Sunday, July 1, 2018

Mark, Week 27 - Who Do You Say I am

Questions are some of the most common ways we learn, right? That’s why teacher’s say, there’s never a stupid question. I like to add to that, just stupid people that don’t ask their questions. But we use questions all the time to get information from people. We ask kids, what do you want to be when you grow up? Men tend to ask the person they want to marry, would you marry me? When we don’t know what to say in a conversation, we ask, how about this weather?
Questions are a great way to not only get general information, but to discover new insights about people. Why do people feel the way they do? What makes a person tick? How did they come to that conclusion? Who has influenced their life? Where are they going? And I would say that asking a question of someone is just as important as someone simply giving a monologue about who they are. In a monologue, there’s a lot of questions answered, but there’s no back and forth, no, dialogue, no spontaneity. But with people asking question of each other, two people can have the opportunity to discover new things, not just about someone else, but about themselves as well.

And that’s where we come to the Gospel of Mark today, to a place of questions. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be in the Gospel of Mark chapter 8, starting in verse 27.

And as we jump into Mark 8:27, let’s take a review of what we’ve talked about so far. And in this review, we have to tackle the entire seven and a half chapters that we’ve gone through since the beginning of this Mark series.
In the first six chapters, we saw two phases of Jesus’ ministry. The first phase was Jesus revealing his authority. This authority was shown in three ways: through Jesus’ command over the Word of God, his command over the physical realm by stopping storms and  healing people, and finally his command over the spiritual realm when he would cast out demons and forgive sins. This entire first phase shows us that Jesus is God come down to earth.
In Jesus’ second phase of ministry, we see him begin to focus on the preparation of his disciples for the ministry. We see Jesus become more intentional about making sure his disciples know deeper things about his teachings. He gets them to start actively participating in his work, and when they start to anticipate his actions, he sends them off on their first short term ministry journey. 
Then, we move into a third phase, which begins with the story of Herod. In this third phase, we see three groups of people who miss the point of Jesus. This is what we talked about last week. Herod missed the point of Jesus because he was focused on his sin. The Pharisees missed Jesus because they were focused on convoluting the commands of God. And the disciples were missing Jesus, because they got a taste of what he offered, but were stuck in that same spot. 
And through all of this, Mark has been preparing us for what happens in the passage today. So let’s get into Mark chapter 8 starting in verse 27.

8:27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
9:1 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

Jesus poses two questions to the disciples, “Who do people say I am,” and “…what about you?”
From the questions Jesus proposes, there are three ramifications that we see in the following verses.

The first question is actually where we started back into Mark at the beginning of this summer. In fact, the answer that the disciples give to Jesus, parallels the responses we heard back in chapter 6 with Herod. When Jesus sent out the disciples earlier, people were saying that  Jesus was either John back from the dead, Elijah returned from heaven, or a new prophet from God. And for the last few weeks since their return, these same identities for Jesus had continued.
That’s when Jesus moved from the general public, to specifically who the disciples thought he was. I find this really interesting that it takes Jesus over two years for him to ask the disciples this question. That means that in all this time, Jesus had let the disciples watch, and listen and come to their own conclusion about who Jesus is. Jesus never told them point blank who he was, but rather allowed them to discover that truth on their own.
This is the first ramification from this question. And a huge point with how people come to know Jesus as their Savior. People have to come to an understanding of who Jesus is on their own. On their own in the sense that we never convince anyone that Jesus is the Savior. We present the evidence and they have to make a decision based on that evidence. Even Jesus didn’t make any of his disciples believe, instead he had them watch and listen, and come to the conclusion that he was the Savior, on their own.

But it doesn’t stop there. When Peter makes this proclamation that Jesus is the Savior, Jesus moves on to start telling the disciples that he will have to suffer and die. Now, up to this point, Jesus hasn’t explicitly stated that he was going to suffer and die. He has given allusion to it, like he did in the parable of the Bridegroom back in chapter 2. But this is the first time that he has outright stated that he will have to suffer and die.
But Peter doesn’t like that Jesus is saying he will die. Now there might be a lot of reasons why Peter is so upset. It could be that Peter does care for Jesus and doesn’t want to see him die. It could be that Peter doesn’t want to see the last few years of his life wasted. But I think it’s actually for another reason. And that reason comes from Jesus’ follow up.
Jesus responds to Peter by saying,“You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

But Jesus isn’t just responding to Peter’s rebuke, he’s responding to all of the disciples. It says, “But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter.”

Peter was the spokesman for the group, but the whole group had the same mind set. And this is the second ramification of Jesus’ question: God’s purpose for an event, might be different than our understanding.
It’s really easy for us to come to an understanding about God, but is it the full understanding of what God intended? The disciple’s understanding of Jesus as Savior, was very different than Jesus’. The disciples viewed Jesus as a conquering king, that would overthrow the Roman government, and restore Israel to a great and powerful nation. But they had missed something. They had missed God’s plan, which was first the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. They had an idea in their head of what God meant, but that’s not what he intended.
So, when Jesus started giving them God’s plan, they rebuffed him. They denied the actual work of God, for their idea. But we must conform to God’s plan, and not try to change it to our own.

Now we come to the final ramification from Jesus’ question. Jesus calls the crowd and his disciples together and begins to let them know what it really means for someone to believe that Jesus is Savior. Jesus tells them that if a person wants to follow him, they must deny their life. They must lose their life to Jesus. They must give up everything to follow him. Nothing is off the table when it comes to what Jesus requires of us. And we must realize it, if we want to call him Savior.
Our friends, family, relationships, money, time, future, assets; all of it is given up to Jesus. And all of it must be lost to gain our lives. This is the final ramification from Jesus’ question: Everything we have is Jesus’, when we say he is Savior. It’s a tall order, and a huge command from Jesus. To call him Savior, means he gets everything. 
But this is what it comes down to, we tend to think that our insights into God are complete. But the reality is there’s alway something we can learn. From Jesus’ one question, who do you say I am? The disciples learned that they had to come to the understanding that Jesus is Savior on their own. That their understanding of Jesus as Savior wasn’t his, and that everything they had was to be given up for Jesus.

We must realize the same things. That there’s more to God than what we know. That he is more complex, and desires more from us. But at the same time, God brings us along having us watch and learn from him, just like Jesus dealt with his disciples. 

This is why God’s word is so important for us. We have an unprecedented privilege of having God’s Word for personal use. We are in a position that almost no other period in history had. And it’s within his word that we can discover new and deeper things about him. Things that should challenge us to move beyond where we are. To think beyond our own thoughts, and to give up more of ourselves, so that we can gain more of God.

This week, as we’re coming to the end of the first half of Mark and to another breathing point within the text, I challenge you to take six common passages that you might have read several, if not hundreds of times. These are: Genesis 1-2, Exodus 3, 1 Samuel 17, John 15, Hebrews 11, and Revelation 22. Take these six passages, one every day for the next week, and ask God to do three things in your life.
First, to bring you into a new understanding of him.
Second, to change an old understanding and make it richer.
Third, to help you give up more of yourself, for more of him.

Because this is what it means to call Jesus Savior, it means to move beyond ourselves and into deeper relationship with him. 

I pray that God will discloses new and wonderful things to you, as you encounter the ramifications of what it means to respond to Jesus’ question, by calling him Savior. Amen.

Mark, Week 26 - The Second Encounter

I love this story I heard about seven or eight years ago. There was this guy named Zane who was a snowboarded, surfer type dude, who went through a lot of terrible things, and eventually realized his need for Jesus and accepted him as his Savior. Later on, Zane started to work in a ministry with kids. One little boy took Zane’s skateboard one day, and flipped it over so the wheels were pointing up. The little boy sat down in the middle of the skateboard and started spinning the wheels. The kid loved it, laughing hysterically at how he could make the wheels spin faster and faster. Zane laugh at the sight, and then asked the little boy, “Hey, do you want to see what that board’s meant to do?” The little boy gave an excited yes. So Zane flipped the board back onto the wheels, put the little boy on top, and began to pull him around. The boy loved it, laughing harder than he had before. The boy’s first encounter with the skateboard, was an amazing experience, but when he got to see the full potential of the skateboard, it was an even better experience. 

And that’s the type of situation we’re coming to today in the Gospel of Mark chapter 7, starting in verse 31. A place where the first encounter is great, but the second is better. So if you have your Bibles you can open two Mark chapter 7 verse 31. And as you open your Bibles up, let’s do a quick recap, of the last several weeks in a very simple way. We have seen three groups of Jewish people who have all missed the point of who Jesus is. There was Herod the king who was so focused on his own sin, he missed Jesus completely. There was the disciples, who were struggling with inner problems, and that led them to miss out on being refreshed by Jesus. And then there was the Pharisees, the teacher’s of God’s commands, who they themselves, missed the wonderful simplicity of those commands.
Then last week we came to a woman, who wasn’t a Jew, but who had a breakthrough. This was a person who, unlike the other three groups, shouldn’t have recognized who Jesus was, but she did. She recognized his power, his love, and why he was there. And because of that, we saw a breakthrough that Mark had been keeping back, as we trudged through the unbelief of a king, the disciples, and the teachers.

Now as we come to today’s passage, I want to prepare you; we are going to cover four stories, over the course of 33 verses. Now, we won’t have time to read every verse, so I encourage you to go home and read through these stories on your own. But the reason that we’re going to approach this section like this, is because I have been struggling with the point of these passages in the overarching movement of the Gospel of Mark.
See, one of the things that I mentioned at the beginning of this series last summer, was the fact that we were going to follow the flow of the Gospel. To see how each part interacts with the next to create a picture of who Jesus is.
Because of this, these stories that we’ll see today have bookends, with the point of the section in the middle. So instead of reading through the passages like we usually do, I am going to read to you a couple of verses from each section. Then we’ll talk briefly about each, and then we’ll see how they flow together at the end.

Starting in chapter 7, let’s drop down to verse 32, “There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.
33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, ‘Ephphatha!(A-fa-th-a)’ (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.”

Here’s a simple story about a group of people that had a deaf and mute man among them, so they bring him to Jesus to have him healed. Jesus heals him, and then he tells him not to tell anyone. A pretty standard story in the book of Mark up to this point.

Let’s move on to verse 1 of chapter 8, “During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, 2 ‘I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. 3 If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.’”

This is the second of two mass feedings we see in the Gospel of Mark, which plays out similarly to the first. A couple of exceptions are, the number of people, the first had 5,00, this one has 4,000, and the amount of food gathered up. Another exception is what happens at the end, instead of sending the disciples away, the Pharisees come to challenge Jesus to give them a miraculous sign.

Let’s skip down to after Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees, which picks up in verse 15 of chapter 8, “‘Be careful,’ Jesus warned them. ‘Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.’
16 They discussed this with one another and said, ‘It is because we have no bread.’
17 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: ‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?’”

Here, Jesus gives his disciples a warning about becoming like the Pharisees or like king Herod. But they don’t understand, and Jesus makes a point of that.

Finally let’s look at verse 23, “23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, ‘Do you see anything?’
24 He looked up and said, ‘I see people; they look like trees walking around.’
25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”

So, how does it all fit together? Let’s begin grabbing each puzzle piece and showing the connections. Since we started back up in the book of Mark several weeks ago, we have seen three groups of people who missed the point of Jesus. King Herod missed who Jesus was because of he was to focused on himself after the murder he committed against John the Baptist. Then the disciples missed a time of refreshment with Jesus, because they were to focused on a specific destination, and allowed the little interruptions of this life to take their refreshment. Finally, the Pharisees missed the point of Jesus, because they were so focused on convoluting the commands of God, that they missed the God who gave the commands. We have reiterated these points again and again over the last several weeks, because it’s all building on each other.

All this comes after the disciples were sent out by Jesus to do everything that Jesus had been doing. And as we look at the overarching story of Mark, we can see from the excerpts we just read, these three groups are brought up again. In verse 8 it reads, “‘Be careful,’ Jesus warned them. ‘Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.’”

Right there we have Herod, the disciples, and the Pharisees. All three addressed in a single sentence, in which Jesus is warning his disciples to not be like the other two. In the interaction we see the disciples miss the point of what Jesus is saying, and instead begin to talk about how they have no bread. To which Jesus responds with, “‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?’”

Think about some of the questions Jesus has just proposed to his disciples: “Do you still not see or understand?…Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?”

And these are the question that the Holy Spirit is trying to make through Mark’s writing to us. This entire first half of Mark’s Gospel has introduced us to Jesus. We’re introduced early on to the fact that Jesus has authority over the physical and spiritual realms. That Jesus is not just a man, but is God come down to earth. We are introduced to his disciples; twelve men that he is investing the future of the Gospel message to. And when that message goes out, we see some of the results. Herod and the Pharisees miss it completely, while the disciples are missing the next step. 

And now we get to this point where Jesus asks the disciples if they have eyes why can’t they see? If they ears, why can’t they hear? And these question are nestled in-between two healings that deal with these very ideas of lacking the ability to hear, and the ability to see.

In verses 32-35 of chapter 7 we saw Jesus touching a man’s tongue and ears so that his hearing and speech would be restored. Then at the other end, in chapter 8 verses 23-25, we see Jesus touching the man’s eyes to give him sight. In both cases there’s two parts to the healing: Jesus touches the tongue, and the ears, one two; Jesus touches the eyes twice. 

We should ask the question why? Why are these particular stories arranged this way, is there a point to it? Because we have seen Jesus heal with out needing a physical presence to do so, so why does he touch every part of these men that need healing? Why does he touch the tongue, the ears, and the eyes twice?

Could it be for this reason: Each of us needs a touch from Jesus. We first need a spiritual revolution in us so that we may receive salvation. We are lost to Jesus because of our sin, those rebellious acts that we do, when we want things our way, and not God’s. Those things we do, that causes destruction, rather than life. Those things that we do that break the commands of God.

So each of us needs a touch by Jesus, but a lot of the time, we stop with our first encounter with him. We can be like Herod, hearing about Jesus, but not understanding him at all. And we walk away from Jesus still stuck in our sin, not knowing anything further. Or we can be like the Pharisees, stuck in our misunderstanding of trying to be good enough for God. Making his commands more complicated than they should be, and missing meeting the God who gave the commands. Or we can be like disciples, who are stuck in the first step with Jesus. We have said the prayer, we have moved ourselves to safe box, where we get to go to heaven, and where we’re saved from hell. 

In all three cases, we are missing the next step, the full touch of God, so that we can have ears that hear, mouths that speak, and eyes that see. We position ourselves in our first encounter with Jesus, and feel comfortable in it, but that’s not where Jesus wants us. 
Do we think that the man that couldn’t speak would be happy with being partially able to talk? Do we think that he would have been happy with being partially able to hear? Do we think the man who couldn’t see, would be happy being partially able to see? Yes they would have been happy. But would it be the fullness of those things? No. So why are we happy just taking the first step with Jesus? Why are we satisfied with where we are?
God desires us to be in the fullness of who we are through being in the fullness of who he is. Only when we come into the fullness of Jesus’ healing, can we realize what we have been missing.

See, we tend to be satisfied with the our first encounter with Jesus, whether that means we want nothing to do with him, turn him into who we think he should be, or we just like the knowledge that we’re safe from hell. We tend to have this encounter and be satisfied with that. But that’s because we have a lack experience, and anything is better than nothing. We’re like that little boy on the upside down skateboard. Just happy with what we have, but it’s because we don’t realize what we could have with Jesus. But there is so much more; so much more that God has for us. The question is, do we desire the next step? Do we desire to enter into the fullness of God, or are we going to be satisfied with just a first encounter? Just spinning our wheels?

This week my challenge for you is this, read the entirety of the passages we touched on today. And do so with this prayer in your mind: God I want your fullness. I want the full encounter with you. Bring me into your fullness.
Read these passages every day, and every day, make this your prayer. God wants each of us to move beyond where we are. Beyond just spinning our wheels, and into the second encounter. 

        Now may God bless you as you seek the next step in your relationship with him. Amen