Looking at a pile of correspondence and reports from around the world to review and respond, an emperor of ancient China felt overwhelmed and couldn’t concentrate on his work. He wanted something to calm his mind down to get his work done.
He consulted the prime minister for a solution. The minister suggested hanging a giant, beautiful, calming painting in his office to induce serenity. The emperor agreed, and the minister hunted for the best artists in the country. He selected three artists to paint a picture for the emperor.
After consulting the emperor about his desire, the artists began their work. When they finished, the minister asked them to bring their finished paintings to the emperor’s office to let him choose.
The first one was a beautiful spring scenery of a flower garden. The second one was a peaceful winter lake with a snow-capped mountain behind—like the Fuji Mountain. They all represented serenity very well.
The third one, however, was a giant waterfall. The minister suggested eliminating the third one because the waterfall didn’t look serene. But the emperor said, “Stop, I think that’s the best one. Look! See the small bird nest with a family of birds sleeping peacefully in it despite the roaring waterfall by them. That’s exactly what I want.” (End of the story.)
This allegory teaches us that serenity does not require you to live like a hermit in a quiet mountain or deep forest away from civilization. True serenity is like those little birds staying calm and peaceful despite the turbulence in the environment.
There are two types of turbulence in life—failure and success. The effect of failure is easy to understand. Nobody likes failure. It makes us feel depressed, discouraged, and distressed. However, most people don’t know that success also disrupts our serenity. It’s equally harmful. Success is like sugar that tastes sweet but destroys our organs from the inside.
Most people know they should avoid failure but don’t realize they must also beware of sabotage by success. Don’t get me wrong! I am not talking about not attempting to succeed in your enterprise or your calling, but I mean not dwelling on it—not letting it disturb your serenity.
Depending on your age, I’m sure you have seen more people destroyed by success than failure. It was not because success was bad but because they dwelled on it.
Humans are pretty resilient. We can recover from failure repeatedly if we don’t give up. But few can recover from the destruction of success because of its sweetness. They thought it was a good problem to have. But before they realize it, permanent damage is done.
Jesus showed us how to handle both failure and success and how to move on quickly. In this week’s scripture lesson, we can learn how Jesus maintained his serenity and humility despite his fame and success. We will learn valuable lessons from it. Let’s begin!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson for today, the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, is from the Gospel According to Mark 1:29-39. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. (Mk 1:29–39).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s word. Thanks be to God!]
Let’s begin with the context. Jesus recruited his first four disciples. They were all fishermen, and he promised them to make them become fishers of people. By fishers of people, Jesus did not mean baiting people to believe but drawing them by teaching them about the kingdom of God—the place of eternal freedom, joy, and serenity.
On the sabbath day, Jesus took them to the synagogue in Capernaum, showing them how he taught. People were impressed by his teaching with authority. His words were like a breath of fresh air. Jesus had no credentials and was from the notorious town of Nazareth, where people thought “nothing good could come out of Nazareth.”
In other words, even though he had no human authority, he had divine authority. The Bible says even the unclean spirits obeyed him.
He expects you and me to command divine authority because that’s greater than any human credentials. We covered this in my message last week. (You can review it online or through our Fruitful Life app on Android, Apple, and Roku devices.)
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. (Mk 1:29).
Archeologists have excavated a spacious home next to the synagogue in Capernaum. So, when this verse says, “as soon as they left the synagogue,” it is literal because Simon and Adrew’s home was next to the synagogue.
Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. (Mk 1:30-31).
It shows that the recovery was full, and she gained energy and enthusiasm to provide them hospitality immediately. Right before this, he performed a healing at the synagogue by driving out unclean spirits from a man. It was a spiritual healing. It made him famous. Verse 28 says,
At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. (Mk 1:28).
It wasn’t clear whether his fame was due to his authority to heal or to teach, but Jesus knew. Now, the healing of Simon mother-in-law shows he had authority over physical sickness as well. His fame spread and his success came like a waterfall.
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. (Mk 1:32-33).
It is a good thing that Simon and Adrew’s home was quite big, according to the archaeological discovery. The whole city was at their door. It must be quite a sight of fame and fortune. Of course, Jesus didn’t charge them, but it gave him influence.
And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. (Mk 1:34).
What’s interesting here is that Jesus didn’t allow the demons to speak, just like when he was at the synagogue. Why? I researched it extensively and found no scholars could give us a satisfactory answer.
However, we have an answer when we put this into the context of Jesus’ entire teaching: Jesus was here for a spiritual reformation, not for a political revolution. Let me explain.
If he had allowed the demons to identify him as the Son of God, it would have triggered people’s hope for a political revolution because the Son of God was to come as the Messiah, according to the prophecy. They had a misunderstanding of the Messiah as someone who would free the Israelites from the political oppression of the puppet king and the Roman empire. In other words, their expectation of the Messiah is a “political revolution.”
However, Jesus came for a “spiritual reformation.” What does it mean? Political revolution is changing the external systems for freedom and human rights, like overturning the government. Spiritual reformation is to change our internal systems—our spirit—for true freedom from within.
Using the painting the emperor chose for analogy, a political revolution is like stopping the roaring waterfall from flowing. Spiritual reformation is to maintain serenity despite the waterfall, just like the sleeping birds in the nests. Instead of changing the corrupt government, Jesus invites us to belong to a new government—the kingdom of God.
The reason is the government of this fallen world will always be corrupt. So far, the United States has the best political system in the world. Thousands of people try to cross the borders every day because of the freedom we have. But those of us living here know what we have is still far from perfect.
Does it mean we leave the corrupt government alone since it seems irredeemable? No. There is another truth that we must know. We have a government we deserve. The reason we have a corrupt government reveals the corruption in our spirit.
I know it’s a hard pill to swallow, but it’s a proven truth. We are in an election year and will elect the government we deserve. The government we choose will reveal the state of our spirit.
We have many evidences before us. For example, after spending eight trillion dollars removing the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan and rebuilding those countries, they are back to square one. Why? The government wasn’t the problem, but the people. As Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale said,
“Our mission is not to change the government but to prepare the people. If the people are ready, the same government cannot stay.” (Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale).
That’s exactly what Jesus did. He came to prepare people so that we would get the government we deserved. So, when we see a corrupt government, we should repent instead of just complain. Again, it’s a hard pill to swallow. It’s not easy to make people to recognize their responsibility.
Jesus did not speak to the face of the Israelites, “You have a government you deserve, so stop complaining.” But he did ask them to repent and invite them to belong to the government of the kingdom of God. He wasn’t inviting us to escape reality but to change from the inside out. That’s what repentance is about.
Why do I call this spiritual reformation? Reformation means going back to the original.
The kingdom of God is nothing new. It was there before the creation. It was there when Abraham was called to leave the civilization of his time to build a more advanced civilization that did not need a human king. The civilizations of that time looked at him and his people as barbarians who belonged to an unnamed Creator as their Lord and King.
In short, Abraham belonged to the kingdom of God, but his descendants regressed and asked God for a human king. They didn’t want to be looked upon as barbarians and wanted to emulate the worldly civilization. The desire to have a king comes from the human tendency to idolatry.
As a result, King Saul became the first king of Israel, and the downfall began ever since. In the beginning, the kings were at least God’s servants in chief. But by Jesus’ time, God was no longer their king. As the Pharisees and High Priests claimed at the crucifixion of Jesus, “Ceasar alone is our only king.” What an abomination by the religious leaders, a betrayal of the Abrahamic calling.
Jesus came to restore that spirit of a kingless mindset—meaning not needing a human king but letting the invisible God be our Lord and King. It’s restoring the Abrahamic civilization. That’s why I call it Spiritual Reformation—reforming the spirit of Abraham or the civilization of the Garden of Eden.
It may look barbaric in the eyes of humans, but it’s actually a more advanced civilization—a divine civilization. One problem with spiritual reformation is that it takes time to cultivate. Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a seed that becomes a fruitful tree. A fruitful life doesn’t happen overnight. It requires cultivation.
Now, we can explain the works of demons. The demons do two things primarily. They tempt people to take quick fixes and make them overthink. Satan tempted Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit as a quick fix to become God-like, and he made them overthink God’s intention as if God didn’t want them to be wise.
What is your temptation for quick fixes in your life? Is it to take a pill and solve your health problems? Or elect a president to solve all your life problems instead of taking responsibility from within? What’s your temptation to overthink? Is it to doubt God’s intention for you? Do you suspect that God has your best interest in mind? What demons are you dealing with that rob your serenity?
Jesus could have taken a shortcut by using his fame and influence to start a political revolution as a quick fix. But he consulted God daily to maintain his serenity. Only in serenity can we think clearly.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. (Mk 1:35-36).
Jesus didn’t allow his serenity to be stolen by the windfall of fame and influence. The deserted place was like the bird nest by the waterfall for him to maintain communication with God and renew is serenity. Serenity is the solution to any temptations and distractions in life.
When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” (Mk 1:37).
How elating is it to have everyone searching for you? However, Jesus was unperturbed. He knew those people were not there for spiritual reformation but quick fixes. Later, Jesus said if Sodom and Gomorrah had seen as many miracles as Capernaum, they would not have burned down. In his serenity, he saw reality and moved on.
He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” (Mk 1:38).
Jesus revealed his primary purpose on earth was to proclaim the message of the kingdom of God—the spiritual reformation. Only belonging to the kingdom of God can we solve the root problem of humanity.
And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. (Mk 1:39).
This last verse reveals two parts of his calling and our calling. The central part is to invite people to come under God’s government, known as the kingdom of God. The second part is to deliver serenity by casting out demons of quick fixes and overthinking.
The kingdom of God is the ultimate place of serenity. We know it’s free but not cheap! It’s paid by Jesus’s blood on the cross. Serenity is the solution to human problems! Let’s repent, reform, and reproduce!
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom, purpose, and happiness.