Mountain tops and valleys! One moment Peter is exclaiming; “Messiah!” (Mark 8:29), the next Jesus is bursting Peter’s messianic bubble, saying that He “must suffer many things…and be killed!” (Mark 8:31)
Keller writes in his excellent book (King’s Cross) how from Peter’s earliest memories learning from his parents would have been hearing that the Messiah would come and defeat evil and injustice.
Now the Messiah was telling Peter; “Yes, I’m the Messiah, the King, but I came not to live but to die. I’m not here to take power but to lose it; I’m here not to rule but to serve. And that’s how I’m going to defeat evil and put everything right.” (Kings Cross pp95)
Bewildering! What is remarkable is that Jesus while referring to Himself says; “the Son of Man (a divine title from Daniel 7) must suffer…and be killed”
Why MUST Jesus the Messiah suffer and be killed?
Well, in one sense He doesn’t have to at all. He is not obliged in the slightest. After all, He has never sinned, and so deserves no wrath against sin or punishment. He is God, and so His will is not constrained in any way.
But because of His love for You and I – He must suffer and be killed. Because there was no other way for our sin, guilt and shame to be dealt with and the wrath of God propitiated.
I am reminded of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in agonizing prayer asking the Father if there was any other way (Mark 14:36), and the Father said nothing because nothing could be said because there was no other way but the cross and calvary.
Jesus had to die; the Messiah must die if our sin was to be atoned for, and if we were to be ransomed and reconciled back to a right relationship with God. What love, what sacrifice for you and me!
This is the turning point of the whole Gospel, WHO Jesus is has been the main idea, now Jesus has just introduced the focus of the second half – WHAT Jesus came to do for you and for me!
This is the lamb of God who came to take away, to atone for the sins of the world by dying as our substitute sacrifice – John recalls in his Gospel (John 1:29)
Peter is horrified and rebukes Jesus (the same word for Jesus’ treatment of demons) but ends up being the one rebuked as Jesus refuses to be tempted into believing there is an easier way. Jesus presses through the resistance with clear conviction and begins again to teach those gathered around.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)
Jesus’ teaching makes sense since it follows what He has just revealed about His own purpose (Mark 8:31). Since the Messiah is going to lay His life down, those who choose to follow Him are called to do the same. Jesus’ purpose shapes our purpose.
Jesus literally dies. Most Christ-followers don’t necessarily have to die literally, but we are all called by King Jesus to die to our old way of living. We die to a life that has ME, MYSELF & I at the centre of it all.
Who is really at the centre of your life? Who is the focus of your attention? Is it yourself or is it King Jesus?
We are to fix our eyes on Jesus, the One who died for us, and in response decide to live the rest of our lives no longer for ourselves but rather for Him who for our sake died (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
We live like this, believing that what Jesus said is true! We live believing that this is really the only way to live. We believe Jesus when He warns us that spending ourselves collecting things and experiences in this present life trying to satisfy ourselves will only leave us empty.
We believe Jesus who urged us to live our whole lives as a whole-life response to His love for us. Making pleasing Him and sharing His Gospel our whole life’s purpose, believing Him that living like this will result in us enjoying life that’s truly worth having, having satisfaction that is immeasurable and eternal!
You will never regret believing Jesus’ advice on how to live your life. At no point will you look back and think, ‘I really wish I hadn’t trusted Jesus’ advice!’ The Psalmist declares of the ancients of the faith; “They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. ” (Psalm 22:5 in the NIV)
Since Mark 8 records the turning point in this Gospel that is so focused on WHO Jesus is and WHAT Jesus came to do, I pray that it would be something of a turning point for you too. Meditate on Jesus’ words captured here to you in Mark 8:34-38, don’t gloss over them let their eternal wisdom go deep into your soul and begin to produce a life wholly pleasing to King Jesus. The One who went before You and lovingly laid down His life for you and rose again victorious (Mark 8:31).
We have all had this type of experience. We planned for X, but Y happened! Or we intended this, yet this turned to that…
After a remarkable miracle in which thousands got fed with food only enough for an average teenage boy’s lunch, Jesus out of compassion for the disciples sends them before Him to their next destination.
They get into the boat headed for a port town called Bethsaida while Jesus remains to dismiss the crowd after they have eaten their fill.
We know the story, a strong wind arises, and the disciples struggle for hours until Jesus does a miracle in calming the storm, but by the time He does they are nowhere near Bethsaida but rather land on the shore by Gennesaret about 10-12km away from where they had intended to be.
This sounds remarkably like 2020! How many people planned one thing for this year, only to have the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic scupper those plans – they set sail for Bethsaida but landed in Gennesaret!
And yet Jesus was there with the disciples even in Gennesaret. There is no place we can go that God will not be there with us! No life-storm can remove us from God’s presence. We might not be where we intended to be financially, economically, health-wise, church-wise… but God is with us!
Note how with Jesus leading them, the disciples don’t busy themselves with plans trying to get to Bethsaida – their original desired destination.
Rather, Jesus carries on with the will of His Father where He finds Himself. People instantly recognise Jesus (vs54) and Jesus continues with His Father’s mission, healing and ministering to the people He encounters.
I have no doubt that 2020 has blown you to your own Gennesaret in some way or another. What with national lockdowns, and their corresponding cataclysmic economic consequences, not to mention the health risks and grief being faced by so many.
But consider this; is Jesus with you? Yes!
Has the Father’s mission for your life changed? No!
So I urge you today, to serve God in your Gennesaret you find yourself in. Keep serving God all through life, through hard times and good times, through planned times and unplanned times.
Every day you and I live is a grace gift from God, so make the most of it doing everything you can to serve God in all you do whether you wake up in Bethsaida and Gennesaret.
Be like Jesus and minister God’s love and in so doing usher in the Kingdom of God wherever God takes you or the storms of life blow you!
We all have moments when we wonder what our purpose and reason for being are. Why did God create me? For what am I here on this earth?
These are great questions to ask because it would be such a shame to live our lives, not knowing where we are heading. In Mark 1:36-37, Simon has gone out looking for Jesus because everyone was looking for him. Jesus’ response is one of someone who knows his mission and reason for being because he tells Simon in verse 38 that he needs to go to the other towns to preach as well because that is why he came.
God created us to love him, to know him, and to glorify him. That is our reason for being. The Bible also tells us in Ephesians 2:10 that God created us for good works that he planned for us to do. I have always loved that verse because we can become overwhelmed by all the need around us and not know where God wants to use us, but this verse tells us that God has specific things he wants each of us to do. By doing the things God has planned for you to do, you will be loving him and glorifying him. The result will be that you will get to know his voice as he leads and guides you along the path he has set.
The key to knowing your purpose is in Mark 1:35. They had to go looking for Jesus because he was in an isolated place, praying to his Father. He came out of that time confident; knowing what he needed to do and not pressured by others to do what they thought was best.
The Bible tells us that we have a purpose, but we need to spend time with our Father, asking him what he wants us personally to do. I encourage you to spend time thinking and asking God to show you what it is he has created you to do. He has placed you where you are for a reason. In your job and in the place you live, God has a purpose for you being there. Perhaps you are sick at home, God knew you would be there and even has a job for you to do. If you are struggling with feeling insignificant, know that God has a reason for creating you and having you in the season you are currently living.
Imagine the impact we as Christians would have on the people around us if we all did the things God planned ahead of time for us to do.
Decide every morning that you will ask the Holy Spirit to lead you and show you what he has planned, and prepare to be amazed.
[In June/July for our church’s Bible Reading Plan we will be reading the Gospel of Mark. Join us…]
Mark’s Gospel begins with a succinct summary sentence outlining the big story of the book and also the main character in the story of the book – “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” [Mark 1:1]
This short book is an announcement (that’s what ‘gospel’ means essentially), a revelation about the most important person in the history of the world – Jesus.
The announcement is this – Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ, the Son of God. All of this language meant that Jesus is the One the whole Old Testament anticipated, the One Israel was longing for.
Who Jesus is, is the big story of this whole book. Not surprisingly, therefore, Jesus is the main, or central character. Friend, Jesus isn’t just the big story and central character of this book, Jesus is the BIG STORY in all of human history.
And so, any life that is not centred around the BIG STORY that is in turn centred around Jesus Christ the Messiah, who He is and what He came to do – is a life that is missing the whole point of life.
John Piper said; “The majesty of Christ is like the sun at the centre of the solar system of your life. The massive sun, 333 000 times the mass of the earth, holds all the planets in orbit, even little Pluto, 3.6 billion miles away. So it is with the supremacy of Christ in your life. All the planets of your life – your sexuality and desires, your commitments and beliefs, your aspirations and dreams, your attitudes and convictions, your habits and disciplines, your solitude and relationships, your labour and leisure, your thinking and feeling – all the planets of your life are held in orbit by the greatness and gravity and blazing brightness of the supremacy of Christ at the centre of your life. If he ceases to be the bright, blazing, satisfying beauty at the centre of your life the planets will fly into confusion, a hundred things will be out of control, and sooner or later they will crash into destruction.”
I urge you to consider this question right now; ‘Is Jesus and His supremacy truly the centre of my life?’
The honest answer to that question will determine whether all the various ‘planets of your life’ are at risk of crashing into each other or being lost in outer space. Or whether all the things that comprise the solar system of your life are in their proper orbit in relation to one another and God, because Jesus is in His proper place at the centre of your life.
The writer of this Gospel wanted his readers, wants you and I to know that Jesus Christ is God’s Son, is the promised Messiah!
How amazing that we get to read the Bible thousands of years later. And yet these words, written down by John Mark in association with Peter, still come to us with potency & revelation.
Prayer: I urge you to stop now and to ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you as you read the Gospel of Mark. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see Jesus afresh and hear Jesus’ voice to you in the present so that Jesus will be at the centre of your life’s solar system.
[Mark 1:2-8] John the Baptist had a unique role that no one else had before him, and no one had since. John the Baptist got to announce who Jesus was, came to prepare the way for the One the people of the day had been waiting for. His whole job was to point people to Jesus.
And in that way, although John the baptist was a little like the last of the Old Testament prophets, he was also like the first Christ Follower – pointing people to Jesus.
Our role as Christ-Followers is not to rescue everyone we meet, not to try to be their deliverer or saviour but to point them to the ONE who is their Saviour – Jesus.
At one point John the disciple records that John the Baptist said of Jesus; “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30) and in our passage for today in vs8 John tells those he is baptising that Jesus is greater than he is and that Jesus will do greater things [Mark 1:7-8]. In this way, John the Baptist is a great example to you and I. Our role is to make much of Jesus, to point people to Jesus.
Often we baulk from sharing our faith or the good news about Jesus with someone because we have an over-realised sense of responsibility for the person’s faith.
John the Baptist reminds us, that our job is to point people to Jesus, not to be Jesus! We do this in normal life and conversations about the One who is at the centre of our life’s solar system! There is no pressure on us to know everything or convince anyone – our job is to simply point people to Jesus as and when God gives us the opportunities to do so in a manner that is authentic and not contrived.
[Mark 1:9-11] These verses record Jesus’ baptism in water by John the baptist. We see the Christian theology of the Trinity here in these verses. Jesus the Son is being baptised, God the Father rips open the sky and speaks audibly to Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit descends from heaven onto Jesus like a dove!
In Jesus’ baptism, we see that the whole of the Godhead was intimately involved in the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus’ ministry flowed from this moment in which His identity and sense of belonging were confirmed by God the Father; “You are my beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased.” These words of love and affirmation and the anointing of the Holy Spirit that went with them catapulted Jesus into His earthly ministry and all that will follow in this Gospel.
We, like Jesus, need to know WHO we are and WHOSE we are before we will do anything great for God. We, like Jesus, also need the empowering of the Holy Spirit if we will accomplish anything of significance for God. And if you know Romans 8, you will know that those two needs are connected as one. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit in us declares to us that we truly are the beloved children of God most high.
So, just as Jesus started His earthly mission for God with God affirming WHO He was and WHOSE He was, with the infilling of the Holy Spirit – so too this is what we need Christ-Followers.
So ask God the Father, ask the Holy Spirit to come upon you now, to confirm to you WHO you are and WHOSE you are and pray for the enabling power of the Holy Spirit for today and every day. Amen.
You know, sometimes we don’t need a super-star to look at in Scripture! Don’t get me wrong, super-stars are fabulous, but we tend to create a “special” category for them, and if we are honest we often don’t feel we can relate to someone in that category.
And as a result, their lives can tend not to motivate us.
Listening or reading people like Tim Keller or John Piper I sometimes wonder if I should do something else! Their stellar gifts can seem quite out of reach, leaving me prone to feeling demotivated in comparison.
What about you? Do you know that feeling?
Yet, Scripture is full of some pretty ‘ordinary’ people, people so similar to us, weak people, people who made mistakes, not so famous people – but all transformed by God and used by God in some way or another!
In today’s passage, we are introduced to just such a person Onesimus. We know about him from this letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to a church leader called Philemon, who leads a church that meets in his house in Colossae.
What’s the back story?
Paul seems to have lead Philemon to faith in Jesus (vs19). And having believed in Jesus Philemon’s life was transformed. His faith in and love for Jesus was known (vs5), and this love for Jesus led Philemon to love his fellow believers. So much so that he was known as one who refreshed and revived other people’s hearts (vs4-7) and now he and his whole family were living their whole lives for God’s mission with a church even meeting in their house (vs2).
But not everything was rosy! There was someone Philemon found difficult to love. Someone he had little time for. There is always someone isn’t there. That itchy neck person, that person who did THAT thing…!
For Philemon, THAT GUY’s name was; Onesimus.
He had been a slave of Philemon’s, he worked for him, but apparently wasn’t a very good or honourable employee.
Onesimus was so bad that although his name means ‘useful’ (vs11), it seems like he was nicknamed ‘useless’ by Philemon.
He wasn’t just ‘useless’ to his master, on top of this bad work ethic, it seems like Onesimus had also stolen from his master (vs18-19).
So, Onesimus was either dismissed & sent away by Philemon or, more likely; he ran away as such criminal actions against an owner would have been harshly treated in that society. Either way, Onesimus somehow ends up with Paul in Rome, where Paul has been imprisoned for the Gospel.
Maybe Onesimus remembered hearing Paul preach in the church that met in Philemon’s house; maybe he remembered hearing the letters that were read out containing the liberating truth of the Gospel? Maybe he longed for such freedom from guilt and shame for himself…?
Whatever it was, Onesimus finds Paul in Rome in prison, and Paul ends up leading him to faith in Christ, or Paul restores him to faith in Christ in Rome while in prison.
And because of that we now have this very personal letter in our bibles, so what can we learn from it. So what can we learn from this letter, this story?
1. The Gospel gives identity & belonging
Having run away, having stolen, having been called ‘useless’ when your name actually means ‘useful’, Onesimus must have had some real identity issues. Low self-esteem, nothing to be proud of, no hope for a future, a criminal on the run…!
But all that is about to change. You see the Gospel doesn’t just change our eternal address it transforms who we are!
“The Gospel doesn’t just change
our eternal address it transforms who we are!”
We don’t know anything about Onesimus’ nationality or parents, but it is highly likely that he was a foreigner probably brought to the Roman empire through war or slave-traders.
As a slave, Onesimus would not have much in the way of protection from exploitation/abuse would not have had much in the way of rights or any privilege.
But in the Gospel Onesimus becomes a son 3x over!
- The son of his human dad
- A son of God
- A son of Paul, his spiritual dad! (vs10) “I appeal to you for my child.”
The Gospel transforms identity/belonging, so much so that Paul says that when he sends Onesimus back to Philemon (carrying this letter we are reading), he says that he is, in fact, sending “my very heart”! (vs12)
This useless slave who had messed up monumentally – because of the Gospel becomes a beloved son 3x!
More than this, Paul writes to Philemon, an important man, a church leader a homeowner and Paul writes of how Onesimus has become to both of them (the apostle Paul and this leader) – a fellow brother (vs16) in Christ!
Our faith in Christ, our adoption as children of God, creates a new relationship of love & equality of value between us, a connection that is deep and eternal – brothers and sisters in Christ! Equal in the Lord.
The Gospel gives us a value that transcends social barriers that previously defined and divided us! This is so real for the apostle Paul that he writes to Philemon instructing him to receive Onesimus ‘AS YOU WOULD RECEIVE ME’ (vs16-17).
- I don’t know how you see yourself today.
- I don’t know if you can identify a bit with Onesimus?
- I don’t know if your identity feels like it is intact or in tatters?
- I don’t know if you feel useless, ashamed of things you’ve done or failed at?
- I don’t know if you feel like you don’t belong anywhere because of your family situation or a lack of a father or lack of parents….?
But what I DO KNOW is that the Gospel, the good news about Jesus transforms your identity and your sense of belonging!
- God wants you to belong!
- God wants you to KNOW Him as Father
- God wants to give you spiritual fathers and mothers, spiritual brothers and sisters wants to give you a place of honour in His household – the church.
The Gospel gives us identity & belonging!
2. The Gospel gives us purpose!
Rejection is a terrible thing. Imagine being called ‘useless’! Maybe you’ve been, or you are still at times called ‘useless’ by someone, a boss, a friend or family member…
As a rejected, runaway slave and fugitive – Onesimus seems purposeless. Seems like he is useless – having no useful purpose at all in life.
But having encountered Paul and the Gospel Paul writes; ‘formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.’ (vs11)
Paul wants Onesimus to continue to stay to help him with the mission of Jesus but sends him back to be of help to the church back in Colossae.
When Jesus begins to change us from the inside out, little by little, our character starts changing too. We begin to become trustworthy, faithful, reliable, on-time, helpful…
The Gospel is incredibly down-to-earth, practical!
It doesn’t just change our eternal address but changes everything in our lives – it makes us useful, helpful, reliable to others and in God’s service.
Onesimus was set free from slavery by the Gospel, but what was he set free for? Following Christ set him free from sin but in addition, set him free for good works (Ephesians 2:10) that God had prepared in advance for him to do. And so Onesimus becomes useful to in God’s church/kingdom (vs11). He gets a purpose!
Are you looking for purpose?
The Gospel is what gives you purpose. Onesimus was floundering until he found Christ! And as you follow Christ, as you begin to serve others because you serve Christ – your life too will get purpose, and your character will get transformed.
3. Transformation by Spiritual Fathering Mothering
It’s worth asking; ‘How did this all happen for Onesimus?” This all happened because the Gospel restored him not just to his heavenly Father but also gave him a spiritual dad too! Paul picked up on this guy, who was a bit of a wreck probably by the time he got to him.
Paul didn’t get too hung up with his own life challenges while he himself was in prison. Paul wasn’t too self-absorbed so that he missed the moment, rather he saw the young man in front of him in need of help! What a (personal challenge to us)
And so, Paul involved himself, fathering Onesimus in the Lord, in the Gospel – Paul loved him as a son. Paul spoke life, hope, faith and a future over him calling him ‘useful’ restoring dignity to him. More than this as we shall read in the verses that follow, Paul advocated/mediated for him, was willing to pay for him, trusted him.
Who is God calling you to invest your life into? Could you be used by God to redeem a life, from useless to useful, from rejected to beloved? Who is your Onesimus?
Conclusion & Application
- What’s God saying to you today?
- Are you like Onesimus in some way? Do you feel like you have lost your way, you’re ashamed, have messed-up, feel lonely, purposeless or lacking hope…? God wants to redeem your life, put you back together again! Pray now and ask God to begin a metamorphic process of Gospel transformation in your life. Reach out to a spiritual father/mother to walk with you today.
- Or have you walked with God for some time already, God has put you back together and so you’ve made some progress (not that we are ever totally right this side of heaven). Who is your Onesimus? Who is God calling you to invest your life into to see some other people’s lives transformed by the Gospel? What are you waiting for? Reach out to them today.
What’s your lens? What gives you meaning in life, and what helps you make sense of all that happens in your life?
As he writes to the Philippian believers, the apostle Paul is a prisoner of Rome because of his faith in Jesus. We know he was confined to ‘house arrest’ for two years, and yet he is isn’t found complaining in his letter to the Philippians.
Consider this for a moment, what would you have been writing about if his experience was yours?
It’s hard to know for sure how I/we would have responded, but a brief analysis of our prayers when life is feeling unfair or hard for us now are probably a good indication.
And yet Paul was rejoicing! (vs18) How could this be?
Paul’s joy, his sense of meaning and purpose was clearly not tied to his personal comfort or freedom – since he wrote this from a period of imprisonment, most likely chained to a Roman soldier.
His lens for life, his life purpose was that the good news of Jesus would be proclaimed & that Jesus would be glorified through his life or death.
And because of this, he wrote; “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (vs12)
His imprisonment gave him access to the praetorian guard (vs13) – a special unit of ten thousand selected soldiers in Rome that had unusual privileges & were influential. He could write that the whole guard knew that Jesus was the reason for his imprisonment. It seems as though God, through Paul’s imprisonment, had inserted him inside the ranks of those who were influential in the great city of Rome, sowing gospel seeds for the future behind enemy lines.
There was meaning in his suffering, in the curtailment of his freedom. And so there could be rejoicing because his lens was God’s purpose, plan and God’s glory, not his comfort or liberty.
What’s your lens? Your lens will focus your attention and define your reaction to life’s varied circumstances.
Paul was strengthened in his imprisonment, knowing that the Philippians were praying for him & knowing that the Helper was with him. And so he was confident that God would deliver him either in the present from Roman captivity or in the glorious future at the return of Jesus (vs19).
Paul embraced his circumstances because of his lens which was that all of his life was to proclaim Jesus and to bring glory to Jesus in how he responded to all of life’s circumstances believing that God was sovereign in them.
And so he wrote;
“…it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” (vs20)
What’s on display here is the focus of Paul’s life – that Jesus Christ would be honoured by my life whether that means I live or whether I die – Jesus be glorified.
What an inspiration! May his lens be your lens and mine. May Jesus being proclaimed and Jesus being glorified be the priority that pulsates through our every decision and our every thought in every circumstance we endure.