Gospel of Mark — Week 1

Monday, October 8

Read: Mark 1:1

Consider: The Book of Mark begins in a manner that doesn’t surprise us. When I took journalism class in high school, we were taught that the first sentence of a story should be descriptive of the opening paragraph and of the entire article. We were reporting. We weren’t writing to build suspense or to bring out hidden meanings. So, we were taught to be up front with what we were going to say.

For many years, I read Mark 1:1 in that manner. I figured Mark was reporting to us what had transpired in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so his first sentence was simply an introduction.

But it is so much more. What doesn’t surprise us shocked and terrified Mark’s original readers. They must have feared for Mark’s life, because in that opening sentence he committed treason and, of course, that was a capital offense in the Roman Empire.

Rome was not simply a city or a government. It was a religion. We call it the “cult of empire.” It had its rituals, hymns, temples, celebrations and gods. Caesar was considered divine—said to be a Son of God. And the Romans believed that their empire was the greatest nation the world had ever seen, so they were entitled to the results of their power.

The proclamation of Caesar’s and Rome’s greatness was considered the “good news”—the gospel of peace. Of course, the Pax Romana—the Peace of Rome—was accomplished through the destruction of Rome’s enemies and the enslavement of conquered populations. It was the way of the gods.

But Mark began his story by scoffing at the powerful. He did it by using their language. He said the gospel—the good news—had nothing to do with the powerful Romans, their gods or their Caesar. The good news was about “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

In his opening phrase, Mark told us that all the idols, the false gods, and the self-important, powerful nations are a lie. They are simply self-worship. He said a new conqueror was here and his peace looked nothing like the Peace of Rome. He didn’t crush his enemies. He was crushed by them. He didn’t come to be worshipped, but to serve.

Pray: “Lord, in a world that lusts after a distorted view of strength and power, help me to look to you. Your reality shows the emptiness of those values. In a world where people boast about the greatness of their nations, help me transcend the jingoism that is really self-worship. Humble me before the One who humbled himself and became our servant. Change my vision and change my heart, so that I may be like you.”

 

Tuesday, October 9

Read: Mark 1:1-8

Consider: John the Baptizer is a strange and wonderful part of the Jesus story. From the prophecy of his birth to his execution under Herod Antipas, we see that God had placed a unique call on John’s life. But its fulfillment would come at great cost.

John’s ministry, which was the preparation for the Messiah from Nazareth, had some similarities to the life of Jesus. There were times when the masses followed John, hanging on every word he said. But there were also times when his words were too incendiary for the masses. He was often misunderstood. And those in power feared him the most.

At the heart of John’s message about the coming Christ was the call to change. Mark tells us that John came “preaching a baptism of repentance” (1:4). The literal meaning of the word, “repent,” is to change one’s mind. Now, when we think of changing our minds, we usually think of changing our opinions. (And that’s awful hard for some of us!) We think of the mind as a place of ideas—something much different than the soul or the spirit. But the concept of the mind was much different in the first century. They did not separate the mind, the soul and the spirit. So, when John preached repentance, he was preaching wholesale change. He was calling people to change their values, to change their world-view, to change their politics, to change their affections, to change the way they lived. And for many, that was asking too much.

I believe repentance—that is, changing—must be our way of life. I think it is a process. When we first come to faith in Christ and ask him to change us, we really have no idea of the scope of change he wants to make. So, over time, if we live in obedience to him, he shows us how to change and guides us as we change. That’s called growth.

Just like my one-year-old grandson cannot become a ten-year-old in six months, I can’t vault ahead to a level of understanding and maturity that requires a journey. But I’ll never grow if I lack the humility and the desire to change.

I don’t want to slap the name “Christian” on my biases and my preconceived notions of God’s will for his world. I don’t want to take an American world-view and call it the gospel. I don’t want to engage in the political animosity of our culture and justify it because I think I’m right. Everybody thinks they’re right and I’m not called to be like everybody. I’m called to be like Jesus. And that’s going to take a lot of change.

And, like our brother John learned, fulfilling our calling may come at great cost.

Pray: “Jesus, I need you to change me. Reorient my thinking and my living. Rather than lusting for power, help me to be like you—the One who laid aside his power. Rather than looking after my own interests, teach me how to serve. I know it will take a lifetime, but please make me more like you.”

 

Wednesday, October 10

Read: Mark 1:9-15

Consider: Even though Mark’s gospel is the second one in our New Testament, it was the first one to be written. I always remember that when I read Mark’s opening, treasonous words (see Monday’s meditation). I also find significance in it when I get to Mark 1:15.

If you have one of those red-letter editions of the New Testament (in which Jesus’ words appear in red ink), those are the first red words you see. So, the first words of Jesus that were recorded in the first gospel that was written are, “The time has come.”

There are two words used for “time” in the original language of the New Testament. One of those Greek words is familiar to us—chronos. We get words like chronology and chronometer from that one. The other Greek word for time is kairos, which has a very specific meaning. It speaks about an appointed time or an ordained time. The kairos is much different from the simple progression of the clock—the chronological progression of time. The kairos speaks about the moment appointed by God.

John the Baptizer prepared the way. Jesus was baptized. He was led into the desert where he was tempted. And then he emerged, saying, “The kairos has come”—literally translated, “The time has been fulfilled.”

With that statement came the most massive shift in human history. It was greater than anything that had happened in the Old Testament. In fact, the events of the Old Testament were preparation for this. And what is this great event that has happened at the appointed time?

“The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near.”

This change is so huge that Jesus describes it as a new kingdom—a new reign on earth. The empires of this world could not (and cannot) offer hope. But new life for each of us and for our world has come. And what accompanies Jesus’ announcement is the very thing that John had prepared—a call to change

“The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent (change)…”

As history reached the appointed time, Jesus called us to our appointed time—a time for a massive shift in our lives. “Unless you change,” he said, “you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Jesus wasn’t talking about the future kingdom. He was telling us that we must allow him to do a work in us so that we can see, and participate in, the work he is doing now—the work of the kingdom that has come with the arrival of Jesus Christ.

This change prepares us to be part of the new kingdom that is now advancing. And Jesus called that “good news” (1:15).

Pray: Praise the Lord for his new kingdom. Praise him that the world now has hope. And thank him that he invited you to be part of the kairos—the moment in time when he makes all things new. In our hopeless world, ask him to help you understand and be captured by the “good news” in a new and different way.

 

Thursday, October 11

Read: Mark 1:14-20

Consider: The kairos—the appointed time that Jesus proclaimed—would become the appointed time for Simon, Andrew, James and John. The moment Jesus said, “Come, follow me” (1:17, 20), their lives, their futures and their destinies changed. Nothing would ever be the same.

Of course, they had no idea of the changes in store. When James and John walked away from their father did they know they were leaving home? When Simon and Andrew left their fishing equipment did they know they were leaving the family business for good?

Fast forward three years and these four men have seen and experienced things they never could have imagined. Their experiences shaped them into men they never knew they could be. Their understanding of God, the world, themselves and their purpose were transformed on this journey.

There is a common statement that we often hear, and we often use — “If I only knew then what I know now…” Sometimes it’s followed by, “I never would have…” But other times it’s followed by, “I would have done it sooner!”

There is no way we can know where God will lead us and what he will make of us. There is no way to know how our lives will be transformed. We are just a naïve as four men who “At once…left their nets and followed him” (1:18). But our naïveté is seasoned with trust. We are willing to be led into the unknown because we believe in and have faith in what Jesus is up to in this new kingdom. So, we don’t wait, only to hear ourselves say, “If only.” Today we leave our nets at the water’s edge and follow him to the place that only he knows.

Pray: “Lord, give me a child-like trust in you. Thank you that you have a future for me that is beyond my comprehension. Please increase my faith and give me courage to follow wherever you lead. And help me to always be attentive to your voice as we take this journey.”

 

Friday, October 12

Read: Mark 1:21-22

Consider: Mark tells us about the reaction of the people to Jesus’ teaching before he tells us about the miracles that Jesus performed. In the coming verses and throughout the book, Mark will tell us about miraculous healings, the casting out of evil spirits and so much more. These, of course, made people curious, caused them to listen to Jesus and lent credibility, in their eyes, to his teaching. But even before any of these things took place, Mark said…

“The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (1:22)

Sometimes the scripture speaks about God’s power and sometimes it talks about Jesus’ authority. It is important to see the relationship between these two concepts.

In the original language of the New Testament, the word for “power” is dynamis (from which we get our word, “dynamic,” and from which we formed the word “dynamite”).  It usually speaks about strength and even force. But the word for “authority” (exousia) is quite different. In fact, our whole concept of the incarnation—the en-flesh-ment—of Jesus is based on the concept that God set aside his power and became a man. But the One who came as a powerless baby had authority like no one had ever seen.

We live in a world that clamors for power, but we are called to different values. We do not seek to coerce or force our beliefs and our values on others. Instead, we want the authority of Jesus—and who he is—to be at the center of our lives. Then people will listen to us, not because we shout louder than everyone else, but because we are not like the other “teachers” of our world (1:22).

Pray: “Lord, I want you to have full authority in my life. I don’t want to play by the rules of this culture. I want your kingdom values to shine through me as your Spirit lives in me.”

 

Saturday, October 13

Read: Matthew 8:23-27

Consider: In the stillness that followed the storm we hear the whispers of the disciples. Out of earshot of Jesus, in hushed tones, they ask each other, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (8:27).

They must have been in shock, just as we would be if we had been on that boat that day. Jesus healed people and commanded evil spirits to flee. Witnessing those miracles must have been amazing to his followers. But now the disciples see that nature—the creation—does what it is told to do when Jesus speaks.

Yesterday we considered the manner in which Jesus set aside his power. He came as a helpless child, put on our humanity, became one of us. But the incident in the boat shows that Jesus had both power and authority. How he chose to use his power is fascinating.

It seems that Jesus Christ can make anything happen. Yet, he doesn’t. He can control the wind and the waves, yet he never chooses to coerce any one of us. He commanded evil spirits and his power forced their obedience. Yet he will never make us obey, he’ll never force us into good decisions, he’ll never manufacture our love for him. He won’t use his power in that manner.

Power can be forced on a person. Authority is given. So, the question is, will we give him authority in every area of our lives? Or will we wait till we’re forced to submit? If so, that will be a long wait. Jesus doesn’t play by the rules of this world.

Rejoice that you can trust the authority of the One who doesn’t force his will on us, but offers it as a gift. It’s called love.

Pray: “Lord, it is a joy and pleasure to submit my entire life to you. I trust your authority because I trust your love for me. My present and my future—it’s all yours!”