Picture of Pastor Carlson

Sermon delivered May 29, 2010 by Pastor Paul Carlson

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version, ESV, unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

Have You Hugged Your God Lately?

Mark 2:1,2

(RealAudio available)

One of my professors at the seminary came from a French speaking country.  I remember the amusing glances that we students would give each other when he would speak some word with the emphasis on the wrong syllable, as in, the emPHAsis on the wrong sylABle.  One of those words was reLEvance.  In other words, relevance. 

Since then I have discovered that there are Christians who speak with the accent of a strange and unfamiliar tongue when it comes to the meaning, the language of Christ and stories of His miracles and His life.  They don’t know what the stories of Christ’s miracles really mean for them, His teachings and His example.  They’re strangers to the power of Christ to, in fact, renew their minds spiritually.

Does the story of Jesus have relevance for us today?  As the familiar song goes, “Tell me the story of Jesus, write on my heart every word.  Tell me the story most precious, sweetest that ever was heard.  Tell how the Angels in chorus sang as they welcomed His birth, glory to God in the highest, peace and good tidings to earth.  Fasting alone in the desert, tell of the days that He passed.  How for our sins He was tempted, yet was triumphant at last.”  Another person wrote similar words.  “Tell me the old, old story of unseen things above, of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.” 

But those words beg the question, why would anyone want to continually hear of something that happened so long ago that it might even seem irrelevant?  A Christian magazine called for suggestions for a slogan that might be suggested of the Church’s evangelical witness and the slogan that they selected was this.  “A changeless Christ for a changing world.”  Doesn’t that sound good?  At the time, the slogan was attacked vehemently and yet it’s the truth.  Christ is changeless.  He still offers us the water of life that He did to people so long ago.  The sad thing is that many people don’t know that.

I invite you to open your Bibles with me to discover that the old stories of Jesus do have relevance for us today.  Let’s look at these living stories of Christ.  I invite you to look at these two passages in the Gospel of Mark.  First we’ll start with Mark 1:40-45.  I’ll be reading from the New King James version.  Mark 1:40.  “Now a leper came to Him imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, ‘If You are willing You can make me clean.’  Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I am willing, be cleansed.’  As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.  And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone.  But go your way, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded as a testimony to them.’  However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the matter so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city but was outside in deserted places and they came to Him from” how many directions?  Every direction. 

Go on to Mark 2:1.  “Again He entered Capernaum after some days and it was heard that He was in the house.  Immediately many gathered together so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door, and He preached the word to them.  Then they came to Him bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men and when they could not come near Him because of the crowd they uncovered the roof where He was.  So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.  When Jesus saw their faith He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven you.’  Some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, ‘Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this?  Who can forgive sins but God alone?’  But immediately when Jesus perceived in the Spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, ‘Why do you reason about these things in your hearts?  Which is easier, to say the paralytic, ‘your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk‘?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins, He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, arise, take up your bed and walk.’  Immediately he arose, took up the bed and went out in the presence of them also that all were amazed and glorified God saying, ‘We never saw anything like this.’”

People came to Christ, it seems, wherever He was.  And they came from every direction.  They packed the houses.  They packed the synagogues.  Wherever Jesus was. 

Let me ask you this.  Why were people coming to Him from every direction?  Why was almost every place that He was crowded around Him with people?  Why?  Wasn’t it for the same reason that we need Jesus today?  Wasn’t it because He gave them the message of a God they had not known before.  A forgiving God.  A reconciling and restoring God.  Oh yes, they wanted healing from their sicknesses but it was more than that.  More than that.  What they needed and what Christ came to reveal to the world was a God of love.  Full of mercy, tenderness and compassion. 

I’ll tell you why that was so important to them.  You see, the people had been told that sickness and malady were the direct result of their sins and that God was just sitting up there in heaven waiting to pounce on them and punish them whenever they sinned.  And what they needed was the truth that would set them free in Jesus.  The truth about God in Jesus.

Listen to these quotes from an article by this author, Ellen White, entitled God Made Manifest in Christ, taken from Signs of the Times, January 20, 1890.  110 years ago.  This is what it says.  “The law of Jehovah was burdened with needless exactions and traditions, and God was represented as severe, exacting, revengeful and arbitrary.  He was pictured as one who could take pleasure in the sufferings of His creatures.  The very attributes that belong to the character of Satan, the evil one represented as belong to the character of God.  Jesus came to teach men of the Father, to correctly represent Him before the fallen children of earth.  Angels could not fully portray the character of God, but Christ, Who was a living impersonation of God, could not fail to accomplish the work.  The only way in which He could set and keep men right was to make Himself visible and familiar to their eyes.  That men might have salvation He came directly to man and became a partaker of his nature.”  Now that’s paragraph six from that article. Let’s look at the next sentence coming from paragraph 7.  It says this.  “The Father was revealed in Christ as altogether a different Being from that which Satan had represented Him to be.” 

But that’s not what was preached to the people in Jesus’ time.  The people needed a completely different, new revelation of the Fatherly love of God for His children.  Jesus healing people was the evidence that He had the authority from God to show that kind of forgiving love.  He had the authority from God and now Who was Jesus?  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”  From John 1.  So He was God. 

But let’s take the example of the leper.  Leprosy at that time of course was regarded as a curse from God for a person’s sinfulness.  In fact, the Pharisees regarded any affliction as evidence of divine displeasure and they would hold themselves aloof from the sick and the needy.  Have nothing to do with them.  Stay away from them.  Not even touch them.  Not even help them.  “Out of our sight.”  So how would you feel if you were the leper or a sufferer of some kind of disease and you heard the priests and the rabbis coldly pronounce you incurable, and then tell you, “We’re abandoning you to the wrath of God.”  How would you feel?  That’s what it was like in those days.  I believe it was actually the Devil’s picture of God. 

So it’s important to understand and realize what Jesus’ act of healing the man meant to the people.  Jesus’ act of healing demonstrated an all together different God.  Compassionate.  Loving.  Forgiving.  Oh yes, He hated the sin but God loved and He still loves sinners.  Notice the way in which Jesus healed the paralytic.  The process of healing began with Christ’s forgiveness of his sins. With forgiveness.  And the healing of his physical condition was merely the demonstration that the Son of Man did have power on earth to forgive sins. 

What kind of God does that tell us about?  And how would that kind of God relate to us today?  Put yourself in the place of the paralytic whose condition resulted from his own sins, his own lifestyle.  As a natural consequence.  Put yourself in the place of that leper who was pronounced to be unclean for the rest of his life.  Abandoned to the wrath of God.  So no wonder why all the people were coming to Jesus.  He was the answer to their soul’s need.  He provided the answer from God that would clear away the dirt and the rubble and all the darkness and clear away the guilt and the burden of sin in their own lives in one fell swoop.  Setting them right with God.

Now perhaps you have seen bumper stickers on cars that say something like, “have you hugged your kids lately?”  Have you?  Anybody?  Now it could almost say anything really.  “Have you hugged your dog lately?”  For those animal lovers out there, or “have you hugged your teacher today?”  Well, have you “hugged” the stories of Christ today and made them your own?  Have you made them meaningful to you?  Do you read the Gospels as providing the very thing that you need today in your life?  You see the way Jesus interacted with people tells us today how He wants to treat us. 

Since these stories are the clearest revelation of God to us in all of the Bible, have you hugged your God today?  When you read the story of the leper, do you say to yourself, “Yes Jesus, I believe that You’re willing to forgive me and to cleanse me in my spiritual life just as You cleansed that leper of old.”  When you read the story about Jesus healing the paralytic do you see how Christ’s words, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” or daughter, it could be, “Daughter, your sins are forgiven,” how they apply to you as well?  Have you inserted your own name there in the stories?  Have you imagined yourself in the same place as those people?  I believe that’s the purpose of the miracles and the other stories of the teachings and example of Jesus and why the gospels have reached us today.  That’s why I enjoy our studies in The Desire of Ages every Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. for prayer meeting, because we get to soak up and apply these lessons for ourselves.

Here’s one of the quotes from a recent prayer meeting.  It says, “His tender compassion fell with a touch of healing upon weary and troubled hearts.  Even amid the turbulence of angry enemies He was surrounded with an atmosphere of peace.  The beauty of His countenance, the loveliness of His character, above all, the love expressed in look and tone drew to Him all who were not hardened in unbelief.  Had it not been for the sweet sympathetic spirit that shone out in every look and word, He would not have attracted the large congregations that He did.”  Did you catch that?  Let’s read that last sentence again.  “Had it not been for the sweet sympathetic spirit that shone out in every look and every word He would not have attracted the large congregations that He did.” 

What kind of God does that portray?  And how very importantly for us, how would that God relate to us today?  I love these words from The Desire of Ages, page 269.  It says, “Oh wondrous love of Christ, stooping to heal the guilty and the afflicted.  Divinity sorrowing over and soothing the ills of suffering humanity.  Oh marvelous power thus displayed to the children of men.  Who can doubt the message of salvation?  Who can slight the mercies of a compassionate Redeemer?”  I think it’s of vital importance to know this Jesus from the Gospels, don’t you?  Wouldn’t you think so too?  Wouldn’t you think that it would prepare us for the end of times when one day the Antichrist, a false Jesus, stands up, an impersonator, the devil himself, and he stands up and he tells the world, “Believe me and obey my word or else.”  Or else!

On a radio talk show various callers were expressing their very firm opinions about why there was so much crime in our country.  One said, “It’s the break up of the family.  That’s why there’s so much crime.”  So the host asked the question, “But why are there so many homes breaking up?”  The caller didn’t know.  The next caller did know.  “It’s because of television.  That’s what’s breaking up our homes.  They show such immoral stuff on TV that people just try to live that way too.”  Again, the host responded.  “Well, the producers just give the people what they want.  Why do people want to watch that stuff?”  In the end the caller wasn’t sure.  Well then another caller wanted to blame the liberal courts in the land.  But when the host pointed out that juries and judges tend to reflect something of the prevailing morality of a society and asked where the society was getting its values the caller only mumbled that he did not know.  And so it went, each caller blaming what he thought or she thought was the prime cause, only to acknowledge that it too was just a symptom of a much larger problem. 

I suspect that if the Old Testament prophet Hosea had been in the listening audience, we might have heard him say, “I know the answer.  I! know! the answer!  There’s no knowledge of God in the land.”  In fact that’s what he says.  Hosea 4:1.  “Hear the word of the Lord oh children of Israel, for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land.  There is no faithfulness or steadfast love and no knowledge of God in the land.”  The root cause of all the ugliness ultimately is because people do not know God.  They don’t know Him enough to trust Him and they’ve certainly chosen not to know Him in the sense of having a saving relationship with Him.

And what about us?  Is the root of all the ugliness in our own lives because there’s something we don’t know about Jesus as well as we should?  I appeal to you to take the Gospels of Christ and to make them your own.  Let your mind dwell on the Gospels of Christ.  Dwell on the stories of Jesus.  Think of the miracles of Christ and ask yourself the question, “How did Jesus treat people?”  Remember that people came to Jesus back then for the same reason that we need Him today.  How Jesus responded to those people is how He will respond to us today.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  He’s the same.  Aren’t you glad?

I don’t know of any other way to be personally acquainted with God than to read about Jesus in the Gospels.  That’s it.  The whole Bible is very, very important and we should read all 66 books of the Bible but we should especially remember, shouldn’t we put up priority list of what we read?  We should know all the Bible but shouldn’t we know the Gospels more importantly than anything else in the Bible.  They give meaning and light to all the rest that’s in the Bible.

I think of the familiar story in which a man in a jetliner was quietly reading his pocket New Testament.   About a man sitting next to him, noticing this gentleman reading his pocket New Testament and then saying, “I don’t go much for religion because I don’t see any sense in following a Christ who has been dead 2000 years.”  “What did you say?” asked the first man.   “Christ dead?  Why that couldn’t be for I was just talking to Him a few minutes ago.”  That is how we can talk to Jesus.  By reading the stories about Jesus and responding.  I want to do that.  Do you?  Would you like to choose to renew your commitment to become acquainted with the Jesus of the Gospels?  Would you?  If you would like to do that would you stand to signify your commitment.

Let us pray.  Father in heaven.  We seal our commitment.  We choose to become personally acquainted with You more and more.  More and more about Jesus, and we pray that You would walk with us step-by-step, moment by moment, that we might be more like Jesus.  In His name we pray.  Amen.

 Hymn of Praise: #245, More About Jesus
Scripture: Mark 2:1,2
Hymn of Response: #152, Tell Me the Story of Jesus
Sermon Notes:  Sermon notes available as PDF

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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 7/8/10