Friday, September 22, 2017

Mark, Week 4 - Jesus has Authority

Before you read on, please get a blank piece of paper, a stone about the size of your palm, and a rubber band. Once you have done this, read on.

Over the course of the first three weeks in our Mark series, we’ve really just been having a prolonged introduction to the meat of Mark. See, Mark is very similar to John’s Gospel in their beginnings, because both are more interested in the who of Jesus, rather than where Jesus comes from. Mark gives us a small introduction of Jesus starting with John, but then dives head first into Jesus’ ministry. So why does he do this? My thought is that, because Make is writing down Peter’s sermons, Peter must focus more on the teachings of Jesus, than the background of Jesus. Peter is trying to give us a picture of the three years he was with Jesus, because that is the time Peter is most familiar with.

Because of this, we do not spend anytime learning about where Jesus came from, we just head straight into his ministry to people. Up to this point in our series, we have talked about three major points: First we talked about how Jesus does things to set an example for us. Second, we are to live our lives empowered by the Holy Spirit. And third, we need to respond to his message of the Kingdom. 

These are the three major points that we have covered in the first three weeks of our study into the book of Mark.

But this week we’re going to switch gears just a bit. We’re moving on to verse 21 of chapter 1 in the book of Mark, and as we get into this bit of Scripture, we’re going to see something that I hope will make us ask the question why, but will also set us up for where the book of Mark intends for us to go. And as we get into this, understand we’re going to be taking two sections and combining them, because the thought of Scripture encompasses both sections. So let’s take a look at Mark 1:21.

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

Now let’s get into some background for this passage. All this is taking place in an area called Capernaum. Capernaum is very important to the Jewish people at this time, because the synagogue that was started here, started as a direct response to the exile of the Jewish people about 600 years before Jesus enters it. It was a place where Jewish religious studies were taking place, and theological ideas were developed. Since the Jewish people could no longer worship in Jerusalem and in the temple, synagogues became the places of worship, and this one in particular held a place of high esteem for the people.
So Jesus comes, and enters into an historic place of worship for the Jews and is invited to speak. Which, at the time, was a common practice for traveling teachers to be offered a time of sharing. But this time the people hear something that astounds them. Jesus actually speaks with authority. Meaning, he doesn’t say, this great rabbi says this and I agree with him. That was common for teachers to do. No, instead Jesus spoke from his own authority, which astounded the people.

And we can see this authority that Jesus had, went far beyond just speaking. Healing of every kind happened. In verse 31 he heals Peter’s mother-in-law. In verse 34 it said that he healed various diseases.

And this is one of the points of the passage, that Jesus has authority over all kinds of human ailments. Let that sink in. Jesus’ authority is not just in his teaching, but also extends to humanity’s physical conditions. But there is one aspect of the passage that we’ve glossed over at this point, and that’s the demons.

If one of the points of this passage is Jesus’ authority over the human condition, the other point is that Jesus also has authority over the casting out of demons. And this point  serves a twofold purpose. First, in verse 27, the people are amazed that Jesus has the authority to cast out a demon. Okay, I think at this point we understand that Jesus has authority, which is point one of this passage. The casting out of demons serves to help solidify the case that Jesus has great authority. This authority, then, is both over the human realm with all it’s ailments, and the spiritual realm and the demonic forces. So in other words, Jesus’ authority is over all aspects of creation. Whether it be the physical realm of humanity, or the spiritual realm of demons. 

This points back to the fact that throughout Mark’s writings, Jesus is constantly revealed to be God the Son in human flesh on earth.

So point one of the passage is: Jesus has authority over all aspects of creation, both physical and spiritual. 

But the demon also gives us insight into why Jesus has authority over all of creation. And that’s in it’s use of the title, “the Holy One of Israel.” This title isn’t used to talk about Jesus being the Messiah, or the Savior, but rather points to him being God, and thereby revealing the reason he has authority over all aspects of creation. In the Old Testament, this title is used of God about 45 times. Here we see a demon, not a human, not Jesus himself, use this title of God, because the demon is the only one who fully understands who Jesus is. Jesus isn’t a mere human, but is God the Son descend into human flesh. And this is why his authority is so real to the people, because his is the ultimate authority. 

This leads us into the other purpose of the demon portions of this passage. This secondary purpose is to help us begin the journey to the turning point of the Gospel of Mark. A literary term for this is called foreshadowing. Except in this case, the foreshadowing happens because of Jesus’ real world interactions with the demon. See Mark’s Gospel is set up in a way that is leading us to a pivotal question. A question that each of us has to come to the answer on our own. We cannot be made to believe this, or else it will not be true faith.

Whereas the demon reveals who Jesus is, Jesus stops him and tells him to be quiet. Another way of translating this is literally to be muzzled. Do you know what being muzzled means? It’s to not be able to open your mouth. In other words, Jesus is telling the demon to shut up. The demon’s disclosure of who Jesus is, prompts Jesus to aggressively silence the demon. And the question we should be asking ourselves is why?

Why is Jesus silencing the demon, who is reveling who Jesus truly is? Why is Jesus silencing the demon, when all the demon is telling people that Jesus is in fact God on earth? The answer has two parts: First, you don’t give a demon room to say anything, even if it’s true. I mean look what happen to Eve in Genesis 3 when she gave Satan room to speak to her. Second, the realization that Jesus is God, has to come from a personal revelation, not from an outside source.

We see that later on in the passage where it says, “He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.”

We can hear that Jesus is God. We can hear that Jesus is Savior. We can hear about his miracles, and how he can transform our lives, but, until we come to that revelation in our own lives, it is just talk. 

There’s a song called What Do I Know of Holy, and the second verse says this: 

I guess I thought that I had figured You out
I knew all the stories and I learned to talk about
How You were mighty to save
Those were only empty words on a page
Then I caught a glimpse of who You might be
The slightest hint of You brought me down to my knees 

Until we have the encounter with Jesus, where we come to realize that he is truly God and Lord, no urging from people will make it real. Jesus silenced the demons by the authority he had as God, but he did it because the people needed to realize that Jesus was God, and they needed to realize it on their own.

And that’s what we need to do also. See we also need to realize the authority that God has, because in our lives there are countless things that happen, and we need Jesus to heal them. From relationships, to money issues. From our health, to our retirements and jobs. We have a tendency to not trust Jesus because we don’t really think he can do it, that he doesn’t have the authority to. And here’s the reason why we might not think he has the authority to do the things that need to be done: It comes down to this, we cannot trust his authority, and thereby trust that he can do things in our lives, because he is not fully God to us.

In fact, we tend to treat him more of a demigod, a god with some power but not all-powerful. With some abilities, but not having full authority over every aspect of creation. Sure he might be able to help out now and then, but to us, he is limited in his abilities. Limited in his authority. See, we need to come to the revelation that Jesus did not let the demon’s disclose who he was, because we need to come to that realization through our walk with him.

He is the Holy One of Israel, the Creator of all things, the Healer of the sick, and Mender of the broken. So today, I want to challenge you to seek God in one area that you are not giving over to his authority. Just one thing. It might be finances, job, future, family, friends, image,  or a host of other things. Whatever it is, I want you to then take the blank piece of paper and write down that one thing that you have not given over to the authority of God. Then wrap it around the stone, taking the rubber band and holding the paper and stone together. Set it down next to you and leave it. From here on out, every time you see it, pray a simple prayer of giving it over to God. Something like this, “Lord that _________ (insert the thing you are giving over) is yours, do not let me keep it in my own authority, but help me give it to you.”

Lay it at the authority of God, and seek to encounter Jesus as he truly is, Lord and God, the authority over all Creation both seen and unseen. Will you do that?

Father in heaven, you sent your Son in fully authority to shows us that we need to rely on you for everything. Let us be a people that live in your authority and not our own. May you be our God, and we your people, knowing you intimately and respectively. Give us the strength to bow at your authority, and the strength to leave everything at your feet. Thank you. Amen.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Mark Week 3 - Responding to Jesus' Message

So this is our third time diving into the Gospel of Mark. Now put this into perspective: we have already talked two times, and we’ve only made it to verse 14. In the first week we talked about John, who was the epitome of the whole Old Testament and the way God worked with humanity. We also talked about his three-fold message: Repent, be baptized, and there’s someone greater coming.
In the second week, we talked about how Jesus was that someone greater. And by John’s own response and message about Jesus, that this someone isn't just another man, but is God the Son descended to earth in human flesh. And then we talked about how, even though Jesus was God descended, he did everything in the power of the Holy Spirit. He did this so that you and I would come to the understanding that we are called to live our lives in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are to face the problems and challenges of this world, relying on the Holy Spirit and not our own strength.
From that understanding we move forward into Jesus’ work, his ministry. But we need to remember that Jesus fully relied on the Holy Spirit to work, because in a couple of weeks we’ll be coming back to this.

So today, we’ll be in the book of Mark, chapter 1, verse 14. And as we dive into this section of Scripture, I want to ask you two questions: What was Jesus’ message, and what does God require of you?

Don’t move on until you answer these questions on your own, what was Jesus’ message, and what does God require of you?

Alright, let’s dive into the passage of Mark chapter 1 starting in verse 14.

“14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’
“16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.
19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.”
Before we really get into this, I want to give you a side note on John. This John is the John that baptized Jesus. We don’t find out what happened to him in the book of Mark. So, if you're wondering what ends up happening, he said something negative about a marriage of the ruling Jewish king Herod and got his head cut off. Just so you’re not wondering, what happened to John throughout our time, that’s it what happened.

Now let’s get into the passage. In some Bibles, verse 14 and 15 are separated from 16 through 20. And I was wrestling with, should we separate the two. But the more I studied the two passages, the more I came to the conclusion that a better understanding of what’s going on in the passage means that we have to combine the two sections.
And this is why: in verse 14 it says, “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” Then in verse 16 it says, “as Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee.” The two are connected based on the location, and as we dive deeper into this, we’ll see that they are not just connected in local, but also in message.

Jesus proclaims, “The time has come…The kingdom of God is near.” Let’s stop there, the first question I asked you was, “What was Jesus’ message?”
We see here that the message of Jesus in a nut shell is, The kingdom of God is near. What’s that mean? It means that the kingdom of God, which is the rule and authority of God, that the world has rebelled against, and usurped all this time, is coming back. It means that God is no longer going to let things run the way they have since Adam and Eve. By saying the kingdom of God is near, Jesus is telling people, a new way of life, of living is coming, so prepare. 
Now as we’ll learn later in Jesus’ teachings, the nearness of the kingdom of God does not mean God’s physical, totalitarian rule. Rather, it means the spiritual authority of God over sin and death. This is a distinction that has to be made, because if we think, like some of Jesus’ followers did, that Jesus was ushering in a physical kingdom, then we’ll miss the foundation that God has to build first. God has to destroy the power of sin in our lives, before he reestablishes his authority over creation. Without the power of sin being destroyed, there would be no hope for humanity in God’s kingdom.

From the kingdom of God being near, Jesus presents us with four responses that we should have. 
First Jesus says, “Repent.” Jesus uses the same word that John does. So let’s going into a little deeper detail on what Jesus is saying when he says repent. The definition of repent means, “to feel such sorrow for sin or fault as to be disposed to change one's life for the better…” Sorrow and guilt for our sin against God is the correct response. If there is no sorrow of doing wrong, if there is no guilt felt, then there is no repentance. Jesus is calling us into feeling sorry for those things we have done because it’s only in place of guilt, do we have a desire to change. Which is also what repentance is, sorrow that leads to change. It’s not enough to be sorry for what we have done that’s in opposition to God, it must be coupled with a desire to change. To leave behind those things that are against God, that our not a part of his kingdom, and to embrace those things that are a part of his kingdom. 

The second response Jesus presents us with is, “believing the good news!” The bad news is that we have things in our lives that we do that are in opposition to God. Those things are called sin and we need to turn away from those things. The good news is that the things that we are turning to is going to be fulfilling. When we turn away from lies, we’re turning toward truth. When we turn away from sexual promiscuity, we turn to sexual purity. When we turn away from anger, we turn to peace. And the list goes on and on. The good news is that God’s way is better, and we can have it through the third response.

This third response is found in verse 17, “Come, follow me…” How do we know what to repent from, through God’s teachings. How do we know how to believe and experience God’s better way? Through the example and teachings of Jesus. As we’ll see, Jesus teaches on a number of issues that we deal with, from marriage, to children, to prayer, to money. Jesus covers all kinds of aspects of human life. And what he doesn’t directly teach on, he points back to what has already been said in the Old Testament. To follow Jesus, is to know what it means to have God’s good news come alive in our lives.

The last response that Jesus gives us in this passage is, “and I will make you fishers of men.” This is one that we have the biggest tendency to overlook and not actually practice in our lives. Repent, yeah, if we’re honest with ourselves we can say that there are definitely  things that are not godly in my life and therefore need to be changed. We can agree that God’s ways are better than the way this world wants things to go. And we can even say, I follow Jesus, I am a Christian. But what we forget is that we’re not just called to repent, to believe, and to follow. We’re also called to share. We’re called to share this repentance, this believing, and this following message with others. We’re called to respond to Jesus’ message by calling others to respond as well.

Here’s what it boils down to. Each of us are at a different point in Jesus’ message. Some of us are at the beginning, where we either didn’t know there were things that we needed to repent of, or we haven’t come to a point of sorrow over those things.
Some of us are wrestling with believing that God’s ways are better than ours. We have made it a point to do things our way for so long, that the idea of changing it, either seems to be to hard, or we’re too unsure that it will actually work out.
Some of us are in the following stage. We’ve repented, we’ve believed, but we’re struggling following Jesus teachings. Meaning, we’re struggling with putting them into practice. 
And for some of us, we’re either not sharing with people, or are having a hard time doing it. We’re all at different points, so today I want us to make the first step in moving beyond the point that we’re at.

If you haven’t repented of the sin in your life, whether that be for the first time, or just not over a current sin you find yourself in; take a moment, go before God and confess it. Lay it all out in front of God.
If you are struggling with believing that God’s way is better, read through the book of Proverbs and ask yourself is God’s way better in each of these circumstances. 
If you are struggling with following Jesus’ teachings, ask God to show you one that you are struggling with and then write down three ways you can put it into practice. Make copies of that list. Put them up on your bathroom mirror, in your car, and anywhere else that you constantly see.
Finally, if you are struggling with sharing your faith, ask God to point out one person that he is preparing to hear the gospel. Pray for that person at least three times a day, until God gives you the opportunity to share. And then simply share how God has worked in your life.

Each of us find ourselves at different places in responding to Jesus’ message. Let us be proactive in responding full heartily, so that we may become the people Jesus saved us to be. 

Father, help us to respond to Jesus’ message. Let us not fear repentance, instead let us know it leads to freedom. Let us not fear belief, because your ways are greater than ours and they will lead us to a more fulfilling life. Let us not fear putting your teachings into practice, for it will lead us to many more victories. And let us not fear sharing what you have done in us with those you bring into our lives. Instead give us the strength wherever we find ourselves to do what you have called us to. To respond to your message. Amen.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Mark, Week 2 - Living as Jesus Lived, in the Power of the Holy Spirit

Last week we started a summer long series on the Gospel of Mark, where we’re taking it section by section and laying the ground work for the last aspect of the vision that we’ll be talking about in the winter time. Now as we started last week, I know that I bombard you with a lot of information. How Mark was the writer of the Gospel and how he served under both Peter and Paul, two giants of the faith in the early Church. I shared with you the things about John the Baptist, and the three parts of his message. And finally I shared with you the fact that we are to be like John, people who point back to Jesus.

But it was to help us begin to understand what we’re getting ourselves into. And introduction as it were, to the why of the Gospel of Mark. Why was it written, from who’s perspective are we coming from, the connection it is trying to make between the Old and New Testaments. And the fact that the calling that John had on his life was to point people to Jesus, is a parallel calling that should be a part of every Christian’s life. 

Now as we get in to the passage today, understand that we will be covering a couple of deep theological ideas. But we’re not going into too much depth, just because this isn’t the time to do it. 

Now as we get into Mark chapter 1 verse 9, let’s go back and remember where we are. Right now in Mark’s writing, we’re out in the wilderness of Judea. People from all over the countryside are coming out to see this Old Testament prophet named John. Rich and poor, religious and non-religious people are coming out to hear what this man has to say. And John is telling people to repent, that means to confess sin, those things are not want God wants in our lives, and to turn away from the sin to follow God’s way of doing things. Then be baptized with water. To this he adds, that there is someone coming. Someone so important that John isn’t fit to tie his shoes. Last week we talked about how John’s statement of not being worthy enough to tie the shoes of the coming person, points to a person that is greater than all of the Old Testament prophets that came before him. Even though John is called the greatest person ever born later on in Scripture (John 3:30), this person that is to come, is still greater.

Now, we’re here. We’re at the point where the greater person is coming. Let’s dive into Mark chapter 1 verse 9.

9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
Now there are four parts to this verse. The reason for Jesus’ baptism, the voice from heaven, the temptation of Jesus, and the reason for it all. Let’s take each part as they come in the verse. 

Going back into verse 9 it says, “9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”

I hope the question that comes to your mind is, “Why is Jesus getting baptized?” This should be a logical question that we have, because in the previous section we talked about how John’s message was of repentance and baptism. People would repent, confessing and turning away from their sin, and then would be dunked in water as a sign of their repentance. So why is Jesus getting baptized? Does this mean that he had something to repent of? Does that mean Jesus had sinned? 

These questions are natural, and are answerable. Let’s take a step back and ask the question what was the purpose of John’s baptism. Wasn’t it used as a symbol. Last week we talked about how the baptism that John was doing didn’t cleanse people of their sin, rather it was a symbol of their desire to turn away from sin. So then, why did Jesus need to be baptized? If not for turning away from sin?

The answer actually comes from another Gospel. In the Gospel of Matthew, the interaction between John and Jesus comes out more. It says in Matthew 3:13, “13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’
“15 Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented.”

Even John had our question of, why does Jesus need to be baptized? In response to John’s protests of the baptism, Jesus says it’s a fulfillment. But how? Well, Jesus is said to be our example (1 Peter 2:20-22). If Jesus doesn’t do something why should we? Jesus is baptized, because he is showing us that we need to follow him in baptism. Baptism is a symbol that connects us to him, and by being baptized, we connect ourselves to him that much more. So Jesus getting baptized is a symbol for us, that just like him, we need to participate in. And not for him to be cleanse of sin, just like when we get baptized we are not cleansed by the water.

Now, let’s move on to the second part. Verse 10 says, “10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

We’re going to tackle the Spirit aspect of this verse all at once, so, for now, let’s set that aside. Instead, let’s focus on the voice. This voice is important, because the question we should ask is, who’s voice is it? Now if we say God, we’re only partially right, because it’s more specifically the Father. See, through Jesus’ teachings, he introduces a concept that there is the Father, Son, and Spirit. And in this passage, at the beginning of Mark’s writing, which again is the earliest of the four Gospels found in the Bible, we see all three. 
The Son comes out of the water setting the example for us, the Spirit descends onto the Son, just like the Spirit descended on the called ones of the Old testament, and the Father speaks of his pleasure with the Son. This pleasure is important, because it speaks again to the fact that Jesus was not being baptized for sins he had committed, but because this was in keeping with the plan that was laid out for his life. 
Here we see, what is called the Triune God. One God, three distinct persons. All of who are God, divine and cannot be separated, but all distinct to where each one is not the other.

This teaching of the Trinity is, in my opinion, the hardest teaching of Christianity. And in anyway I try to describe it to you, it can easily become false. Let’s just leave it at this point, one God is in the passage, the Father, Son and the Spirit, all one, yet distinct. Let’ move onto the Spirit.

In verse 12 it says, “12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

So the Spirit of descends onto Jesus, as I said before, this is in keeping with the Old Testament way of God sending his Spirit onto a person for a specific task. Now at this point, both John and Jesus have the Spirit of God on them. But the two take different paths. John continues his work, while Jesus is sent into the wild part of the desert. There are lions, bears and other things that could tear a person a part in the ild. And it’s in this setting of isolation, danger, and the low access to necessities, that Jesus is tempted. 
We’re told in other Gospel’s what kind of temptations are presented to Jesus at this time, but for now, they’re not as important as to the reason and outcome of the temptation. 
The reason for the temptation was again for our benefit. In the book of Hebrews chapter 4 verse 15 it says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”
The point of Jesus being tempted was so that he would understand us and the things we go through, and we would understand that he has experienced all the base things that all of us deal with. The difference is he didn’t sin when faced with them.

Now in order for us to get the outcome of all of this, let’s connect all these seemingly separate pieces together. 
First, John pointed to Jesus being God, by his understanding of not being good enough to tie Jesus’ shoes, nor wanting to baptize Jesus. 
Second, Jesus, being God, didn’t need to be baptized but did it for our sake, we see this in both John’s response to Jesus and the pleasure statement of the Father.
Third, Jesus was sent by the Spirit to be tempted in isolation, in danger, and without access to his physical needs being met, because it shows us that Jesus has dealt with things that we have.

This all leads us into the fourth part of this passage, the reason for it all, and what we’re supposed to take away today. This is brought out fully from another Gospel. When all of this had been said and done, about 40 days after Jesus had been baptized by John, it says this in the Gospel of Luke 4:14, 14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit,”

This is a huge reality that most of us have a tendency to miss in our lives. First off, we tend to look at Jesus and say, of course he didn’t sin, he’s God. Or, of course he could face down the temptations of Satan, he’s God. Or, of course he could do all these things, he is God. 
And if we do try to follow Jesus by doing the things he did, like baptism, we have a tendency to try to please God with our actions and our good works. We try to fight against our own sin, trying to overcome all that is messed up with ourselves. But if we miss this tiny phrase about the purpose of all of it, it leads us down the path of trying to do this Christian lie all on our own. 
But here is the thing that we tend to miss. We miss it by saying Jesus could do all of it because he was God, and we miss it by trying to follow Jesus in our own power. See Jesus didn’t do this on his own, he did it in the power of the Spirit. 
And this is what we have a tendency to miss. We try to do the things God has called us to do, in our own power. But that’s not how it was meant to be. We were meant to be empowered by God himself through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Sin isn’t supposed to be overcome in our lives by our sheer will, it is to be overcome by the Spirit living through us. We are not to fight against Satan on our own, but by relying on the Spirit of God waring on behalf of us. We are not to be in the wilderness facing down the lions, bears, isolation, and lack of needs being met on our own, we are to let loose of needing to control everything and to allow the Holy Spirit to do his job and work in us and through us.

If Jesus is truly our example, then let him be our example. He relied on the Spirit, and so should we. And by relying on the Spirit, I mean he let the Spirit of God work through him to bring up Scripture to fight against Satan. He relied on the Spirit, by trusting God in his time of hunger and danger and isolation. And because he relied on the Spirit to work through him, he was empowered to go into his work, and to make his way to the cross. 

So today, my challenge is this, first off are you allowing the Spirit of God to live and work through you? If you have accepted Jesus as your Savior, the Spirit has been given to you. He lives within you. Have you hampered his work to overcome sin in your life? Have you been allowing him to guide and direct your path? Or maybe you want the Spirit to work more, to do more. Maybe you’re struggling with something and you want to unshackle the Spirit to take care of it. 
Wherever you are reading this, call the pastor of your church and request the elders to anoint you with oil. Seek their prayers and laying on of hands, that you may seek to allow the Spirit to live through you. Seek God to conform you more to him, by being more like Jesus. Not living by your own power, but in full power of the Spirit. Let us not be people that merely say we follow Christ, but with every step, put into our lives the things that Jesus did.

Now Lord, give us the strength to not be our own. Let us be yours, denying ourselves and embracing you. Live through us by your Spirit. Guide and direct us wherever you would have us go. So that we may be more like Jesus today, than we were yesterday. Amen.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Mark, Week 1 - Pointing to Jesus

So what will kind of be our tradition moving forward, is that during the summer time when I preach we’re going to go through a book of the Bible. It might be in the Old Testament, it might be in the New testament. Last year we were in the book of Colossians, and it flowed perfectly from what we had been talking about in our vision about loving, lifting, locating, life. It was purely God led, because when I first felt God leading us into the book of Colossians, it was never my intention to connect it to the vision that God is leading us into, but he did. And this seems to be the way things are going to work out in the foreseeable future. In the winter time, we’re going to be focusing on topics, where anyone can jump into a sermon series without having to be here for every week. But in the summer time, we’re going to go through a book of the Bible that will build on itself from week to week.

So, for this summer, instead of focusing on a book that flows out of the vision that God is leading us into, we’re going to instead lay the ground work for the last part of the vision, which we’ll be talking about next winter. That last aspect is, pointing people back to the life Jesus has for them. 

And I say that we’re going to lay the ground work for this last aspect because, the book that we’ll be diving into reveals to us the life of Jesus. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to begin in the Gospel of Mark chapter 1, verse 1. Now, as we get into the Gospel of Mark, let’s first talk about what the book of Mark is. 

The Gospel of Mark is penned by a second generation disciple. This guy has a lot of history behind him and not all of it good. See Mark most likely became a follower of Jesus, through his mother who allowed her house to be used by the Jerusalem Church for a meeting place. From there, Mark became a helper to Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. Now for whatever reason, Mark deserted Paul and Barnabas and returned to Jerusalem. This didn’t sit well with Paul, because when he and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem and were about to depart on another journey, Barnabas asked for Mark to rejoin them. But Paul wouldn’t have anything to do with the young man, and this dynamic missionary partnership between Paul and his mentor Barnabas, ended.

Later on when Paul reached Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, and was awaiting trial, he was able to reconciled with Mark and even instructed other churches to welcome him if he ever visited them.

While in Rome, Mark wasn’t alone, but associated with the Apostle Peter. Peter himself had made it to Rome, where he would eventually meet his end. And from Peter’s sermons, Mark pen’s this Gospel. So, what we’re getting, as we read through the Gospel of Mark, is the eyewitness account of Peter, who spent three years with Jesus. This isn’t some made up story, but sights, sounds, and experiences of one of the closes companions of Jesus, as he worked for the last three years of his life.

With that, let’s dive into the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, starting in verse 1.

1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— 3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

Mark starts off with two prophecies that date back, at the minimum, to four hundred years before Christ. Why does he do this? Because he’s connecting. Mark is connecting, what we would call the Old Testament to the work of Jesus. What Mark is doing here is giving us a connector that had been foretold long before, and in doing so, is telling us that the way of the Old Testament is transitioning. We’re at a cross roads, on how God has worked with humanity in the past and how he is going to work with humanity in the future. And this connector is John the Baptist. John is this messenger, John is this voice in the wilderness. John is this one who is preparing the way of the Lord. And John is the last in the line of the Old Testament prophets and how God communicated with humanity.

4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

John’s work is very similar to most Old Testament prophets, in which he preaches that the people need to confess, repent of their sin and be baptized. Like we have said before, sins are the things we do that are not of God. We can also say, that sin are those things that tear down, rather than build up. So lying, gossip, slander, sex in any form outside the confines of man and woman marriage, drunkenness, and the list can go on and on. So, John is preaching that we need to confess these things that we do that are not of God, and then to also repent of them. Meaning we need to not just say that we have sinned, but to turn away from doing that sin. Sin is not something that we say we’re sorry for, but then continue doing it. No, with God we are instructed to confess it, and turn away from it, and follow God’s ways, this is repenting.

We no longer purse the sin, and instead purse godly living in it’s place. Instead of lying, it’s speaking the truth. Instead of slander, we promote. Instead of using sex wrongly, we seek purity. The second part of John’s message is to be baptized. Now we need to understand what John is doing here when talking about baptism. First off, baptism here is a full immersion into the water. Second, this baptism is not a baptism of inner cleansing, but rather of confirmation of the outward actions of the people. John isn’t saying here that he is cleansing the people of their sin, but rather he was providing a place for them to confess, repent, and then have a physical action to correspond with confessions and repenting that the people were doing.

The reason we know that this baptism wasn’t meant to be an inner cleaning, is because of what John was telling the people in the third part of his message. Which we pick up in verse 7.
7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 

In the third part of his message, John says that there is, “one more powerful than I.” In fact, John describes just how different and greater this other person is. See John represents the bridge of the Old Testament and the prophets of the time. And John says, that to untie this coming person’s sandals, would be a far greater position than John could have.

Understand this, we need to also understand that the lowest servants, at this time period, were task to take off the sandals of their masters. And John is saying, that even though he is a servant of God, that he doesn’t even qualify to untie this person sandals. And in turn, because John represents the Old Testament and all the prophets that came before him, none of those other people that we read about in the Old Testament are worthy as well. Now to understand how great this person is compared to John, if we read in other accounts of Jesus’ life (Matthew 11:11), you’ll find that Jesus says that no other man who ever lived is greater than John. So what does that say about the other Old Testament prophets, if John confesses that he isn’t worthy to do the lowest servants job, and Jesus says that none is greater than John, that means that no other Old Testament figure is even close to being worthy.

Which in turns helps us understand just how great this coming person is. And how much greater this coming person’s work will be. Like I said, John’s baptism was merely a confirmation of the confessing and repentance of the people. But in reality, nothing has changed. They’re still subject to sin. Sin still has power in their lives. They are still slaves to it, and even if they want to escape it’s power, they can’t. Because John was merely preparing them for the one who could break the chains that sin had the people in.

John says in verse 8, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

The guy that’s going to follow John is not going to baptize with water, but with the power of God to change lives. Understand this statement and the magnitude of it. In the Old Testament, God would send the Holy Spirit on people for a purpose, and when that purpose was done, the Holy Spirit would leave them. But now, John is saying that there is someone coming that commands the Holy Spirit, and just like everyone of them can be baptized with water, everyone of them can be cleansed and be baptized through the Holy Spirit, by the one who commands the Spirit.

In other words, John is saying that God himself is coming and will cleanse the people with the power of the Spirit living inside of them. We no longer have to listen to sin’s commands, because the Spirit will live within us, breaking the power of sin in our lives.

So, now that we have our introduction to the book of Mark, what can we take away from this? I’m mean we’re not Old Testament prophets right? Well, even though we might not have a prophecy about how we’re going to be the bridge between the Old and New way God is going to work with humanity, we’re still called to the same work as John. Does that surprise you?

I mean, we might not have to be out in the wilderness, but I don’t know if you’ve noticed but Quartzsite isn’t necessarily the hub of social and economic trend setting. We might not have to live off locusts, and honey, though we sure do get our fair share of bugs. But we are called to do as John did, point people towards Jesus. 

John understood that his main work, wasn’t to get people into his group, but to prepare them for Jesus. In fact, later on John says, that he has to become less, so that Jesus becomes more (John 3:30). See, we have the tendency to think if we can just get people into church, or if we can just get them to talk with a pastor, or get them to stop smoking, or cussing, or clean up their act, then we can get them saved. But that’s not it at all. Without Jesus there is no cleansing. There is no victory over sin, there is no conquering addiction, there is no life set free from vices. Pointing people to a church or to a pastor or to a recovery program is trying to help the symptoms. Or like what John was doing, using water on the outside, but what people really need is the washing from the Holy Spirit.

At the beginning, I said that we will be laying the ground work for talking about the last aspect of the vision that God is leading us into, and we’re getting into it right from the start. We are to point people back to Jesus, just like John did. Just like Mark is doing with his Gospel, just like Peter did with his sermons. I am not interested in building the name of the Alliance Church in Quartzsite, I am interested in following these people’s footsteps and pointing people back to Jesus. Building his name among other people. And all I want the Alliance Church to be known for, are people that do just that. Why should we be known for great programs, or great preaching, or great music, when our real calling is to be a group of people that point others to Jesus? That aid others in their developing relationship with Jesus?

At the end of the day, Jesus is lifted up and we’re not because we understand that we’re not fit to tie his shoes.

You know those shirts that say, I’m with her, or him, or stupid? We need to have lives that point to Jesus and lips that say, “I’m with him.” Not to ourselves, or a pastor, or to the Alliance Church, but to Jesus. 

Now may the Lord who’s sandals are to great to tie, give us the opportunities to point back to him. That he may become greater in our lives and the lives of others, and that we may become less. Lord, gives us the strength to point to you and away from ourselves. Amen.