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!

 

Contrast of Empires

Image result for herod antipas john the baptist

I think the idea of the “kingdom of God” is one of the more difficult concepts for Christians to grasp. In my conversations with people, it often seems to be a primarily future construct. “One day, Jesus will return and set up his kingdom”. That’s true and I agree with that, but is that all there is to it? Jesus came on the scene announcing that the Kingdom of God was at hand, closing in, so to speak. The whole theology of the New Testament indicates that the kingdom of God is presently active and at work in this world, through the church. God’s kingdom can be described as God’s good rule – over our lives and over all creation – but the New Testament even indicates that it is God’s rule over the nations as well. But how does that work? How could they say that while Caesar still sat on the throne?

One way to understand it is to see that God’s rule is at work subversively, working right along side of the fallen world and human empires, showing a different way that ultimately leads us to the aforementioned conclusion of Christ’s return and restoration of all things.

That’s something we sort of see in our text we’ll be reading this Sunday as we continue our study in Matthew, reading chapter 14:1-21.

We’ll be reading this passage in two sections, v1-12 and then v13-21. In these two accounts we have what appears to be an intentional contrast. We have two different leaders – both of whom are called “King of the Jews”. Both stories contain an account of a feast of sorts. But the circumstances and outcomes of both stories are radically different. Here’s what I want you to do: Read through each section, back to back. Then go through and look for whatever connection you can see between them. Ask questions like: How did Herod seek to protect his kingdom compared to how Jesus went about advancing his? What practical differences were there between the two feasts ? What is Herod’s feast all about? What was the result of each feast and how did it differ?

Ask your own questions about the contrast. Then ask yourself the most important question of all: Which feast would I rather be attending? Does my answer correspond with the way I presently live my life?

It’s going to be a challenging, yet encouraging study (I hope) – see you Sunday!

People Get Ready

It looks like our current hurricane season is going to be a tad more active than in the last 10 years. We’re already getting advisories about having our emergency supplies and evacuation procedures in place. There are a lot of things that take us by surprise in life, but hurricanes are not usually one of them. We have as much as a week to prepare in many cases. Meterologists give us the heads up; “Storm’s a comin’!” and it’s up to us whether we heed that forecast or not.

As we continue our study in Matthew this week we’ll be reading chapter 3.  We’re going to be introduced to a forecaster – John the Baptist, who will be announcing the arrival of the Messiah and the launch of God’s kingdom invasion.

As you read John’s message, what does his major theme seem to be? What is he calling people to do? What do you think his instructions meant to a Jewish person living in the first century? What does that mean to us, as 21st Century Americans? What sort of radical changes have taken place in your life as a result of embracing the Good News of Jesus?

The Pharisees and Sadducees show up too, and John doesn’t give them the greeting they are accustomed to. What does he seem to highlight as the problem with these religious leaders? Why does he call them snakes? What do you think it means to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance”?

John warns us that it wont all be rainbows and cupcakes when Messiah comes on the scene. He warns of an ax cutting the roots of a tree and of an unquenchable fire. Who was he talking to when using these metaphors? What warning would we personally take from his words?

When Jesus shows up he does something that surprises everyone, including John. He gets in line for his turn to be baptized. John is nonplussed. “You’re the Messiah, come to save us from sin…I need to be baptized by you…what do YOU need to repent of?” It’s a puzzling scene to this day. Jesus said he needed to do it to fulfill all righteousness. In other words – the righteousness, the setting things right that God intends comes through a Messiah who stands in the river with humanity, indentifying with them in their state; Taking their baptism onto himself. What other ways does Messiah identify with humanity to save us?

Hope to see you Sunday!

Benedictus; John Baptizer is Born

As we’ve been going through the gospel of Luke, we’ve found that God seems to go out of His way to turn expectations upside-down.  Our passage this Sunday is no exception, as we finish up chapter 1, verses 57-80.

The fantastic promise made by a cosmic sentinel has come true, Beth has given birth to a son.  As the relatives and friends gather to comply with the Law of Moses, part of the circumcision ceremony entailed the naming of the child.  Everything is going along just fine until this detail…then it all goes out of whack.  What details seem abnormal in this bit of the story?  Why would it matter what name the child had?  As you think about your own role in life, and your identity, what does this story tell you about tradition and custom?

God seems to delight in highlighting the losers.  In this gospel, the people of destiny are not the high profile people, they’re not the ones the world has esteemed as important…they are the outcasts and has-beens.  They are people willing to take the risk of looking ridiculous in the eyes of their neighbors, because they know that something big is in the works.

Zach breaks out in another song (clearly, Luke was wanting this to be the musical version of the gospels), which delights in God’s fulfillment of a promised Savior, and then of his own son’s role in setting the stage for Him.  Zach, again, seems to take the typical nationalistic view of the Messiah’s work, but as he speaks about his son, the premise seems to shift from those normal expectations…and its more about salvation, forgiveness, mercy, light and peace.  Enemies WILL be overthrown, but the last part of the song gives us a clue as to how.

The last verse of the chapter sums up John’s life in one sentence.  What is it about him that is NOT normal?  Obviously, John had a unique ministry, and we wouldn’t use him as a pattern for our own lives per se, but there are principles inherent to his life that we may want to consider as it touches our own journey with God.  What could we learn from John’s lifestyle, and apply to our own?

See you guys Sunday!