Matthew 19 & Mark 10

In Tim Keller’s book, Counterfeit Gods, he describes the ways that we put other areas of our life in the role of ‘god of our lives.’ Though the handmade idols that the Israelites worshipped – like the Baals and Golden Calves – may not exist anymore, idolatry is still very present in our modern day life. Keller describes how we, as humans, have a tendency to make good things god things, and consequently, we allow those things to turn our focus away from God. Sex, marriage, money, wealth, (self-)righteousness, and status can all be good things, but these things cannot be the ultimate thing. 

In today’s passage, we meet the Pharisees who were trying to trip Jesus up with a question about divorce. They wanted to know if Jesus was going to contradict the law of Moses by saying that divorce was not legal. After Jesus responded that divorce should not happen outside of sexual immorality, the disciples were amazed and said, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry” (v. 10). Jesus agrees with them in v. 12 when he talks about the eunuchs who chose to live that way for the sake of the Kingdom. 

Then, later on in Matthew 19, a rich young ruler comes and asks Jesus what rule he needs to follow to get eternal life. Jesus tells him the thing that he needs to do is give his possessions to the poor. He “went away sad, because he had great wealth” (v. 22). When Jesus tells his disciples that it is incredibly difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom, they are amazed and asked “Who can be saved?” (v. 25). Jesus responds in v. 26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

In Matthew 19, Jesus focuses on 3 areas of life, and in each case, he shows the disciples that they need to obediently follow what God says, despite how contrary it looks to the world. These 3 areas of life can be areas where we all easily fall into idolatry. They are good things – but they cannot be the ultimate thing. These things cannot be our god, but we try to put them in that place. 

The pharisees (and the rich young ruler) struggle with self-righteousness. They wanted to be good enough to be their own god – so that in effect, they wouldn’t actually need God. Though no one in the story seemed to struggle with marriage and sex, the question the Pharisees asked brings up this next idol that so many people make an ultimate thing. Both of these marriage and sex are created by God, but so often, we do not act with obedience to God’s word in these areas, and we step out of God’s design for us. By doing so, we are making these things an idol. The last area is money and wealth. The rich young ruler had so much wealth that he went away grieving. We don’t know if he made the choice to act with obedience to what Jesus commanded him to do, or if he decided that his wealth was too important to him to follow Jesus and ‘enter life.’ What we do know is that he mourned for his wealth. The disciples were amazed that Jesus spoke so harshly of wealthy people. In a culture that values money and possessions (like our own), the pursuit of wealth always seems like a good thing. However, like we’ve read this past week in the book of Luke, money can become an idol in our life, and the Bible says plainly that we cannot serve two masters: God and money (Matt. 6:24). 

When it’s so easy to fall into idolatry, who then can be saved? Jesus reassures us that “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” If you find yourself in a place of idolatry – putting good things in the place of the ultimate thing, turn back to God. He is the one with whom all things are possible. 

~ Cayce Fletcher

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 19 & Mark 10.

Tomorrow, we will read Matthew 20-21.

Jesus and John the Baptist, a New Beginning

John 1 and Luke 1

The first chapters in the Gospels all describe a new beginning. There had been some 400 years of silence, prophetically speaking, since the days of Malachi the last prophet of the Old Testament. The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has continuity with Old Testament sacred history (compare for instance Malachi 4:5-6 with Luke 1:17). Indeed, the Gospels claim that this new beginning is a fulfillment of Old Testament hopes (Matt. 5:17). All the Gospels culminate with the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah from the dead, who is the ultimate new beginning, the first born of God’s new creation (cf. Col. 1:15, 18; Rev. 1:5).

A main emphasis in the early chapters of all of the Gospels is the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptizer.

Luke described the amazing births of both John the Baptizer and Jesus.

Matthew described the birth of Jesus, and then skipped to the adult ministry of John the Baptizer.

Mark and John do not describe either birth, but start their Gospels with the adult ministries of John the Baptizer and Jesus.

Why would the relationship between the two men, John the Baptizer and Jesus, be such an important issue? Because John the Baptizer was a very significant individual at the time. Many Jews in 1st century Israel believed John to be a prophet sent by God (John 1:6, Matt. 21:6 “all held John to be a prophet”).  We know from the Gospels and also from the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus Flavius that John the Baptizer had thousands, probably tens of thousands of followers (see here for Josephus’ description of John). Some people thought John the Baptizer might even be the Messiah (John 1:20). The Gospels clarify John the Baptizer’s role and make it clear that Jesus is the Messiah, of higher rank than John the Baptist.

John’s Gospel’s specifically introduces the ministry of John the Baptizer already with three verses in 1:6-8, and then again in 1:15 and 1:19-35 (cf. 3:25-30). The appearance of John the Baptizer so early in John’s Gospel, the sixth verse of the Gospel, is evidence that “the beginning” of John 1:1, and all of these verses at the beginning of John’s Gospel refer not to the Genesis creation but to the same beginning that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke describe, “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1, cf. Luke 1:1-2, Matt. 1:1, John 8:25, 16:4).

In other words, John the Baptizer is so quickly and prominently introduced at the beginning of all the Gospels, including John’s Gospel because the Baptizer has a key role in this new beginning. The Baptizer’s key role was to bear witness to the coming of the Messiah: “After me comes a man who ranks above me…behold the lamb of God…this one is the Son of God” (John 1:15, 29, 34).

One other aspect of the new beginning that the Gospel of Jesus Christ inaugurates was declared by Mary the mother of Jesus when she visited Elizabeth the mother of John. The coming of the Christ was to initiate a “reversal of fortune”. In language that echoes the prayer of Hannah (the first person in the Bible to mention the coming of God’s king messiah, 1 Sam. 2:10), Mary knew that the new beginning would turn the world upside down (Luke 1:47-56). Those of low estate would be exalted, the proud would be scattered, and the mighty brought down from their thrones. As Jesus promised, “the meek will inherit the earth”.

-Bill Schlegel

Bill Schlegel is the author of the Satellite Bible Atlas and general editor of the One God Report podcast.

Jordan River near Jericho

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Luke 1 and John 1:1-14

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 1 and Luke 2:1-38 as we continue seeking God, growing our faith and increasing our love. Come follow along and see what God as in store for you!

The Good News Gospels

john 20 31

Throughout the Old Testament we read of God’s work with His people.  The ups, and the downs.  His plan through the ages.  And through it all – there were prophecies, predictions and foreshadowing of what was coming – a Savior who would take upon himself the sins of all men and make a way for mankind to be reconciled (brought back together) with God.  Some have counted over 350 Old Testament prophecies of Jesus that are fulfilled in the New Testament, everything from: born in Bethlehem, came out of Egypt, praised while riding on a donkey, performed miraculous healings , not a bone of his body broken, etc…. Jesus fulfills everyone.  He is God’s plan that began in Genesis, or actually before the creation of the world.  And, we have not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 accounts of his life, ministry, teachings, death, and resurrection in the Old Testament – they are the gospels.  And here’s a little bit about each one:

 

MATTHEW – Old Testament Prophecy Fulfilled in Jesus

Matthew is an excellent link between the Old and New Testaments because Matthew is writing particularly to the Jews to convince them that Jesus is the promised Messiah from God, the same Messiah that the Old Testament prophets had said would come.  Matthew, who knew his OT well, included 53 direct quotes and 76 other references to the Old Testament. Matthew, originally a tax collector, left his work to follow Jesus’ call.  He became one of Jesus’ 12 Disciples who were Jesus’ closest students and followers.  His new life mission was to persuade the Jews that the Savior they had been waiting for had arrived and his name is Jesus.  This book is an excellent introduction to Jesus!  Here we read of Jesus’ geneology, his birth, the visit from the Magi, his baptism and temptation, the calling of the disciples, and the great Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7).  Many more teachings (often about his favorite topic – the coming Kingdom of God) and miracles are included.  Then Jesus is put to death so we can be forgiven, and then miraculously resurrected 3 days later.  In the final verses the resurrected Jesus tells his disciples to go into the world and make disciples.  And that is just what Matthew did when he wrote about the man who changed his life.

 

MARK – To the Gentiles: A Suffering Servant Has Come

This is the shortest of the 4 gospel books, packed with action, and perhaps written first.  The author, perhaps called John Mark, was not one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, but was likely a close associate of Peter.  It is thought that Mark listened to all of Peter’s preaching about Jesus and carefully recorded them in what would become the book of Mark.  Mark would also accompany Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey.  This book was written to a Gentile (non-Jewish) audience – perhaps specifically the church in Rome, at a time (60 AD) when powerful Rome was persecuting Christian believers.  It was important that the church be strong in their understanding of who Jesus was and what he did.  In the book of Mark we read of Jesus healing the sick, controlling nature and battling the powers of Satan.  And yet, the Jewish leaders plot to kill him (and do), his neighbors don’t understand him and his family thinks he is crazy.  Jesus is the Ultimate Suffering Servant – with his life – and his death.  Mark is perhaps preparing the church for a little suffering of their own.

 

LUKE – Jesus is Savior of ALL – Jew and Gentile

The author, Luke, was likely a Gentile by birth, and a well-educated doctor.  He also was known as the missionary Paul’s dear friend and fellow missionary.  His introduction states: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may now the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (1:1-4).  Luke was writing to not only tell of Jesus, to strengthen the believers’ faith, but also to assure people that Jesus had come to save the lost – both Jew and Gentile.  He is the only gospel writer to include several parables (one of Jesus’ favorite ways to teach using earthly stories with earthly meanings) including: the Good Samaritan, and the Prodigal Son.

 

JOHN – Jesus is the Son of God who Saves

The author is likely John, the son of Zebedee, the brother of James, and the one sometimes called, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  John and James had left the family fishing business when Jesus called them to follow him.  They would become 2 of the 12 disciples.  This gospel is the most unlike the other 3 gospels.  Over 90% of John is not found in the other gospels.  John does not include any of Jesus’ parables, or his birth or temptation or ascension.  Instead, he emphasizes who Jesus was – the Son of God.  He includes only 8 miracles, 6 of which are not recorded elsewhere (including water to wine and the raising of Lazarus).  John includes many of Jesus’ “I Am” statements explaining Jesus and his mission.  “I am the good shepherd” (10:11).  “I am the bread of life” (6:35).  “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (14:6).  And John is the only author to include the Upper Room Discourse (chapters 14-17) which was Jesus’ last teaching to his 12, as well as his prayers for himself, his disciples and all believers who would follow – including you.

 

 

How many people today think they know who Jesus was – but haven’t read the gospel accounts?  Read them to see God’s plan in action.  See for yourself Jesus’ love and compassion for the lost, as well as his insistence for a changed life (go and sin no more – John 8:11).  See his love for His Father and his commitment to God’s Word and His Will.  See his excitement and teaching about the Kingdom of God and who will be a part of it.  To properly carry on your mission from God – you MUST be in tune with what Jesus’ mission was.  Find it – in the gospels – and you too can share in God’s good news – for yourself and for your hearers.

 

Seek His Mission,

Marcia Railton

 

Come back tomorrow – we will have just one book to cover as we see the history of the early church.  What will they do when Jesus is no longer in their physical midst?

Searching for Jesus

Mark 16:1-8 (Friday)

Mark 16-6

On the Sunday after Jesus was crucified, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James & Salome went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body.  They went first thing, right as the sun was rising (as early as they could and still respect the Sabbath).  When they reach the tomb, they find the stone rolled away and a young man in white telling them Jesus was raised from the dead and was no longer here.  He tells them go and tell Jesus’s disciples and Peter that “He is going ahead of you to Galilee to meet you there.”  So the two women fled from the tomb in astonishment and trembling, saying nothing.

And that is how the oldest versions of Mark end.  That’s it.  All the rest of chapter 16 (verses 9 – 20) were added afterwards.  No appearances of the risen Jesus.  No commission to the world.  No ascending up to heaven.  Just an empty tomb and silence.

What in the world is Mark doing?!  If this were a movie, it would easily be one of the worst movie endings of all time.  And that includes some pretty unsatisfying movie endings (Inception, X-Men 3, Matrix Reloaded…).  BUT, as we’ve seen, Mark isn’t a crummy writer.  Remember his artful use of “stay alert” and his plot timings in the Temple?  Mark knew how to craft a remarkable story and to tell it with purpose.  I believe that Mark was up to something here that makes me like this older ending more than the extended one (it’s like the original vs the extended edition).  Here’s my take on Mark’s original ending.

First, we – as the reader/audience – are in the know.  From the very beginning we know that Jesus has been raised and that the church emerged as his followers continued his work.  So we know what happened.  Because we know that the church exists and that the disciples continued the work, we know that Mary & Mary weren’t silent forever.  The word spread and the gospel message grew.  I think that Mark is using our knowledge of this as a way to emphasize the irony of this moment and as a challenge for the audience to do what they know wasn’t done: DON’T BE SILENT!  Spread the good news!  From the first verses, Mark is preparing us to speak out; to be the voice in the wilderness shouting out.  We are meant to take the message forth to take up the responsibility we know we have but that is left unfulfilled in the text.

Second, the audience is meant to experience the suffering and despair of the crucifixion – not just for Jesus but for his followers as well.  Mark leaves us unsatisfied as a tool for helping us step into the shoes of those who were living this out in real time.  We experience the uncertainty and trepidation that comes with uncertainty.  BUT we still must move in light of that uncertainty.  Which then becomes faith.  Faith is belief in things unseen.  In Mark’s gospel, that faith is put into the text literally with the absence of the risen Christ.  If Mark wasn’t written until the disciples and witnesses of Jesus were all dying, then it was for an audience that would have never seen Jesus face to face.  Their faith isn’t based on some encounter with a man but an encounter with his love in the community he started.  Mark’s original ending helps us feel the void of uncertainty (what happens in our lives all the time) but also move us to a faith that is open to uncertainty and still demands that we act anyways.

Finally, I think that Mark is leaving the story in our hands.  The man in the tomb says, “Jesus is going ahead of you; there you will see him.”  Jesus isn’t in heaven in this story.  Jesus is out there – in the world.  Waiting for us.  We have to go find him.  We have to search for him.  We have to take this story and find Jesus in the love and grace and truth of a community that is searching together in the world.  This is my favorite idea in Mark; that this ending calls us to go forth and live a life for Christ so that we might find him.  But where can we find Christ?  We’ll find him in the orphan we adopt, the prisoner we visit, the poor we protect, the immigrant we give refuge, the sick we heal, the hungry we feed, and the oppressed we redeem.  I know that Jesus is in heaven now, and I can’t see heaven.  But I can see the Kingdom of God – the good news he came to spread – break into this world bit by bit when I live out the life I was created to live.  Jesus is out there, waiting for us to come and serve and find him.

Now Mark says, what are you going to do?  Will you remain here, quiet?  Or will you go and be a part of the work God is doing?

-Graysen Pack

Graysen’s Favorite Gospel

Mark 1-1

 

Hey everyone!  I’m excited to be back 😀  Bethany helped us move this past week from the Old Testament into the New Testament with the gospel of Mark (thanks Bethany!).  This week, we’ll be exploring the second half of the gospel of Mark and see some of the themes that Mark has been setting up come to their close.

Before we get into looking at the text itself, here’s just a bit about Mark that will be helpful for us as we read.

First, Mark is the oldest of the gospels and it sets the stage for the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke).  As the church grew in the years after Jesus’ resurrection, there wasn’t any need to write down stories about his life – the people who were there and saw it were still alive and present.  It was only around the end of the first century CE that people who were followers of Jesus began to write down what they knew about his life and teachings.  Why?  Because all the witnesses were dying!  They needed to keep a more permanent record of Jesus’s words that didn’t rely on having witnesses of the events nearby.  That first written story came to be known as the Gospel of Mark.  The writers of the Gospel of Luke and Matthew would later use Mark as the skeleton for their gospels.

It’s because of this that the gospel of Mark is my favorite of the gospels.  It’s the pre-cursor and contains the most concise collected narrative of Jesus’ life and teachings.  And – the end is just great (but we’ll get there soon enough)!

So, I hope that you’ll join me as we explore what one of the earliest authors of the life of Jesus had to say about “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)

-Graysen Pack