I am more and more convinced that the highest calling of the church has got to be getting a handle on our words. Sure you may say that we are to witness of Christ, making disciples, and teaching everything that Jesus taught but in an of those very things are a numerous amount of words. The challenge we face is the consistency of our words no matter the context in which they are used. James in his epistle reminds us that salt water and fresh water do not flow from the same well nor should praising God and cursing of man come from the same mouth. (James 3:9-12) Since Jesus reminds us that the words that cross our lips are merely exposing the deeper darkness that plagues our hearts, we must be willing to submit ourselves to the transforming power of God in order for our words to reflect Christ. (Luke 6:45)
The question we face is, how do we engage in a way that transforms our hearts and words to reflect Christ. The short answer, renewal. We need a constant dose of God's Word poured into and over our hearts. Paul tells the Romans and the Ephesians that there must be a renewal of the mind(Mind/heart). (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:22-24) This is because we have clung deeply to old self patterns adopted from the world and we are daily immersed in the barrage of worldliness. We must turn to God's Word to counteract those influences, trust in His life giving Word and commit to obedience to His Spirit. That's where transformation begins!
As we engage in the renewing of our mind we must understand that this will lead to refinement in our lives. Refinement is when God exposes the darkness that is still residing in our hearts. God uses the everyday moments of life in conjunction with His word to make us aware of things that we would rather keep hidden or ignore. When the words come out of my mouth that I wish I could put back in, an opportunity has arisen to let God make me aware of the heart issues I still deal with. It is in these moments where we are tempted to tell ourselves I know better and I'll never do it again. That lie keeps me from understanding that my heart desires were what overflowed in the words I used.
Instead I need to do some research and begin to ask questions about what those words exposed about my hearts desires. Since worldliness can be narrowed down to pride and lust, the words I use will either reflect a submission to Christ or a form of pride or lust deep within my heart. When the words we use do not reflect Christ they do reflect something. Is Christ King or am I? What was I wanting that I didn't get? Were those wants in line with what God wants? Who am I serving by saying those words? Difficult questions to ask yourself but important to get to the heart issues. (those are not an exhaustive list of questions one could ask but you get the picture)
As we research the motivations of our hearts, within the context of renewing our minds, we will often find ourselves in the need of repentance. This is the opportunity to face God with our failed words and darkened heart places and seek help to turn the opposite direction. This is a chance to embrace the fullness of grace in the midst of our failures and experience the love that propels us toward the new life that has already been granted just not enjoyed.
Having made the commitment to go another direction than the one we have been heading we begin to replace the old patterns with the beauty of God's way, the Christlike patterns that are described in the Scriptures. (Colossians 3, Ephesians 4, 5, 6, etc) Pretty much all of Scripture provides insight toward living a Christ-like life, whether through emphatic instructions like put on/put off statements, or examples of the past provided as a warning for our lives today. Either way we must make a habit of obedience before it becomes a natural outflow of our lives. So, while renewing our minds we become aware that words we are wanting to use may not reflect Jesus so well, we obey Christ by not saying them and we dig down deep to find out what's motivating those words, we seek God's help to put those selfish motivations to death, and celebrate God's graciousness in helping us to see areas in our lives that don't reflect Christ and His willingness to change us so we can.
Remember as a believer we are all on a journey of sanctification and God will finish what he has started.
On Sunday we discussed the selection of the twelve disciples to be ambassadors of Christ. Ambassadors are those who have been chosen, given authority, and set out with a message. As believers in Jesus Christ we are also chosen ambassadors who are sent out to proclaim at message. We may not have exactly the same role as the first apostles did and we definitely don't have all of the authority that the apostles were given, we still have a purpose and a message to declare to the world. In 2 Corinthians 5 the apostle Paul reminds us that our primary responsibility as ambassadors is the ministry of reconciliation. We are sent out to declare the grace of God and the work of Jesus Christ in restoring the relationship between God and humanity through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. This is our full time responsibility, everything else is secondary and should be supportive of this in our lives. That is often where the tension exists for us. Our stewardship of our resources often times is used to ensure our own desires. I know that this tension exists for me as well. My jobs are looked at as a means of provision instead of a place to be an ambassador for Christ. This is usually because I begin to trust in my own provision for my family's "needs" as opposed to resting in God's provision for our real needs.
How do I avoid going down that road? How can I be more attentive to the opportunities to be an ambassador instead of being caught up in the worldliness around me? The answer from yesterday was Jesus' invitation to be immersed in Him. Earlier in this series it was proximity that promoted a stronger reflection of Jesus in our lives. Observing Christ so much and learning from His instruction and His example will provide an opportunity for our minds to "think" Jesus first in our everyday interactions.
Where do I start, you might ask. Like anything worth doing it takes some discipline in life, but the hardest part is starting. Start small, don't try bench pressing 250lbs your first go at it. Open the Bible everyday. Just re-read the passage we discussed on Sunday. Review your notes from the service. Listen to a message online, Godly men like John Macarthur, John Piper, and Larry Osborne have plenty of Christ centered messages online. Use the fertilizer from the sermon notes on Sunday. No matter the method the key is to start. If you are not immersing yourself in Jesus you will find that the fruit that you bear will look more like what you are immersed in and less like Christ. Let's endeavor to maximize our role as Christ's ambassadors everyday that we live.
In Mark 2:18-3:6 we looked at three scenarios where Jesus was questioned by the people and the Pharisees. Their questioning was an attempt to expose Jesus as a fraud by catching Him in a moment of law breading activity. (At least the law define by the mountain of man-made prescriptions that had been developed and enforced by the Pharisees) They were not seeking Jesus to clarify His teaching on the Kingdom of God and their need to repent. They were seeking to justify their self-righteous, self-attained status in the religious view of the people of Galilee.
In responding to their questions Jesus could expose their hearts and, in the case of these Pharisees, hardness and wicked hostility was clearly seen. That's what Jesus does, His perfect and righteous life is a light that reveals the darkness that still invades our souls. Prior to salvation all that reflects from us is complete and utter darkness. But after the miracle of grace and our confession of Jesus as Lord our souls are given the capacity to reflect the light of Jesus to the world. Then as we consider the life of Jesus and compare our lives to His we can see areas that still need to be conformed to His image and He gives us the strength and grace we need to change.
The Pharisees instead respond with pride and hostility and plot to kill Jesus on the very same Sabbath day they questioned Jesus about. The reality is we all have the potential to be Pharisees. Their rules, while probably with good initial intentions of honoring God, became self-righteousness and judgment on others. How? We call it legalism today. Legalism is when we base our righteousness on what we can do instead of on what Jesus has done. It is the mindset that by living by a certain set of standards I can be accepted by God. They man made standards also become the measure of judgment applied to all others righteousness. The truth of the matter is that nothing we can do can ever reconcile our sin account with God. Only Jesus as the sinless sacrifice can offer payment for all our sins.
The problem with self-righteous living is that God is never the focus of the religious system. Self is the center of attention. Mark provides three warning signs that our religious practices are due to self-righteous pursuits.
The first is found in Mark 2:18-20. Jesus refers to the fact that no one fasts while bridegroom is with them. This is unusual since there is no mention of a wedding going on at the time. This is because Jesus is referring to Himself. Jesus is here it's time to celebrate not to mourn. So, the first warning is self-righteousness leads to missing Jesus. The Pharisees and those focused on fasting were totally missing the fact that the Son of God was in their midst and the opportunity to commune with Him was now.
The second warning is found in Mark 2:23-28. Here the Pharisees are so worried about satisfying their own requirements for the Sabbath that could care less whether the disciples needed food or not. Jesus reminds them that He is the Lord of the Sabbath (rest) and that the Sabbath was always about peoples' needs and not about justifying their righteousness. The warning here is that self-righteousness allows rules to replace people. Honestly this is easy to do. I can easily find myself as a father enforcing my rules on my kids before I understand their needs. Often when this happens I can embitter my kids and they respond with disrespectful attitudes creating a crazy cycle of turmoil. My measure of righteousness interprets the behavior of others and then paralyzes me from being able to be gracious and truthful in the situation. Lord help me to recognize this heart attitude in myself.
The third warning is found in Mark 3:1-6. Here the Pharisees are watching to see what Jesus will do. Jesus challenges them to do good and this challenge reveals the hardness of the Pharisees hearts. Mark reminds us here that self-righteousness hardens our hearts to gracious action. Gracious actions are the only reason any one of has any claim to righteousness in the first place. Jesus willingly offered His perfect life in exchange for our sin. He took the punishment we deserve, we receive His inheritance. (because of Jesus we are adopted sons and daughters of God thus sharing the inheritance of the son.) That's grace. Yet when we get focused on looking good before God or justifying our religious status by our religious actions we put ourselves at a severe handicap to offer grace to others.
The focus of this passage was based on the righteousness of Jesus and our need to make us new so that we can rest. But a side note to be gained from is the opportunity to evaluate why we do our religious acts. Are we attempting to be accepted by God for what we have done? Are we trying to emphasize our neighbor’s flaws by the way we live? Recognizing that our righteousness can only be found in Christ and Christ alone allows us the freedom to reflect that righteousness to our neighbors in the grace and compassion we extend to them. This doesn't determine our acceptance with God but instead reveals our gratitude for His gracious acceptance.
Astonished, afraid, and amazed are all terms used to describe those who encountered Jesus in our study of Mark 1:21-34. Each of these responses were to the authority of Jesus. Those who heard His teaching were astonished that Jesus' was superior to the scribes whose whole life was committed to copying down the Scripture. Jesus presented the truths of God with such intimate knowledge that it was evident that He was no common circuit preacher.
Then the spiritual forces of evil were afraid of Jesus. Their run in with the "Holy One of God" revealed their knowledge of the power He was able to exert over their beings. "Have you come to destroy us?" Even when the disciples were given the authority to cast out demons, they did not have the power to destroy the evil spirits. This power is solely held by God, and the demon's testimony reminds us that "the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" in Jesus (Col. 1:19) and they knew and trembled.
Finally those who witnessed the demonic confrontation and victory by Jesus were amazed that this teaching was backed up with such authority. Interestingly we are not sure that the results of these responses ever resulted in true belief. It might be safe to say the disciples were just beginning to see who this teacher, prophet, miracle worker, Son of God truly was. Their own belief shifts like sand until the resurrection cements solidly in their souls a firmness that enables them to endure extreme persecution.
For me I begin to wonder how often I stand astonished or amazed at Jesus... It reminds me how easily distracted I can be by the mediocrity of human creation. The latest movie or TV show can captivate my mind and be center of my discussions. Much like last week our awe of Christ is highly based on our proximity to Him. It's easy to be awed by that which we are standing closest to or spend the most time with. The trouble is that closer to the world we live to farther we live from the light of Christ. True, I know that Christ does not desire us to fear being destroyed but maybe a little reminder once and while of the extent of Christ's authority is not such a bad thing. Christ is the righteous judge thankfully in His first incarnation He did not come to condemn the World but to save it. But let us not take Jesus' grace for granted. The challenge this week is to pick up the Gospel more. Maybe it's only two more times than normal. Create a new normal that increases the opportunity to be closer to Christ. See how it might change our lives and the lives of those around us.
In our continued study of the book of Mark we are seeing the Gospel unveiled week by week. This week we saw that Jesus called His first disciples to follow Him. Pastor Phil shared that this was an invitation for these men to walk in His shadow. The idea of walking in the shadow of Jesus is the same idea as apprenticeship. The apprentice learns follows, observes, learns, and eventually mimics the master in their craft. These men were given quite the opportunity to learn from Jesus.
What a picture of God's grace that ordinary, everyday people would be asked to follow Jesus. This is great news that followers of Jesus simply are asked to be nothing more, nothing less.
But what is apprenticeship of Jesus? For the disciples it meant giving up the lives they knew and literally followed Jesus around the countryside learning from Him. Sure they struggled at times but Christ knew what they were capable of and continued to teach and train them during His time on earth.
The thing that strikes me the most about walking in the shadow of Jesus is the requirement for proximity. Proximity promotes emulation. So followers of Jesus who want to reflect Jesus in this world must keep a close connection with Him. Jesus actually taught the disciples these very truths in John 15. He used the picture of a vine and it's branches, saying that if the branches had any desire to bear fruit they must stay connected to the vine.
What a joy to know that Jesus offers this opportunity to us. Through His death on the cross and His victory over death, sinful people can walk in His shadow and experience the abundant life that comes with emulating Jesus day by day.
This week we looked at the message of the Gospel as preached by Jesus. As Jesus preached the Gospel He was offering citizenship in the Kingdom of God to wretched, rebellious, enemies of God. If that is not the evidence of God's great grace and mercy, I not sure what else would convince you. Maybe the fact that in order for our citizenship to authorized Jesus had to exchange His life for ours. We become citizens, Jesus takes the punishment for our rebellious crimes.
I think that the greatest impact on my thus far in our series in Mark has been the reminder of the magnitude of God's grace. Humanity receives large quantities of God's common grace every day. I imagine that your mind probably begins to question, but what about... the earthquakes, hurricanes, diseases, human trafficking, and the countless other horrific things that happen in our world. Is that what God's grace looks like? No, sadly all of that is the result of the sin cursed world we live in. In fact because the end result of sin is so destructive the potential of worse is beyond our comprehension. Honestly this is the point where I have been overwhelmed by God's grace. You see if there were no grace then the sin cursed world under the authority of Satan would truly be hell on earth, disease would be widespread with no relief, natural disasters would be constant and catastrophic, and human harm due to immorality would be intolerable.
The fact that we have moments of peace or we discover cures for human diseases or we have the intelligence to design early warning systems to preserve human life from natural disasters are all a result of the Grace of God. Sinners do not deserve this kind of treatment from a holy, righteous, and just God. Instead we are given His grace and mercy on daily basis. Then to top it all off God offers citizenship and adoption in His Kingdom and Family through the belief in His Son, Jesus Christ.
Amazing Grace that saves a wretch like me. Celebrate the moments of grace you receive and seek God during the moments when the curse of sin seems to overwhelm you.
This week we learned that in three scenes, Mark gives us the evidence that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. This has the potential to give great joy to our lives, knowing that God's promised Savior and King has arrived. We no longer have to wait and wonder instead we can live as followers of the one true King, Jesus.
I was struck by the simplicity of Mark's presentation. He didn't need to go into a great amount of detail and yet was still capable of providing adequate evidence that Jesus fits the criteria of the promised Savior. When I think about how speedily Mark moves through these details of Jesus' life I get excited to see what other parts of the Gospel Mark will spend time with. What I do believe is that Mark want's us to do something with everything we learn from the Gospel. He wants us to be able to confidently declare that Jesus is the Christ, to learn from Jesus' life, and to pattern our lives have His.
This week I hope you are reminded that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and you allow Him to be King and Ruler over your life. That you would remember that because of Jesus nothing can separate you from the love of God and with the presence of the Holy Spirit you are able to live like Jesus and overcome in the world. Praise God that Jesus is who we believe Him to be.
What great joy!
On Sunday we started a new sermon series on the Gospel of Jesus: According to Mark. I totally underestimated how much time it would take to adequately introduce the book of Mark and was unable to answer all three questions that were posed on Sunday Morning.
We were able to answer our first question "Who is the Author." We determined that the author had to be someone who had heard, witnessed, and experience the power of the Gospel. After looking at the many testimonies and biblical accounts related to John-Mark, I think we can safely say that Mark was someone who fits that criteria and that we can trust that his account of Jesus' life and ministry are accurate and useful to our understanding of the Gospel.
I would like to answer the other two questions that were posed but left unanswered on Sunday due to time constraints.
Who is the Audience?
It is important to understand who the original audience is because scripture cannot mean something to us today that it didn't mean to the original audience. We have already determined the best criteria for the author of a Gospel but what kind of audience would need to hear the message of the Gospel? Does the audience fit that criteria?
I am going to suggest that Mark wrote his Gospel because he that his audience were people who desperately needed to be reminded of some good new.
On Sunday we looked at three historical testimonies the confirmed Mark as the author of the Gospel and Peter as the source of the eyewitness material. One of those testimonies, shared that Mark penned his gospel after the death of Peter and Paul, and in Italy. These two facts give us contextual clues as to what would have been true of Mark's audience. Thee clue is written after Peter and Paul's death. This places the writing of the Gospel to happen somewhere in the late 60's AD. And it means that the church had just suffered the loss of two pretty important preachers of the Gospel in a highly violent way. Both Peter and Paul were martyred for their stand that Jesus is the Son of God and must a believers one and only King.
The other historical influence that was happening at this time came from the leadership of the Roman Empire. The death of Peter and Paul happens toward the end of Nero's reign. If you are familiar with history you would know that Nero was a vicious and self seeking ruler who probably burned Rome just to have a reason to blame and persecute Christians. Finally during this time period the Roman Empire had tired of the political and religious tension that existed between the Romans and Jerusalem and the began the hostile takeover of the land of Israel that resulted in the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. With all of this going on in the Roman world I would suggest that those who Mark had in mind as his primary audience would be:
What is the Message
Our final question from Sunday was "What is Message?" When we begin studying any passage of scripture we rely upon the context to help us understand what the author was intending on communicating to their original audience so we can best apply those truth's to our own lives. Each Gospel writer had a different approach to sharing the life of Jesus due to the audience and message they were sharing. For instance the Gospel of Matthew is highly directed toward a Jewish audience and reinforces the truth that Jesus is the King of Kings entitled to sit on the throne of David forever.
We just established that the audience of Mark were people who needed to hear some good news. Let me suggest that Mark's primary message to this audience is that the Good New is that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God. In the opening verse of the Gospel Mark declares that this is the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This sets the stage for the content to follow. Mark intentionally supports this message through the careful organization of the events and teaching of Jesus' life and ministry. Mark does not include every event that the other Gospel writers include, the fact is Mark's account is the shortest and most concise account of the life of Jesus. But everything included in the words and pages are meant to point the audience to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God come to save the world from their sin and suffering by suffering in their place, ultimately on the cross. The following are ways that Mark conveys that message in his Gospel:
As we journey together through the book of Mark, I hope that we recognize that Mark's testimony reinforces our belief that it is Jesus and Jesus alone who can save us and lead us as our King. I also hope that we are reminded that, no matter the uncertainty of life that we face, we have the assurance that Jesus is the Son of God and His saving work has provided us new life today and for eternity.
Spend learning the truths of the Gospel, Rehearsing those truths to yourself, and Sharing those truths with others. If we can do this together than I believe our community will be transformed by power of Gospel of Jesus.
- Pastor Derreck