Steven Furtick — 50 Paces to Grace
Mark 1:40, "A man with leprosy came to Him and begged Him on his knees, 'If you are willing, you can make me clean.' Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. 'I am willing', He said. 'Be clean.' Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cured. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning, 'See that you do not tell this to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing as a testimony to them.' Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news, and as a result Jesus could no longer enter a town openly, but stayed outside in lonely places, yet the people still came to Him from everywhere".
I'd like to speak today for a few moments about "Danger in the Distance". Danger in the distance. Certain phrases in our Christian vocabulary lose their power, or at least their ability to penetrate our psyche because of usage, like when we say, "grace". This is a phrase, or a word, a concept that is so familiar to many of us that I am afraid when we sing Amazing Grace, we can barely through our yawning, understand just how scandalous the concept is. I also thought that maybe one of our worship leaders at one of our locations would write us a song called, "Dangerous Grace", because to really understand the grace of God is to understand that it jeopardizes the way you have lived your life, and it will not be contained by our conception of it, but our conception of it must come up to the level of its efficacy.
In Mark 1:40-45 we see an example of this kind of grace, and I'd like to spend the majority of my time and just one verse, the first verse, verse 40. It says, "That a man with leprosy came to Him". I looked in Matthew's gospel, Luke's gospel, and John's gospel, to see if I could find a little more information about this man. Mark doesn't tell us much about his background, his hair color, his eye color. He doesn't even give the common courtesy of stating his name. Now come on, you even ask your server his name at the restaurant, and this man who is the subject of one of the first miracles recorded in this Markean account does not even get a name. We are not told his name, but we are told about his condition, which is leprosy. We're not given his name, but we know about his issue, which is leprosy.
It goes to show that sometimes your identity can be consumed by your issues. That is you can become more known by what's wrong with you, than who you have the potential to be. Is anybody here? To the point that you no longer know your own name, or you no longer have a real sense of your identity, or yourself. We are losing a sense of ourself at times because our issues have run so rampant that they have consumed, our issues have consumed our identity.
Now, when Moses met with God, the fire was burning the bush, but it did not consume the bush. It burned, and burned, and burned, and God spoke from the bush. He said, "I want you to know who I am". He said, "Who are you"? He said, "I am". Moses said, "I am is a good start, what comes next"? And then God said without saying, "Whatever you need comes next, because I will not change, I am. But what you will need in different seasons of your life will change, so, whatever you need I will already be before you even know your need, I am what you need". How many are grateful for an omnipotent, omniscient God? Who knows what you need and can be what you need.
Now, some people know what you need, but they cannot be it. Some people would love to give you what you need if they could, but they can't. God is the only one who simultaneously knows what you need, and is what you need. And I dare you to look at the person next to you, even if you been married for 43 years, and tell 'em, "You can't be what I need". Not in every season. You can't be what I need, you might come close sometimes, but I need a God who is familiar with my secrets, and my most intimate issues, and has still made the decision to love me on my worst day, with no makeup on, in my failure, with my flaws. I need a God who will choose me not just despite my flaws, but because of my flaws, and cause all things to work together for my good according to His purpose, who will make my weakness His strength, who will set up and dwell in the midst of a broken praise, God is that to me.
This man is given no name, we know his issue, but not his name. His identity has been completely consumed by his issue. I'm hanging out on this point, cause I wonder, has it ever happened to you? God did not say, "I am the great I did". But there is always a temptation in life to over identify, either with your issues, or with your gifts. So if you are really good at something, you can learn in life to perform in such a way that you receive the praise of people because of what you do. God is not the great I Do, He is the great I Am.
I feel like the revelation of this is worth us hanging out in verse 40 for just a minute. We've got time. A man with leprosy, who's name has been consumed by his disease for which there is no cure. A man who has been relegated, and confined, and quarantined to the outside quarters of society, prohibited from normal human relationships, caused to dwell in desolation. In Leviticus 13 we see a snapshot of the kind of situation this man would have lived in. The book of Leviticus at points reads more like a whole 30 book than it does a scripture verse, because all the dietary restrictions are there.
And then when you get to Leviticus 13, it's more like a dermatology manual than it is like a devotion, and so, don't read Leviticus if you're looking for that quick inspiration, you know. It gives prescriptions like this, it says, "If you have leprosy, anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt. Cover the lower part of their face, and cry out, 'Unclean, unclean.'" And watch what's next, "As long as they have the disease, they remain unclean. They must live alone, they must live outside the camp". The greatest pain of this particular issue, is not physical, it is emotional. It is the pain of isolation. So, now you understand the significance of this phrase, "A man with leprosy, who had no name, came to Him, who was the name above every name".
I could preach that for a whole series. That thing just hit me. The Holy Spirit of God just told me to tell you that whatever name your issue has, there is a name that is above that name. And if you can name the issue, I know a name that is above it that can make your issue — she got it, that can make your issue take a knee in the presence of a mighty God. Let's take ten seconds and praise that name. Come on, at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, and every tongue confess. I don't wanna wait till one day, I might as well use my tongue right now. Praise His name.
He came to Him, and he did it all wrong. He did the total wrong thing, this man, just, he broke every religious rule in the book. He didn't first of all, announce unclean, unclean, okay. He didn't identify himself by his issue, unclean, unclean. And he did not keep the appropriate distance, because when you have leprosy, you've got to stay back, because you are contagious. This law was not given because people were cruel, it's kinda like, I didn't think to say this in the other ones, but y'all are so advanced you pull stuff out of me. You know how there are certain kids you don't want your kid around. Not that you don't like that kid, but if that kid rubs off on your kid, it's like they don't have the same values. And then, you might realize your kid is that kid. That's a parenting sermon, and I don't do that.
It's crazy that he would think to approach anyone, let alone the miracle worker from Galilee. A man with leprosy came to Him. Came to Him. Let me do this real quick. Only take a second. Two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, Lebron, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 1, 2, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 48, 49, 50. That's the distance. 50 paces away. That's the appropriate distance that a leper was supposed to keep in order that they would not defile someone who was clean. 50 paces.
I thought about calling this message 50 paces to grace. Not 50 shades or nothing like that — 50 paces to grace. And he's allowed to be around people, not too close though. Just at a distance. The leper can come to church, but if he comes to church, he has to sit behind a special screen so nobody will catch what he has. The only way that we'll make you sit in a special place at Elevation is if you are late. But we don't check you at the door, you know, "What's your issue"? And then seat you accordingly. Wouldn't that be interesting?
Cause see, the leper had an advantage over a lot of us, his issue was on the outside. A lot of us don't have spots on our skin, we have secret spots. Spots in our soul. Issues of insecurity, you can't see them. Certain issues you can see. You know, certain addictions manifest in practical ways and then someone goes to get help. The thing about secret spots, though, is when they are on the inside of you, you can be in church, but you are behind a screen. So, the screen keeps other people from seeing you as you really are. But it also keeps you from seeing God as He really is. Y'all need to help me preach this, I'm feeling very vulnerable. You can come to church, but you're behind a screen. You can come to church but you don't really let the presence of God touch you. You can come to church, but you fight down the emotions. You come to church but you play it off cause the people next to you, they kinda know you, and you feel kind of ashamed.
See, shame always creates a screen, a screen to keep you from being who you really are. From seeing and being seen, and from back here behind this screen, I'm at church, but not really. I'm coming home physically, but I'm staying at work emotionally. I learned how to hide behind this screen because if I stay behind this screen they can't see me. Behind this screen. Give me a phone, I need a phone. I need a phone. Behind the screen, behind the screen. The devil's got us hiding behind screens. How creepy is it with my hand preaching to you right now? Behind a screen, behind a screen where you create digital personas to hide your dysfunction, and in an age where we have more apparatus to connect than ever before, we are impotent to be intimate, because intimacy requires proximity, in other words, you gotta come out and be seen. And you can't be seen since you're behind a screen.
So, the man violated the law that was meant to protect the people from being infected by what had consumed his skin, and he heard that there was a man who had been standing up in synagogues and telling demons to sit down and shut up, and he figured if Jesus can deal with demons, maybe he's got something for my skin too. If Jesus can do that for them. See, that's what you need to be encouraged. If He ever did it for anyone, what's to stop Him from doing it for you? And he decided to take the walk of shame, 50 steps. The first one must have been the hardest. Hmm. "If I stay here, I'm gonna die. I'd rather die trying to be whole.
Here's my whole sermon in case you're watching this online in Wisconsin and you need to get lunch in the oven and you can't watch the rest. The danger of isolation is much greater than the risk of intimacy. That's the whole sermon. It's safer to come out from behind the screen and be seen as you really are, than it is to hide behind an image of what you want people to think you are. Secret spots. Secret insecurities that cause us to stay behind performance, and profession. So he started that walk of shame. 49, 48 — nobody stopped me yet.
47 — I got a question, just a question, where was Peter? Peter shouldn't have let this man get that close to Jesus. Remember when Peter cut off Malchus' ear in the garden? Where was his sword? This could have ruined the whole ministry, because if the unclean touches the clean, the clean becomes unclean. 46 — but this man, had apparently become desperate. I don't know what happened on this day or if it was just his personality type, but he decided to try. I'm going to present myself. 45, 44, 43, 42, 41, 40. Still got a long way to go, but I'd rather find out for myself. 39, 38 — cause if He can really do what they say He can do, I can hold my daughter again. 37, 36, 35 — I don't even know if I'm gonna make it to Him, because they could kill me for what I'm doing right now. They can stone me outside the camp for daring to bring my defiled self in the presence of the undefiled but — 34, 33 — cause sometimes you come to a point where you don't even care how it looks anymore. Or really even what it costs you, because I'd rather live as I really am than die in this lonely place.
So, 32, 31. I wonder is anybody coming today? 30, 29, 28 — I hope they don't kill me. 27, 26, 25 — I know I look crazy, but — 24, 23, 22 — I might as well — 21 — I've already lost so much — 20 — I'm desperate now, I'm close but now — 18, 17, 16 — there He is — 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, ten, nine, eight — am I really gonna do this? I've come too far to turn around, I'm closer to this than I am to that. Seven, six — you gonna keep marching around those walls, or are you gonna stomp 'em? Five, four, three, two, one. Here I am Lord! I'm a man of unclean lips and I live amongst the people of unclean lips, and you can see in my skin, that on the surface I'm defiled, but I have more faith than a lot of the people who have perfect skin.
I heard that you could heal, and I'm here, and I know I'm not supposed to be here, and I know they could kill me for being here. And if you are who I've heard you are, you are the holy one of God, and your holiness and my unholiness do not belong in this same vicinity, but I'm here. I took 50 steps to get here that I wasn't supposed to take. But I'm here. I'm completely out of place, but I'm here. Put the verse up again. I'm here, I'm out of place. Oh, it wasn't the 50 steps that got him healed, it was the next thing he did when he got there. "A man with leprosy came to Him and beg: I'm here, and I'm humble. It wasn't those first 50 steps that got him healed, it was the 51. You can come all the way to church and not get healed, cause you won't get it like this. But if you will humble yourself, under the mighty hand of God, and hit your knees in your heart and let God know, "I don't wanna be my issues anymore, I heard what you could do, and if you will, you can make me clean! I know You can, I'm just not sure if You will.