What a day.
The soft launch of our Zoar Campus. Meaning, the first day that a sermon of mine would be broadcast to a video venue of Good Shepherd.
So I was extra nervous at 8:30, because that’s the sermon Zoar will use.
But . . . it was also Spring Forward Sunday, which, as preachers around the country can tell you, should also be called Church Evacuation Sunday.
Yet we hung in there. More importantly, the lauch team at Zoar (107 people yesterday) ran through their steps with only a few hiccups. Next Sunday (March 20) is the second “soft launch,” all in preparation for the public Grand Opening on Easter Sunday, March 27.
Here’s yesterday’s message, originally titled “When Jesus Was Gross” and then re-titled “The Saliva Miracle.” You’ll see why below.
And you’ll also see how the bottom line fits: God uses what disgusts you to deliver you.
You know, most of us here agree that Jesus is good. And you’d agree that he is gracious. And you’d agree that he is glorious. But I am super excited today because I get to tell you about one more G word describing him: GROSS. Yep, we’re going to look at a jaw dropping story in which Jesus does something that by our standards is so gross, so vile, so disgusting, so socially inappropriate, that if he were to do it here, we’d escort him out. You know that old WWJD? Well, today, if you did what Jesus did, more than likely you’d be a) arrested; b) beaten up; or c) BOTH.
And what is this uniquely disgusting thing? Well I’m not gonna tell you yet! I AM going to tell you, though, that it comes in another one of his jaw dropping miracles, and one we find in Mark 8. Now as we start this story, you need to know the backstory to the story. And the backstory is that Jesus has just fed 4k ppl with seven loaves of bread – and yet in the aftermath of that Jaw Dropper, his inner, inner circle still doesn’t comprehend him well. He has to chastise them; look at Mark 8:17-18:
17 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?
You HAVE eyes; you just FAIL to see with them. So his peeps, his tight knit circle in the middle of this cascade of jaw droppers, still has, at best, partial vision. So now that we’ve seen the backstory to the story, let’s take a look at the story itself, OK?
Look at 8:22-23a:
22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village.
I love that. People bring the man to Jesus. It works that way, doesn’t it? Even today? People rarely have Jesus leaning insight apart from other people. Someone ALWAYS brings someone else to Jesus. It probably worked that way with you, even here – friend, a parent, a co-worker, even a pastor. And then it’s so interesting what Jesus does next: he leads the man OUTSIDE the village of Bethsaida. Very deliberate in that detail. And you may wonder why? And that’s where Matthew fills in the gaps in 11:21: READ. Oh! It’s a place full of unbelief. So it’s almost like Jesus fells he needs to get this guy out of the atmosphere of opposition and skepticism before he can do anything at all about his vision. Wonder if he is doing that for his inner circle as well!
So here they are: outside the perimeter of the village, Jesus, the blind man, and I assume at least a few of his 12. Why? Because one of them had to see it to record it and later share it with author Mark! And what happens next is one of those “Did you have to do that, Jesus” One of those moments, one of those incidents when you feel like you have to apologize for the bible, when you hope Bill Maher doesn’t get hold of it. Take a look at 8:23b:
When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”
Spit on the man’s eyes. Not even on his hands first and THEN put that on his eyes; it looks as if there is a direct hit of saliva on iris.
Now: we know that eye ailments were common in the ancient world – neither glasses nor contacts had been invented yet! – and we know that saliva was thought to be an agent of healing. BUT STILL. Jesus spits. Jesus disgusts. Jesus is gross. No wonder this little story doesn’t make it into our illustrated children’s bibles! Barely makes it into the movies about his life! And then, with his hands still on the poor spit-victim, Jesus asks, “Do you see anything?” Remember: he has just said that his disciples have eyes but don’t see! AND in the next story, he asks them the super penetrating question that governs all of Mark – who do YOU say that I am? Nothing is here by accident and I love Mark’s genius in layering the story together.
The answer comes back in 8:24:
24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
Oh, I don’t know, but if it was me and a guy had just spit in my eye, I’d have probably been like, “Oh yeah! Perfect vision! 20/20 at least! No need for a repeat! Whatever it takes to keep your saliva outta my iris!” But I’m not this man in Mark 8. His answer his honest; his perspective is partial. He’s been sort of healed.
Even taking the spit out of the equation, that’s where a lot of us are, right? Wondering if we should settle. Things are improved, they’re good enough, but they’re still not all there. Maybe that’s how it is with YOUR health, with YOUR marriage, with YOUR living relationship with Jesus Christ. Pretty good, partially clear, but ultimately kind of blurry. And like the guy in the story you have to decide and declare: is good enough good enough?
Apparently for Jesus it’s not. Look at 8:25:
25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.
Restored suggests he’d been a sighted person before and now sees clearly AGAIN. But do you know what is so cool? We’re gonna stop using vials of oil in our healing services and start using containers of saliva! On, and in addition to that, this is the ONLY Jaw Dropper in which there is a two stage miracle. Every other one takes ONE word, ONE prayer, ONE touch and BOOM! But not here. I love 8:25’s first three words: once more Jesus. Because isn’t that so much like life?! Now: we’re not exactly sure WHY this miracle takes two steps. (Lynyrd Skynyrd took three.) Maybe it would have been too painful to go from blindness to full sightedness instantly. Or, more likely, Mark is showing us the parallels between this guy and the disciples whose story sandwiches this one. He sees partially just as they see partially. Ultimately, Mark doesn’t tell us WHY; he just tells us what happened. I do know, however, that that gradual, two step healing is so much like life & the once more Jesus is so much what it means to be connected to him.
But what I can’t really get away from is that disgusting, raw, earthy, offensive act of the spit. And as I recoiled from it, entered back into it, was embarrassed by it, pondered it, and ultimately fell in love with it, here’s what I realized: isn’t that just like God? To take what at first glance looks disgusting and use it to deliver? To take what is offensive and use that to liberate? To shock us before he saves us? To bother us before he blesses us? The very thing which probably startled this poor guy in Mark 8, which no doubt bothered him, is the very thing that was essential to his healing & his vision. It’s almost that pain & discomfort is preparatory to healing & peace! Here is it: God uses what disgusts you to deliver you. Yep.
Just think of how true this is in life, people. You’ve got a pet, they’re sick, what do you have to do? Put them in a crate – never! – and cart them to the vet. The whole time, if it’s a cat, that cat is hating you. Or a child. They need a shot to make sure they don’t get lethally sick and every parent here KNOWS what an ordeal that is! Even when you get older, it’s uncanny how the medicine you take – literally & figuratively – is offensive but so essential. I have come to the conclusion that God specializes in take that which we find objectionable and using it for our blessing. .God uses what disgusts you to deliver you.
But it’s not just the pattern of life; it’s the pattern in Scripture. Some of you may know that midway through the OT the Jews, God’s chosen ones, find themselves exiled from home and enslaved in Babylon. For 70 years they sat by the rivers of Babylon and wept. And do you know how they got out? A man named Cyrus, the king of Persia defeats the Babylonians and as a favor to the Jews lets them return home. Persia is what? Iran! The enemy then; bigger enemy now. But all in all – in those days – people with whom Jews would have no contact because they were unclean. They were Gentiles and therefore disgusting. And that’s who God chooses and uses to restore Israel to its home. Or in the NT, Jesus tells the story of the Good _____ what? Right! The Good Samaritan. Do you know how that sounded to ancient ears? Like The Good Taliban. The Good ISIS. If you’re a D, it sounded like The Good Repub; if you’re an R, it sounded like The Good Dem. And by telling that story, Jesus says to all those myopic, bigoted people: it’s an untouchable Samaritan who saves! Why? It’s just the way of God: God uses what disgusts you to deliver you.
My gosh, I’ve seen this in my life. Third grade, little boys room, washing hands, I grab the hands of a classmate and make him hit hisself. I’m a brute! He runs out crying, I get sent to the principal, and it all breaks loose. A tattletale and not a friend. He didn’t even like tennis! Bothers me. Why do I tell you that? Fast forward seven years and whose the guy laying some serious Gospel truth on me so that I become a Xn? Same guy. God uses what disgusts you to deliver you. .
Even in the realm of healing. Eighteen months after conversion I scramble off to college and in the early days there, looking for some fellow Xns, I wander into a place called Alpha Omega Fellowship. Oh Lord, Hand raising. Long praying. Tongue talking. Everything but the snakes. So emotional. And remember: I’ve never met an emotion I couldn’t avoid! I just thought they were kind of looney & so I never went back thank you very much. Three years later when my shoulder is injured & inexplicably resistant to treatment, who did I call. I guy from that group. And how did he pray. With the laying on of hands and in tongues. And the result? Shoulder healed. God uses what disgusts you to deliver you.
You know what else about my shoulder there? We prayed more than once. Repeatedly. Same with my back 20 years later. In both instances, hands got laid on, partial improvement came, kind of like Walking People Trees, all as a prelude to total freedom. That’s why that pattern is in the story; that’s why two phase healing. Sometimes Jesus has to grow your faith before he will drop your jaw. And that is so true about your life in faith – even beyond healing. There are so many things in the library; truths vital to understanding the jaw dropping Jesus, and a lot of them are initially offensive. Hell. Well, yeah. It’s real. And only when you embrace its disconcerting reality do you receive the corresponding liberation of heaven! Tithing. Gulp. Who wants to give 10+% Now that’s disgusting. And then you do it, and it DOES deliver you. Delivers you from greed, from self, and from dumb financial planning.
And then maybe worst of all, in Scripture you discover that Jesus did not come to make you nice. He came to make you dead! Dead so you might be “made alive” in Christ. He doesn’t want a better you; he wants a brand new you. And that’s a hard, offensive truth for all us who think we have things pulled together and then we realize it’s the best news ever. God uses what disgusts you to deliver you.
So where is it with you? Where and who are the people you find offensive that you now know are probably the key to your own liberation? What are the truths or habits or practices in Scripture that at first glance seems so annoying but now you know they are anointed? What used to make your skin crawl and now you know it’s really just the spittle of heaven. Kind of like happened with my friend . . .