Christianity 201

April 5, 2018

He is Risen! But Mark’s Ending is Strange Indeed

by Clarke Dixon

Mark has spent fifteen chapters telling us about Jesus, his life, his teaching, his miracles, his arrest and execution. If that were the end of the story we might consider it to be a great tragedy. But Mark goes on to tell us more:

1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 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 16:1-8 (NRSV)

The strange thing is, most Biblical Scholars agree that this is all Mark tells us about the resurrection. Everything from verses 9 and following are considered to have been added later and so Mark’s Gospel ends here. This might make us wonder how confident we can be that we have the original accounts about Jesus. Has the Bible been changed so that we can not have confidence in it?

Actually, differences in ancient copies increase our confidence that what we have is close to the original. We have no original manuscripts of any ancient document, yet scholars in Classics departments have  great confidence that they are working with accurate copies of Greek and Roman writers. The manuscript evidence for the New Testament documents is far better than any ancient writer. We have way more copies, they date closer to the time, and we have many translations plus quotes from ancient teachers that match up to the manuscripts. Despite the variations, the manuscript evidence gives us great confidence in the Scriptures. They also, along with changes in language and style of writing, help us say with confidence that verses 9 and following were not in Mark’s original account. Thankfully, handling venomous snakes never caught on in our Canadian Baptist churches anyway.

But if Mark’s account of Jesus ends with chapter 16, verse 8, what are we to make of the ending?

7 “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 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 16:7,8 (NRSV)

What are we to make of the lack of resolution? It ends with women frozen in fear and trembling rather than doing as the angel requested. Mark’s Gospel account seems to end on a note of failure. It is unresolved.

Perhaps the story of Jesus remains unresolved for you? You appreciate how Jesus is an inspiring figure in history, but when you hear that the tomb is empty and Jesus has been raised, well, you are not sure what to do with that. Many people have this experience of being unresolved in their thoughts about Jesus.

As we consider this lack of resolution, there are a few things for us to consider:

First, anyone who reads the Gospel of Mark knows that the story does not end with fearful women keeping the news of Jesus’ resurrection to themselves. Even without the other Gospel accounts of Matthew, Luke, and John, the fact that you can read Mark is evidence that the resurrection was not kept secret. It did not end in failure.

The original readers of Mark’s Gospel may have been acquainted with Peter or the other apostles, and would therefore know that people who seemed to fail in the pages of Mark’s account, are now on mission. They are now willing to be killed for their testimony that Jesus lives.

Even today, anyone reading Mark will generally be aware that the news of Jesus’ resurrection has spread far and wide. Christianity has stood the test of time, has weathered many storms, has attracted all kinds of people, and for those who do the research, has had an incredible and positive impact in the lives of individuals and upon societies alike. The silence and fear at the end of Mark’s Gospel account was not the end of the Gospel of Christ.

This is good news for us when we fail, when we have those moments where we seem to be stuck in silence and fear. God’s work will never be stuck, God will always deliver on His promises, even when we seem to get in the way.

But if you are unresolved in your thoughts about the resurrection of Jesus, then you need to know that your lack of resolution will not stop God from doing what God has said He will do. You may remain unresolved in your thoughts on what actually happened on that fist Easter morning, but God the Father remains resolved to rescue people through the death and resurrection of God the Son. You have the opportunity to respond. You have the opportunity to follow where the evidence leads.

Second, with Mark ending at 16:8 we can also note that the last words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel are,

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34 (NRSV)

The tragic death of Jesus takes centre stage in the Gospel of Mark. The resurrection of Jesus is not given near as much attention. But the resurrection of Jesus confirms that the death of Christ is effective. Without it, Mark’s Gospel would be a tragedy. But since Jesus has been raised, Mark’s Gospel is good news. There is forgiveness of sin. There is reconciliation with God. There is no resurrection Sunday without Good Friday and Good Friday is not Good without resurrection Sunday.

Finally, Mark’s Gospel ends abruptly because the story goes on. More important than finding out what the women do next now that they have discovered that Jesus is alive – what will you do next?


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (26 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

March 8, 2018

Signs of the End: Mark 13

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Should we expect the world to end soon? Are the signs that the end is near lining up? Some take Jesus’ words in Mark chapter 13 to refer to the end times and the signs to watch for. However, others think it has nothing to do with the end of the world and everything to do with the destruction of Jerusalem long ago in the first century. How are we to know? Let us dig into Mark 13 and see what we can learn:

1 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, . . .  Mark 13:1-5

Let us first consider that we have a statement, a question, an answer, and a fact.

  • First the statement: Jesus says the Temple will be destroyed.
  • Then the question: The disciples ask when the Temple will be destroyed.
  • Let us jump now to the fact: Forty years later the Temple indeed lay in ruins.

Given that Jesus tells the disciples the Temple will be destroyed, the disciple ask when, and the Temple is in fact destroyed within forty years, it is reasonable to expect that at least some of Jesus’ answer has something to do with that destruction of the Temple. But is Jesus only speaking about the destruction of the Temple? Let’s take a look and think about how it affects us today.

Verses 5-13 can be understood to refer to either the first century or to the end times. The followers of Jesus did experience persecution then, and have continued to experience persecution at various times and places ever since. But let us dig deeper into the rest of the chapter.

14 “But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 15 the one on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; 16 the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 17 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not be in winter. 19 For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days. 21 And if anyone says to you at that time, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘Look! There he is!’—do not believe it. 22 False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be alert; I have already told you everything. Mark 13:14-23

Ironically, in our day it is so easy for the reader to not understand what the “desolating sacrilege” refers to in verse 14. But in the first century, the typical Jew and Jewish Christian would have understood the reference to the book of Daniel as pointing to previous sieges against  Jerusalem by foreign armies. Jesus is teaching the disciples here to watch for signs of another siege. When it happens, do not fight, but flee. Some will point to verses 19 and 20 and declare that such intense suffering can only refer to the end times. However, Jesus is using the common literary device called “hyperbole” and Bible scholars point out that the Jewish historian refers to this same destruction of Jerusalem in a similar way. We should also point out that under a siege in the first century, many Jews would have been watching for a Messiah to rescue them from the enemy. Hence Jesus’ instruction to watch out for false Messiahs. By the time Jerusalem falls Jesus has already effected a much grander rescue.

24“But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. Mark 13:24-27

Some think these verses continue to refer to the destruction of the Temple in the first century. However, many many think this refers to the return of Jesus that we still await sometime “after” (verse24) the suffering of the destruction of Jerusalem. We ought not to get too caught up in expecting stars to literally fall. This is poetry here and just as we might call an event of great significance an “earth shaking event”, the stars falling and the powers shaking alert us to a very significant event. The destruction of the Temple in the first century was a significant event as it signalled a new era. However the return of Jesus will be even more significant, signalling the beginning of a new “age“.

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Mark 13:28-31

Those who understand all of Mark 13 as referring only to the end times tend to trip over verse 30 since that generation certainly has passed away and we are still waiting. However, there is no problem when we understand that Jesus is referring here to the destruction of the Temple. In fact while many translations tell us, like our NRSV here, that “he is near” in verse 29, the “he” is supplied and some translations go with “it is near”, that is, the destruction of the Temple. Jesus is now answering the original question of the disciples. Verse 29, “when you see these things” refers back to verse 14, “when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be”.  So to answer the question of the disciples, watch for the armies approaching (and run for the safety!).

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” 13:32-37

Here we have a contrast. The signs of the destruction of Jerusalem are clear, and you need to act on those signs. However “that day”, that is, the day of the Lord’s return as spoken of in verses 24-27, will come suddenly and without warning. There are no signs to watch for, one just needs to be always ready.

SO WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH US TODAY?

  1. Take to heart that Jesus was correct about the destruction of the temple. Mark, along with most of the NT was written prior to the destruction of the Temple. Jesus’ prophetic words of judgement against the Temple did come about. He is to be trusted.
  2. Take Jesus seriously. With regard to his return, there are no signs to watch for. We do well to keep this in mind when people try to sell us books about when we can expect Christ’s return. They don’t know.
  3. Look Forward with Hope and Anticipation. In verse 7 the Greek word telos is not just “end”, but “goal”. It really is not the end, but a milestone, and a new beginning. We can also think of the “birth pains” of verse 8. No one asks a pregnant woman “when does your pregnancy end?”. We ask when the baby is to be born. What begins is worthy of greater excitement than what will come to an end.
  4. Be ready. How do we get ready? We look to the One who gets us ready. Within a week of speaking of the destruction of the Temple and his Second Coming, Jesus gave his life for us on the cross. Are you ready?

Should we expect the end to come soon? No one knows but God alone, but we should be ready for Christ could arrive at any moment.



All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (26 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

March 1, 2018

Judging Jesus

by Clarke Dixon

Everyone makes some kind of judgement about Jesus. Either he didn’t exist or he did. Either he is just a man or he is also God incarnate. Either he only teaches helpful wisdom or he also teaches truth about himself. Either he is not worth the time of day or he is worth living and dying for. We all make judgements about Jesus.

In our sermon series we are now looking at the time following Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem which is a time of judgement. The religious leaders judge Jesus. Consider:

  • In 11:18 there is a desire to kill Jesus. Jesus is judged as being a troublemaker who should be deleted.
  • In 11:27-33 the religious leaders question Jesus’ authority. They have judged Jesus as being a fraud.
  • In 12:12 the religious leaders want to arrest Jesus. He is judged as being an enemy.
  • In 12:13-17 the religious leaders ask Jesus about taxes. This is a very political question which betrays their judgement of Jesus as being a traitor.
  • In 12:18-23 the Sadducees question Jesus about marriage. They have judged Jesus as being naive.

All the way through we see the religious leaders standing in a place of judgment against Jesus. However, look again; it is the religious leaders who stand in the place of being judged by Jesus. Consider:

  • In 11:11 when Jesus looks around, it is not, as one Bible scholar says “as a tourist”, but rather as a “quality inspector” ready to make a judgement.
  • In 11:12-14 and 20-25 Jesus enacts a parable with a cursed fig tree representing God’s judgement against Jerusalem.
  • In 11:15-17 Jesus makes a scene at the Temple pronouncing judgement against the status quo of worship.
  • In 12:1-11 Jesus judges the religious leaders in “The Parable of the Wicked Tenants “.
  • In 12:24 Jesus says to the Sadducees: ‘you are wrong. you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God’.
  • In 12:35-37 Jesus in effect says ‘you don’t know the Scriptures as well as you think!’
  • In 12:38-40 Jesus is explicit in his judgement of the scribes.
  • In 12:41-44 Jesus may as well have come out and said ‘the poor widow is a better Jew than you religious leaders’.
  • This all leads to chapter 13 where Jesus teaches on judgement becoming effective, just as it had done centuries before, through the destruction of the temple.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day did not stand in a position of judging Jesus. Rather they stood in the place of being judged by Jesus. Do we think that we are in a position to judge Jesus? Where does the evidence lead? While we don’t have the time to unpack that here, it is worth investigating and there are many resources available including this resource by a cold-case detective who knows how to follow evidence. For now, here is where the evidence leads: We, like the people of the first century, do not stand in a place of judging Jesus. We stand in a place of being judged by Jesus. Regarding this we have some bad news and some good news.

First the bad news: We stand in a place of being judged by Jesus because of our sin. We do not need to go to a checklist of rules to realize this. The greatest sins should naturally be the breaking of the greatest commandments. So let us go there:

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31 (NRSV)

My faith dropped from my head to my heart on the day a good friend died. I knew in my head that I was sinful and needed God’s grace, but being quite good at keeping rules, had trouble really “getting it”. But on the day of my friend’s death, I got it. Though he was a good friend, sadly I knew that I was not. On that day I read 1st Corinthians 13.

1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 (NRSV)

While you often hear this passage read as a celebration of love at weddings, on the day of my friend’s death day I read it as a passage of judgement on my lack of love. I did not love God or people appropriately. I needed forgiveness and grace. We don’t need a checklist of rules to know that we stand in a place of judgement. The Great Commandments are enough to convince us.

Now for the good news. While we stand in the place, not of judging Jesus, but of being judged by Jesus, when we stand at the foot of the cross we stand in a place of grace.

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Romans 8:31-34 (NRSV)

Through Jesus God Himself stands in the place of judgement upon us. Will God judge us? He has already given His Son for the forgiveness of our sin, so no. Will Jesus, who has the power to condemn us, do so? No, not when he already chose to die for us and is now alive, interceding for us. God is for us and not against us. Unless, of course, in our “better judgement” we want to have nothing to do with Him.


(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (38 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

February 22, 2018

Great Expectations

by Clarke Dixon

We are sometimes quite clear in what we want God to do for us. We have clear expectations of a long life, a great life. We expect to not suffer. We expect God to work in power on our behalf. We expect our team to win. We forge ahead with our lives and expect that God will bless our agendas.

Expectations lay at the heart of what is known as Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem. Before the Triumphal Entry there were certain expectations of Jesus. The sick could expect to be healed. The curious could expect great teaching. The religious leaders could expect Jesus to say or do something blasphemous. All theses expectations were based on what Jesus had being doing. But at this point, there are not the kind of expectations that come with being a Messiah. Yes, Peter confessed Jesus as being the Messiah in Mark chapter 8, but Jesus told the disciples to keep quite quiet about that. The public at large were generally not thinking that Jesus could be the Messiah, but some thought he might be “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” Mark 8:28.

However, all that would change at the Triumphal Entry. In entering Jerusalem the way he did, Jesus was in effect saying “I am the Messiah.” The timing was right, for it was Passover, the celebration of freedom. What better time for a Messiah to show up and bring freedom. But it was the way Jesus entered Jerusalem that really sent the message. Consider Zechariah 9:9:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9

This corresponds with how the Triumphal Entry happened.

People had great expectations of the Messiah, which of course now meant great expectations of Jesus. These expectations can be summed up by the question of the disciples in Acts 1:6: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”. People were expecting a free kingdom of Israel. They were expecting the Messiah to lead them to military and political victory taking them back to the glory days under King David. This meant freedom from Rome.

By the end of the week, things had changed. Jesus is a captive rather than captivating. He is beaten up. He is insulted and mocked yet puts on no show of force. If he were truly the Messiah, God could be expected to do something grand at some point. There is still a glimmer of hope, on the part of at least one man, that God would pull through and Jesus would be shown to be His Messiah:

At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” Mark 15:34-36

But by the end of the day there was no rescue, of either Jesus from the Roman cross, or Israel from Rome. There was no shock and awe, just a dead man. According to then current expectations, a dead Messiah was a failed messiah, which was no Messiah at all!

By dying Jesus failed to live up to the expectations aroused by His Triumphal Entry.

Or so it seemed.

As we look at how Jesus failed the expectations of the people, we will learn something that will help us when we think God has failed ours.

First, we can expect God to exceed our expectations. What Jesus accomplished through his death was actually something far greater than what the people expected. Here is what happens when Elijah is a no show and there is no rescue:

Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Mark 15:37-38

Elijah didn’t show up, but there was a rescue! Something remarkable did happen which is symbolized by the tearing of the temple curtain, a symbol of separation from God. In Jesus, God dealt with that separation. No one was expecting that! People were expecting the Messiah to be like King David, ensuring liberation from surrounding enemies. Jesus turned out to be King God, with liberation from the true enemies; sin and death, the things that separate us from God.

When it seems God fails to meet your expectations, trust God to actually exceed them.
We expect longer life, God offers eternal life. We expect God to work in power, He works in love and power. Expect God to exceed your expectations.

Secondly, our expectations need to match reality. The expectations of the people were not realistic in the first place. While they expected a military victory through the Messiah, they really ought to have expected judgement. This is why Jesus had a message of repentance from the beginning. This is why Jesus cursed the fig tree on the day following the Triumphal Entry, as an object lesson of judgement. When it seems God fails to meet your expectations, be sure your expectations are realistic.

Seven years ago I traded in a Triumph Sprint motorcycle with 123 horsepower for a Honda CBR125R which has 13. I remember taking such a Honda for a test ride and the parting words of the salesman: “Prepare to be underwhelmed”. If I were expecting the feeling of power, then yes, I would be disappointed. But what I expected was a frugal riding experience. My expectations matched reality and I was not disappointed. Do our expectations of God match reality? Do our expectations match His promises? Has God promised what we have been expecting?

Expect, not what you want, but what God promises. And expect God to exceed your expectations.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based.

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

 

February 15, 2018

Seeing Jesus: Time to Clean Our Glasses?

The effect of seeing Jesus clearly makes a dramatic difference and clears up partial misunderstandings or complete misunderstandings as to who he is and why he came.

by Clarke Dixon

Reading through the Gospel of Mark you may notice a reticence on the part of Jesus to fully reveal his identity. For example:

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 (emphasis added)

Peter gets it right, Jesus is the Messiah! But the disciples are to keep that fact to themselves. We also see the reticence of Jesus to reveal his identity at his “transfiguration” on the mountain. There Jesus’ identity is made even more clear:

2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. . . 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. Mark 9:2-4;7,8

Jesus here is confirmed as being more than just the promised Messiah. He is also in some way superior to the law, as represented by Moses, and the prophets, as represented by Elijah. You can imagine the excitement of Peter, James, and John who I’m sure couldn’t wait to tell the others about what they had just seen! But then . . .

9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Mark 9:9-10 (emphasis added)

Why the secrecy? Why didn’t Jesus just tell everyone who he really was on the first day of his ministry? The reason is quite straightforward. Jesus kept his identity quiet because partial understanding can lead to misunderstanding. People had a partial understanding of what to expect from the coming Messiah. Such a partial understanding of the Messiah could quickly turn into misunderstandings about Jesus.

It may have escaped our notice, but is surprising nonetheless, that “Messiah” was not at the top of the list for the identity of Jesus in the mind of the public. Let us read again:

27 [Jesus] 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.” Mark 8:27,28

While Peter gets it correct, “the Messiah” was not even on the list for people generally, never mind at the top. Why? Because in expecting the Messiah, the people were expecting something different than Jesus. They were expecting a focus on the Kingdom of Israel along with a message of doom for the Romans. Jesus was instead teaching about the Kingdom of God along with a message of repentance for Israel.

Even Peter, immediately following his confession of Jesus as the Messiah, displays this partial understanding:

Mark 8:31-33 (NRSV) 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Peter is thinking on human things, like the Kingdom of Israel and taking back the land from the Romans. A suffering then dead Messiah is not going to help with that! If Peter is going to misunderstand Jesus’ role as Messiah, everyone else is too.  Jesus immediately tells the people to “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow” (v.34) The Messiah was expected to tell them to “pick up the sword and follow”.  A cross meant death by Romans rather than death to Romans. What kind of Messiah would lead us toward our deaths?! Only following the resurrection of Jesus would it all start to make sense.

Since a partial understanding of the Messiah would lead to terrible misunderstandings about Jesus, he keeps quiet publicly about his identity until less than a week before his death.

So what does this have to do with us today? Most people you rub shoulders with know something about Jesus. However, it may be a partial understanding, which can lead to a misunderstanding. Let us consider a few examples:

Partial understanding: Jesus was a great teacher. True!
Misunderstanding: We should only go to Jesus for wisdom.
Full understanding: Jesus is also God the Son, the Saviour. We go to him not just for wisdom, but for salvation.

Partial understanding: Jesus was a prophet. True!
Misunderstanding: Jesus was just one prophet among many.
Full understanding: Jesus is also God the Son, unique in his teaching, his miracles, his claims. He is the only one who could reconcile us to God, and the only one who did.

Partial understanding: Jesus was a man. True!
Misunderstanding: Jesus was only a man.
Full understanding: Jesus is fully man, but also fully God.

Partial understanding: Through Jesus we are saved from hell, from separation from God. True!
Misunderstanding: Salvation from hell is all we need to think about, care about, or sing about.
Full understanding: We are not just saved from the consequence of sin; separation from God, we are also saved from its power as we walk in the Spirit.

This last one is an insight from John Stonestreet and Brett Kunckle in their book A Practical Guide to Culture.
Partial understanding: In Jesus we are “saved from . . . “ True!
Misunderstanding: Now that we have been saved from something, there is nothing for us to do.
Full understanding: We are also “saved for”. We are saved for for relationship with God, and for good works in our relationship with the world and everyone in it.

Do we allow a partial understanding of Jesus lead to misunderstanding? Do we see clearly who Jesus is? Perhaps it is time to clean our glasses.

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

The full sermon can be heard here.

See other sermons in this series at Clarke’s blog; look for entries in January and February, 2018

February 8, 2018

Who Then is This Jesus?

by Clarke Dixon

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

When Jesus stills the storm, the first question of the disciples was not “could this be the a prophet?” or “could this be the promised Messiah?” What had just happened was completely beyond what was expected from either a prophet or the Messiah. It was not just that the wind suddenly died down, which could be chalked up to coincidence, but that the sea went into a “dead calm” (Mark 4:39). The sea does not respond to a drop in wind in that way. Who simply speaks and nature responds? Well there is Genesis 1 which is our first clue.

The question “who then is this?” is one that reverberates throughout the Gospel of Mark, including the passages that follow in Mark chapters 5 and 6.

Who then is this in 5:1-20 when Jesus casts out a legion of demons?

2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4 for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Mark 5:2-4 (emphasis added)

No one could ever subdue this man, and no chain could ever restrain him. Jesus does something far better than just subdue him. He frees the man. Who then is this who can do far beyond what anyone else only hoped to do?

Who then is this in 5:21-43 when a girl is raised from the dead?

41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. Mark 5:41-42

Who can restore to life except the One who gives life in the first place?

Who then is this in 6:7-13 when Jesus sends out the disciples?

He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. Mark 6:7

It is amazing enough that Jesus has authority over unclean spirits. It is even more amazing that Jesus can give authority to others also. Who then is this who has even the authority to grant authority?

Who then is this in 6:30-44 when Jesus feeds five thousand people with five loaves and two fish?

32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. Mark 6:32-33 (emphasis added)

The fact that Jesus will provide for such a great people in the wilderness takes us back to God’s provision of manna in the wilderness following the Exodus from Egypt. Who then is this who is acting out a scene from Israel’s story of being rescued by God?

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. Mark 6:34 (emphasis added)

This brings to mind another chapter from the history of God’s people. In Ezekiel 34 God points out the failure of Israel’s leaders to shepherd the people. He has a plan to correct this:

14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. Ezekiel 34:14-15 (emphasis added)

Who then is this who shows himself to be the good shepherd?

38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. Mark 6:38-39 (emphasis added)

Here we have another reference to the Old Testament:

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures . . . Psalm 23:1,2 (emphasis added)

Not only can the 5,000 relate to “I shall not be lacking” thanks to Jesus, but we should not miss the reference to being made to sit down on green grass. Who then is this who reflects Psalm 23?

Who then is this in 6:45-52 when Jesus walks on water? There is a rather odd moment with this miracle:

When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. Mark 6:48 (emphasis added)

Though Jesus sees the disciples struggling, he intends to “pass them by”. That may seem quite un-Jesus like. However, I recently heard an insight from a Jewish scholar who saw the connection with the Old Testament. Moses had asked to see God’s glory but because of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of Moses, God protected Moses, then

The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . . Exodus 34:6 (emphasis mine)

Who then is this who recalls how God passed by Moses at Mount Sinai in Exodus chapters 33 and 34? There is another point of contact with Moses:

49 But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Mark 6:49-50

While it is difficult to see in the English, in the Greek is as plain as day. Jesus in calling out to the disciples says more literally, “Take heart. I am. Do not be afraid”. The “I am” reflects the identity of God:

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” Exodus 3:14

“I Am” sent Moses. “I Am” is present in Jesus. Who then is this who reflects the identity of God?

Mark answers the question “who is Jesus” all the way through his Gospel. Jesus himself is the answer to the question “Who is God?”. He is the One Who calms the storms, Who destroys the demons, Who raises the dead, Who shepherds and provides, Who comes to us by the cross and says “Take heart, I Am, be not afraid”.

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Read more in the Gospel of Mark series at Clarke’s blog

February 1, 2018

Parables of Jesus: The Tricky Bits

by Clarke Dixon

In reading through the parables of Jesus from Mark chapter 4, there are certain parts that have always stood out to me as being difficult to understand. While we might normally gravitate to the familiar parables, I figured that if I found some parts tricky, you might also. So let’s take the difficult path and look at two tricky bits.

First Tricky Bit: Is God keeping secrets, and keeping people outside?

10 When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables;
12 in order that
‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’ ” Mark 4:10-12

From verse 11 we might wonder if God is keeping secrets and from verse 12 we might wonder if He does so because He does not want people to be forgiven. This seems a direct contradiction of 2 Peter 3:9:

The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

So how are we to understand this? First off, the word translated “secret” by the NRSV may be better translated as “mystery”. However, even that word comes with baggage as we tend to think of mystery as something we could never know. Here the idea is that though we couldn’t know it before, it has been revealed to us and can now be known. While a secret is something meant to be kept hidden, this “mystery” is something shared.

However, those “outside” (verse 11) won’t be able to understand this mystery while those on the inside will. The point is not that we should pity the people outside, but that we should invite them in. The point is not that those outside should stay there, but that they should push in. We have seen people pushing in to see Jesus before in Mark’s Gospel. We can think of the paralytic in chapter 2 whose friends were so desperate to get him before Jesus they dug a hole in the roof and lowered him in. Note that the first thing Jesus tells him is that his sins are forgiven. That kind of thing happens when you press in to Jesus.

The parables are meant to get people thinking and questioning. Are you outside, thinking that you know everything you need to know and there is noting about Jesus or yourself that you need to learn? Or are you pressing in to find out? The question is not, “are you stuck outside?”, the questions is “are you coming in?”

Second Tricky Bit: Is God being harsh when those who have nothing lose everything?

24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25 For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” Mark 4:24-25

It seems both harsh and without logic to say that those who have nothing will lose everything. What are we to make of this? Imagine you have nothing, but are given a house. You don’t even send a thank you note to the generous person who gave you the house.  You go on with your life, living in the home, but you put no work into it. You never clean it and do no maintenance of any sort even though water has started pouring in from the roof, windows and foundation. You live in it, but you turn your back on it. Your benefactor, being very generous indeed, offers to give you a much better home, but you turn your nose up at the offer. Though you earned nothing, even what you do have will eventually be lost when the house falls apart. This is like our relationship with God. God has been good to every one of us in that He has given us life. Life is a gift from his hands, a sign of grace. Now suppose, though you live now by the grace of God, you turn your back on Him and refuse to have anything to do with Him. You refuse the offer of a further gift of eternal life. What will happen? Even what you have though have not earned, namely life, will be taken away from you. Separation from God, what we often call hell, is not harsh on God’s part. It is a natural consequence of the sin that separates us from God. It is what happens when we refuse the generous gift of Jesus who deals with that sin.

While the parables reveal truths about God’s Kingdom, they also reveal truths about us. God is bringing His kingdom. Are you pressing into it, or turning your back on it?

God is offering you a love relationship. Are you pressing into that relationship or turning your back? Jesus didn’t turn His back on you when he could have, when perhaps he should have. His back was to the cross.

All Scripture references are taken from NRSV

Read more at ClarkeDixon.wordpress.com

Based on a 32-minute sermon. Click here to listen in full.

 

 

January 25, 2018

Redefining Family

by Clarke Dixon

Who feels more like “family” to you, the family you were adopted or born into, or a group of friends? There was an article some time ago which lamented the breakdown of the family. Though I don’t remember much about the article, the author looked at how tv shows were helping to redefine family with “Friends” leading the way.  Many shows portray one’s family members as the last people you would go to for empathy or understanding. However, one’s friends are portrayed as always being there for love and support. With family being redefined in our day how are we supposed to define family? Jesus tells us in Mark 3, and you may be surprised:

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:31-35

Considering the importance placed on family in Old Testament law, Jesus’ redefinition of family was shocking to the people of that day. It may be just as shocking today. We may find ourselves asking if Jesus should have been a better Christian and taken the opportunity to affirm the importance of family. Instead he redefines his family as those who do the will of God. What are we to make of this?

First, Jesus redefinition of family as those who do God’s will is good news for those with no family, or whose family has abdicated their role. You might lose out on the ideal family, but you never need lose out on a family. This, of course, speaks to the nature of the Church. If one’s experience of church is to just show up, sing a few songs, hear a sermon and go home, then we are missing out on part of what God’s will for the church is. Reading the New Testament, you never get the sense that people just went to church. You get the sense that they are the church, in relationship with God and with each other. While some churches practically demand a quiet sanctuary prior to worship as a sign of reverence, I pastor a very noisy church. I prefer to look at the positive side of this and celebrate the fact that people are relating to each other. Many churches, including ours, are known as being friendly. However, churches need to go beyond just being friendly, to being family.

Second, Jesus’ redefinition of family is good news for world peace. We have family everywhere, and that family transcends political, racial and language boundaries. Moving from Ottawa I do not miss city life. I do, however, miss the diversity we enjoyed at Fourth Avenue Baptist. Each Sunday I could look around and see people from Jamaica, Russia, Iran, England, Northern Ireland, Haiti, Benin, and often other nations besides. My favourite Sundays were the combined services with a primarily Congolese church. We would worship in up to four different languages with our love for decorum before God Almighty mixing wonderfully with their excitement about Jesus. One is reminded of what’s ahead:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb . . .  Revelation 7:9

Third, Jesus’ redefinition of family is not a rejection of our genetic family, but a call to enter into it with passion. When someone does the will of God as the brother or sister of Jesus, it is good news for one’s family. What is the will of God within family life? We can think of specific instructions for a wife to “respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:3), and for husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Such sacrificial love and mutual respect is good for family life. We can think of instructions for children to “obey your parents” (Ephesians 6:1), and for parents to not “provoke your children to anger” (Ephesians 6:4). Many other passages pointing to God’s will for us are beneficial for family life also. Like, “love one another” (John 13:34), and “do to others you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31). Those things work well in family. Also “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), and “Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4). Sobriety and faithfulness are always good for family. And one more on God’s will:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

Many a dysfunctional family could use more justice, kindness and members who walk humbly with God. Far from a call to renounce family, God’s will is that we do family well.

Finally, Jesus’ redefinition of family points forward to the wonderful possibility of being God’s child. You may say, “But Pastor, I try to do God’s will and find it impossible to always do it. I always mess up at some point”. Keep reading the Gospel of Mark until you get to that place where Jesus prayed “remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36). God’s will was that in Jesus’ death and resurrection death should be defeated and we would be reconciled to God. Jesus did the will of the Father and now we have the wonderful opportunity of being adopted into His family, not because of our perfection in keeping His will, but because of His.

Should we be surprised that Jesus redefines family? We should not be surprised for it is an act of love and grace. God calls us into a new kind of family, then calls us and enables us to do His will within our family of origin.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

Listen to the audio of Redefining Family at this link.

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