Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Mark, Week 6 - The Grittiness of God's Love

At the beginning of the Mark study, I shared with you that this is preparing us for what we are going to talk about in the winter time. How the life that Jesus has for us, is on display through his own life.

The points that we have covered so far, and that are important for us to remembered today, is first, Jesus is God. We’ll dive into why this is important later, but for now, it is important because at least three times so far in the first chapter of Mark, we have seen that Jesus is put forth as being God. From John’s message about Jesus, to Jesus’ baptism, and to the demon’s statement. Mark is trying to emphasize that Jesus is God.

The second point that is important for today is, Jesus’ life is an example for us. Again, this will become important later on. But time and time again, we see Jesus doing things for our benefit. His baptism, his temptations, and his empowering by the Holy Spirit. All are examples for us.

Finally, we need to remember that Jesus did not want the demon to tell who he was. When we talked about this point two weeks ago, we talked about how the realization of who Jesus is has to come from a revealing by God. Jesus being the Savior of the world, the one who died because we rebelled against God because of our desire to do things our way, and now offers each of us a new life with God; this understanding can only come from our experience with him, and not from anyone just telling us. Sure we can be told that Jesus is the Savior, but until it moves from a head understanding to a heart change, it’s just all talk.

But how these connect to our passage today, we’ll discover in a little bit. So let’s get into our passage, which is in Mark 1 starting in verse 40, and see how these three points manifest. Like last week, Mark 1:40-45 is a short passage, it is also the last passage in chapter 1. And I have to say, this passage is probably my second favorite passage in the Bible. So, let’s get into Mark 1 starting in verse 40.

40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 “See that you don’t 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.” 45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. 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.

One of the reasons I love this passage, is because it shows who God really is. The most common scripture verse that is memorized and repeated in the Church is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but has eternal life.”

It’s a great passage, that tells us about the love of God, the plan of God, and the goal of God. But it can be one of those passages that is so big, it’s hard to make real. It’s kind of like how we took the teens to San Francisco several years ago. When people hear of San Francisco it seems like a beautiful city. With it’s night life, attractions, the Golden Gate bridge, and sitting on the shores of California. But when you visit San Francisco, you realize that there’s more to it. You see the garbage in the streets, the homeless population, and the isolation that is there. Hearing about San Francisco, and experiencing it, are two different things. Merely hearing about the grandness, is one thing. Experiencing the reality is another. 
And I feel like that’s the difference between John 3:16, and Mark 1:40-45. The John passage gives us the grandness view, whereas our passage today gives us the reality. But what does that mean? Let’s take a look at the passage again.

Verses 40-42 say, “40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’
41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.”

Here’s a guy that has an incurable disease. A disease that has made him an outcast, someone that is so rejected by his community, that the idea of touching such a person, was seen as unclean and possibly hazardous to one’s health. And you can feel this man’s plea for help. It says he begged on his knees. Do you hear the desperation? Then the man makes a statement that shows his understanding of who Jesus is. Remember the first point that we said was important today? Jesus is God? This man recognized that. He recognized that Jesus was God descended into human flesh, and he recognized that power that Jesus had.
The man’s statement presupposed Jesus’ ability and identity. He says, “If you are will, you can make me clean.” By saying, if you are willing, the man says, I know who you are. I know what you’re capable of. And I know what the end result would be if you desired me to be healed. 

And Jesus’ response brings the John 3:16 passage into gritty reality. “I am willing.” These three words fly in the face of every religion in the world. The God of the Bible is a willing God. A.B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, tells an allegory, about three religions. Let me paraphrase that story. 
A traveler on a road falls into a trap made by thieves and breaks his leg. He could easily climb out of the hole if it wasn’t for his broken leg, and as he cries out in pain the religious teacher Buddha arrives at the top of the hole. “Revered Buddha, please help me out of this hole.” Buddha replies, “My son, there is no hole, only the illusion of the hole. Once you come to this understanding you will conquer that which holds you here.” Buddha disappears from the man’s sight and continues on his way. The man continues to cry out for help. A short time later, Muhammed the prophet of Islam arrives at the hole. Again the traveler cries out, “Honorable Muhammed, please help me out of this hole.” To which Muhammed replies, “You wouldn’t be in that hole if Allah thought you worthy. You are experiencing your deserved punishment.” And he too moved quickly on. Finally when the traveler thought he was done, Jesus of Nazareth appears. And before the traveler was able to call out, Jesus jumped into the hole, lifted the traveler out, mended his broken leg, lifted him onto his shoulder and said, “From hear on out, I will walk with you the rest of the way.”

“I am willing.” If this doesn’t give you chills, I don’t know what will. This is who God is, he is the God who is willing. Willing to come down from his perfect throne in heaven to be with us. Willing to heal our diseases and sufferings. Willing to die, so that we might have an opportunity to come back to him. The God of the Bible is the God who is willing to do what is needed for his creation. No other religion in the world can say that. And he does everything for our benefit. Which is the point Mark is trying to get across to us. Jesus is here for our benefit, for our example. So that we can know who God really is, and what he is willing to do. 

And I love the two responses to this healing. The first is Jesus’. “43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 ‘See that you don’t 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.’”

Which is pretty standard for Jesus right? I mean, this goes back to the idea that Jesus wants us to have a self-revelation of who he is, because that’s how it becomes real in our lives. But the guy will have none of that. Because it reads, “45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. 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.”
And really, what did Jesus really expect this guy to do? This amazing disease has been lifted from this man. This man who had been shunned by his community, who probably hadn’t had human contact for years, was now free. Free to return to society, free to touch other people, free to look at himself and not feel disgust and shame. What other response could there be but to tell people. 

When the willingness of God, meets the need of our lives, letting people know seems to happen automatically. This is why the Church is so important. We must share with each other the hurts and victories of our lives. We must share, so that we might see God’s willingness within our community. If we hold our need to ourselves, how can we see God do anything? And when that need has been met, how can we hold back telling others? 

This week I want us to be like the man with leprosy, and say to God if you are willing. Let us go to God and seek his healing. It might be from a physical disease, it might be from an inward hurt, an emotional struggle, a worry or something that just scares us. Let us not shy away from God, but rather fall on our knees and call out for his willingness to heal our lives. 
Let’s put aside everything else, and seek God’s willingness. Let’s have the grandness of God’s love, become his gritty willingness in our lives.

Father in heaven, you sent your Son to die for us. Not that we deserved or that you are in need of us, but rather, because you are willing that none of us should parish. Help us to seek your willingness, and be satisfied with your will. Let us see your amazing works in our lives, so that we may proclaim them to the world. For you glory and not our own. Amen.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Mark, Week 5 - Alone Time With God

In the first three weeks of our Mark study, we were given an introduction of Jesus. And in that introduction, we saw that from the beginning of Mark’s book, Jesus is fully God. The way that John talks about him, the scene we saw at the baptism, and then last week, as we started moving into the work of Jesus, we saw his godhood pointed out by the demon. 

At this same time, we have seen Jesus do things so that an example would be set for us to follow. We saw the baptism that he undertook, even though he himself didn’t need to. We saw him be empowered by the Holy Spirit, even though since he is God, wouldn’t need to rely on the Spirit. These two examples are for our benefit. The first teaches us obedience to God, the second teaches us that we cannot walk this Christian life on our own. We must live it by relying on the Holy Spirit.

And when we talked about relying on the Holy Spirit, I mentioned that we would talk more on the subject. And it’s now, only about 20 verses later that we return to this reality of our need to rely on the Spirit.

Today we’ll be in Mark chapter 1 verse 35, but as we get into Mark 1:35, I want to warn you that this is going to be short. We’re only going to be covering five verses, and to tell you the truth these verses do not contain a lot of theology. Yet, even though this is a short section, the practical application of it is where we will spend the bulk of our time.

Let’s see what I’m talking about by reading chapter 1 of Mark, starting in verse 35.

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

See? Short. And not much by way of theology. There’s no display of power. We see no healing, we only hear of more demons being cast out. We don’t get any insights into who Jesus is. But what we do see, are two points that the passage is making. The first point is that we get an example. Throughout are study so far, we have been talking about how Jesus is our example. If Jesus does it, there’s a good chance that we need to follow in his footsteps. And in this section of Scripture, it’s no different.

Going back into the passage we see that it says, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

From this one sentence we have our example. Some people call this a devotional, some people call this a quiet time, whatever you call it, it is Jesus giving us the example of one-on-one  time with God. Now let’s step back for a moment. Why does Mark include this? Well if Peter taught on it, then that gives us the answer. But then why did Peter teach on it? I mean let’s be investigative here. In the previous passages we have seen Jesus as being proclaimed as the long awaited Savior of the world. We have seen Jesus go toe-to-toe with Satan. We have seen him muzzle and rip demons from people. And we have seen Jesus heal people of many different diseases.

It’s almost like everything is getting built up and then we’re thrown a curve ball, with an, “oh yeah and he went off by himself to be alone.”

The way I hear Peter saying this is: “Man, Jesus is amazing. John was all like, he’s coming people, the Savior is coming. Then BOOM, Jesus walks on the scene. He gets baptized, God the Father comes down, speaks to everyone saying this is my SON! He gets tempted by Satan, but shuts that guy down hard. The Holy Spirit powers him up, and he starts casting out demons, shutting them up, and heals people, even my mother-in-law got healed. Which is, you know cool, for my wife that is.”

But then,  after all that, he throws in, “Oh yea, and there would be times he would go off alone, and we would have to go after him. Kind of weird, but hey Jesus. Am I right?” This is probably not how Peter said it, but follow me here.

If we read this passage like this, it’s almost a throw away portion of Scripture. But within the passages of the Bible, every word, every phrase, every period and comma has it’s meaning. And like every other part of Scripture, this is not to be thrown away, or to be glossed over. But we have a tendency to do just that.

Taking time out of our day to sit in prayer, to sit reading God’s word, to sit and interact with the God of the Universe, is as easily dismissed as putting on deodorant. Or brushing our teeth. Or wearing mismatch socks. We have a tendency to skip over solitary time with God, because the world is so busy. There are people calling for us and saying, people need you. You need to be at work. You need to make breakfast for your family. You need to be here, or be there. And there is always a need, there is always someone looking for us, and that means things fall off as priorities. And the easiest one to fall first, is our solitary time with God.

Yet, without the solitary time with God, how can we hope to live out this life God has saved us to? We talked a couple weeks ago about how we need to live this life in the power of the Holy Spirit, how is that possible without the solitary time that we are given the example to take?

We talked about how we need to rely on the Holy Spirit, now what we’re getting through Peter’s teaching, is that we need to take time and be solely focused on God. So let me give you a couple of practical steps for solitary time with God.

First, it has to be solitary. Solitary means, “alone; without companions; unattended” No one attends this, its just you and God. Jesus says in Matthew 6:6 when talking about prayer, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

So, to have a solitary time with God, we need to find a place that makes it alone time. That might be a bedroom. That might be a car. That might be an outside place, but probably not during summer in Quartzsite. But what it cannot be, is a place with distractions, a place where our attention will be divided between the people that are in need, and the God whom we need.

The second practical aspect of a solitary time with God is, total focus on God. This can be done by reading a passage in the Bible, and asking questions of it. This is praying, but with active listening. Not just telling God our problems and requesting help, but sitting in silence and waiting for his response. This type of prayer takes a lot of practice and patience. This could be writing in a journal our questions, prayers, answers we receive, or a host of other things. This could be singing songs to God. The only requirement is our focus stays on God. Not our job, not the people out there looking for us, nothing else, only God.

Now, it’s really telling what happened in that solitary time Jesus took, by what he tells his disciples when they find him. Just like in our lives, there was a need that had to be met, a place Jesus had to be. Just like we have needs that we need to meet and places we need to be. And  Jesus responded with, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

And from what Jesus says, we get the second point of the passage. Solitary time with God, puts the work of God into prospective. All the stuff we do, all the needs we meet, all the things we accomplish throughout the day need to have, at their core, an answer to this question: Did I get closer to the kingdom through this, or further away? Are those things that I think are so important, helpful to God’s work, or did they distract from it. 

In other words: us spending solitary time with God helps us realize that the stuff we do, should be spent to fulfill God’s goals and not our own. Our solitary time should affect our work, and how we interact with people. Our solitary time should affect our interactions with our family. Our solitary time should affect our relationships with our friends and neighbors. From our solitary time with God, he molds us to be better used for his work, and he places that work ahead of us. 

We wouldn’t go to work naked, or hang out with our friends with no clothes on, but we do this spiritual when we don’t take time in a solitary place. We face this world spiritually naked, and then we wonder, why did this or that happen? Jesus faced down sickness, demons, and spoke God’s freeing word to people, because he went to a solitary place. And we need to do the same.

So this week my challenge is this: We have one week, that’s seven days to do this challenge. Take five minutes everyday to have solitary time. Five minutes, that’s it. Pray, sing, read, vent, journal. But whatever you, solely focus on the God who desires to meet you in a solitary place.

Jesus set the example for us, and if we truly desire to follow him, we need to do as he does. And that means to meet with him in a solitary place. 

Father in heaven, I ask that you meet with us. That we would take the time to meet with you. And that through our meeting, you would change us. Make us into the people whom you saved us to be. Give us the strength to set aside this time, and may it be honoring to you. Amen.

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.