7/20/03, P6B

“Why Jesus is so Popular Today”
Mark 6: 30-56

esus is a hit! He is more popular now than ever! More people are hearing about him and more are turning their lives over to him. Churches that center their ministry on him are growing more rapidly than ever before in the two millenniums of Christian history. There are more disciples of Jesus today than ever before in two thousand years.

But why? Why is Jesus still sought by so many after so many centuries?

Our story for today records how widely popular Jesus was and how thousands gathered around him to the point that he became overwhelmed by the spiritually starved throngs. Mark records one of Jesus' efforts to have a brief time apart:

"There were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his disciples didn't even have time to eat. So he said to them, 'Let us go off by ourselves to some place where we will be alone and you can rest a while.' So they started out in the boat by themselves to a lonely place. Many people, however, saw them leave and knew at once who they were; so they left from all the towns and ran ahead by land and got to the place ahead of Jesus and his disciples. When Jesus got out of the boat, he saw this large crowd, and his heart was filled with pity for them, because they looked like sheep without a shepherd. So he began to teach them many things." (30-34, TEV)

Mark is once again stressing how Jesus was widely popular with the people. Jesus was crushed by the crowds in his encounter with the sick woman who reached through the mass to touch the hem of his garment. Jesus' army followed him to Jairus' house where he healed his little daughter. Today we have read how the crowds were so great that he did not even have time to eat a meal. He tried to take the apostles by boat up to a retreat center north of Magdala; however, the crowds ran around the Sea of Galilee and met them there when they disembarked. There were thousands seeking Jesus and he decided to feed them. Five-thousand men ate and many more women and children were also fed with just five loaves and two small fishes.

Jesus evidently decided that the only way to have a brief time apart was to get away from the Jews and cross over the sea to the gentile region of Gennesaret. He had been there before and had cast many demons out of the wild man, Legion. But when Jesus and the Apostles arrived in this foreign land for a second time, Legion's legions met them at the boat dock. Evidently, the man formerly so full of demons that they named him Legion had done as Jesus had instructed and had traveled throughout the region telling folks what Jesus had done for him. Verses 54-56 say, "…the people recognized Jesus at once. So they ran throughout the whole region and brought the sick lying on their mats to him… and all who touched him were made well." (TEV)

Although Jesus was well received by the people, he was never well received by the religious authorities. Earlier, he had been rejected by his hometown synagogue. (Mark. 6: 1-6) Later he would be condemned to the Cross by the leaders of the Jews in Jerusalem. Jesus did not measure up to their misinterpreted images of the Messiah. They had missed the twofold nature of the Messianic description in the Old Testament. Jesus was fulfilling the "Suffering Servant" imagery, and later would come again and fulfill the "Reigning King" prophecies.

Still today, despite Jesus wide popularity with people, many religious leaders misinterpret Jesus. Although millions of people around the globe are attracted to Jesus, the leaders of non Christian religions see his popularity as a challenge to their own system. In recent years we have felt the terrible sting of radical suicide squads who have attacked followers of Christ. Tourists from nominally Christian nations are in great danger if they travel into their territory. Holy Land trips have been halted. And yet, the people who live in these lands have open hearts to Jesus Christ and are candidates to receive salvation.

Even more disconcerting are the internal struggles among Christian denominations and dissidents within our own faith. Some Christian leaders and scholars have put Jesus in a small box marked irrelevant, but have not realized that Jesus is out of the box and is working in the hearts of people everywhere. Yet, Jesus is received well wherever his story is told. People are still attracted to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The living presence of Jesus is more popular now than ever. The Good News is that there is nothing that can keep the Christian Faith from winning new persons as long as the message is faithfully delivered. Local churches that remain true to the Jesus that walked the dusty roads of Palestine will grow in membership and in ministry.

The great church sociologist, Lyle Schaller, commented, "The greatest revival in history is taking place among Jesus' followers and the only question is whether or not the churches will become a part of it."

Our own United Methodist Church has responded to the call to place Christ first and gains have been made against the struggle against secularism. As was in the days when Jesus walked this earth, there are religious leaders that reject him, but many positive changes have taken place during the past twenty years. The new generation of leadership now coming along in United Methodist will bring about deeper loyalty to the Christ who is the reason that the churches exist.

I can not say enough about the young leaders within our conference and denomination. The vast majority of them seem to not want to play the old games of church politics and do not want anything to do with the watered down, "christinette," brand of Methodism. These young bucks, and does, impress me as being committed to the genuine article, and to the articles of faith.

We can feel good about our own local church. We have a wonderful congregation of thoughtful and committed disciples of Jesus. There is a congenial harmony in our church that can only be attributed to our common bond of salvation. Our goal is to be the kind of church where visitors will feel the contagious presence of our Lord and will want to know him too. We have all visited churches that felt spiritually cold. Our visitors go away feeling that they have experienced the warmth of Jesus presence, and want to come back. You can feel comfortable inviting your friends, relatives, associates and neighbors to visit with you.

This is a happy place where we seek our Lord's guidance and he provides the grace and the growth. Ours is a submissive role to his will and guidance. Great blessings will be poured out on us as we continue to be faithful to his vision. However, the vision is not always crystal clear. Sometimes our spiritual vision is like squinting through a greasy windshield in a rainstorm. Then the storm clears and we can see the road and forge ahead with our hand in the hand of the Jesus that is still loved by billions and who enlivens our souls.

But lastly let me say that Jesus is popular today because he is the only one who can offer new life. Other religious systems are based on one becoming an adherent to a process of obeying laws; but Jesus Christ offers forgiveness through the price that he paid on the Cross. Through faith in his death as the means of salvation human sin is forgiven and we become friends with God. Aliens are made sons and daughters and are given a new life of confidence and joy. This answers the longing of the human heart. Lostness is replaced with belonging and peace. And this is it!

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

7/20/03, P6B