Summary: Our failures in the Christian community remind us of our need for total and complete dependance on Jesus.
Like you, I’ve been watching the terrible scandal surrounding the abuse of children by priests in the Roman Catholic church. And the worst part of the scandal isn’t the abuse of children, as horrible as that is. The worst part has the cover up, that rather than stepping in and removing sexual predators from their position of influence, many cases were swept under the rug. Clearly the Roman Catholic church failed its people in this area.
But the Catholic church isn’t the only part of the Christian church to have failed. Church history, for all its high points of courage and compassion, has just as many low points of failure and scandal. For every Christian abolitionist who condemned slavery there were just as many professing Christians who justified the enslavement of people based on their race. For every church member in Germany who resisted Hitler during World War 2 there were other church members who gladly compromised. For all the orphanages, hospitals, and schools created by
Christians throughout the last 2,000 years of history there have been just as many people calling themselves Christians who shed innocent blood. Although the failures of the Church are often exaggerated by critics, clearly even the exaggerations are based on a kernel of truth.
On a more personal level, we can see examples of how Christian churches have failed people. Several years ago I read a troubling book called Exit Interviews. That book was about how many Christians in our culture had abandoned any affiliation with a local Christian church. As I read the stories in Exit Interviews, I saw the church’s imperfections, it’s failure to respond to people’s needs, it’s failure to minister effectively, it’s failure to show compassion or to speak truth when called for. In fact, as I was reading Exit Interviews I realized that one of the stories was about a someone I knew personally. Although the names and places were changed, I knew the person well enough to recognize his story. The person the story was about was one of my seminary teachers. I remember shaking my head, and thinking, "No one’s immune from becoming so disillusioned with the Christian community that they simply quit."
How ought we view failures in the church? How ought we view our own failures here at Life Bible Fellowship Church, as well as the failures of Christians down through the ages? Skeptics of course will point to our failures as evidence that our message is bogus. "A true message wouldn’t lead to so many failures," the reasoning goes. That’s probably why some members of the media in our culture just love to break stories about churches failing. Today we’re going to look at a situation where Jesus’ earliest followers failed.
We’ve been in a series through the New Testament book of Mark called Following Jesus in the Real World.
Since September we’ve been exploring Mark’s biography of Jesus to learn how to be more devoted in our life of following Jesus. Today we’re going to look at what happens when we fail in our life of following Jesus Christ.
1. The Church’s Failure To Deliver (Mark 9:14-18)
Last week we looked at Jesus Christ’s transfiguration, which occurred earlier in Mark chapter 9. In that event Jesus took three of his closest followers--Peter, James and John--up on a mountaintop. On that mountain these three guys saw Christ’s glory explode before their very eyes. They had an intense mountaintop experience, but like all mountaintop experiences, they had to come back down into the valley.
Let’s look in vv. 14-18 at what’s been happening in the valley with Jesus’ other followers while Peter, James and John were with Jesus on the mountaintop. They walk from a mountain of glory into a valley of chaos. A large crowd has surrounded the nine disciples who remained. Throughout Mark’s biography of Jesus the crowd has represents people who are still aren’t committed to Jesus, people who are undecided. The crowds are the seekers, the people who are intrigued enough about Jesus to check Jesus out, but who haven’t yet take the risk of faith.
The teachers of the law are also present. They were the theologians of Jesus’ day, the Bible experts. We’ve already seen Jesus get in a number of arguments with these theologians, and here they’re arguing with the nine disciples of Jesus. In fact, the word for "argue" in v. 14 indicates a heated disagreement.
But when Jesus appears, the crowd immediately abandons the disciples and rushes to Jesus with expectation. Jesus asks what the argument is about, and a man from within the crowd steps forward to explain what’s been going on in Jesus’ absence. It seems that this man has a son who’s been desperately held captive to evil for many, many years. The evil presence in this child looks like epilepsy, but Mark makes clear that this is no normal case of grand mal seizures. Beneath the guise of everyday epilepsy is a power of darkness that’s seized this child and is trying to destroy the child’s life. This desperate father has tried everything to help his son, and out of desperation he brought his son to Jesus.