Six days after Peter’s revelation about WHO Jesus was and Jesus’ announcement about WHAT He had come to the earth to do, Jesus went up a mountain and took with Him just three; Peter, James and John.
Let’s pause for a moment to consider the different layers of relationship around Jesus; because the layers we see around Jesus are the same layers we see in our lives and church.
Proxemics is the study of the different concentric layers of relationship that we all have and which exist in any group of people.
Looking at those around Jesus I see the four layers of relationship described in proxemic theory as ‘spaces’;
- Public Space: (Crowds) Jesus often had a crowd with Him comprised of both expectantly inquisitive people & those in opposition to Jesus. These people knew of Jesus, were intrigued by Jesus, or they opposed Jesus. But, these people hadn’t yet committed their lives to Jesus in faith.
- Social Space:(Church) By the time Jesus ascends to heaven, there is a defined group, a community of faith of about 120 people in the upper room (Acts 1:15). Their faith in Jesus had established new secondary relationships with one another – this is the embryonic pre-Pentecost church, a community of faith in Jesus.
- Personal Space: (Community Group) Within that community of faith, Jesus had 12 who were with Him on a deeper level – the disciples. He had chosen them (Mark 2:13-20). So within the followers of Jesus, there was this small group, a subset of the whole community of faith. Jesus wanted these 12 to be in a special and close relationship with Him so that He could share his life and teachings more deeply. They lived with Jesus 24/7; they walked with Him daily; they shared meals & experiences – they shared life on a deeper level. Their relationship to Him brought them also into a deeper relationship as a small group of followers centred around Jesus.
- Intimate Space: (Trios) Four times in Mark’s Gospel Peter, James & John are found to be with Jesus in a setting the wider group didn’t share in;
- Peter along with James and John are the only ones to witnesses Jesus raise Jarius’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37)
- Peter ends up having the revelation of Jesus’ as the Messiah (Mark 8:29)
- Peter witnesses the Transfiguration with James and John (Mark 9:2-13)
- And Peter stands up on the Day of Pentecost to preach at what was the genesis moment of the church (Acts 2:14).
- James was one of that first group of disciples and part of Jesus’ inner circle. James was martyred for His faith by Herod (Acts 12:2)
- John also part of that inner-circle in his own Gospel describes himself as one that Jesus loved four times (John 13:23, John 19:26, John 20:2, John 21:20)
- John seemed to be the leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:6 & Galatians 2:9) before moving to Ephesus and becoming the last of the 12 apostles still to be alive in the late first century.
In our passage today, we see how this inner-circle in Jesus’ ‘intimate space’ got to see more of Jesus than anyone else. Jesus was transfigured before their eyes, and He begins to glow with a radiance reminiscent of Moses’ face, which shone after encountering God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:29-30).
Jesus unapologetically interacted with the people in these four spaces differently. Jesus revealed more of Himself, explained more to his twelve than the wider group and then even shared even more to his tighter group of three.
Jesus responds to our willingness.
Jesus responds to willingness. Peter is an example of someone who just always seems willing. He always seems to be asking questions, pressing in to know more, see more. I believe that Jesus was drawn to that willing eagerness and responded to it and showed Peter more as a result.
Likewise, John had a special relationship with Jesus. Was it that he listened more than the others, made sure he was close by to Jesus? Jesus seems to have responded to John attentiveness, and so John writes of himself that he was a favourite of Jesus’ (see texts above). John testified about Jesus’ existence in his epistle from those personal experiences with Jesus;
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)
Jesus had these four layers of relationship/spaces with those around Him, and the closer people were to Jesus, the more intentional or willing they were to spend time with Jesus, the more He revealed Himself to them and the more they, in turn, did for Him with their lives!
So what does this have to do with us and our followership of Jesus?
- God wants to move all people from the CROWD to the COMMUNITY:
This is the mission of the church and of every follower of Christ, to share the good news about Jesus with everyone we know so that they can move from spectators to believers and followers. [Who is there in your life who might be interested in Jesus as a man but is yet to believe in Him as God? Pray for them now, and keep asking God the Holy Spirit to give you opportunities to point them to life-giving faith and relationship with Jesus.]
- The Gospel always creates a COMMUNITY of faith, the church:
Our journey’s of faith lead us into a community; God’s family brought into relationship with one another through our common relationship to Jesus. A diverse new people who once had not been a people at all, but now through God’s choosing are the people of God (1 Peter 2:9-10). I love how those thousands who were saved on the day of Pentecost were saved and added (Acts 2:41), they became a community of faith that was not just devoted to Jesus but to one another sharing life and their possessions (Acts 2:42-47)! We were not made for walking alone. There is no such thing as biblical Christianity without commitment to a local church.
“There is no way you will be able to grow spiritually apart from a deep involvement in a community of other believers. You can’t live the Christian life without a band of Christian friends, without a family of believers in which you find a place.” – Keller
“Personalities united can contain more of God and sustain the force of his greater presence better than scattered individuals.” – Dallas Willard
“You must be deeply involved in the church, in Christian community, with strong relationships of love and accountability. Only if you are part of a community of believers seeking to resemble, serve and love Jesus will you ever get to know Him and grow into His likeness.” – Keller
- Healthy Church communities will have three of the different ‘spaces’ Jesus had around Him within each congregation:
Each of the three spaces within a church community plays a different role in the life of any Christ-follower.
- The whole church gathered (social space) for worship, sacraments, prayer & preaching has a significant role in catalysing faith, community and corporate vision.
- Small groups of 6-20 (personal space) gathered around God’s word, prayer, care, fellowship and for mission ensures that everyone in the church is caught up in life-giving relationships that spur them on in their faith and give them contexts in which to serve and bless others too.
- And finally, even smaller groups of 2-4 Christ-followers meeting (intimate space ‘TRIOs’ in RRC) allows for greater intimacy and intentionality. Peter, James & John’s experience with Jesus should provoke us to want what they had!
The pattern I see in the Gospels is like one big parable. The parables Jesus told, bemused the crowds but to those who pressed in with faith and intentionality – Jesus revealed more!
Those who intentionally pressed in became a community of faith (the church). Yet, there were those who pressed in, even more, and Jesus formed them into a small group to whom He revealed even more.
And then there was Jesus’ inner-circle, the TRIO of Peter, James & John to whom Jesus revealed the most. They experienced more of Jesus than anyone else, and correspondingly also accomplished amazing things for Jesus.
This is like a parable to you and I. Jesus doesn’t want anyone to stay just in the CROWD. But instead to be added to the COMMUNITY (the church).
More than that, I believe Jesus doesn’t want anyone to stop there with some connection to the COMMUNITY.
Instead, Jesus wants us to join ourselves to a SMALL GROUP (Community Group in RRC) so that we can grow close to some fellow Christ-followers whose relationships with one another are all centred around Jesus Christ.
And for those who truly wish to grow in God, to press in even further adding themselves to an even smaller group – a TRIO. Two to four same-sex Christ-followers who have committed themselves to an intentional spiritual friendship focussed on helping one another to follow Christ and His mission for their lives and the church.
Oh, that more people would want to move from merely being in the CROWD of admirers around Jesus to the COMMUNITY. And that they wouldn’t be satisfied to belong just to the wider church community but that they would press in towards greater connection in the personal and intimate spaces, and as a result would encounter more of Jesus and accomplish more for Jesus!
How are you responding to the parable of the spaces?
Jesus’ parables bemused and offended some and drew others in. And those who pressed in more got more, got closer had more revealed to them and as a result did more for God with their lives.
We live in a self-saturated age. This whole blog has been about relationships, a community of faith that all flows from the Gospel. This global pandemic, when we are restricted from meetings, can be a healthy moment for self-reflection.
How am I responding? Have I believed the lie that my relationship with Jesus is just a personal thing when in Scripture, that is never the case?
The Gospel creates community, and those who press in more to Jesus and to the community get more & do more for God.
So I challenge you. If you are a Christ-follower, don’t be satisfied to be part of the CROWD of onlookers, or even just being an isolated attendee in the COMMUNITY of the church.
Press in, join a small group and pray for an intimate band of friends (TRIO) who like Peter, James and John end up seeing more and doing more than they could ever have imagined! You will never regret that decision. Amen.
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).
Every person on the planet will one day essentially have to answer to one question from Jesus; ‘Who do you say I am?’ (Mark 8:29)
All through Mark’s Gospel, we have had front row seats to the ‘Jesus Journey’ of the disciples, the crowd, the scribes and Pharisees.
Mark’s Gospel started with an announcement! This book is; “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). It’s a whole book dedicated to the announcement of WHO Jesus is and WHAT Jesus came to do on the earth.
John Mark’s account of the life and person of Jesus concerns itself with this journey of discovery that Jesus’ disciples and others were on during the 3yrs of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
And so, the Gospel is arranged in such a way that WHO Jesus is and WHAT Jesus came to do for you and me is the BIG IDEA.
John the baptiser was preaching in the desert about One greater than him who was to come. One whom John was merely preparing the way for (Mark 1:4-8 & Matthew 3:11) – who is this?
Then at Jesus’ baptism, the sky was split open, and God the Father spoke from heaven saying; “You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased” and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove (Mark 1:10-11) – who is this?
Jesus then starts preaching about a kingdom that has both come and is still imminent, one that requires a personal response of repentance and faith (Mark 1:14-15). Jesus preaches with such authority and conviction that everyone who hears is astounded – who is this?
On one occasion, a man in Synagogue who is under the influence of a demon cries out in the Synagogue. The demon says it knows who Jesus is – “the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24) – who is this?
Then Jesus begins to heal sick people and deliver people from demonic oppression wherever He goes. Simon Peter’s mother in law is healed, and almost the whole town gathers as many get healed and delivered that night (Mark 1:29-34). Jesus has authority over sickness and the demonic realm – who is this?
Jesus encounters a leperous man and is moved with empathy by the suffering of this outcast of society. Jesus restores his humanity and dignity by listening to him, engaging with him and then healing him (Mark 1:40-45) – who is this fearless, compassionate One?
Jesus then claims He can forgive a paralysed man’s sins and to prove He can forgive sins, Jesus heals him of his paralysis in front of everyone! (Mark 2:1-12) – who is this that can forgive sins & heal?
Jesus seems to be entirely free from the constraints of tradition, and the heavy burden of the interpretative religious regulations of the religious hierarchy of the day. He re-writes the rule book on fasting & scandalously re-interprets the Sabbath (Mark 2:18-3:6)! – who is this?
As some people are delivered from demonic influence, the fleeing demons cry out; “You are the Son of God” (Mark 3:12) – who is this that the demons seem to know of yet writhe on the floor before?
Jesus teaches in parables about life, spiritual things and a kingdom that is both mysteriously powerful and appealing. The parables of Jesus both draw people in and also simultaneously confuse others (Mark 4:1-33). – who is this that teaches like this?
Jesus calms a violent storm on the lake with just a sentence from His lips & then again with merely a few words of authority brings peace to a diabolic demonised man ranging about the tombs and countryside (Mark 4:35-5:20) – who is this?
Jesus heals a woman that no doctor could help who doesn’t even speak to Jesus but simply touches His garment and then raises a little girl back to life (Mark 5:21-43) – who is this?
Jesus returns to His hometown, to the place and people that know Him simply as ‘Mary’s son’, the carpenter… They can’t see past Jesus’ humanity and so Jesus marvels at their unbelief (Mark 6:1-6) – who is this man?
Jesus then sends His band of followers out, giving them authority to do what he has been doing – preaching, healing people and setting captives free from demonic influence. Jesus’ delegated authority causes them to do things they probably never imagined doing as demons flee, and people are healed as they pray for them! (Mark 6:7-13) – who is this man who can delegate such authority?
Jesus multiplies food to impossibly feed 5000 men and probably even more women and children, walks on water and calms another storm and then heals myriads of people some of whom only touch His clothes (Mark 6:30-56) – who is this man?
The big shots from Jerusalem come to call Jesus to account and bring Him into line on minor issues of law and tradition. Jesus boldly stands up to them unintimidated by them, denouncing them from the Scriptures they were supposed to be experts of and turns to His followers and explains true spirituality (Mark 7:1-24) – who is this man?
A gentile woman breaks societal normas and approaches Jesus asking for a miracle, and in the end, she is not disappointed! A deaf man and a blind man are healed, and once again, thousands are fed with impossibly little (Mark 8:1-26) – who is this man?
All along, the disciples are on their own ‘Jesus journey’ witnessing all these things together. I can hear their questions and conversations. Jesus has been revealing Himself in all His glory, the Godhead in flesh and blood, a man they can see, touch, engage with…
And in what is the pivot point of the whole Gospel, Jesus turns to them and asks them; “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27) Jesus knows that the crowds, scribes, Pharisees and the disciples to varying degrees are all wrestling with the same question.
And then Jesus focusses the question on those gathered around Him, those who have seen it all, heard Jesus explain the parables that dumbfounded the crowds and the Pharisees, those who had private encounters no one else knows about on the lake – “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29)
This is the question every person on the planet will face one day – “Who do you say that I am? Do you believe that I am God, the Messiah – Jesus? Did you believe the Gospel, the announcement about WHO I am and WHAT I came to do?” (see 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10)
Those who like Peter (see Mark 8:29) believe that Jesus is God the Messiah and repent – will be saved from their sin and will be welcomed into eternal glory with Jesus as their King.
This point in the Gospel is the hinge on which the whole Gospel turns; this exclamation of faith by Peter is the culmination of all the experiences He had had with Jesus. From this point onwards the focus becomes not so much WHO Jesus is but WHAT He came to do.
I am encouraged that Peter saw so much, experienced so much revelation of Jesus before he reached this point of believing. I know my Jesus journey has been similar! In His grace, God revealed Himself to me when I was 8, but I encountered Jesus powerfully when I was 12 and kept encountering Him throughout my teenage years. I know I believed when I was 8, but my faith has grown stronger through the years as I have seen more and experienced more of Jesus through so many life experiences.
I am encouraged that as I pray for friends that don’t yet know Jesus, that Jesus will keep revealing Himself to them. They are on their own ‘Jesus journey’, and I get to walk with them and point them to Him – but He is in control, always has been and always will be.
I can identify with the disciple’s experience outlined in this Gospel of Mark, can you? And I know that having reached my Mark 8:29 moment many years back, I don’t want to stop now. Instead, I want to keep growing in my knowledge of Jesus and my love for Jesus. I want my faith to become more and more robust as I see more of Jesus in my life. After following Jesus for more than 30yrs, writing Scripture and planting churches, the apostle Paul wrote; “I want to know Christ” (Philippians 3:10). I want the same!
This is what I call the Jesus journey. Every day, seeing and experiencing more of Jesus and having those experiences transform me to become more like Him. Join me in the journey so that one day when Jesus looks into your eyes and says; “Who do you say that I am?” you will look back into His eyes with love and wonder saying; “My LORD & my God!”
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!
Jesus’ parables are mysterious, ambiguous, surprising, and sometimes they raise more questions than answers.
We know from Mark’s gospel that Jesus spoke in parables all the time to the gathered crowd but then explained everything to his inner circle of disciples (Mark 4:33-34).
Once again, in Mark 4:23-25, Jesus implores the people listening to Him to listen well, to press in and to enquire about what He is teaching them.
Jesus is encouraging intentionality, persistence & eagerness in His hearers encouraging them, that the revelation and understanding they will receive is directly proportional to the degree to which they enquire.
If they listen much, listen well, they will receive much, perceive well! Listening intently and persistently is like an investment that guarantees a return in equal proportion to the amount invested.
So many of us live in a world of ease. Our food comes from the supermarket; it is generally not the result of careful preparing of soil, sowing, watering, weeding, harvesting, but rather a simple transaction involving money.
But for a subsistence farmer, Jesus’ words ring true. There is a straightforward relationship between the degree or measure of effort and intentionality invested by the farmer and the result, the joy and fulfilment and nourishment enjoyed as a result.
This is what Jesus is urging those who are around Him listening. God’s kingdom is like this. As a pastor, I meet people who sometimes lament that they don’t know their Bibles as much as Mr X or Mrs Y. They wish for a deeper love for God, a more robust faith, a life-giving prayer life or heart of worship. But so often they are looking for a ‘spiritual supermarket’ where they can transact for it, go and get it.
But Jesus tells us here that His kingdom, growing in revelation, growing in love for God and relationship with God is not a transaction, there is no ‘spiritual supermarket’ but rather the measure you press into God will be the measure you grow in God.
This is not an earth-shattering revelation, it isn’t complicated, but it is profoundly true.
Those who pay close attention to God’s teachings, to His Word (the Bible), those who invest the time to listen to His voice in daily life – they will receive much from God in terms insight and wisdom into the things of God. That is the person who will grow in God and have a life-giving relationship with God, who will know the joy of faith that is robust and prayer that is vital and powerful.
Brothers and sisters, the measure with which we press into Him is the measure by which we will receive from Him.
This is such an encouragement to keep reading our bibles, to keep going to our Father in prayer, to keep meeting for church on Sunday’s and in small groups, to sit under God’s Word together…
I have found this to be true in my life – the more I diligently seek God, seek to know His ways and His will, the more I come alive spiritually. And as a pastor for many years, I have also found this to be true in others over and over again.
Who wouldn’t want a vibrant spiritual life full of spiritual fruit and abundance, joy, peace, hope and fruitfulness?
Everyone wants that surely. Jesus is telling us, press in, keep investing in your relationship with me, the rewards will never disappoint you.
In closing, the incredible encouragement is that Jesus explained everything to His disciples, His inner circle. Many left after these teachings bemused, but His disciples had personal extra-lessons with fuller explanations and Q&A! Brother or sister, if you have believed in Jesus you have Jesus with you always by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit – you are in the inner-circle as it were, you are part of the group Jesus will explain everything to! So be encouraged and keep pressing into Jesus by devoting yourself to His Word and to prayer and fellowship with the saints. Amen.
There are three groups of people always with Jesus. His growing band of disciples, the astonished crowds and those who were increasingly opposed to Jesus.
As a Roman-occupied territory, Palestine was littered with many diverse groups of Jews working out a complex religious & political response to the circumstances they were under as subjects of Rome.
Jesus’ arrival on the scene in and around Galilee, and His words and actions both threatened & angered at least three of these groups in the Jewish religious & political landscape.
In Mark 2:1-3:6 those opposed to Jesus have four points of conflict that crescendo in Mark 3:6;
- Jesus forgives the paralysed man of his sins (blasphemy) (Mark 2:1-12)
- Jesus socialises with sinners (associating with the ‘wrong’ people) (Mark 2:13-17)
- Jesus breaks the mould regarding fasting (Jesus doesn’t follow the norms) (Mark 2:18-22)
- Jesus disregards existing ‘Sabbath’ regulations & re-interprets them as one with authority (Mark 2:23-28)
Jesus’ actions have so angered and threatened the various groups with their perspectives and agendas that by Mark 3:6 two of the Jewish groups who were not customarily aligned (Pharisees & Herodians) are so united by their opposition of Jesus that together they begin to plot how they will ‘destroy’ Jesus.
The dark threatening clouds of opposition are already gathering against Jesus right from the start of this account of His life and ministry. We’ve seen the Devil himself, Scribes, Pharisees & now the Herodians all against Jesus and angered by Him.
However, all of these enemies of Jesus will ultimately do what the Father had planned (Acts 4:28), because Jesus came to die as the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29) by allowing these groups of people to kill him in their place for their sin and yours and mine!
What an incredible Saviour we have in Jesus. How hard it must have been for Jesus to deal with the injustice of it all, the irony that sinful people were plotting his murder while thinking they were doing right.
As we keep reading this gospel of Mark, those plotting and planning are always there in the crowd. Jesus’ suffering didn’t start in the week leading up to the crucifixion, Jesus endured multiple years of this type of opposition and threat all for you and for me. Praise Him, worship Him!
May we never be surprised when following Jesus leads us into testing times. He faced much opposition, wasn’t always understood, had his motives questioned, was falsely accussed… Jesus promised that following Him would not be easy but full of trials (Mark 13:13).
So when next you feel like people are plotting against you, speaking your name behind your back, don’t be shocked, rather remember Jesus. He knows your angst and the pain of injustice. Thank Him that He understands and empathises with you, thank Him that He is always there for you and ask His Holy Spirit to make you more like Him. Amen
Imagine the scene, Jesus has told a man He never met; ‘your sins are forgiven’! No one spoke like that; the scribes from the Synagogue are fuming – after all, only God can forgive sins. Outrageously, Jesus then says to them and the whole crowd that is listening and watching on;
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
In these early moments of His ministry captured in just the first two chapters of Mark, Jesus is revealing His authority over all created things. His redeeming power and love to overturn the effects of the curse of sin on people by granting people freedom from oppression and remarkable displays of healing from physical suffering with just His words. Jesus teaches with authority like none other, grants people forgiveness of sins, is feared by the demonic realm and rules over sickness and disease.
In the small fishing town of Capernaum, it is hard to think of anyone who hadn’t heard about Jesus and what He was saying and doing yet. Much like today’s opinions about Jesus, the opinions must have ranged from thinking;
- Jesus was a delusional madman with a blasphemous illusion of divinity,
- Or that Jesus a conman trying to trick people
- While others must have remembered what John the Baptist had been saying about Jesus, and what had happened when the heavens opened when Jesus was baptised, and a voice was heard; “You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) wondering is this truly the Messiah?
What was universal was astonishment. Astonishment at the things Jesus was doing and saying and so a crowd followed Jesus like moths drawn to a light. Jesus walks away from the scene of the healed paralytic man and goes down to the sea of Galilee, maybe because it’s calm and peaceful there.
As he walks to the sea, Jesus passes the booth of the tax collector, Levi. This is a man who would have been despised by his community since he is a Jewish man working for the Roman state, enforcing its taxes and using the position to personally profit as well. This is a man that has made a choice that has benefitted him financially but has left him ostracised, separated out from his community as an outcast.
Jesus passes this despised and probably ruthless man who probably keeps thugs as friends to impose his authority, and Jesus does something unpredictable to the crowd of onlookers. The crowd knows that Jesus has an inner-circle of followers (disciples), but they can’t predict what’s about to happen.
Jesus calls out to Levi and invites him to follow Him just like He did to Simon, Andrew, James and John! The crowd is as stunned and perplexed as Levi. Levi is such an unlikely candidate for Jesus to invite into His inner circle of disciples.
In the first chapters of Mark’s gospel, we have witnessed Jesus’ authority, supernatural power and magnetism, but here we encounter Jesus’ grace and mission. Levi is not deserving of love and acceptance according to the crowd. Levi hasn’t seemingly even been with the crowds drawn by Jesus; he is still at his post collecting taxes. And yet Jesus graciously invites him to join Jesus’ inner-circle with the same life-transforming words; “follow me” (Mark 2:14).
Sidebar thought: I am fascinated by Jesus’ choice of who was going to become His 12 disciples. So far we have four fishermen, and the man who’s tax booth by the sea probably meant that he had been the one taxing them and their fishing businesses! The taxed working class and the tax collector on the same team – remarkable diversity unified in Jesus. Those gathered to Jesus have always been diverse people who would not have associated if it were not for Jesus who transforms them into beloved brothers. What hope we have for our divided world struggling with racism! Jesus is the only One who can bring true unity out of diversity.
Amazingly, Jesus’ gracious invitation sees Levi (Matthew) immediately dropping everything as Levi rises and follows Jesus (Mark 2:14). As Levi gets up to follow Jesus he is leaving all he has known, leaving his income generation behind, Levi doesn’t even know where he is going, and surely doesn’t know what will happen next.
As they walk and talk Jesus surprisingly leads Levi to his very own home. When Jesus invited Levi to follow Him, I doubt Levi thought they would be going to his house. I wonder why Jesus takes Levi from his place of work, his place of oppression of people and corruption and takes him to his home?
Was Levi’s house bought or built with the proceeds of corruption? Was Jesus confronting Levi with his sin and compromise and yet graciously loving and accepting him despite it? We don’t know, but what we do know is that Levi throws a great party (Luke 5:29) for his friends who were ‘tax collectors and sinners’ (Mark 2:15). Jesus is unlike any other religious leader, and the church is to be like Him.
Jesus loved to socialise with people who were ostracised by society; Jesus is drawn to them. And in this account Jesus tells us why that is so;
16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus announces His mission here in Mark’s Gospel, His purpose. Jesus came for messed up people, for those who acknowledge they are wrong, that they have an incurable problem. Jesus didn’t come for pious religiously proud people who think they are ok!
As we survey the Gospels, we see that Jesus was almost magnetically drawn to people like Levi, broken, sinful people, and they were drawn to Jesus too. It is remarkable that broken messed up people weren’t reticent to come to Jesus despite His teaching with authority with a challenging message that was calling people to acknowledge and to turn from their sins and to believe in Him; “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15)
These people knew that Jesus would accept them and love them, despite His uncompromising message. Jesus was a compassionate truth-teller. True love doesn’t skimp on truth. May we Jesus’ followers, may we the church be more and more like Jesus was. May we be accused of being friends of sinners, may broken people feel magnetically drawn to us not judged by us. May we also be compassionate truth-tellers for that is true love. May we love people in such a remarkable way that even though we don’t join them in compromise or sinful actions may those around us experience Jesus’ love for them so that God can do something radical in their lives because of our close proximity to them.
Thank you, Jesus, that You came for those who know they don’t have it all together, thank you, Jesus, that you came for people like me! People who are broken, people who have made mistakes, and people who still make mistakes and still disappoint themselves and others, people who’ve got a shameful and chequered past like Levi. But thank you, Jesus, that Levi’s story is our story, and that just like you called him to follow You, so too You are calling me to do the same and just like You helped Levi to reach his broken friends I pray that You Jesus would help all of us to reach ours too. That we would become more and more like You, ridiculously compassionate truth-tellers. Amen
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.
Authority, who has it and how they use it is a massive topical issue right now.
In the USA, we have sadly witnessed the murder of George Floyd by a man supposedly in authority. In shocking moments like this, countries look to people in all the various realms of authority (politics, community, business, churches…) to say something or do something. In addition, we have witnessed that if a country or community believe those in authority have misused their authority – they are prone to rebel against all authority.
In our own South Africa, late yesterday, we heard that the judicial authority in our country had declared our Government’s authority in promulgating Level 3-4 regulations unconstitutional as the Bill of Human Rights has been compromised. Here we have Government trying to use its authority for the good of our nation, but citizens appealing to the judicial authority to resist or reform the Governing authority.
Authority! It’s a big issue and always has been. In Mark 1:21-34, we see real authority on display, good authority being exercised, the authority that blesses individuals and a community.
Jesus walks into ‘church’ (a meeting in the Synagogue actually) and stands up to teach the congregation who are present. Those who teach from the Scriptures have some authority as they help people to understand and apply the authority of God’s word for their lives.
But when Jesus starts preaching, which is something very normative in this context, all those present that day are astonished. There is something very different about this teacher; Jesus is unlike those they are used to hearing. Their position or role, their activity is the same as Jesus’, but He is preaching ‘with authority.’ (vs22)
I’m so glad this wasn’t my church. The contrast drawn by the congregation that day was between Jesus and their normal teachers – gulp. And, the contrast was notable as Mark’s Gospel records; ‘And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes’ (vs22)
Good authority used well isn’t repulsive to human beings, quite the contrary. These people were drawn to Jesus’ authority even though the things He was saying weren’t all affirming and cushy! Remember what Jesus was preaching; “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'” (Mark 1:14-15)
Jesus wasn’t a people-pleaser saying what people wanted to be said, that’s not what drew people to Him. Real authority often has to make decisions or lead in ways which are for the good of those they are leading but won’t always be liked.
When we encounter good authority, I believe that we are drawn to it, and it brings us peace and security. These people willingly gave themselves to Jesus’ authentic authority and therefore listened to His teaching.
In a church context, church leaders (elders) have authority;
- If they have been called & gifted by God to lead.
- And if that local congregation have recognised that calling and gifting as God’s gift to that local church and their personal lives
- If they teach and always lead from the fountain of authority that is everlasting – Scripture
- And if those elders use the authority that God’s entrusted to them for the benefit and blessing of God’s people and not for any personal gain
Pray for your church, pray that God would bless your church with leaders who are truly called not just placed in their position by some organisation, but hand-picked by God and called by God to lead and to teach and to love and care for your church. Pray that they would not say what itching ears want to hear, but that they would stand on the authority of God’s Word, always faithful to the Scriptures and in so doing will protect and bless that church for generations to come.
Lastly, a short exhortation from Scripture to anyone who is in a church; “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
The demonic realm and demonic influence
Those present on that day didn’t just hear a great sermon which came with authority because it was rooted in Scripture; they witnessed power over the demonic realm.
I have always been fascinated by this guy sitting in ‘church’ with a demon influencing his life. He was sitting there not entirely free but in some form of demonic influence or bondage. How did this demonic influence manifest itself in his life? Was it a perpetual fear or a constant struggle with depression… What we know is that it doesn’t seem to have been too obvious otherwise he probably wouldn’t have been welcome in the meeting.
But on this day when Jesus, the King of kings, walks into the room immediately that under-the-radar-demonic-influence in his life suddenly surfaces! The guy who’s probably never said a word in ‘church’ (Synagogue actually) suddenly shouts 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.”
Yikes! I have had a few moments like this in church when someone blurts something out that is socially not cool in what suddenly becomes a very public and awkward moment. I wonder whether this guy was the most surprised of everyone!
Authority. The demon or demons influencing this guys life know who Jesus is, and they know that Jesus has real authority. The people listening to Jesus’ teaching have just encountered His authority in His bold proclamation, but the demon(s) knew Jesus and knew his power.
We know this because of what they say to Jesus. They know who Jesus is, they know where He came from, they; know Jesus has the power to destroy them; they know that this man standing teaching these people is GOD! They know that He is the King of kings with absolute and total authority over them.
And so Jesus uses His authority to bless this man under the influence of the demonic realm and sets him free with just these words; “Be silent, and come out of him!” (vs25) Real authority doesn’t have to shout.
I love the fact that there is no show-down here, no titanic battle. Jesus’ authority so far outstrips any power of the demonic realm that they have to obey and leave the man alone – free at last.
There is so much we could say about the demonic realm and Jesus’ authority which He has now invested in us His followers to relieve people from demonic influence but time & space doesn’t permit.
However, in summary, may we see how much authority we have in Jesus’ name to set people free from all forms of demonic bondage and influence (John 14:12-14). May we not be blind to the demonic realm, and may we not be fixated on it either. May we simply be in awe of Jesus and ready to proclaim Jesus’ authority in lives and situations that need it for people to be free indeed.
Lastly, in Mark 1:29-34, we see Jesus’ authority over sickness as He heals Peter’s mother in law and then many in the town of Capernaum.
News of Jesus’ teaching with authority and Jesus’ act of supernaturally and simply setting the man free from all demonic influence spread like wildfire so that by the time evening came ‘the whole city was gathered together at the door’ (vs33)!
What drew them? Fascination no doubt, but I believe that for the sick and struggling and those suffering under the various physical and psychological maladies resulting from demonic influence what really drew them to Jesus was hope. Hope that was awakened because Godly authority was present. They had hope that they could be freed from their sickness and bondages.
Mark’s Gospel records what must have been amazing scenes. Just imagine the whole city outside a house, a gathering of onlookers and those suffering greatly. Picture Jesus, coming out the house, and speaking to people one by one simply with no histrionics but with his real authority as King of kings being displayed for all to see. Picture the tears and exclamations of joy as MANY are set free from their pain and sorrow and oppression.
What a joyful time it must have been! This is a moment when we see the coming Kingdom breaking into the present. This is what we ought to pray for an expect every day, people being released from pain and suffering in the authority of Jesus name. Amen
Life is full of contrasting experiences! One moment we are celebrating something the next we can be plunged into hardship by a phone call or some unexpected trouble.
In Mark 1:11-12, Jesus has a thoroughly human experience. One moment Jesus is basking in the love and affirmation of Father God, the next He is being sent by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan – juxtaposition.
You know the feeling, don’t you? Sunday you’re lost in worship, basking in the love of God, or you’ve just had a great time of personal devotion with bible reading prayer and worship and then BAM!
Someone rear-ends your car in traffic, or something hits the news on the radio that plunges you into despair, or your cell phone buzzes with a message you really didn’t anticipate or need – juxtaposition.
When this happens, we need to remember that our faith is not feelings. We know the God we were worshipping, delighting in and listening to. We know who has loved us and who had proclaimed that love. Feelings are fickle; they come and go, rise and fall, but our faith is anchored by something greater than feelings.
What anchored Jesus in the midst of this sudden change of atmosphere and experience?
- Jesus knew WHO He was, and Jesus knew WHOSE He was. At His baptism, God the Father had confirmed this in an emphatic way through His words to Jesus (vs11).
- Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1)
- Jesus knew Scripture and quoted it when Satan tempted and tested Him (Luke 4:9-13)
And what will anchor you when your life is thrown a serious curveball? I pray that it will be anchored by the same three things that anchored Jesus in his moment of contrasting circumstances.
Verse 12 reveals another surprising contrast. How can Scripture say that the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (see also Matthew 4:1)?
We prefer to attribute bad or hard things to our own agency or the sinful agency of others or Satan himself. We are happy with language that places God with us in trials or working in trials, yet all synoptic Gospels ascribe Jesus’ guidance to the Holy Spirit!
God doesn’t just work in all things; God is sovereign over all things. God, the Holy Spirit, lead Jesus into this challenging time for the sake of the purposes of God in and through Jesus. Being tempted by Satan and being without food for 40days could not have been easy or pleasant at all for Jesus. And yet it was God Himself who sovereignly lead Jesus into those circumstances.
At present we are facing a world-wide pandemic, economies are shaking, people have lost their jobs in thousands, businesses are struggling, people are sick, and many have lost their lives. There seems to be hardship on every side, and yet one of the keys to thriving in this world-wide crisis is; “knowing that the same sovereignty that could stop the coronavirus, yet doesn’t, is the very sovereignty that sustains the soul in it.” – John Piper
Sometimes I think we want to let God off the hook for our tough life circumstances. We feel it is too conflicting to know that God could have been involved in our circumstances or don’t want God to be blamed for not relieving them. But then you can’t have it both ways! “If we try to rescue God from his sovereignty over suffering, we sacrifice his sovereignty to turn all things for good.” – John Piper
The Gospels report without any apology or embarrassment that God the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into this time of hardship and discomfort and testing by Satan, and God sustained Jesus in it too! Luke records also; “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee” (Luke 4:14). God, the Holy Spirit, never left Jesus from the time of His baptism, strengthening Him through his trial and temptation, and empowering Him in all His ministry (Acts 10:38).
Likewise, God will never leave you (Hebrews 13:5-6)! No matter what you face, no matter what He leads you into for His sovereign purposes, God the Holy Spirit will always be with you to enable and equip you to do God’s will in it all.
So in these times full of juxtaposed experiences, good things and hard things know this – God is sovereign in it all and God loves you and me with an everlasting love.
Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you again today, knowing; “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)
[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.
Psalm 131 is a little Psalm with a big message for us on day 60 of our national lockdown due to COVID-19.
Peace is an active choice; it is not a state of being that is arbitrarily obtained. This Psalm reveals how peace is the result of choices we make. In this Psalm, David makes four active choices that together result in peace and calm in the midst of trying circumstances.
vs1: O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
The first thing David chooses is to reign in his heart. David won’t let his heart get proud. Humility and peace are interconnected. Pride leads to lofty thoughts about your ability or ideas, your grasp on a situation. And so pride multiples agitation and frustration – the absence of peace.
When our hearts are proud we bemoan; ‘Why isn’t what I think should happen, happening?’ Pride gifts one with opinions, and strong opinions don’t tend to lead to peace, especially in the face of an unprecedented national and world crises!
Every time we hear; “My fellow South Africans…” the state of our hearts is tested. The humble heart will see a man, a group of leaders and experts doing their very best, might think; “Phew that must be a hard job!” and won’t just complain and moan & criticise.
Do you need to reign in your heart?
vs1: my eyes are not raised too high;
The second choice David has to make is to curb ambition. Ambition, like pride, doesn’t lead to a peaceful state of being. Proud or ambitious eyes that look up to selfish & ambitious future plans that are being frustrated by the present circumstances are agitated ones – not peaceful ones.
In contrast, humble eyes don’t think too highly of oneself but rather submit to the Almighty hand of our sovereign God who holds all things together by just the words of His mouth. Humble people say things like; “If the LORD wills, we will do this or that.” (James 4:15)
Humble eyes see clearly, understand who God is and who they are in relation to God. Humble eyes rest in the sure knowledge of the goodness of God. They rest in God’s everlasting love for His children and the sovereign omnipotence of God. We can only rest in humble peace when we know that God is good and loving and in control of all things for us who believe in Jesus.
vs1: I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
Anyone who has studied something, in particular, will probably know the paradoxical feeling; that the more you know about anything, the more you realise how little you know!
As human beings created in the image of God, we have this incredible God-given ability to advance knowledge and understanding. But even with all that data and insight, we are finite & limited. God’s ways aren’t ours; God’s ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).
If I am honest, I don’t even know how my toaster works just that it does what I want it to the bread I put in it. I can use this computer, but I honestly don’t know how the computer is transforming touches from my fingers into characters and streaming data to the internet that can be read by yourself..!
David’s third choice that leads to a peaceful and calm life is that he has embraced his limits. He knows that there is much in life that is honestly beyond his ability to comprehend, and so he has chosen not to fret and occupy his thoughts with that which is beyond his grasp.
I don’t believe that this is laziness on the part of David but wisdom. It is wise to know your limits, and wise to trust God where your comprehension is outstripped by circumstances. In bewildering moments we can fathom or control we can either choose to fret and worry, or we can trust our omniscient, omnipotent Father in heaven.
vs 2: But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.
David’s fourth choice is his active decision to calm and quieten his soul (his whole body) satisfied to be in God’s presence. David is like a weaned child nestled into the bosom of God, drawing comfort and security from just being there in a relationship, intimate and close to the one who loves him.
In contrast to a weaned child nestling with their mom, a breastfeeding child in that position and posture close to their mother’s breasts will often have their desire for food awakened – they will not be content to just nestle there safe and secure but will want to be fed.
This is a picture of our relationship with God. Are we like a breastfeeding child coming to God looking for something from God, or a weaned child coming close to God simply for that, to be close to God?
In times of personal, community, national and world-wide crises, we can easily be those who are coming to God always asking for something. David challenges us to come to God in a different way, to come close to God not because we want or need something but simply because we love God, and we know God loves us! Come to God contented like a weaned child, come to God not to always ask for something but simply because you get to come into God’s presence because of Jesus!
Think through your prayers, your devotion times. How much of them are just nestling into the bosom of God because you belong there because He loves you and you love Him? Ask God to forgive you of coming just to ask for something else…
vs3: O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.
The Psalm closes with an exhortation; ‘Hope in Yahweh!’ Put your hope in God alone. Do this now in this global pandemic, do this today and do it for the rest of this life God’s given you. Hope in God for eternity to come. Hope in Yahweh alone, and you will truly be at peace.
Most days Nadine or myself write a devotion on the passage for the day from our church’s Bible Reading Plan. Today’s Psalm 133 is all about unity and today I could not think of a better way of reflecting on that Psalm than urging you all to read this Blog post that was recently posted on The Gospel Coalition blog site so here is the link – it is outstanding and relevant!
Psalm 19 starts with creation and how what God has made proclaims who God is most remarkably so that no one has any excuse to claim that they do not know of God (Romans 1:19-20).
But the rest of the Psalm is focussed on something entirely different. David, in vs7-13, turns his attention and his delight to a meditation on God’s words, on Scripture.
David delights in, he cherishes Scripture. David has a high view of Scripture that has shaped his life and his worship of God. His outpouring of words regarding God’s covenantal words to him, God’s commands, will, ways and wisdom are profoundly convicting and inspiring at the same time.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
God’s law given to Moses was a sign of the covenant God had made with His people. God’s covenant is a covenant of grace, an outpouring of love and commitment from God towards people that is faultless and full of unmerited favour and love. God’s choosing us brings our souls to life!
the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The ‘eduwth’ (Hebrew) or carved stone record of God’s covenant is rock solid & sure – it can be trusted, and trust in God makes the simple person wise.
8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
God’s ways, His commands and instructions straight and true. God created us, so it makes sense that His ways and instructions are for our good and when followed, cause our hearts to rejoice!
the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
God’s royal commandments are pure with no hidden agenda ever, and when they are followed, trusted and obeyed, they bring light to all situations we ever face.
the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
All people need to resolve in their heads and hearts who they are in relation to God Almighty and who God Almighty is in relation to them. The reverent fear of Yahweh is appropriate always is it the only pure way to live both now and forever.
the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
The judgements, the verdicts of God, are perfect. God’s perspective on people, on situations and circumstances, is always true and perfectly right.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Knowing God’s thoughts on any and every topic is more precious than gold, it is sweeter than honey! God’s Word reveals the thoughts of God, and because it does, God’s Word is to be valued more than anything else and delighted in more than anything else. In God’s Word, we find God Himself, not just ways to live but God Himself!
In God’s verdicts and God’s revealed will, God warns and instructs His children and when we take heed of His ways and His revealed perspective and will and keep them – we are rewarded greatly.
I can testify to this abundantly. Nadine and I met each other when we were just 14yrs old. We grew up in incredible families founded on God’s Word and were part of a wonderfully Bible-centred church and so from our earliest moments as friends, then as boyfriend and girlfriend, then as a courting couple, engaged couple and then a married couple – God’s Word has been at the centre of our relationship and our daily lives. And we can testify that God’s Word has moulded, shaped, protected, enlightened, guided & inspired us! We have been rewarded over and over again by simply believing the Bible and trusting that what God’s Word says is right and true, trusting God’s perspective on life implicitly. Nadine and I have decided that if there is one thing we want to inspire people to do, its to devote themselves to reading and meditating on God’s Word, making it the cornerstone of their lives, their daily food and the lamp to their feet. Friend, God’s Word is more valuable and sweeter than anything else – what are you waiting for?
Is it any wonder that there are always so many things vying for our attention when we want to commit to reading God’s Word, so many distractions, other priorities, interruptions? Is it any wonder that we always seem to have so many excuses why we don’t read the Bible or think that we can’t read the Bible. Our enemy will do anything to distract you, deceive you or discourage you from reading the Bible and making it the cornerstone of your daily life. So be aware of his tactics & resist him. The best form of defence is attack, so dive in and commit yourself to read Scripture daily, and just keep going and in time to come you too will feel like David did about God’s Word.
David closes this Psalm with the following words that have become a precious prayer of mine;
14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
I am convinced I have Italian blood in my bloodline somewhere! I can be hot-headed and quick to speak, and so this single verse has become a prayer I keep on the tip of my tongue when I feel tempted to react or to dwell on someone or something that is not pleasing to God. What a tether for the mind and the heart, bringing us back to the thing we want more than to have the final Word – I want/we want to please God, our LORD, our rock and our redeemer!
A little example at the end of the Psalm of how God’s Word is living and active, how it speaks and restrains evil and gives God’s perspective in the midst of a moment.
I love God’s Word! Do you? Join me! You will never regret devoting yourself to Scripture, never – that’s a guarantee, and there is not much in life that can be guaranteed these days.