Following Jesus Series – May 6, 2018
“You are sound asleep and dreaming when suddenly the door bursts open and a bright light shines full in your face. A voice, breaking in on your dream world, shouts, “Wake up! Get up! You’ll be late!” And without more ado the speaker splashes your face with cold water to make the point.
That’s what the opening of Mark’s gospel is like” (N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone, 1)
Here’s Mark’s opening words; the translation I’m using is from Tom Wright’s commentary on Mark.
This is where the good news starts – the good news of Jesus the Messiah, God’s Son.
Isaiah the prophet put it like this (“Look! I am sending my messenger ahead of me; he will clear the way for you!”)
“A shout goes up in the desert:
Make way for the Lord!
Clear a straight path for him!
John the baptizer appeared in the desert. He was announcing a baptism of repentance, to forgive sins. The whole of Judaea, and everyone who lived in Jerusalem, went out to him; they were confessing their sins and were baptized by him in the river Jordan. John wore camel-hair clothes, with a leather belt round his waist. He used to eat locusts and wild honey.
“Someone a lot stronger than me is coming close behind!”
John used to tell them,
“I don’t deserve to squat down and undo his sandals. I’ve plunged you in the water; he’s going to plunge you in the Holy Spirit.”
“In the beginning” is Mark’s echo of the opening line of Genesis, where we read about God’s intent for his creation. The Good News of Jesus – the message he proclaimed and the proclamation about Jesus himself – is the centre of this story.
The story starts in the desert. The desert was the birthplace of the covenant people of Israel at Mount Sinai. They spent a whole generation, forty years, in the desert learning lessons of obedience. For the people of the Baptizer John’s day, occupation by a foreign army and being taxed to the point of destitution created a social desert from which the Jews were longing for relief.
Mark continues …
This is how it happened. Around that time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and was baptized by John in the river Jordan. That very moment, as he was getting out of the water, he saw the heavens open, and the Spirit coming down like a dove onto him. Then there came a voice, out of the heavens,
“You are my wonderful son; you make me very glad.”
All at once the Spirit pushed him out into the desert. He was in the desert forty days, and the accuser tested him there. He was with the wild beasts, and angels waited on him.
After John was handed over, Jesus came into Galilee, announcing God’s good news.
“The time is fulfilled!”
“God’s kingdom is arriving!
Turn around, and believe the good news!”
Jesus’ baptism is a snapshot of the incarnation. Incarnation is the term we use to describe God becoming human in the person of Jesus. At Jesus baptism he experiences the blessing and affirmation of God the Father and the guidance of the Spirit. All the persons of the Trinity at work.
In the same way that Israel wandered for forty years in the desert, being tested and becoming the people God intended them to be, so Jesus spends 40 days in the desert being tested and taking on the role God intended for him.
Then, in a manner that foreshadows the betrayal of Jesus, John the Baptizer is betrayed by someone, handed over – arrested – using the same word that Mark will later use to describe Jesus’ betrayal and arrest.
Jesus’ announcement of the Good News consists of four parts
- The time has come.
- God’s kingdom has come.
- Stop going in the direction you are and take a new direction.
- Believe God’s Good News.
The buzzer goes, the alarm clock sounds, the official blows his whistle – time’s up! Whatever was going on to prepare for this moment is now over – that’s done, we’re starting something new. The new news Jesus is proclaiming is that God’s rule over the earth has started. Something has happened that has changed the tide of history.
God’s government of the world has been envisioned in many ways. Crusaders tried to establish God’s kingdom on earth through military might, the Holy Roman Empire sought to establish a political system to enforce God’s reign. But none of that came anywhere close to doing what Jesus intended.
God’s reign does not come through politics, there is no ‘Christian’ nation. God’s reign does not come by converting people through threat of violence. Jesus came and modeled the way: “selfless serving, bold proclamation, and willingness to suffer for truth and righteousness. Those who would experience the kingdom that Jesus announced must choose the way Jesus chose” (Geddert,).
The rest of this book explains what it means to change direction (the biblical word is repent) and believe the good news.
Imagine you’re a young man, married with a couple of kids, just starting to take over your father’s business. Along comes a traveling evangelist you’ve heard of, walks into your shop while you’re working with your dad and a couple of hired men, and says, “Come, follow me.”
What’s your response?
Mark describes that kind of scene when Jesus recruits his first disciples.
As [Jesus] went along beside the sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew. They were fishermen, and were casing nets into the sea.
said Jesus to them.
“I’ll have you fishing for people!”
Straight away they left their nets and followed him. He went on a bit, and saw James, Zebedee’s son, and John his brother. They were in the boat mending their nets, and he called them then and there. They left their father Zebedee in the boat with the servants, and went off after him.
If you’re surprised by the response of these four fishermen, can you imagine how their families and coworkers felt? It’s a bit of a bizarre story, yet it is at the core of what Jesus is trying to do. He’s recruiting people who are willing to follow him, despite the fact it means reorienting their entire lives.
The heart of what he wants from these men comes out in the following chapters of the story. He wants them with him, to observe what he does, learn how he thinks and how he lives, and then do as he does.
What follows in the rest of chapter 1 is something like “A Day in the Life …” of Jesus.
[Jesus and his disciples] went to Capernaum. At once, on the Sabbath, Jesus went into the synagogue and taught. They were astonished at his teaching. He wasn’t like the legal teachers; he said things on his own authority.
All at once, in their synagogue, there was a man with an unclean spirit.
“What is it with us and you, Jesus of Nazareth?
“Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: you’re God’s Holy One!”
“and come out of him!”
The unclean spirit gave a great shout, and came out of him. Everyone was astonished.
[The people in the synagogue] started to say to each other.
“New teaching – with real authority! He even tells the unclean spirits what to do, and they do it!”
Word about Jesus spread at once, all over the surrounding district of Galilee.
[Jesus and his followers] came out of the synagogue, and went at once (with James and John) into Simon’s and Andrew’s house. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her right away. Hew went in, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her and she waited on them.
(Just to set the record straight, Jesus did not heal her just so she could make supper. Gwen told me to emphasize that.)
When the sun went down and evening came, they brought to Jesus everyone who was ill, all who were demonized. The whole town was gathered around the door. Jesus healed many people suffering from all kinds of diseases, and cast out many demons. He didn’t allow the demons to speak, because they knew him.
Here we find that Jesus’ call to leave everything behind and follow him did not mean abandoning their families. “Leaving everything to follow Jesus is … about priorities more than about actually abandoning people and things. It is about a readiness to drop everything that stands in the way of faithful discipleship” (Geddert, 48)
As we review the day Mark describes, we find Jesus has several priorities.
- Proclaiming the good news that God reigns,
- Recruiting and training followers,
- Driving out the forces of evil,
- Healing many people. The next section we’ll read adds
- Escaping popularity, and
- Crossing boundaries.
Just when Jesus was gaining notoriety in the area around Capernaum he decides to start on a walking tour of the province, visiting towns and villages along the way, declaring the message of God’s reign.
Jesus steps into the realm of religious controversy when he breaks cleanliness law and touches a leper who asks if he is willing to heal him. Jesus proves his willingness by touching an untouchable.
Very early – in the middle of the night, actually – Jesus went out, off to a lonely place, and prayed. Simon, and those with him, followed. When they found him, they said,
“Everyone is looking for you!”
“Let’s go off to the other towns around here,”
“so that I can tell the news to people there too. That’s why I came out,”
So he went into their synagogues, throughout the whole of Galilee, telling the news and casing out demons.
A leper came up to him. He knelt down and begged him,
“If you want to, you can make me clean.”
Jesus was deeply moved. He reached out his hand and touched him, and said to him,
“I do want to; be clean!”
The disease left him at once, and he was clean.
Jesus sent him away at once, with this stern warning:
“Mind you don’t say anything to anyone! Just go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering Moses commanded, to purify yourself and to give them a sign.”
But the man went out and began to tell the news widely. He spread the tale so effectively that Jesus couldn’t any longer go publicly into a town. He stayed out in the open country and people came to him from all around.
Why did people search out Jesus and flock to him? They came to Jesus because he offered healing from the diseases that were plaguing them and release from the things that bound them.
Jesus continues to offer that to us. The good news is that God wants to break down every barrier that exists between you and Himself as well as restore any aspect of our lives which keeps us from being all that He created us to be.
We open the door to the transforming grace of God when we admit we need him, personally accept what Jesus did for us on the cross, and focus our lives on him and his will for us.
The big story of humanity is this – God created us; we rejected God and his will for us. That rejection has caused all the death and destruction we see around us in this world, in our lives and relationships. Jesus came to live and teach us God’s undying love for us. He died to pay our ransom from the consequences of our rejection of God and Jesus’ resurrection gives us hope of life eternal with God. God is at work right now to bring the world to the place where he can recreate it the way he always meant it to be.
Your story and my story are very similar. God created us, brought us into being, yet we have rejected his desires for us many times. Jesus’ death and resurrection offers us forgiveness and eternal life, but we need to respond and accept this gracious gift. The invitation Jesus gave in Mark still stands: Turn around, stop going away from God and move towards him. Believe that Jesus died for you and I and accept his gift of forgiveness and life personally. We do that simply by talking to God and telling him so.
If prayer is new for you or it’s been a while since you talked to God, I’ll walk you through the beginning this morning. You’ll want to take some time alone with God to talk to him about all this, but here’s how you start. In order to concentrate or focus we usually close our eyes. If this is new, just repeat after me under your breath.
Lord God, thank you for what you’ve done in creating me and sending Jesus to show me your love. Jesus, thank you for dying for my failures and shortcomings and to make things right between us. I accept your death for me as all that’s needed for me to be whole spiritually. I want to follow you; teach me how to love you and live for you. Fill my life with your Spirit. Thank you.
If you have a relationship with Jesus, either just recently or one of long-standing, I’d like to invite you to celebrate that relationship with God by sharing in a ritual that Jesus gave us before he died. In taking the bread and cup and eating and drinking together we declare that Jesus died for us and that we will live for him. We physically symbolize our unity with Jesus and with one another.
The way Mark describes the time Jesus did this with his disciples goes like this
While they were eating, he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them.
“Take it,” he said. “This is my body.”
Then he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
“This is my blood of the covenant (the promise),” he said, “which is poured out for many. I’m telling you the truth: I won’t ever drink from the fruit of the vine again, until that day – the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ … will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power [and the glory] for ever and ever. Amen.
Go in peace