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"Under the Impression"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on January 31, 2021
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2021 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Mark 5-6:13

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression." So the saying goes. First impressions happen fast. In less than a second after someone sees your face, they've already got their first impression. They've decided if they think you're attractive, intelligent, friendly, trustworthy, or not. And you know they do this because we all do this. We form first impressions. Impressions that are based on types. You've heard people say, "Oh, I know that type. I've dealt with this type of person before." We're like directors sometimes, casting actors for specific roles. We use our first impressions to typecast people. We sort them; we categorize them; we peg them for the part that we expect them to play for us. That's what we do. But sometimes we take things slower. Sometimes, instead of typecasting people according to our first impression of them, we might read them like a character in a novel. A well-developed character in a novel resists typecasting.

Authors of novels love to complicate our first impressions of their characters. When you first meet a character in a novel, you know that the author will devote hundreds of pages, or if it's a series of novels, maybe thousands of pages to gradually unveil the complete picture of who this person is. When we typecast people, whether it's in a novel or real life. When our first impressions of them become our lasting impression, we assume that people are superficial, that they're mechanical, or unchanging. But when we read them over time like a complex developing character, a character who's struggling and suffering in some way, our first impressions of them can be cast in a new light.

Now, whether it's fresh or it's been formed for years, you have some impression of the historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth. You've got this impression from somewhere: from books, from movies, from pastors, from priests—you have an impression of Jesus. The question is—are you open to letting your current impression of Him be cast in a new light? See, early impressions that we have of a person are almost always inaccurate, or at the very least incomplete. And if you, like me, believe that Jesus isn't just a figure from history, but He's also the living eternal Son of God who's authoring a beautiful story that will go on forever, which means that even now we're only in the very opening chapters, so whatever current impressions that I have of Jesus are necessarily incomplete ... but I'm getting ahead of myself. For now, let's just deal with Jesus as an historical figure.

When people initially meet Jesus in the eyewitness accounts that we have of Him, their first impressions are either dead wrong or at the very least misguided. In this section of the Gospel of Mark that I'll share with you in a moment, we'll meet a variety of people with misguided impressions about Jesus. There's the people from Nazareth, His hometown where He grew up, they're under the impression that He's pretending to be something that He's not. There's a crowd that's under the impression that Jesus is a fool, that He doesn't know the first thing about proven medical science that dead people stay dead.

There's another crowd that thinks He's dangerous and wants Him to leave. And then there are the demons. The demons, ironically, have a fairly accurate impression of who Jesus is and what He's come to do. And in the middle of all this action, we meet a man, a father, and an elderly woman. And both of them are laboring under their own incomplete impressions of Jesus. The man is under the impression that Jesus can help him, but only to a certain point. And the woman believes that Jesus can help her, but she is laboring under the impression that He doesn't care to notice her. So listen in on this section of the Gospel of Mark and see how it complicates your current impressions of Jesus.

Now, Jesus and His disciples crossed over in the boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to the region of the Gerasenes. And after He stepped out of the boats straightway, a man in the power of an unclean spirit came from among the tombs and met Him. Now, this man lived among the tombs, and no one actually had the strength to subdue him anymore. For he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he would wrench the chains apart and break the shackles into pieces. Day and night among the tombs and on the hillside, he was always crying out and gashing himself with stones. But when he had seen Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell down before Him and shouting at the top of his voice says to Him, "What do You want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God You won't torture me!" For Jesus had started saying to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit." And then he actually asked Him, "What is your name?" And he answered Him, "My name is Legion, for we are many." And he began begging Him again and again not to send them out of the region. Now, there was a herd of pigs feeding on the hillside nearby and he begged Him, "The pigs, send us into the pigs. Let us enter them!" And He permitted them. And after the unclean spirits had come out of the man and entered into the pigs, the whole herd, about two thousand of them altogether, charged down the steep bank, into the water and were drowned in the sea.

And the herdsman tending the pigs ran away, and they reported it in the village and the countryside. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they come to Jesus, and they see the demon-possessed man, the one who had the Legion, sitting there, clothed, and in his right mind. And they we're filled with fear. And those who had seen it described to them in detail, what had happened with the man with the unclean spirits and with the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to leave their region.

As He was getting back into the boat, the man who had the demon began to beg that he could be with Jesus. But Jesus did not permit it. Instead, He says to him, "Go home to your family and report to them all that the Lord has done for you. How He has had mercy on you." And he went out and proceeded to proclaim in the Decapolis, the ten cities, all that Jesus had done for him, and everyone was amazed.

And after Jesus had crossed over again in the boat to the other side of the sea, a great crowd gathered to Him while He was by the sea. And then comes one of the synagogue leaders, Jairus was his name, and he sees Him and falls down before Him and starts begging Him and begging Him. "My daughter is dying. Please come and put Your hand on her so that she may be saved and live." And He went with him.

And a great crowd was pressing in against Him. And a woman, having suffered for twelve years from internal bleeding, and having suffered much at the hands of many doctors, and having spent all that she had, and getting no better but only getting worse. And having heard the reports about Jesus and coming up behind Him in the crowd, she touched His outer garment because she was saying to herself, "If I touch even His clothing, I will be saved." And straightway her bleeding was stopped. And she perceived in her body that she had been freed from her suffering and straightway, Jesus perceived in Himself that power had gone out from Him, and He turned into the crowd and started saying, "Who touched My clothing? Who touched My clothes?" And His disciples started saying, "You do see the crowd pushing against You. And You can say, 'Who touched me?'" That Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it, and the woman, because she knew what had happened to her, she came forward trembling with fear, fell down before Him, and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."

While He was still speaking, some men come from the synagogue leader's house saying, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any longer?" And Jesus, overhearing their report says to the synagogue leader, "Don't be afraid, only believe." And He permitted no one to follow Him, no one except for Peter and James and John the brother of James. And Jesus comes to the synagogue leader's house. And He sees a commotion. People weeping and wailing loudly. And after He had entered in, He says to them, "Why are you making such a commotion and wailing so loudly? The child is not dead but sleeping." And they began to laugh at Him. And after He had put them all out, He takes along the girl's father and mother and those who were with Him, and He goes into where the child was. And He took her by the hand, and He says to her, " Talitha cumi," which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise." And straightway, she arose and started walking around. She was twelve years old, and everyone was completely amazed. And He gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about this. And He said to them, "Give her something to eat."

And He went out from there. And He goes into the area of His hometown and His disciples, they follow Him. And on the Sabbath, He was in the synagogue teaching. And many who heard Him were astonished at His teaching. "Where did this Man get these things?" They were saying. "What's this wisdom that's been given to Him—the miracles, such things being done by His hands. Isn't this the carpenter? The son of Mary, the brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon. Aren't His sisters here with us?" And they were actually offended by Him. And He began to say to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown among his relatives and in his own house." And He was not able to do any miracles there except for laying His hands on a few sick people to heal them. And He marveled at their unbelief. And then He began to go from village to village, teaching.

And He calls the twelve and proceeds to send them out with a commission two by two. And He gave them authority over the unclean spirits. And He was telling them to take nothing for the journey—nothing except a staff, no bread, no bag, no money in your belt, to wear sandals, but not an extra undergarment. And He continued saying to them, "Whenever you enter into a place, stay there until you leave that area. And if any place does not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave as a testimony against them." And when they went out, they began to preach that people repent. "Repent now!" And they drove out many demons and anointed with oil many sick people to heal them. That's the Gospel of Mark 5-6:13.

First impressions form quickly, but they don't need to become lasting impressions. Authors Thomas Mann and Melissa Ferguson offer this example. Say you learn about a man who was a card-carrying member of the Nazi Party in Germany. In the late 1930s, he devised a plan to make a fortune by capitalizing on the Nazi Party's persecution of Jews in Germany. He took over several Jewish-owned businesses since the Jews couldn't legally own them anymore. And they were forced to agree to his terms. Then he made loads of money using those businesses to produce war resources for Germany while employing Jews as cheap labor, knowing that he didn't have to pay them a fair wage. So what's your initial impression of that guy?

But let's say that you learned that this man was Oscar Schindler. And that he used all of his money and all of his connections to keep his Jewish workers from being killed, while deliberately producing essentially zero materials for the war effort. And as a consequence of all of this, Schindler ended up dead, broke, broken by the sacrifice that he made to save the lives of his people.

You see, first impressions don't need to become lasting impressions because a larger story can cast a first impression in a new light. And Jesus has come to give you a larger story. That's part of what it means to have faith in Jesus and to follow Jesus. It means seeing yourself as a character: a developing character in His story. Now some people are laboring under the false impression that Jesus is a distant, irrelevant, historical figure. Some people are under the false impression that Jesus is just a spiritual being that they'll get around to dealing with in the afterlife when they die. Some people know Him to be the living, present Son of God, the Messiah, but are laboring under the false impression that He doesn't care to notice them.

But if Jesus' story includes new chapters for seemingly minor characters—if a demon-possessed man becomes a preacher of God's mercy; if an invisible old woman becomes a daughter of the King; if a twelve-year-old girl gone too soon is raised to life, then Jesus has new chapters for you. There is a new story for you because you have left an impression on Jesus. I don't mean that you've impressed Him. Business consultants have advice on how to make a great first impression, but that's not what I'm talking about. Jesus sees right through all that posturing. He sees you. He sees even the things that you don't want anyone else to see. He sees it all—as an author sees a beloved character, an author who wrote Himself into the story, an author who wrote Himself into the tragic story of humanity and then pressed down and nailed to a cross. He suffered the consequences of our shortsighted, self-centered false impressions.

We can't impress Jesus, but we have left an impression on Him. The nail scars on His hands and His feet impress upon us the truth that our first impressions lead to dead ends. But His resurrection recasts everything in new light.

Would you pray with me? Lord Jesus, You see us as we are. You love us as we are. But You don't leave us the way You found us. Remind us that we don't have to try to impress You and make us mindful of our impressions of others. Have I cast someone into an idol that I fear or worship? Then let me see them as a struggling sinner just like me. Have I written someone off as not worth the effort? Then let me care for them as a beloved child of God for whom You died. Impress Your love on our hearts and recast all our impressions in the light of Your life and death, Your resurrection, and Your promised return to raise the dead and renew all things. Because You live and You reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Reflections for January 31, 2021

Title: Under the Impression

Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to Now back to our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.

Mike Zeigler: Once again, I'm visiting with Professor Daniel Paavola. He's a professor at Concordia University Wisconsin. He teaches courses about the Bible, focusing on New Testament and ministry that flows out of God's Word. Welcome back to the program, Dr. Paavola.

Daniel Paavola: Thank you for letting me come back, and thank you, listeners. It's a pleasure to be with you.

Mike Zeigler: Dr. Paavola, you've written a commentary on the Gospel of Mark. If someone wasn't familiar with what that means—a biblical commentary on a book of the Bible—how would you describe it to them?

Daniel Paavola: Well, we'd love to have Mark sitting with us and explaining and such. But how about if as best we can, we have a companion with us, and that companion could be the commentary. It hopefully gives you some answer, bit by bit, page by page, of the "What is this text trying to say?" And then some application of that text also. "How will this change my life? How can I use this in my service, my prayers, my worship?" That's a good goal of a commentary.

Mike Zeigler: As you wrote this commentary some years ago, how were you hoping to help people answer that question—"What does this mean?" and understand Mark's Gospel?

Daniel Paavola: Well, I think we're really fortunate that Mark wrote to people somewhat like ourselves. He's writing the story of Jesus, but most commentators will agree he's probably reflecting the preaching of Peter, which was done in Rome, and writing to probably people who are not right there in the center of Jerusalem or Galilee, but rather more likely those who are learning the story of Jesus at a distance from Jerusalem, Judea, Galilee. And so a commentary wants to be the partner with Mark and saying to distant readers—and we're really distant now—two thousand years later, "Here, let me tell you this story. It's set in a particular time and place." You're going to want to know who these people are: Herod. You're going to want to know their nature and cruelty, Herod, for instance, and his cruelty towards John the Baptist. You're going to want to know why this was such an important issue. "Should we wash our hands in a ritual manner before we eat or not?" Why is that a question? Well, a commentary hopefully gives that context, so people can say, "Oh, I got it!" And maybe even possibly a connection to today.

Mike Zeigler: In this format, you've provided a short devotion at the end of each passage, which allows the reader to remember that this isn't just about acquiring information about the past, but walking with the living Lord along the way.

Daniel Paavola: Well, absolutely. I tell my students in the New Testament class, I teach the survey of the New Testament in repeated sections every semester, "Why are we doing this?" Oh, and they have wonderful answers. "We're reading the New Testament. We're reading it to understand." That's good. I'm all for that. But it better change your life. Its intention at least is to change your life. If after we've read the New Testament and spent all these hours together, if there is no greater peace, if there is no greater sense of forgiveness, if there's no purpose in life, then it really didn't do its job. And so a commentary has to have that same purpose. It can't just be information on Herod and his long line, or what that particular Greek word means. It's got to also speak to our needs of—"I need to be forgiven. I need peace with God. I need to know how I can face an uncertain future." And that would be exactly what Mark is writing us, well, and all the Gospel writers. And so it seeks to change lives as well as inform.

Mike Zeigler: You have many quotations from teachers of the past who have come out of the Reformation tradition—so teachers like Martin Luther, teachers like John Calvin and John Wesley, and many, many others. Why is that helpful to listen to voices from the past, as we meditate on God's Word like this?

Daniel Paavola: Well, they're certainly richer than any one of us by ourselves. Only a fool would say, "I'm not going to listen to these voices." And the beauty also is we're talking about a fixed document. The Gospel of Mark isn't going to significantly change at any time. It was read 500 years ago by Luther, and it is still read by us as the same document. And the words, while timeless, speak to our generation, our needs, just as they did for him.

Mike Zeigler: It's like walking into a room where there's been a conversation that's been going on for a long, long time—two thousand years, in fact—and to listen to these great teachers of the past helps us get into the conversation a little bit and realize we're newcomers to this, and maybe we should just sit and listen for a while.

Daniel Paavola: You know, that really works well, Mike, because they'd have a long conversation, and we get to step in and listen to, like you said, a conversation. Or maybe we stepped into a choir, and they're singing. And I tell you at first, I'm not going to join in because, oh, by the way, I can't sing worth a lick. But what if they then would hand us the music and then at some point nudge us and say, "Okay, you can join in. You're not going to become the soloist." None of us is that, but I could join the choir. I could join the chorus. And isn't that a marvelous idea. I'm not contradicting, but I'm contributing. Maybe that's what we do when all of us read the Word. We contribute to that larger knowing, singing, celebrating of the same Gospel.

You know, as you were saying that I thought of that wonderful line that we all love from the liturgy, when we're right there at the doorstep of the Lord's Supper, "with angels and archangels, with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Your glorious Name, ever more praising You and saying ...." Well, when we say, "all the company of heaven," we're talking about the angels, but also the saints. And all the ones you and I just mentioned are there already. We get to join them. Yes. When we're in worship, but we get to join them when we read what they've said and oh, we understand the Gospel better. So with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven, we not only magnify His Name, we read His Word.

Mike Zeigler: Well, if you're looking for a good commentary on the Gospel of Mark, I recommend checking this one out from Daniel Paavola, spelled his last name is P-A-A-V-O-L-A. It's part of the Reformation Heritage Bible Commentary Series. It's verse-by-verse companion, friend, singing notes to bring you into the choir, as you listen to this account of Jesus in the Gospel according to Mark that has been changing lives for two millennia. Thank you for joining us, Dr. Paavola.

Daniel Paavola: Thank you for letting me come, and thank you, listeners, for being a part of this today.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Son of God, Eternal Savior" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

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