vs.24, evil spirits speaks lies against him, "Have you come to destroy us?" It reads as if one thing after another confronts Jesus as he starts his earthly ministry. There is no time to stop, no time to rest. There is so much to be done as we read in vs. 33-34, "he drove out many demons, he healed many who were sick."
Jesus is fighting against the power of Satan. How does Jesus remain strong in that battle? We need to know because the battle still goes on today. You are fooling yourself, you are being fooled by Satan if you think everything is fine. We still face persistent temptation and attack by Satan.
Events like sickness, trouble, pain, hardship, disappointment, even death. These are constant struggles in this sin-filled world. Where do we get the strength to stand against this attack, to keep fighting the good fight of faith?
Where does Jesus get the strength? We might think of him as some kind of super hero: The Son of God. He has super powers and just keeps going. Of course it is true that Jesus as Son of God is the greatest, the most powerful person who ever lived. He demonstrates his divine power in healing, casting out demons, even raising the dead (Mark 5). But we need to remember that Jesus was also completely human. He was "like us in every way" the author of Hebrews tells us, except he was without sin. (Heb 4:15).
Here in Mark 1:35-39 we find a striking event recorded. Jesus slips away for a time of prayer, a time of personal devotion to be strengthened in his work through a personal quiet time with his heavenly father. This is very instructive for us and our devotional life. Here early on in Mark, early in Jesus’ ministry he takes the time for prayer. Let’s see what that means for him and for us.
In vs. 35 we read that Jesus got up early in the morning. What time is that? Likely it means some time around 6 a.m. Wow, that is early. Do you mean that I need to get up that early and do devotions? Not necessarily, though many people do just that. More generally, what it means is that Jesus took the time, a special time to be with his heavenly Father.
We think immediately, "Sure, very nice, Jesus took the time, BUT I’m really busy, I have no time. I am really tired from working hard all day. I cannot concentrate."
But just consider this: Jesus, humanly speaking, was busier than you ever are, than you ever have been, than you ever will be. Even with your business, your busy family and all the other commitments you have, Jesus was busier. Claiming busyness as an excuse is a temptation, a lie that Satan sets before you. You grab hold of it thinking its so true, I have no time. And God likes me to be busy, so he will understand when I even have no time for him.
The Gospel of Mark shows Jesus busy. In the wording: 1:29, "As soon as," its just one thing after another for Jesus; 2:8 "immediately", the very language conveys his busyness. Then there are verses like 1:39 where Jesus is traveling throughout Galilee because there is so much demand for him. In 1:45 he could not travel about freely because everyone wanted to see him. Of course they wanted to see him.
Imagine if there was someone close by who really could help, could cure, could deliver. Mark 2:13 speaks again of a large crowd that forced Jesus to escape in a boat. In Mark 3:20 there is such a demand that he can not even sit down to eat. Have you ever been so busy that you could not even stop to eat. Jesus was busy like that all the time, every day. The devil is trying to overwhelm him, whispering to Jesus, "forget your devotional time, your prayer time, its not important, you are too busy."
Here in Mark 1 we see the importance for Jesus to do the work he is doing, to stand against the devil, to overcome the flood of sin and evil in the world, to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Jesus needs to be strong in that communion with God. Jesus takes the time to pray.
Martin Luther is quoted as saying that if he felt too busy to spend an hour in prayer and devotion he immediately stopped everything and took two hours. Not because he was so pious or punishing himself but because he realized in the temptation to not spend that devotional time, the devil was wrestling the strength of the faith away from him, hindering his ability to do anything for his Lord.
How much time do you spend in personal devotions? I’m afraid the devil has succeeded in convincing many here that it is not important. Or maybe we can agree it is important but for you there is really no time. Many here do the equivalent of no devotions. No personal devotions, No prayer, No Bible reading,
No time in the week, so you feel weak, you are weak. Weak in the faith, weak in prayer, with little Bible knowledge, little sense of God working in your life, powerless before the temptations and attacks of the devil. Busy all right. The devil has you busy being "ineffective and unproductive." (2 Peter 1:8)
You can tell if you are this kind of a weak believer if you do not have a special time set aside. The Bible is speaking to you today. Jesus is demonstrating for you the importance of setting aside a time, a special time.
Maybe you think you are strong enough in the faith, you can manage without a special devotional time. Don’t you think Jesus was tempted that way by Satan too? Satan could say, "You are the son of God, you know what you are about, you don’t need it." We are so quickly tempted. We feel we know it all. We don’t need to study the Bible more. We have better things to do. We are busy.
I want to clear up one other wrong temptation. By special time it doesn’t mean mealtime devotions. Jesus gave thanks before he ate (Mark 6:41) and that is good, though I hear even that tradition of mealtime devotions is slipping. If you don’t have devotions at meal time start, please start. Gather the family together to read the Bible and pray together. A regular help like the "Today" booklet is very helpful or go to your local Christian book store and find something helpful.
Jesus took a special time. Perhaps you can start with 10 minutes in the morning or at the end of the day, or maybe even in between somewhere. Take the Bible, some devotional material, read and pray. Get in tune with God. Consider his will for you, for your relationship to your spouse, kids, family, in church. Start now, start today, decide right now, pick a time.
Wait —do you hear something? Hear that little whispering noise? Satan whispering in your ear, don’t listen to this. Just a reading service. You’re way too busy, there is no time. This is the time here in church on Sunday but otherwise there is really no other time.
I ask you to set aside the time. Tell your spouse, tell your kids today and have them help hold you accountable. Give them permission to ask you if you did your devotions today. As parents we want our kids to do devotions but how often do they see us doing them? Tell them, I’m setting this time aside. Make it a strong and firm priority in your life.
We are also given some other helps in this passage. Vs. 35 adds the idea of a special place. Jesus found a solitary place. For him it was not a special room or chair. Indeed for Jesus there was no place in the house. With all the people there he had to get out of the house. I don’t think we have that problem. But can you tell me your special place? Or is there really no special place, because there is no time?
You need a place. Satan says, "forget it, there is no place. Even if you could find some time there is no place." The result is that people seriously say that they do their devotions while driving. So strong is the deceptive power of Satan. Even if you turn off the radio and put in a Bible tape or Christian music CD, still a feeble excuse. We need a place in our house. We know how to set aside a place in our homes. For most of us it is automatic that the TV has a place, central place in the living room, and then we place a smaller TV in every other room in our homes.
We have our special times we watch, We have our special chair we sit and sit for hours. We never miss our favorite shows, day after day, week after week. But we have no place, no time to spend with God.
Find a place. I have an office of course, many of us have offices, an office is a good place. My wife and I sit together at the kitchen table after the boys are gone to school. It is a quiet place where we read and pray together. Sometimes we are tempted to say that there is no time but then we hold one another accountable.
Find a place and a time to be with God, to consider his word, to pray, to consider your work, your life in the context of his will.
Finally, how long did Jesus stay there? Did he say a quick prayer and then got going? It says in Mark 1:36 that he was away long enough for Simon and his companions to go looking for him. In vs. 37 we read that he stayed away long enough so that "Everyone is looking" for him.
How long do you spend? The tense of the verb, "he prayed," denotes enduring action, meaning he spent some time in the action. The action he was involved in was praying, so he spent some time in the praying. Of course it is true that God can accomplish great things in answer to short prayers. Elijah prayed to God to show himself to the people and God sent fire from heaven (1 Kings 18). But if you are going to pray just for the needs of this congregation it will take you at least 10 minutes.
(Add examples from your congregation - names and situations)
You can add general concerns for young and old, the needs of the world, the salvation of children, neighbors and friends. You would need at least a _ hour. And maybe people will wonder where you are. People will come looking for you. It’s OK because they will find you strengthened and renewed in your faith and ready to do the things God calls you to do.
We see Jesus’ strength is renewed and he is ready to go on. He says in vs. 38 that he is ready to go to the nearby villages. He may have faltered a little bit in all the business but he is not faltering now. He is ready to preach the good news again. He has been reminded in the devotional time of the focus of his ministry, the purpose of God through him. In vs. 38 he says,"That is why I have come." To preach the good news.
What is God’s task for you? Do not let the devil distract you from that into all kinds of empty pursuits and pleasures. His will, his service, the spreading of the good news are at the heart of all who follow Jesus in faith and joy. As believers we are part of that work.
The message to us today is: set aside the time, find a place, take the time to be in a close personal relationship with your God
Proposed Order of Service
Songs include Hymn #247, 209, 262, 280, 579, "Sweet Hour of Prayer"
"Prayer is the Souls Sincere Desire"
Bible Reading: Mark 1:35-39
Text: Mark 1:35
Sermon: "The Place of Prayer"
Theme: The Power of Prayer and Personal Devotions