The Joyful New

I’m back from vacation! I had a great trip to the Great Northwest – but I’m also glad to be back.

This Sunday we’ll be reading Mark 2:18-22. This text is in the midst of a grouping of religious controversies that confront Jesus in his early ministry. Jesus, from the get go, was upending religious expectations left and right.

Israel’s expectation for who the messiah would be judging and what the messiah would be doing were pretty straightforward. Messiah will come to dispense judgement to the Roman Empire, to condemn those who didn’t adhere to the law of Moses and command righteousness without reserve.

And then there was Jesus. What were they to make of this rabbi? He hangs out with the wrong crowd, he seems to only condemn religious people while giving the riff-raff a new start. He just didn’t meet people’s expectations.

That was true of our text on Sunday. The disciples of John the Baptist fasted regularly while awaiting the arrival of God’s kingdom. The Pharisees fasted regularly to show how sincerely they longed for the end of exile…and it didn’t hurt that it made them look really religiously pious.

When Jesus is asked why he and his disciples don’t fast (a question posed right after Jesus was at a dinner party with disreputable people), the people are merely expressing that he is not meeting their spiritual standards. Fasting was only required in the Old Testament for the Day of Atonement. This wan’t about Mosaic commands, this was about religious expectations.

  • Why do you think Jesus answered their question about fasting with the imagery of a wedding? How does v 20 help us understand that Jesus isn’t opposed to fasting? What religious standards have you felt pressured by? How have you found yourself pressuring others to meet a standard you have set?

The two further explanations by way of parable are the new cloth and new wine-skin pictures. New cloth, in shrinking, would tear away from old, pre-shrunken fabric. An old leather, brittle wine-skin would tear open during the expansion of fermentation.

Jesus’ point is straightforward – he didn’t come to reform something old but to establish something new.

  • What does this mean to our relationship with the Old Testament Law? How do we understand the purpose and value of the Old Testament?

Anyway – hope to see you on Sunday!

The Power of Forgiveness

“As high as heaven is over the earth,
    so strong is his love to those who fear him.
And as far as sunrise is from sunset,
   he has separated us from our sins. ” ~ Psalm 103

At the core of the Christian hope, there is the promise of forgiveness from God. Sometimes I wonder if we have become so acquainted with with that truth that it’s impact gets dulled. It can easily happen. That’s why I love revisiting the gospels, because the core truths that our faith is formed around are ready to be apprehended afresh with every reading.

This Sunday we’ll be reading Mark 2:1-12 which is the account of a paralyzed man being healed by Jesus, but is also a story that highlights the power of divine forgiveness.

The house is packed, not one more person can be squeezed in. Locals look up and down the street at the crowds who have descended on their tiny village to hear and see the young Rabbi.

Four men enter the fray, carrying a paralyzed man on a make-shift stretcher, asking people to make way to they can get through. A few people oblige, but the mass of humanity is too thick and progress comes to a complete stop. One of the four looks at the outside stairs of the house they are trying to enter.

  • What do are your thoughts about these four men? Why do you suppose they are so persistent? Where are they trying to take their friend?
  • If we imagine a symbolic meaning to their story, what lesson can we, the church, learn from these four men about our own priorities?
  • What can tearing up a roof in order to get someone close to Jesus teach us about our mission?

After they lower the man down to Jesus, the story takes a rather strange turn. Instead of immediately healing the man, Jesus by begins declaring his sins forgiven by God.

  • Why do you think Jesus declared forgiveness before healing the man?
  • What do you suppose get the religious leaders angry about this? What did they infer from this declaration?
  • The inward healing of forgiveness is something unseen and immeasurable – the outward healing of the man’s limbs was something everyone could observe. In what way does that help us to understand Jesus’ actions here?

I really love this story – Hope to see you Sunday!

Unexpected Authority

I don’t know. Why is it whenever I write the word “authority” I hear Cartman’s voice in my head commanding my respect? It’s the hazards of keeping up with popular culture I suppose.

Whenever we think of a king or government exercising authority, what usually comes to mind? Often, we think of violence or even battle. We’re going to see a battle of sorts in our text this Sunday as we read Mark 1:21-34 – albeit, it’s not much of a battle. The authority of God’s kingdom leaves very little room for resistance.

  • In the story, what is it that first gets the people amazed about Jesus?
  • What do you think the people mean by Jesus teaching with “authority”?
  • Why do you suppose they didn’t recognize that sort of authority in the teachers of the law?

The story gets really exciting when someone erupts with squawking and a demonic spirit begins speaking through a person to confront Jesus.

  • What are your thoughts about demons and the spiritual world?
  • Why do you think the demonic entity identified Jesus’ hometown?
  • Why do you think Jesus cut the demon short? What can we infer from that about our own focus in ministry?

For those who care, there’s a chiastic structure to v21-28

Jesus comes to the synagogue

Jesus teaches

People are amazed at his authority

Jesus confronts a demon

People are amazed at his authority

Jesus leaves the synagogue

After the public setting of the synagogue we move the private setting of Jesus’ home. Peter’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever and Jesus heals her. Word gets out and suddenly people are showing up in droves to be healed at Pete’s house. Not at the synagogue, isn’t that interesting?

  • How do you feel about the fact that Pete’s mother-in-law gets right to work, serving? Follow the link to the definition of that word. Look at the other passages where that word is used (the verse count is to the right of the definition).
  • How might we deduce something about the nature of being Christ’s follower from that?

Hope to see you Sunday!

Sonship and Struggles

This Sunday we’ll be reading Mark 1:9-13, which becomes a sort of cosmic “good news/bad news” scenario. It’s not really bad news, but it’s a strange juxtaposition of a glorious moment immediately followed by a time of hardship.

Life has a way of following that pattern though.

As you may recall, the theme of Mark’s gospel is the declaration that Jesus is the Messiah – the Divine King and His conquest. What a Divine King’s conquest looks like is something we may picture a certain way, which Mark works to dismantle. As soon as Jesus appears in our text, he does something very strange indeed. He is baptized by John.

Baptism was the ritual John was calling the people to submit to as a demonstration of their repentance and renewal in God.

Why do you think Jesus took his turn with all the other people there and underwent this ritual? What does it tell us about the nature of this Divine King?

After his baptism, the fabric of reality is torn open and a glimpse is given to God’s reality – and from that reality (heaven) the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus and God’s voice speaks calling Jesus His beloved Son. This is a passage that gives a tantalizing glance at the mystery of God’s Triune nature.

How do you see three distinct Divine personalities and actions in this passage?

Jesus, as Messiah, stands as representative of all the human race. He entered our condition in order to bring us into His condition. What is true of Jesus is true of those who believe in and follow Him.

What do you believe the Father declares about you?  Can you imagine God saying to you: “You are my Child, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Let that run through your mind, and put your own name in that sentence. What is your reaction to that?

Right on the heels of that amazing experience, Jesus is pushed out into the desert to face the struggles of temptation. As I said, good news/bad news. Mark is very brief in his description, but we get enough of the picture of the devil and wild beasts that we know this was no comfortable spa retreat Jesus went to.

How do you think the previous experience at His baptism prepared Jesus for this part of his journey? What sort of “spiritual desert experiences” have you had in your life of following Christ? What, if anything, did you learn from them?

Mark – Introduction; This is the Good News

This Sunday we will begin a new study in the Gospel of Mark. I am someone who believes that, as the church, it’s important to revisit the life and teachings of Jesus, just to be sure we’re tracking properly. The Gospel of mark is the shortest of the synoptic gospels, and according to surveys, the least popular of all of them. I think that’s a shame. Mark rocks, in my opinion.

As we begin this study, we’ll be reading chapter 1:1-8. Right off the bat, in the very first verse, we are confronted with several ideas which need to be explored. The Good News, Messiah and Son of God. We’ll be looking at the historic and religious contexts of those words – but let me suggest that to really get a good primer on the concept of Messiah, you can watch The Bible Project’s video on that subject: The Bible Project

How would you explain what the Good News about Jesus the Messiah is?

The writer of Mark wastes no time in getting us into the action. V2-3 introduces us to the expectations of Israel to set the stage. He quotes from Isaiah and Malachi passages that were meant to comfort the Jewish people who had gone into Babylonian exile that the Lord would return to his temple one day. God gave them a sign to look for – a messenger would come and prepare the way for the Lord’s appearance.

Why do you think it was important to connect John the Baptist with the promised sign? How can this encourage us about trusting God’s promises?

In v4-6 John is described, and he is one odd dude. He definitely didn’t follow the advice of today’s experts on how to attract people to your movement.

What does John’s dress, diet and location speak of to you? Why do you think people were so attracted to John’s message? What can we learn from that about our own ministry and church?

When John speaks in v7-8, he has a singular topic in view. Jesus. John is almost over-the-top in trying to pronounce the distinction and superiority of the coming Messiah.

In what ways can we follow his example? As we seek to minister God’s love to people, how can we keep our focus on Jesus without becoming self-depreciating? What do you believe John was describing when he said Jesus would baptize withe the Holy Spirit?

I’m really stoked to get back to posting in Wonderwhat! I’m looking forward to this study – I hope you’ll come to love Mark as much as I do! See you Sunday!

 

The Deeper Magic – Mark 16:9-20

Sorry for the delay in posting this week…I have no valid reasons, only excuses.

So, we’re going to finish our study in the gospel of Mark this Sunday.  It’s always sort of bittersweet to me to finish up a book.  Its a great feeling of accomplishment, but also a sadness to leave such familiar territory.

We’re going to be reading the last part of chapter 16, verses 9-20.   For roughly the last 1,800 years there has been a controversy surrounding these verses.  Many scholars, both ancient and modern, believe they are an addition to the original text and should not be included nor taken seriously.  If you feel like reading, you can find a fair summary of the opposing views HERE.

For my part, I find compelling arguments on both sides of the issue.  To determine if I should include these verses in our study, I asked myself some questions.  1) Are the verses in question in conflict with the rest of the Scriptures of the New Testament?  My answer was no, they’re not and in fact can be correlated to other gospel and didactic passages.  2) Do the verses introduce foreign doctrines?  Again, the answer is no.  Some cessationist advocates may try to insinuate that verses 15-18 could promote wild charismania…but even there, the things Jesus lists off in the passage DID get experienced by the Christians of the book of Acts….so a person could still argue that those gifts had ceased after that (if they wanted to, and wanted to be wrong).

The fact is, every translation of the Bible today still includes these verses, and just add a footnote.  God is pretty big, that much I’m sure of.  I think He’s well able to see to it that we have the Word He wants us to have…so…I’m going to teach on those verses.  What do you think about them?

If you read  them over, you’ll notice that one reaction is pretty consistent from those who only hear about Jesus rising from the dead.  What is it?  Put yourself in their place…how do you think you would have responded?  (seriously…when you read about someone who “spotted” Elvis working at a 7-11, what is your first reaction to that kind of “news”?)  Yet in verse 14, Jesus is none too amused at their response.

How would you summarize verses 15-18?  What do those verse tell us about the world we live in now that Jesus has risen from the dead?  V 19 is the fuel for v 20…Jesus “ascended”, or was taken into the unseen realm of  heaven (which N.T. Wright describes as the control room for the events of earth, which I think is brilliant).  From that place of power and dominion He does something…what does He do, and through what agency does He do it?

Well…don’t feel pressured to respond…I know this was late in coming.  And don’t feel like you need to answer all the questions I pose…if just one thing strikes your interest, lets talk about it!

Peace…see you Sunday!

Who is the King?

Pilate offers Jesus to the crowd

We’re going to continue in Mark this Sunday…we’ll be looking at Mark 15:1-20.

The Jewish leaders have concluded their judgement of Jesus, and believe Him deserving of death.  They, however, don’t have the authority to put someone to death because they are under Roman rule.  Their difficulty is now to convince the Roman governor, Pilate,  who has jurisdiction over Jerusalem to condemn Jesus to the death sentence.

They have condemned Jesus as deserving of death because of blasphemy, but they know that will never wash with a Roman ruler.  So, they focus on the one thing sure to get Pilate’s attention, and that is the claim to be the King of the Jewish people.  Why would that get Pilate’s attention?

When Pilate asks Jesus about this claim, Jesus, in the original language, says essentially: “That’s what you say.”  Why does Jesus seem so non-committal in His answer?  Maybe John’s version of this encounter sheds some light on it: John 18:36-37.

Things get exposed in glaring detail the nearer we get to the cross.  Pilate sees why the religious leaders want Jesus killed (v10).  What were their motives?  Why THOSE motives?  What does this tell us about their thought of Jesus as king?

What does Pilate marvel at (v5)?  Why do you think this causes him to wonder in admiration?  What was he looking for in a king?

Why did the crowd choose the way they did?  What made the difference between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and this moment?  What were they looking for in a king?

Why do the soldiers treat Jesus the way they do?  What has them so riled up?  What possible motive can they have for this level of cruelty?  What do they reveal about their view of Jesus as king?

What is the center of this trial?  What is the crucial question asked?  Have we asked that question when it comes to our lives? 

See you Sunday!