The Kingdom Kernel

I remember helping my mom plant gardens when I was a kid. She loved gardening, and every spring in Michigan we’d walk out in a freshly tilled plot of ground and start planting seeds down the rows. I can still remember looking at those seeds and asking her for the umpteenth time what plant it would be, and she, very patiently, showed me the bright picture of a pristine vegetable on the seed packet.

I’d look at those seeds and try to figure out how the first shape would transform into the second shape. Obviously, horticulture was not something I pursued.

But that memory lingers in the text we’ll cover this Sunday. We’ll be reading about Jesus’ burial in our study in Mark, reading Mark 15:40-47. In so many ways, this is not just the account which fills in a few details whilst we wait for the resurrection (***spoiler – Jesus doesn’t stay dead***). Christ’s burial is something he forecast in John 12:24, when he made the statement: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” 

Once again, I’m a child, looking at the shape of the kernel and wondering about the shape the harvest. As I consider it – I believe we actually do get a glimpse of the shape the harvest of new lives will take as we look at the details of the Kingdom Kernel being planted in the grave.

In v40-41, who are the followers of Jesus that the narrative focuses on? Isn’t it interesting that none of the big names we’ve read about all through this story are mentioned at this juncture? A radical upheaval in the order of this broken world is pictured in this shifted focus – can you imagine what it is?

V42-43 introduce us to another new character: Joseph of Arimathea. A member of the Sanhedrin, he goes to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body so he can have a decent burial. The NLT says he “took a risk” in doing this. Imagine what the risks are for him? How might his fellow Sanhedrin members feel about it? How might Pilate react to another member of the religious leaders bothering him about Jesus? What does this social, political and religious risk tell us about the nature of this new life we find in Christ?

As you finish reading the chapter, what surprises do you come across? What seems unexpected in this text, and what might that say about a new life in Christ?

I think this will be an interesting and encouraging passage to study together. Hope to see you on Sunday!

 

The Curse Displayed and Cured

This Sunday we’ll be returning to our study in the gospel of Mark, we’ll be reading Mark 15:21-39.

Ask almost any given Christian why Jesus died on the cross, and you’ll likely get a response of “Jesus died for my sins” – or something to that effect. That’s not a wrong answer – but I’d suggest it is incomplete. Even there, many people really don’t even know what they’re saying when they assert that Jesus died for our sins.

The New Testament writers knew that what happened on the cross was central to what God was doing in fulfilling his promises to Israel. One of the major ideas of what was accomplished on the cross is a breaking of Satan’s stronghold on humanity and creation ET AL. Galatians 3 tells us that Jesus also delivered us from the curse of sin and evil by taking it all to himself on the cross. Yes, Jesus died for sinners, but not as a martyr or even a good example – something cosmic and mysterious took place on that cross. A rescue of unthinkable proportions occurred through Christ’s suffering and death.

This Sunday we’ll be looking at how the curse of sin and evil were put on display on the cross, and how we recognize what Jesus has delivered us from through his sacrificial death.

As you read this text for Sunday, imagine the scene as best as you can. What is Jesus experiencing, and how does it relate to this broken world? It might help to read Genesis 3. What correlations can you find between the fall of creation and what Jesus experienced on the cross? How does it help you understand what Jesus has accomplished for you?

I hope this study will provide a new sense of awe and appreciation for Christ, and what God had done for us all.

The Suffering Servant

This Sunday we’ll be reading about the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate as we continue our study in Mark. We’ll be reading Mark 15:1-20.

This is the moment when Jesus is confronted by the combined forces of broken religion, politics and social behavior. In a sort of perfect storm, as religion and politics vie for superior power and control, Jesus is caught in the middle of the machinations – suffering injustice, prejudice, accusation and condemnation, which will lead to his death on the cross.

Here, is radiant contrasts, we see the distinction between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of humanity.

As you read through this section, what do you notice about Jesus? What does he do, and what is done to him?

Consider the accusations, the prisoner exchange and torture piled up on Jesus; what picture might it give you about what it is that God was accomplishing through Christ on our behalf? Think about that crown of thorns laid on his head. It was a parody of Caesar’s wreath crown. It was intended as ironic mockery. I believe God was communicating something else. Read Gen 3:17-19. What else might that crown symbolize, and what can it tell us about the purpose of Jesus’ suffering this way as our substitute?

I don’t understand the mechanics of all of this. I still find it fascinating that for 2,000 plus years people of faith have found something powerful and life-changing in this scene of brutality. I’m one of those. I can’t explain exactly what happened that terrible Friday, but I believe it changed the world, and I know it changed me.

We’ll contemplate the implications of this on Sunday – hope to see you then!

What a Trial Reveals

Hey everyone! After taking a break over the holidays, we’re ready to get back into our study of the Gospel of Mark. This Sunday we’ll be reading Mark 14:53-72 – and the drama has really intensified.

After being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is taken to the High Priest’s palace where he will experience his first trial. But Mark does a “meanwhile” segue, picking up Peter’s location, which is in the courtyard outside the trial. He’ll come back to Peter at the end of the section, so it’s another Markian sandwich…meaning we’re supposed to connect the two stories.

We’ll cover some of the ways in which this trial before the Sanhedrin was preformed illegally. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how far religious systems are willing to violate God’s own values in order to maintain power. I think there’s a lesson in that.

Why do you suppose Jesus doesn’t answer any of the false accusations made against him? How would you be tempted to respond, if people misrepresented you this way?

At the end of the trial, the veil is finally lifted and Jesus plainly self-identifies as God’s Messiah. It offends the High Priest so much that he tears his robes. Here’s a fun insight: read Lev 21:10 – it seems the High Priest wasn’t too well acquainted with the Law he was supposed to be upholding.

Jesus stood quietly confident before the highest ruling authority in Israel – but at the end of the story, Peter caves under the pressure of one person. Who was that person, and what sort of authority would that person have in a patriarchal society such as 1st Century Israel? What differences do you note? What might Peter have done differently that night? When have you felt like Peter during times of pressure from this broken world?

Hopefully, we will be both encouraged and challenged by this study. Hope to see you Sunday!

Christmas is Around the Corner

 

We’re going to take a break from our study in Mark, since it’s the last Sunday before Christmas. We’ll be reading Luke 1:25-38, and looking at the account of Gabriel announcing to Mary that she will carry the Messiah into the world. We’ll pay close attention to the details and see what encouragements we can glean from them, especially for those for whom Christmas may bring more pain than joy. It should be good for all of our souls.

See you then, but if don’t see you: Merry Christmas, you Child of God!

Why Our Hope is in Jesus

We’ll be continuing our study in Mark this Sunday – we’ll be reading Mark 14:26-52.

This is the account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane – but it is also another Markian Sandwich -Because Jesus’ warning to his disciples that they will abandon him and the account of them doing just that, brackets the account of Jesus’ prayer of surrender in the garden alone.

There is a lot happening in this section – more than what can be covered in one teaching. My focus this Sunday will be centered on why placing our hope in Jesus alone is highlighted in the events that unfold in this text.

Peter is bold in his assertion that he would never betray Jesus. If you know how the story goes, how did that work out for him? Do you identify with Peter? What was he putting his trust in when making that statement? What can we learn from that, coupled with 1 Cor 10:12?

Think about the parallels between Jesus in the Garden and Adam in the Garden. What is different about Jesus’ response to God’s will and Adam’s? What does this tell us about Jesus and his ultimate mission?

When the mob comes, one disciple (identified as Peter in John’s gospel) jumps into action. Was it the right action? What might his behavior teach us about self-reliance?

We’ll put it all together and hopefully be encouraged as well as challenged. See you on Sunday!

The Meal of Mission

It’s almost universal that important moments and significant occasions are marked by sharing a meal. We incorporate meals into our three main holidays here in the U.S. – Thanksgiving, Christmas and Superbowl Sunday. There’s just something inherent in us as humans that we commemorate things by sharing a common sustenance.

That’s probably why God incorporated meals into the great festivals prescribed in the Law of Moses. They served as a reminder of Israel’s heritage and calling, but also as a means of binding groups of people together. Meals communicate something.

This Sunday we’ll be reading about the most famous meal of the New Testament, and surely the most significant. We’ll be reading Mark 14:12-26 as we continue our study of Mark’s gospel.

Mark locates this meal at the beginning of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, which would make this a Passover Meal. Jesus goes about re-purposing some of the integral elements of this most important Jewish observance.  If liberation is central to the theme of Passover, and Jesus ties his upcoming death to the Passover, what is that communicating to us about his mission and the mission of the Good News? What sort of liberation do you believe he had in mind?

Why do you think Jesus didn’t “out” Judas at the table? Why do you suppose he prompted all of his disciples to inquire if they were the one?

Jesus took the Afikomen bread and the Cup of Redemption and gave them new designations for us, saying they now represent his body and his blood. Clearly he’s pointing to role which the Passover Lamb typified – he would be our sacrifice. In v24 he states what that sacrifice will accomplish. What do you understand a covenant to be? How does that inform you about Christ’s mission, and our mission as Good News people?

It should be an interesting and comforting study – hope to see you there!