Choose your Priorities: Learning at the Feet of the Master

Peter Ustinov, the brilliant raconteur could hold audiences spell-bound in his West End one-man shows. One of his favourite subjects was Russian farmers’ great love of tractors. Although a multi-linguist, he was funniest in non-verbal communication. He could, for example, mimic the sound of a Russian tractor. He would have audiences in hysterics as he rode an imaginary tractor on stage. One of his memorable illustrations was of an advert from a Soviet agricultural magazine, “Farmer seeks wife. Wife must own tractor. If interested, please send photo… of tractor.”

Priorities matter, don’t they? Last Sunday we began a short sermon series, “Lessons Learnt at the Feet of Jesus”. Last week we saw how Andrew and Peter, together with Philip and Nathaniel became the first to follow Jesus. Jesus simply invited them to what? ‘come and see’. Having spent time with Jesus, they could not help but urge their friends to ‘come and see’ also. When you think about it, that is the most effective way to influence anyone. That is the most fruitful way to lead others to Jesus. Come and see for yourself.

Today I want us to learn a second lesson at the feet of Jesus. A lesson about his priorities.  Mark 1 describes a typical day in the life of Jesus. We will observe that Jesus life was like an iceberg. Much of it was hidden from gaze, out of the public limelight. What can we learn at the feet of Jesus about Jesus priorities? And, by implication, about ours?

1.  The Private Life of Jesus: Friendship

“As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.” (Mark 1:29-31)

They were tired and hungry. They were emotionally drained from what they had witnessed in the synagogue. Jesus confounds the religious leaders with his knowledge. Jesus confronts an evil spirit and delivers a man possessed. Jesus confuses the people, amazed at his power and authority.  From the synagogue, they go to the home of Simon and Andrew for a rest and to eat. The main meal on the Sabbath was eaten after the synagogue service. The equivalent of our Sunday roast – you know, roast vicar…. Unfortunately there was nothing in the oven. Simon’s mother was ill in bed with a fever. The fact that they had to tell him about her suggests Jesus hadn’t gone to the house to heal her. But when told, he simply takes her hand, helps her up and the fever leaves, instantly, and she cooks a meal as if it was the most natural thing to do. As you read the gospels note how often we encounter Jesus eating meals in the home of friends. In Capernaum it was Peter’s home. In Bethany it was the home of Mary and Martha. The wedding feast in Cana. In Jerusalem  the home of Simon the Pharisee, Zach the tax collector, and of course the Last Supper. And we are not talking about snacks or instant ready meals. Middle Easter culture places high value on hospitality and cultivating friendship. And unless you want to insult them, you do not leave until your host says so.

Do you value your days off? Do you protect your family time?  Do you cultivate friendships? It is essential for an emotionally healthy life to take time for rest and relaxation, with family and friends. Unfortunately Jesus wasn’t going to get the night off. No sooner had they finished their meal than there was a knock at the door. “I know it’s your day off but…..”  We move from the private life of Jesus to,

2.  The Public Life of Jesus : Compassion

“That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.” (Mark 1:32-34)

Picture the scene. “The whole town gathered at the door”. Hundreds if not a few thousand were gathering around Peter’s home. The noise and commotion must have reached a pitch as people jostled to get near the door. Why did people wait till after dark to come?  Because it had been the Sabbath. The day began at 6:00am and ended at 6:00pm. The Sabbath was considered over when three stars were visible in the sky. So when the sun had set, the people carried their sick and suffering relatives to meet Jesus. Jesus appears from the door, it is getting dark. It must have been a pitiful scene. Jesus is surrounded by the sick and dying. The whole town is there. Jesus has compassion on them and heals many, one person at a time. He drives out many demons too, refusing to allow them to reveal who he was. It is by now late into the night and at some point Jesus retires, exhausted. Many go home reluctantly, disappointed or perhaps camp out nearby. The desperate ones will be back at dawn. What do you expect Jesus to do? This is where we move from the private and the public life of Jesus to the most important aspect of all.

3.  The Priority in Life for Jesus: Communication

Mark tells us about Jesus’ personal priorities. Gordon MacDonald wrote a classic called “Ordering your Private World”. That’s what we have here. How Jesus ordered his private world. I want you to notice how Jesus was never deflected from those things most important to him, whether by people or by circumstances.

3.1 Nurturing his relationship with the Father

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)

Remember Jesus had got to bed late.  The evening surgery had began after dark, yet Mark tells us Jesus got up while it was still dark, left his warm bed, and went out to a cold solitary place to pray to the Father. We don’t know what he prayed.  What is more instructive is the fact that he got up in the early morning while it was still dark, and found a place to be alone to talk to the Father. If Jesus needed to do it, how much more …. do we.  Free from distractions, like the phone, emails, twitter, Facebook and the needs of those around us.  When I was single and I lived alone I was very punctual at getting up and having a quiet time before breakfast.

Whatever my excuse I have to admit I find it harder these days. Especially in winter when it iems so many distractions. What  dog has happenedm,  revolves around the meal table and you do not leave until your host has feds cold and dark. It’s like exercise. We all know we need exercise but its hard putting theory into practice. Getting to the gym is an act of the will. So I’ll do a deal with you. If you are willing to ask me what I have been learning in my quiet times I have the freedom to ask you, and we can motivate and encourage each other….  There is nothing more important for us to cultivate than our personal relationship with God the Father, in times of solitude, with an open Bible, in prayer – as God’s word is read, God’s voice is heard. When better than at the beginning of the day. I know that if I don’t make time before I begin my day, I never have the time afterward. And the precious opportunity to commune with him is lost.  Like Jesus, make it your first priority.  Prayer to the Father. Jesus first priority.  And it must be ours. Second priority:

3.2      Training the disciples for mission

“Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”  Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:35-38)

Simon is exasperated. There’s even a hint of criticism in his response when they eventually track Jesus down to a lonely spot some away from the village. The people have been gathering again.   There is great anticipation and expectation in the air. “Everyone is looking for you.” could be roughly translated, “You’re late for your surgery Dr Jesus, the waiting room is packed out and your playing havoc with the appointments we’ve made for you. Please hurry up. Everyone is so excited at what you’re going to do for them today, but your delay is very embarrassing for our public image.”

The disciples were in for a shock. A rude awakening. Gently but firmly Jesus explains the agenda for the day. Jesus wasn’t going back to heal the rest. Jesus did not necessarily see things their way.

Jesus has a different definition of power evangelism.  It was time to move on. He would not be deflected from his priorities. Notice Jesus says “Let us go”. This was a training exercise. Training the disciples played a vital part of Jesus ministry. That is why he invested so much time in them away from the crowds, explaining his actions, showing them how to reproduce themselves. He knew it would only be as they followed his example, that the world would see and hear the gospel. A disciple is a learner. That is what it means to be a Christian. A Christian is a disciple of Jesus, a Christ follower, a learner. Maturity does not come by accumulating more and more knowledge about God but by passing on what you already know of God, reproducing yourself. Becoming a spiritual parent. Learning from those more mature, sharing with those spiritually younger.  That is our strategy here at Christ Church. We invest a considerable amount of time in training – not just Sunday services but in Thursday courses, mid week small groups, the serving teams, our apprentice scheme. It’s a mistake to think we employ the staff team to do the ministry. Our role is to equip you so that together we all share in the ministry. So that together we can disciple others who in turn will disciple others.  Jesus priorities must determine our own. Talking to the Father, training the Disciples, and

3.3 Telling people how to enter God’s kingdom

“So he travelled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.” (Mark 1:39)

Jesus taught people from the Scriptures how they could enter the Kingdom of God, how they could come to know the Lord God Almighty. And He cast out demons where they stood in the way of people hearing and responding to that message.  Obviously his miracles caused great interest but that wasn’t his intention.

In fact often the miracles got in the way because people began to come for the wrong reasons. Jesus didn’t use healings as a means of evangelism. What does he say to the healed leper in 1:43 “Don’t tell anyone.” What does he say to the evil spirit in 1:25 “Be quiet” Again in 1:34 he wouldn’t let the demons speak, because they knew who he was…. Jesus knew who he was, the demons knew who he was, but the people didn’t yet understand what kind of Saviour he would be.  Jesus was determined not to let the demons or the healings lead people astray. Why had Jesus come?

“Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:38)

He came to lead people back into a right relationship with God. He came to announce the kingdom of God was at hand. He came to call people to repent of their sin and trust in Him. Out of compassion Jesus healed people of spiritual and physical sickness as a temporary foretaste of their future redemption in body, mind and spirit.

In this passage we see how the disciples unknowingly tried to distract Jesus from his priority, and how the demons knowingly tried to divert Jesus from his objectives. Both failed. He knew the people would only finally comprehend his purpose in coming after the crucifixion. He came ultimately to die in our place, to ransom us, to redeem us, to reconcile us to God. It was not an easy lesson for the disciples, any more than it is for us. In these verses we see the priorities of Jesus. They are so striking because they are so often different from those we find in the world around us. What are the values of the world?  Fame, Fortune and Fitness –  popularity, prosperity and to be healthy with it. To be liked and to be loaded and stay young enough long enough to enjoy it.  The temptation to stay in Capernaum was for Jesus little different to the more blatant temptation in the wilderness when the devil offered the secret of instant success. How to become popular and famous, by giving people what they want.  If our world seems out of step with the values of Jesus it is because we are literally living in another world, another kingdom.  When we get too absorbed with the values of this world, we receive the same gentle rebuke that Jesus gave these disciples.  Lewis Chafer who helped found Dallas Theological Seminary, referring to a friend who was devoting his time and energy in pursuit of an insignificant matter, said, “He reminds me of a bulldog chasing a train.  What’s he going to do with it if he ever catches it?”  Jesus said something similar.  “What does it profit a person if they gain the whole world and lose their soul?”

Jesus Priorities were simple: nurturing his relationship with the Father, training the disciples for mission, and telling people how to enter God’s Kingdom. If these were the priorities of Jesus, then what should ours be? In Milan Cathedral there are three doorways. Over each is an inscription. Over the right-hand door there is this motto, “All that pleases is but for a moment.”  Over the left-hand door are the words, “All that troubles is but for a moment”. And over the central door is the sentence, “Nothing is important save that which is eternal.”   So, we leave Jesus walking to the next town, followed by a confused bunch of disciples, learning about the priorities of Jesus, priorities that were soon to be theirs. And by God’s grace, priorities that will be ours too. Let us pray.