Christianity 201

January 11, 2018

Jesus. An Ordinary Person?

by Clarke Dixon

Who is Jesus? This question is the most important question we could ever face. It is a much more significant question than; “Do you like organized religion? Do you like Christianity? Do you like church and find it relevant?”

Many suggestions are put forward, but they fall into only three categories:

  1. Jesus is fictional. He is a figment of someone’s imagination.
  2. Jesus was an ordinary person. He became extraordinary in people’s minds sometime after his death.
  3. Jesus is no ordinary person. In Christian thinking, he was, is, and always will be extraordinary, being God incarnate.

Out of these three options, this question is really only a choice between two of them. If you think that Jesus is pure fiction, then most of history, and especially all of ancient history must be seen as pure fiction also. People who really want Jesus to go away may be comfortable with that, but most historians are not. If you are being consistent in matters of history, there is really only one question: Is Jesus an ordinary person, or an extraordinary person?

The first chapter of Mark will help us know how Mark, at least, would answer that. Consider:

  • In the very first verse Jesus is no ordinary person, but is the Messiah (Christ) plus the Son of God:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark 1:1

  • In verses 2 and 3, the prophecies quoted refer to the coming, not just of a prophet, or king, but of God Himself. These are understood to be pointing to Jesus:

2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’ ” Mark 1:2-3

  • In verse 7, John the baptizer knows he is not worthy of Jesus, stating that he is not even worthy to do the task of a slave. Jesus is on another level entirely:

He proclaimed, The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” Mark 1:7

  • Continuing on with John the baptizer, in verse 8 we need to ask who can baptize with the Holy Spirit except God Himself?

I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:8

  • In verse 11 Jesus is referred to with a title that would only previously be applied to the king of Israel, or the nation as a whole. We are to understand that Jesus is king, and in some way representative of all Israel. Also, where the kings and and the nation were prone to failure, Jesus gets it right:

And a voice came from heaven, You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11

  • In verse 13 when Jesus is tempted in the wilderness for 40 days we are to think of the 40 years God’s people spent in the wilderness before entering the promised Land. They spent that long in the wilderness because, unlike Jesus, they fell to temptation and sinned:

He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Mark 1:13

  • In verse 18 Jesus is the one who is worth immediately leaving everything to follow:

17 And Jesus said to them,Follow me and I will make you fish for people.18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. Mark 1:17-18

  • In verses 21 and 22 the teaching of Jesus was extraordinary:

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Mark 1:21-22

  • In verse 24 Jesus is identified by an unclean spirit as “the Holy One of God”.  The spirit knows that Jesus is extraordinary and has power over evil:

23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out,What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” Mark 1:23-24

  • In verses 25 and 26 the spirit is under Jesus’ authority:

25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, Be silent, and come out of him!26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. Mark 1:25-26

  • In verse 27 the people recognize that not only does Jesus teach with authority, his word has authority. This reminds us of Someone else Who spoke with authority and had extraordinary results (see Genesis 1):

They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another,What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” Mark 1:27

  • In verses 40 and following the compassion of Jesus is extraordinary. Notice how Jesus touches the leper before healing him. Something no ordinary person would do!

40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him,If you choose, you can make me clean.41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him,I do choose. Be made clean!” Mark 1:40-41

Is Jesus an ordinary person or an extraordinary person? Mark certainly knows him to be extraordinary!

Mark was not one of the 12 disciples, so we might ask how would he know? As a Christian I can point to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but I wouldn’t expect a non-Christian to be convinced by that. However, we can appeal to history. Mark was known to be a close companion of Peter and to have written down the Gospel based on Peter’s testimony and preaching. Peter, of course, knew Jesus very well. Mark’s interest in Jesus may have been stirred prior to Jesus’ crucifixion as some scholars think that he may be the young man who fled naked at the arrest of Jesus in Mark chapter 14. Further, in the process of settling on which books were authoritative for the Church, the early Christians only considered writings that were known to be closely associated with eyewitnesses, the apostles. Mark wrote his Gospel account while eyewitnesses were still alive, so his facts could be checked. All the New Testament documents, dating from closer to the events than make grand fictions possible, say the same thing as Mark chapter 1. Jesus is no ordinary person.

The eyewitnesses to Jesus were all saying the same things: The teaching of Jesus was extraordinary, the miracles of Jesus were extraordinary, and the resurrection of Jesus was extraordinary. Also, the fulfillment of the promises, given to the people who have a long testimony of God’s involvement with them, is extraordinary. We have the advantage that 2,000 years later, we can say that the legacy of Jesus has been extraordinary. The positive impact of Jesus, on individuals and society alike, has been profound! To summarize, Jesus was no ordinary man, but is extraordinary. That God loves us enough to do what He has done for us in Jesus is extraordinary!

At the centre of Mark chapter one is this:

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying,The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:14-15

Such an extraordinary person, such extraordinary love, demands a life that is anything but ordinary.

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)


Visit Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

June 1, 2017

Investigating Jesus: Attention to Detail

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God ~ Mark 1:1a

by Clarke Dixon

The Gospel of Mark was not written by an apostle, by someone who was actually there for the events described. Why wouldn’t God have directed someone like Peter, who was there, to write a Gospel instead? Can we trust that Mark is preserving eyewitness testimony about Jesus when he was not an eyewitness himself?

Early Christian writers tell us that Mark’s Gospel basically was Peter’s eyewitness testimony. We have been investigating the evidence for Jesus following the lead of cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace, and his book Cold-Case Christianity. To summarize Wallace’s findings on what was said about the Gospel of Mark:

  • Papias (70-163), the bishop of Hierapolis said “Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not indeed in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ.”
  • Irenaeus (115-202) said “Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.”
  • Justin Martyr (103-165) referred to the Gospel of Mark as an early “memoir” of Peter.
  • And finally, Clement of Alexandria (150-215) said that those who heard Peter preach “were not satisfied with merely a single hearing or with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, who was a follower of Peter and whose Gospel is extant, to leave behind with them in writing a record of the teaching passed on to them orally.”

But why should we trust these early Christian writers? Is there any way to verify that what they say about Mark and Peter is true? J. Warner Wallace encourages us to pay attention to detail, or as the title of chapter 5 has it, “Hang on Every Word.” Wallace gives an example of a case where an ex-boyfriend said of a victim, “I was sorry to see her dead.” Though this may have been his normal way of expressing himself, it led the investigators to put some focus on him as a suspect. Eventually enough evidence was found to convict him of the murder. The words we use are important. To quote Wallace:

. . . all of us choose the words we use, and we’ve got lots of words to choose from. Our words eventually give us away. (J Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity)

As an atheist Wallace began paying attention to detail in the Gospels:

I had been interviewing and studying suspect and eyewitness statements for many years before I opened my first Bible. I approached the Gospels like I would any other forensic statement. Every little idiosyncrasy stood out for me. Every word was important. The small details interested me and forced me to dig deeper. (J Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity)

So what did Wallace find? We are only scratching the surface here and you may prefer to get the greater detail found in  Cold-Case Christianity. But by way of summary, Wallace points out the following:

  1. Peter is a major character in Mark’s gospel: Mark refers to him 26 times in a much shorter account than Matthew who only mentions him 3 extra times. He is the first and last to be mentioned.
  2. Mark writes about Peter as a friend, as someone with whom he was familiar. For example, only Mark never refers to Peter with the more formal “Simon Peter”.
  3. Mark treats Peter kindly, gives him respect. Mark does not include Peter’s failure when Jesus walked on water. Where other Gospels speak of Peter saying something foolish, in Mark, it is always just “one of the disciples”. Mark gives the least embarrassing account of Peter.
  4. Mark shares little things only Peter would know. Mark alone shares many additional and “seemingly unimportant details”, like when Peter was the one who said or did something whereas the other Gospels just refer to some of the disciples in general.
  5. Mark seems to know a lot about Peter’s preaching. It is interesting to compare Mark to Peter’s preaching in Acts 2 and 10 which feel like outlines for the book of Mark.

When paying attention to detail Wallace discovered that the Gospel of Mark points to the validity of what ancient Christian leaders said; Mark preserves for us the eyewitness testimony of Peter.

We can note also that later “gospels” written in the second century to promote gnostic thinking were always clearly attributed directly to apostles. The writers knew their fabrications would carry no weight if the name of an apostle was not attached. Contrast this to the Gospel of Mark where the early church preserved the knowledge of Mark’s authorship even though he himself was not an apostle. This speaks to the genuine nature of Mark’s Gospel which was written during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses.

Now that we are into our sixth week of investigating the evidence, you may be asking at this point; “Why do we need to provide evidence for such things? Why this whole sermon series?” Here are four reasons:

  1. Commandment. In 1st Peter 3:15 we are instructed to “always be ready to give the reason for the hope that you have.” We are learning from Wallace that we have good evidential reasons to continue growing in our hope even when objections are raised.
  2. Confidence. When people insinuate or state that “Christians are naive and stupid” we can have confidence that to trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour is neither naive, nor stupid, but reasonable. We may not count ourselves among them, but there are brilliant thinkers, experts in many different fields of study, who are followers of Jesus.
  3. Correction. If we as Canadians travel to another nation and someone asks how we like living in igloos, we would naturally correct them. How much more should we be correcting false ideas about Jesus!
  4. Call to Repentance. There are many methods of evangelism, and God uses many different means of drawing people to Himself including wonder, tragedy, testimony, Scripture, preaching, and even dreams. God also uses the investigation of the evidence!

Track Clarke’s articles on the current series on Cold Case Christianity at ClarkeDixon.wordpress.com

September 15, 2016

You Don’t Have to Tell Everyone, Just Tell Us

Today we’re looking at a few verses in Mark 13.

Matthew 13:1 NIV As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Last night I watched a most informative sermon on John 3 from Dr. Gary Burge, professor at Wheaton College who teaches at Wheaton College, given on a Wedneday night at Willow Creek. You can watch the sermon at this link.

One of the things he spoke about was how the coming of Jesus replaces the things that have existed as central to Judaism with new things. Burge says that “Jesus is abundantly replacing the things he encounters in his world.”

  • In his first miracle, Jesus takes the ceremonial water for washing and replaces it with wine.
  • In his encounter with Nicodemus (the subject of Burge’s message) Jesus reminds him that “you are Israel’s teacher and yet you don’t know these things;” (Jn. 3:10) and Jesus himself replaces him as Israel’s teacher.
  • In the text above we’re told that the temple itself will be replaced with something new, the temple of his body which will die and be raised within three days.

Continuing in the chapter,

Mark 13:3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

jesus-core-group-peter-james-and-johnThis question sets the stage for the rest of the chapter, but the thing that struck me as I was reading it in The Voice Bible was a bit peripheral, but still worth noting. There’s a sense in which they are saying, ‘Just tell us — just the four of us — what the signs will be.’ As a group of people taken aside, they felt entitled to some insider information. Who would not be eager to be the chosen of the chosen?

But it’s also worth noting the inclusion of Andrew. We tend to think of the inner circle as consisting of a type of triumvirate consisting of Peter, James and John. In a natural sense, we can see Andrew’s inclusion here, after all, James and John were brothers and so were Peter and Andrew. Two sets of brothers. But usually (see Mark 5:37 and The Transfiguration in Matthew 17) Andrew isn’t part of this select group. So what we see here with Jesus is flexibility in choosing who is part of the core group at any given time. There’s a leadership lesson here, that some other people can be brought to the table as occasion arises; the group is not tightly closed.

Mark 5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

“You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

I find verse 11 somewhat paradoxical in light of other New Testament instructions such as,

I Peter 3:15b …Always be ready to offer a defense, humbly and respectfully, when someone asks why you live in hope.

There is a balance to be struck between Holy Spirit leading and proper preparation. Having been in this situation many times in my contacts with seekers and non-believers, I can honestly say there are times when, even though I feel I can offer textbook-precise answers, I have to pause and ask God to speak through me.

As to the dominant theme of these verses, I think it’s interesting that all three synoptic gospel writes include something to the effect “these things must happen.”

Luke 21:9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

Matthew 24:6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Mark 13:7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Personally, I subscribe to what I call ‘The Domino Theory.’ When people say, “Jesus could come today;” I believe that’s true in the sense that Jesus might call me home today. (In other words, he might come for me.) The imperative of the gospel is ‘Choose today whom you will serve;’ (Joshua 24:15) and ‘Look: Now is the right time, today is the day for salvation.’ (2 Corinthians 6:2; in The Message: “Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped.”)

As important as this is, it remains true that there are certain prophetic markers which must occur first. This is where the dominoes kick in. I believe that those markers could be staked like dominoes and fall together in rapid succession. So yes, “the end is till to come;” but don’t kick back and relax because of that. A wise person will not wait for the dominoes to start falling, but will be observant of the stacking of the dominoes.

So we jump to the end of the chapter and see Jesus saying,

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.

Our desire should be the deepest intimacy with Jesus that was enjoyed by Peter, James and John (and Andrew), but if our goal in that is simply knowledge, we need to know that Jesus might not grant us insider information, because some things are not for us to know.


Read the full chapter of Mark 13 at Bible Gateway

 

 

February 17, 2016

Who is Jesus?

The Gospel of Mark and the Essential Question

•••by Clarke Dixon

(click the above title to read at source)

Who is Jesus? Your answer to that has huge implications for how you will live your life, and all the decisions, both big and little, you make along the way. It will also have an effect on what comes next after this life, but more on that later. For now as we dig into the Gospels of the New Testament we want to recognize the central question of the gospel of Mark. Who is Jesus? This question of identity is fundamental to Mark’s Gospel. In a Facebook challenge last year I was asked to list my favorite scriptures over the space of ten days. On one day I listed the entire Gospel of Mark as a favorite scripture passage, for while we tend to read the Bible in small chunks, the whole of Mark belongs together. It is the shortest of the Gospels and as such gives us “the Essential Jesus.”

The Essential JesusBut how does Mark even know who Jesus is? Why should we listen? The Christian believers among us will appeal to his writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But there are reasons even the unbeliever should pay attention to what Mark has to say. From the writings of early church fathers we have good reason to recognize Mark as John Mark mentioned in the New Testament, and as a companion to Peter the disciple. Mark is said to have brought together his Gospel based on the preaching of Peter. Therefore what we have in Mark is not something cooked up a century after the facts, but an account based on eyewitness testimony. So the question is therefore not even, “who is Jesus according to Mark,” it is “who is Jesus according to people who were there and knew him?”

So who is Jesus according to the eyewitnesses? What are the earliest conclusions drawn about the identity of Jesus? Let’s look and see some examples of how the Gospel of Mark spells this out:

1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’” (Mark 1:1-3)

Straight off we are made aware of Jesus being the Son of God, but even more profound is the reference to a prophecy from Isaiah 40:3. John the Baptist in just a few verses says “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” (Mark 1:7) The inference from Isaiah 40 is that Jesus is not merely a prophet, nor merely even the Messiah, but rather God Himself. Isaiah 40:3 explicitly refers to God by name. Furthermore, who can baptize with the Holy Spirit but God Himself? “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8)

Next is a voice at the baptism of Jesus: “And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

Next is an unclean Spirit: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24)

Next is the questioning of the religious leaders: “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone” (Mark 2:7) And then a miracle by Jesus to show that he can back up his authority to forgive with authority to heal.

Next are the reports of what people are concluding about Jesus:

When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons. (Mark 3:21-22)

Next is the questioning of the disciples at the stilling of a storm: “And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”(Mark 4:41 NRSV)

Next is the confession of a man possessed by a legion of demons: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” (Mark 5:7 NRSV)

By now I am sure you are getting the point of how Mark time and again brings us back to consider the identity of Jesus. Next up is an important confession right in the middle of the Gospel:

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. (Mark 8:27-30)

There are other examples from the following chapters but let us skip forward to what happens following Jesus’ arrest:

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
62 Jesus said, “I am; and
‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power,’
and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven. ’”
63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 64 You have heard his blasphemy
(Mark 14:61-64 NRSV)

Here Jesus is speaking of his own identity and is pointing to himself as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel 7 where the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of God’s Messiah who will reign forever.

And finally, we have the identity of Jesus spoken of by the Roman centurion: “Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’” (Mark 15:39) The fact should not be lost on us that the centurion stood for the authority of Rome and that he ultimately took his orders from the emperor. But here he witnesses the death of One greater than the emperor.

So why does it all matter? Why does Mark have us wrestle with the question “who is Jesus?” Let us go back to the beginning: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1) Jesus was good news to all who met him. You could see that among those who experienced the wisdom of his teaching, and of course the benefits of his miracles. But that good news points us to an even Better News. Early in the book Mark gives us a summary statement of what Jesus was doing:

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:14-15)

While being healed is good news, being offered a vital connection with God is Good News. God has come to us, which normally should be a terrifying event for sinners like us. But instead of coming to condemn, He has come to forgive and offer salvation. The Kingdom is coming and the Good News is that though we deserve to be rounded up as enemies of the Kingdom, we are welcome instead to be a part of it. Repentance is the way of accepting this offer.

Having considered the first verse, let us now look to the last. According to most Bible scholars Mark has an unusual ending at Mark 16:8 where we find the response of the women to the empty tomb: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8 NRSV) Yes, there are other verses following this one in most Bibles, but if you follow the footnotes you will see that they are probably added later. Many a snake handler in certain churches would have been been wise to check the footnotes and have some respect for Biblical scholarship.

So why does Mark end his account with fear? Actually it is better to say that he does not end his account at all, but rather leaves the ending quite open. Will the women be filled with terror so that they will never speak up about Jesus? Or will they recognize that the death and resurrection is evidence of really good news? The point is, once you grasp the identity of Jesus, and the gravity of that identification, then it is up to you whether the Gospel ends with fear or rejoicing. If Jesus were to return tonight would that be good news to you? Your answer to that will depend on your response to Mark’s question: “who is Jesus?”

September 22, 2014

Peter’s Sensory Overload at the Transfiguration

(Mark 9, HCSB) 

The Transfiguration

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up on a high mountain by themselves to be alone. He was transformed in front of them, and His clothes became dazzling—extremely white as no launderer on earth could whiten them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good for us to be here! Let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”— because he did not know what he should say, since they were terrified.

A cloud appeared, overshadowing them, and a voice came from the cloud:

This is My beloved Son;
listen to Him!

Then suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus alone.

As they were coming down from the mountain, He ordered them to tell no one what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept this word to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

11 Then they began to question Him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”

12 “Elijah does come first and restores everything,” He replied. “How then is it written about the Son of Man that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah really has come, and they did whatever they pleased to him, just as it is written about him.”

I’m currently most of the way through Michael Card’s 2012 book on the gospel of Mark titled Mark: The Gospel of Passion (InterVarsity Press). The series of four books on each gospel is called Biblical Imagination, and he certainly brings that gift to this look at the transfiguration of Jesus in Mark chapter 9.


 

Of all Peter experienced with Jesus, the transfiguration is the only event he refers to in his writings.  He understood that he had witnessed a picture of the coming kingdom:

For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, a voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory:

This is My beloved Son.
I take delight in Him!

And we heard this voice when it came from heaven while we were with Him on the holy mountain.  (2 Pet 1:17-18)

It is absolutely vital to understand that the transfiguration took place after Peter’s confession.  It was not proof of Jesus identity.  Petr and the others had begun to grasp the truth the only way it can be grasped:  by faith.

After the four have made their way up the unidentified mountain, we are told with typical Markan abruptness that Jesus was “transfigured” (metamorphoo).  Paul uses the same word twice in his writings to describe the process by which the Holy Spirit works in us to transform and renew our minds (Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 3:18).  Strictly speaking, Jesus is not transformed but transfigured.  A veil is momentarily lifted and the three disciples see who Jesus has been all along.  It is a continuation of the progressive opening of their eyes.

Michael Card - Biblical Imagination Series - IVPPeter’s somewhat homespun description, that Jesus’ clothes appeared whiter than any launderer could wash them, appears only in Mark’s account.  With Jesus in the brilliant light appear Moses and Elijah, the only two prophets who ascended Sinai and met with God (Ex 19:1-3; 1 Kings 19:8-18 – Sinai is referred to as “Horeb” in the 1 Kings passage).  The two patriarchs represent the Law and the Prophets.  They represent all those who have suffered because of their obedience to the Father.  They represent the two categories of citizens of the kingdom of God:  those who die and those who will be taken up before they die.  Moses and Elijah are talking with Jesus.  Only Luke hints at the content of their conversation.  He says they are talking about Jesus’ death (Lk 9:31).

Only Peter speaks.  This account is his remembrance.  In order to best understand this moment, we must remember the context.  Mark says the disciples are terrified.  Panic is behind each of Peter’s confused words.  His statement is better understood as a question:  “Rabbi, is it good for us to be here?”  As far as Peter is concerned, it is not a good thing for him to be there.  If this radiance is the light of God’s glory, he thinks he is about to taste the death Jesus has spoken of in Mark 9:1 (see Ex 33:20).  Perhaps he thinks this is the final coming itself.

Engage with your imagination for a moment.  Here is an observant Jewish man facing Moses and Elijah, bathed in a radiant light that all his life he has been told will kill him.  Perhaps he is dying.  Perhaps the kingdom is breaking in at that very moment!  The parenthetical statement in Mark 9:6, that Peter did not know what to say, is a sure indication that what he does eventually say will be the wrong thing.

Peter asks if they might erect three “tabernacles” (Mk 9:5).  The Greek word, which appears in all three accounts of the transfiguration, is skene.  It simply means “tent” and is sometimes translated as “shelter.”  Might Peter in his moment of terror have been asking to build tents for the three luminous characters in order that he and his companions be “sheltered” from their potentially lethal light?  It does not make perfect sense, but Peter confesses that he might not have been making perfect sense at the moment.  The context is Sinai, terror, impending doom and radiant splendor.

Peter needn’t have worried about shelter.  At that moment God shelters them all with a cloud, and the same voice that echoed at Sinai speaks the words both Peter and Jesus need to hear.  The progressive opening of Peter’s eyes and ears leaps ahead light years as God’s voice identifies Jesus as his “beloved Son.”  Then God, perhaps as frustrated with the disciples as Jesus has been, urges, “Listen to him!” (Mk 9:7).

~Michael Card; Mark: The Gospel of Passion; pp 115-117; IVP Books

April 13, 2012

Potpourri

Sometimes you are in a place where no worship song, no Christian book, no preacher or not even a close friend or relative can help you. Aren’t you glad that there is a ‘very present help in time of need?’. There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother! His name is Jesus! His presence is the most satisfying thing on earth! One moment with Him can change your life forever!

Matthew Murray
(www.shakethenations.com)

via Living4Christ


I’m struck again by the strangeness of the ending of Mark’s gospel. No angels. No visitations. No Emmaus. No breakfast. Just silence .

And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid
Mark 16: 8

Jesus is alive – the best news ever! But Mark gives us no account of the risen Jesus, just the fear and silence of his followers. I know that there are alternative endings to Mark – at least two of them. But I’m certain that Mark intended to end in this strange way. And I’m glad he did – it’s a great comfort to me.

Though Jesus followers fail him even at the resurrection, still the gospel goes on. Despite the silence of those followers, the message gets out. Jesus is alive!

We sometimes talk as though the ’success’ of the gospel depends on us. If only we would follow this program, use that prayer scheme, read the Bible in such a way, worship in a particular style – then God would bless us and all would be well. But the message of Mark is that at best the followers of Jesus are only ever playing ‘catch up’ with him. If a tomb could not contain him, then the failure of his followers will not constrain him either.

I find that curiously reassuring.

Richard Hall at Connexions


This past Sunday morning – I received a text from a friend that included five of the most powerful and encouraging words ever.  The text said: “Praying for you this morning.”

I cannot tell you how that lifted my spirits and encouraged me to preach with even greater passion.  I know that many people are praying for me weekly, but this text was so encouraging because there’s nothing I need more than your prayer.

In fact, if you want your Pastor to study well, to prepare well and to preach well – you need to pray well for your Pastor.

~B. J. Rutledge, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Paradise, Texas


“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich” (II Cor. 8:9).

In the genius of the blessed Trinity, our cruel rejection of Jesus became the way of our adoption; our bitter abuse became the way of the Father’s embrace and the dwelling of the Holy Spirit. For how could our unfaithfulness and contempt and treachery, or the enslaving lie of the evil one, or death itself break the love and oneness and life of the blessed Trinity?  In dying at our hands, Jesus brought his life into our death, his relationship with his Father into our gnarled pathology, his anointing by the Holy Spirit into our twisted darkness. Out of his boundless love “he was dishonored that he might glorify us,” (Gregory Nazianzen, Orations, I.5.) “he endured our insolence that we might inherit immortality”(Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word of God, §54). Suffering our abuse to give us grace, he met our cruelty with his kindness, our rejection with his merciful acceptance, and our dead and despairing religion with his joy.  By accepting us at our very worst, by submitting himself to us in our great darkness, he entered into our world with his, thus transforming the shack of Adam’s horrid fall into the house of his Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit.

In a variation on St. Paul’s great statement we might say, “For you know the stunning grace of the Father’s Son: that though he was rich in the shared life of the blessed Trinity, yet for our sake he became poor, suffering our wrath to meet us, and that now through his suffering we who were so poor have been included in Jesus’ own rich relationship with his Father in the Spirit.”

~Baxter Kruger, The House of His Father

Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere.  An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives.  The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

October 29, 2011

Take, Eat

This article by Nicola Hulks appeared two days ago at The Underground

Two thousand years ago a man sat down with his friends and ate a meal.

It could be argued that no meal has echoed down the centuries quite like this one. That meal is the Last Supper and this moment is remembered by churches around the world by eating bread and wine in memory of the man who first did it, Jesus.

If you haven’t read the account of the Last Supper before, or would like a refresher, then you might like to turn to the gospel of Mark in the New Testament and have a read of chapter 14 verses 12 to 26.

Theories about the Last Supper, and how we should practice our remembrance of it in the church today, are widespread and numerous.

It seems there are as many opinions as there are grains of sand on the seashore! But perhaps there is more to draw from the accounts of the last supper than a simple set of rules of how we should or shouldn’t conduct our church services.

Picture the scene: The tension is rising in this group of 12 friends. Their leader, friend and spiritual teacher Jesus has been confronted by the authorities many times.

They are aware that Jerusalem is not a safe place for him to be yet he insists on going there to celebrate the Passover, an important festival in the Jewish calendar (see Exodus 12 for its origins).

Two of the disciples head into the city early to prepare a space for the celebratory meal, the others follow.

The meal starts off well. They sit back in their chairs, enjoy each others company and then suddenly the man who called this motley crew together changes the atmosphere. “One of you will betray me,” he says.

The reaction of these friends and disciples of Jesus is fascinating. They immediately ask the question ‘Is it me?’ I think this, and Jesus’ response, says something big about us and God.

The disciples loved Jesus, they had given up their homes and livelihoods to follow him and yet they still thought to themselves and said out loud, “Could it be me that betrays him?” I think we universally know this potential in ourselves.

Words slip out of our mouths that we wish hadn’t. We make wrong choices out of anger, sadness and disappointment. We wish we could take things back, daily sometimes.

But what is really interesting is Jesus’ response to this rag tag bunch, none of whom is confident that they are not his betrayer.

He picks up a loaf of bread and says ‘Take it, this is my body,” and a cup of wine saying “This is my blood which is poured out for many.”

Jesus sees their inability to be what even they want to be, to even know if it is they who would betray the one they love.

Later that evening he tells them they will be scattered like sheep when he is taken from them, a prediction that comes true alarmingly quickly after this cosy meal among friends.

And to Peter, one of his closest friends he says, “Tonight, you yourself will deny me three times.”

It is with this full knowledge that Jesus performs these powerful symbols of what is to come, his death within days on the cross–An act to unite people ever falling short with God who desires to give them a fresh start as many times as they need it.

This offering of bread and wine at the last supper is the gospel in a moment. In this act Jesus says, I know you fail, that you can’t even be sure of yourself, but here is the solution: “Take, eat – it is given for you.”

Sometimes Christian life can feel like you are ever striving. Striving for a perfection that even you know you cannot reach.

This story shows us that God knows full well our struggles and our inabilities. It is into this reality that he offers himself, going to die knowing that the closest people to him will run from him at the time he needs them most.

And to this he says, I have the answer. The answer is me.

~Nicola Hulks