WHAT A CHURCH WANTS — JESUS TO PROTECT IT
by Pastor Mike Fortune
February 24, 2007
Dwight Nelson recently told a true story about the pastor of a church who had a kitten that climbed up a tree in his backyard but was afraid to come down. So the pastor coaxed and offered warm milk and pleaded “Here kitty kitty kitty.” But the kitty would not come down. The tree was not sturdy enough to climb, so the pastor decided that if he tied a rope to his car and drove away so that the tree bent down, he could then reach up and rescue the kitten. So that’s what he did. All the while checking his progress in the rear view mirror. He then figured if he went just a little bit further, the tree would be bent sufficiently for him to reach the kitten. But as he moved the car a little further forward, the rope broke, the tree went “bong!” and the kitten instantly sailed through the air and out of sight. The pastor felt terrible. So he walked all over the neighborhood asking everybody he could find if they’d seen a little kitten. But no, nobody had seen a stray little kitten. So he prayed, “Lord, I just commit this kitten to your keeping” and went on about his business.
A few days later, he was at the grocery store, and met one of his church members. He happened to look into her shopping cart and was amazed to see a large bag of cat food because this woman was a cat hater and everyone knew it. So he asked her, “Why are you buying cat food when you hate cats so much?” She replied, “You won’t believe this,” and then told him how her little girl had been begging her for a cat but she kept refusing. Then, a few days before, the child had begged again, so the mom finally told her little girl, “Well, if God gives you a cat, I’ll let you keep it.” She told the pastor, “Then I watched my child go out in the yard, get on her knees, and ask God for a cat. And really, Pastor, you won’t believe this, but I saw it with my own eyes! A kitten suddenly came flying out of the bright blue sky, with its paws outspread, and landed right in front of her!”
Aren’t you glad the harvest is guaranteed? Mark 4:29 says, “As soon as the grain is ripe, the farmer puts his sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” This is a statement that just makes common sense whether you’re Christian or not. Because living things grow and growing things reproduce. But this statement takes on a whole new level of meaning when we realize that this is not merely some biological process. It is also a theological process. One that God cultivates. How do we know? Because earlier in this series we talked about how Jesus told His disciples before they had even planted any seeds or done any evangelistic things that the harvest was already ripe! In John 4:35 [NIV] He said, “35Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.”
The best offense is prayer
That’s why, confounding all common sense and farming techniques known to man, the harvest is ready without any seeds being sown. The harvest is here because Jesus the seed is automatically reproducing Himself throughout the world. And if we let Him, in our church. That’s why He compared us to the farmer scattering seed in Mark 4 who went to sleep at night and had no idea how it all grew. But that’s not what surprises most of us the most. What really blows our minds is that the Lord of the harvest plans to storm the gates of hell with those same clueless people. So my main point for today is the best defense is a good offense and the best offense is prayer. Can you remember that? I hope so. The best defense is a great offense and best offense is prayer. There are at least 3 examples of this in the Bible, but we’ll only have time to closely examine two. The first one is found in Luke 4. Let’s get the background in verse 31 [NIV].
It reads, “31Then Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people.” Jesus has just been rejected in Nazareth. His hometown. In the church He grew up in. Luke 4:14–30 describe how they liked Jesus at first speaking well of Him in verse 22 and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. But then Jesus started talking about the days of Elijah. And how God during those days was more active in the pagan regions of Sidon and Syria working through the lives of Widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian than in Israel. Which the folks didn’t like hearing about. So much so that when they heard these truths, verse 29 says they got up and drove him out of town and nearly off a cliff. Previously, they wanted Jesus to perform a miracle for them. But instead, He did something miraculous for Himself walking right through an angry mob of people and straight out of town without getting hurt. And then He kept on walking for twenty miles. All the way back to Capenaum on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
When He got there, Luke 4:32 says, like the folks in Nazareth, that the people in Capernaum were initially “Amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority”, but later Jesus would curse Capernaum for its unfaithfulness. Then verse 33 sets the scene. Let’s take a look. “33In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil [or unclean] spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, ‘34Ha! 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!’”
Jesus sternly replies in verse 35, “‘35Be quiet! Come out of him!’ Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.” Those who weren’t amazed before now are because verses 36–37 [NIV] say, “36All the people were amazed and said to each other, ‘What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!’ 37And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.”
Jesus was on the offensive
Jesus was on the offensive. “Come out of him!” Jesus said. So the demon did. And all the people were beginning to see that the best defense is a great offense and the best offense is prayer. Tony Dungy already knows that’s true. The coach of the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts is typically amused when reporters ask him questions about what it feels like to be one of the first African–American head coaches to take his team to a Super Bowl much less win it. In response to one such question, Coach Tony Dungy, who is also a Christian, responds immediately with these words. “Yes that’s good, but what is really great and awesome, is how God worked this out for us; it’s just amazing how He made this all come together!”
The best defense is a great offense and the best offense is prayer. Jesus was on the offensive. Often walking miles and miles and miles coming face to face with those trapped within the gates of hell before barging in and breaking them down. A few years ago, we used to have baby gates installed all over the house. Some swung inside. Some swung outside. Some didn’t swing at all. Especially after Joshua and Lydia were done with them. But even before they were broken down, they were still not a threat! The gas stove or the staircase we were trying to keep the kids away from sure were, but not the gates themselves. Right?
That’s why Neil Cole humorously points out that “police don’t pack loaded gates.” And why “Terrorists don’t hold hostages at gate point.” And why dogs don’t run loose with little signs around their necks that read, “Beware of gate.” Why? Because gates are not a threat to us. Not even the gates of hell! And those are the gates Jesus is talking about in Matthew 16.18 [NIV] where Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prove stronger than the church.” Rightly understood, the gates of hell are reeling. They are breaking down. They are on the defense. And against Jesus and His church, they will not prove stronger!
Additional proof of this that we don’t have time to look at today is found in Mark 5. Read that when you get home. It tells how Jesus healed this graveyard demoniac and then seconds later sends him out to evangelize ten towns! No crash course in outreach. No Bible studies needed. No systematic theology. Just go barge down the gates of hell in Jesus’ name! Rescue the captive and brokenhearted. Open your eyes! The harvest is already ready! Friends, the church has been held hostage at gate point for far too long! It is time we, by God's grace, stop being so intimidated by the gates of hell. Can you imagine if the Indianapolis Colts didn’t have Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne on offense? Would they have beaten the Bears? I don’t think so! Everybody knows it was their offense that got them to the Super Bowl!
Auguste Rodin [sounds like Rodan] was a French impressionist sculptor born in 1840. Though you may not recognize his name, you’ve probably seen some of his work. He created The Thinker. I’ve got a picture of that famous sculpture on the screen maybe you recognize it now? According to Katherine White Miller, Catalog Librarian at the Toledo Museum of Art, Rodin never clearly stated what his intentions were regarding The Thinker and never offered any consistent message regarding the meaning of the work. Curiously however, in 1880 Rodin included a character reminiscent of The Thinker into another famous sculpture, now above the doorway to Rodin’s museum in Paris, called The Gates of Hell because the guy above the doors is in deep thought about those below supposedly eternally burning in the fires of hell. Long story short, we don’t know exactly who The Thinker is and what he’s thinking about. But one thing we do know is this. If there were only 1 those persons being held captive inside the spiritual gates of hell, Jesus would have died to save them! Ezekiel 33:11 says, “‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’”
God doesn't want us to be lost
You see it’s never been God’s desire for people to be lost. Destined for eternal separation from God. Which is what hell really is. Yeah, there’s fire in Revelation 20, but thank God it’s only temporary. According to Jude 7, it eventually goes out. But before it does, according to the parables of Luke 15, Jesus was willing to die the 2 nd death and risk the hell of eternal separation from the Father to save just one lost coin that couldn’t know it was lost, one lost sheep that probably did, or even one lost son who rebelliously chose to get lost. Ralph Winter wrote, “Risks are not to be evaluated in terms of probability of success, but in terms of the value of the goal.” And we as Christians, have a valuable goal do we not? Is some of Jesus better than all of anything else? We’re going to be talking more about that on Wednesday nights March 7 at 7. I hope you all can make it. If we’re serious about storming the gates of hell, about going on the offensive, as a church family we’re going to need to be right with God. We’re going to need to pray. All together. On a regular basis. Because this is His church. That He bought with a price. That He’s building. That He promised to protect. And He’s not playing games. The best defense is a great offense and the best offense is prayer.
Let’s look at example #2. It’s found in Mark 9:14–29 [NIV] and reads. “14When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. ‘16What are you arguing with them about?’ he asked. 17A man in the crowd answered, ‘Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.’ ‘19O unbelieving generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.’ 20So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21Jesus asked the boy’s father, ‘How long has he been like this?’ ‘From childhood,’ he answered. ‘22It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’
Prayer is the best offense
‘23If you can?’said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for him who believes.’ 24Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’ 25When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. ‘You deaf and mute spirit,’ he said, ‘I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.’ 26The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, ‘He's dead.’ 27But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. 28After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why couldn't we drive it out?’ And He replied, ‘29This kind can come out only by prayer.’”
Whoa! Is that intense or what? This episode occurs right after Peter, James, and John come down from the mountain where Jesus was transfigured. The Bible says in Mark 9:3 that His clothes became dazzling white—whiter than Kelly Ripa could bleach them with her special little laundry pen! And there appeared before them the prophet Elijah and Moses who were talking to Jesus. Verse 5 says Peter wanted to stay up there, safely inside the privacy of those mountain walls, where he could hang out with Jesus and Elijah and Moses and congratulate himself on how special and distinctive He is. That of the 12 apostles, only he and James and John had been invited up there. That he wasn’t like everyone else. That he was peculiar. But in a good way. But in response to that idea, the heavenly father boomed His disapproval. “This is my Son, whom I love, listen to Him!” And when they do, they look around and can’t see anyone else except Jesus. That is until they started walking down the mountain. Because verse 33 says shortly afterward on the way to Capernaum they were arguing about who would be the greatest in the kingdom. But as they were coming down arguing, verse 14 says a crowd was coming up arguing. And it included the teachers of the law and the rest of Jesus’ disciples.
And as soon as they saw Jesus, they ran to greet Him. And Jesus asked them: “What are you arguing about?” Which is a pretty good question don’t you think? Jesus knows! What are you arguing about? Who is the most right? Who is closest to heaven? Who will be the greatest in it? Who cares?! Peter wanted to stay on the mountain top just talking. And sometimes, so do we. We hide inside our walls arguing about the dumbest stuff we can think of. And then we wonder why our children and grandchildren and the community don’t see the point of going to Sabbath School and church and gathering to give God glory! We stay so focused on ourselves and on what we want and what we like and what we think is right that we are not effective healers in this world because we are simply not in the world. I like the way one guy said it, “It is not enough to fill our churches; we must transform the world.”
The best defense is a good offense. . .
Luke’s parallel passage of this story highlights this important truth. Because there it says that this father’s heart was breaking because it was his only child being thrown onto fires or drowned in the waters. It was his only begotten son gnashing his teeth and foaming at the mouth since childhood. But because the disciples were on the defensive, nothing could be done! All they could do is stand around arguing with each other and the leaders of the church.
So this boy’s father, nearly giving up hope, says to Jesus in verse 22, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” So Jesus immediately challenges him. “What do you mean if I can? Do you not know? Everything is possible for him who believes!” And like most of us when challenged by someone that obviously loves us, he immediately but honestly replies, “I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!” So Jesus rebukes the evil spirt and the spirit shrieks, convulses him violently, but leaves him and the broken down gates of hell behind him forever. Verse 27 says then God’s only begotten Son took that father’s only begotten son and personally lifted him to his feet. And that child of God, bought with a price, precious in Jesus’ sight, stood up completely healed. Transformed. Then verse 28 says as soon as the disciples could corner Jesus inside some more walls, they asked Him privately “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” And Jesus replied, “This kind can only come out by prayer.”
The best defense is a great offense and the best offense is what? Prayer. Yes, living things automatically grow. And growing things automatically reproduce. And the harvest is already ready. But there are still some things that only come about by prayer. In my former neck of the woods, I met a college guy who roams the aisles of Walmart looking for people with whom to pray. He walks right up to them and assures them that he’s not stalking them, but that he believes God wants Him to pray for them. So more often than not, right there in the aisles of Walmart, they bow their heads and pray. And he’s only been kicked out of Walmart a few times! Most of the time it works! Now God may not be asking you to be that brave. The aisles of Walmart may not be your mission field. Most of the time, God works through whatever personality you were born with. Read one of my latest blog posts entitled Quiet Christians for more on that. But nobody could say that my friend Lincoln isn’t on the offensive right? Because that’s the only thing that makes sense when you’re crazy enough to pray with the crazy people in Walmart at 2:00 am! But you know what? Those crazy people are precious to Jesus! Some of us may be introverts. But we are all witnesses. And the weakest of us can pray.
So, in addition to joining me on Wednesday nights, I’m going to challenge you to do something else with me. As Mark 9:29 recommends, at 9:29 am and pm, I’m going to ask you to pray with me. Wherever you are. Whatever you’re doing. At 9:29 am and pm, I’m going to be praying. Pleading with God for the souls that are already ready for harvest. That were bought with a price, but that are still being held captive behind the gates of hell all around us. And I’m going to simply ask Jesus to rescue them. If on Wednesdays, you can come a little early, bring some soup to microwave and a sandwich, I’ll be here at 6:00 pm. And after we eat, we’ll pray from 6:30 pm until our 3 rd service starts at 7:00. Bring in the names of those nearest and dearest to you that you want to pray for and I’ll pray for them with you. We’re going to be storming the gates of hell right here in this sanctuary. And then on weekdays at 9:29 am and pm as well. Many of the women are gone today at a special leadership conference nearby. So how many of you men are gonna cowboy up and join me on Wednesdays whether the ladies come or not starting March 7 at 6 pm with BYOS. Bring your own soup and sandwich. How many of you men will promise to pray with me on weekdays at 9:29 am and pm wherever you are? Some things can only be done by prayer. So on your Mark 9:29, let’s get set guys and pray. And then let’s keep praying. It’s time to quit playing games. Because everything is possible for Him who believes. Let’s sing our closing song, “Work, For The Night Is Coming” page 375.
Father God, forgive us for the times we’ve cared more about arguing than praying. Help our unbelief. Keep us humble and teachable. Thinking always of you. Show us how much you love just one crazy person near us this week. In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.