Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Mark 4:21-23 It Should Come to Light

Once again Jesus asks us to really listen; "let him hear". This is important! In this little parable, hardly even a story, Jesus is asking the big question: "Are you going to live for me or for yourself." And to live for Him is to live transparently.

At first glance verses 21 and 22 seem almost unrelated. In verse 21 He is talking about lamps, which must be prominent. But in verse 22 the subject is secrets which should be hidden. What is the link?

My logical, analytical side likes everything clear and easy to understand, but the Asian mindset is quite different. Things only need to be tangentially related. so maybe there is a poetic, or an "opposites attract" reason for this paradox. Or maybe the incongruities are to grab our attention.

In verse 21, He asks a rhetorical question. Is a lamp to be hidden or displayed. The obvious answer: "To be set on a lampstand". What is the good of a hidden light? It is wasteful and illogical.

Maybe he is talking about the word here. The gospel of the kingdom. It is meant to be shown to all the world, meant to be really listened to.

Verse 23 begins with "For" meaning therefore, and, as or but. These verses are linked! Any "light" we try to hide will be exposed. It is almost as if he is saying "In your stupid, proud humanity, you may think you can keep some important things hidden, but they aren't going to stay that way.

Or maybe He is saying we aren't even aware of some essentials, they are hidden from us.

It could be our true characters that are hidden away from us, and the world. In the preceding parable of the sower, the soils superficially may have looked the same, but the harvest will show their real nature.

Jesus is talking to the disciples here . The 'stony soil' character of Peter and the 'thorns" of Judas' character were both brought to light during the crucifixion. Peter realised , maybe for the first time just how stubborn he was... and, by the grace of God, he changed! So we don't have to stay in the same place. Our character is revealed so we can change it. The soil can be tilled, the rocky subsoil broken up and the weeds turned in.

By contrast, when Judas learnt of the "deceitfulness of riches". He chose not to do the hard work of destroying the weeds. He would not change his ways and reaped the cruel reward.

God's character through Jesus was also revealed at the cross. A character of total self-denial and love for us.

Maybe we try to hide our Christianity too, we harbour the gospel but don't share it. Even then it will still shine through the cracks in our lives. The gospel will 'out' despite us.

What about our favourite "hidden" sins? Or those grudges we try to hide from our acquaintances? In fact anything that we use to make up the sham of the human life that is less than totally open to God's word? These will 'out' as well. Very scary thought!

Is it really possible to live transparently? This is a big ask. But the next couple of parables show how growth towards this goal is possible in the "kingdom of God".

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Mark 4:3-9, 13-20 Let Him Hear

"Time and effort" I said in my last post, which was a long time ago as I have been living out this innocuous little time-bomb of a parable.

Jesus starts with the word "Listen!" then finishes with "he who has ears to hear, let him hear!" He starts the explanation with "Do you not understand this parable?" Obviously He is saying something important and he wants us to get the message.

Jesus is telling the people about His kingdom, a kindom built around our choices, not the choices of the King (in marked contrast to all political systems then and since). I love Van Gogh's "Sower with Setting Sun" as it seems to show the tranquility of this kingdom's origins but also the light touch of the Sower.

In a way Jesus is fulfilling the parable as He tells it, He is spreading the word, or the seed, into hearts. So the kingdom comes with words, ideas and stories. What we do with them is what the story is about.

There are four responses that listeners to the gospel can make:

  1. Dismiss it and let Satan keep it away from their heart

  2. Accept it gladly but don't let it take root. They have a superficial link to Christ, maybe they just can't submit totally to Him, maybe they just trust themselves too much and they are tripped up.

  3. Hear the word but don't spend any time in Scripture, busy with temporal things. Unlike the second group, which wither away, these people stay alive but they "yield no crop". They look alive but there is no fruit.

  4. Hear the word. Accept (receive, delight in) it, or, in contrast with the others, value it appropriately, grow closer to Christ, spend time in the word. These listeners bear lots of fruit, they fulfil the purpose Christ has in mind.

Yes... I feel very much like the seed among thorns I haven't been spending the time I should in the Word. I've been doing "good things" like working hard and arranging and carrying out my church and mission obligations, but I have not been doing the "best" things. In this parable Jesus indicates the best things are time spent in His Word and effort trying to understand or "hear" it.

Jesus is so keen I understand this parable because my response determines the quality of my Christian life and experience.

As I spend more time in Mark, expect more frequent posts. If you don't see them, please send comments to wake me up.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Mark 4:1-2, 10-12 He Began to Teach

Apart from the prototypical gospel of chapter one (The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel) the red letters thus far in Mark are mostly responses to challenges. Yes we have learnt a lot from Marks story so far: Jesus is powerful and attractive, He wants us to think and act in new ways and most of all He wants us, not just to be saved, but to become His family. This, however is the first place where Jesus can say what He wants.

Jesus is sitting in a boat just off the shore of Lake Galilee,. A great multitude gather within earshot. What will He do?

"He taught".

Mark uses this word in contrast to preaching (which means to herald) in Mark 1:21-22 where Jesus taught in the synagogue with authority and in Mark 2:13 where Jesus taught the multitude. In neither case was the content mentioned. So here we learn what Jesus really wants say... what is on His heart.

The surprise is that He tells parables: "(symbolic) fictitious narratives (of common life conveying a moral)" says my Strongs.

Why stories? Probably because a story is more memorable, and it can pack a more emotional punch. But whatever the reason, Mark and the other gospel writers spend time with His "stories". They must be important.

In verses 10-12 ,Jesus seems to indicate that the parables were intended to stop the people understanding and to prevent their repentance. This doesn't ring true for me. Why would Jesus want only his "twelve" to know the mystery of the kingdom? Why would He try to hide His message?

He is just acknowledging the fact that becoming a Christian is a huge change. It is not just about accepting some propositions, some overnight change. It about becoming one of those who sit about Him who listen then stay to learn about the Speaker.

Jesus is attacking our penchant for the "quick fix". I want God to fix up my life and give me all the spiritual blessings I can possibly have NOW. Jesus says, "Listen to My stories, they are a time bomb, they will work on your mind, grow in your heart until you will want to sit with Me and let Me become your Brother.

In verse 12, Jesus is quoting Isaiah where the "returning and "forgiveness" is "healing". Jesus is still healing here and healing takes time and effort.

The first parable Mark reports talks about both of these things (time and effort) but before we get onto it, we need to look at what is happening.:

Jesus has been healing, arguing and forgiving. This has attracted a 'multitude' of people. People, like us, ready to rush off on their latest enthusiasm. Jesus dampens this down with simple little stories, that seem like stupidity at first. He slows the whole process down so people have time to 'become' His family.

It is paradoxical, we don't see until we know we don't see, we understand only when we know we don't understand. Here Mark presents Jesus as a teacher too interested in the learners to let them off easily, too intolerant of sinfulness to let its roots go uncut.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Mark 3:31-35 I'm Related!

Mark now tells us about a little incident that may follow on from verse 20,21. His family are outside calling Him away.

Not following protocol, of honouring His parents, "Who is mother, or My brother?" He asks.

These are close relationships. Maybe the closest we can have. These are the people who really know us, because they saw us when we couldn't put up a facade. They saw us when we threw tantrums and met the teenage hormones. They really do know us because they have gone through a lot with us.

So who are mother and brother? He looks at those listening, gathered around Him. Does He look at us today?

"Here they are!" He concludes "Look at them...busy pleasing God." What is that? What is God's will for us? The answer appears to be just what these people were doing: gathering around Jesus and listening.

So this chapter and section ends with the wonderful promise that I can be as close to Christ as a brother, as a mother. I can have the privileged position of being related to universal royalty!

In Chapter 3, we see Jesus as healer, quite popular with the people, as the caller and appointer of His followers, as increasingly hated by the scribes, Pharisees and Herodians but here at the end as One who not only rescues us from Satan's stronghold but elevates us to the closest relationship with Him. He wants to bring us close and tell us stories (like in the next chapter).

Will I keep Him at arm's length?

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Mark 3:28-30 Assured Condemnation

Jesus has refuted the accusation that He had an unclean spirit. Now He deals with the accusers!

Mark emphasises the importance of the passage by quoting Jesus' actual words. Most of Jesus' words are translated to the Greek in the Gospels. Mark, probably writing to a Greek-speaking audience, uses the Aramaic and Hebrew sparingly. But here he begins with the Hebrew word "Amen" - we have "Assuredly" or "Verily" in English. Mark only quotes this word 15 times in his gospel, and each time Jesus is saying something of great importance. This is no exception.

Jesus has answered the superficial question adequately, but now goes on to the basis of the accusation and what it means for the accusers, for our salvation and for the whole Godhead. Once again our Lord, doesn't stop where prudence dictates but in his concern for his enemies (that includes us) He ploughs on... unearthing a deep, disturbing truth.

"Assuredly"... The stakes are high, if you get this wrong you will be condemned for all eternity. Note carefully, this is worse than hellfire, this is becoming so infamous that your sin will be talked about and judged harshly for all eternity. "You will become a byword", He warns them.

Why does Jesus bother to warn the scribes at all? The answer is in v.23, "He called them (the Jerusalem scribes) to Himself". He is, in a personal and concerned way, offering the same privileges the disciples have. They too, could become heralds of the good news, cast out their own demons and go on to help form the Christian church. Basically He wants them saved.

Their main problem, Jesus states, is "blasphemay against the Holy Spirit". Even as they accuse Him of having Beelzebub, they realise that Jesus is of God. If they continue to fight the Spirit's convictions, they will eventually move beyond God's reach, to a place where repentance and forgiveness are impossible.

"Assuredly ... all sins will be forgiven.... and whatever blasphemies they may utter". Now this is very good news! Jesus, as Forgiver of sins, promises broad forgiveness. Forgiveness is assured as long as we keep listening to the Spirit!

The third implication of this passage is about the nature of the Godhead. The Holy Spirit is definitely God, you can only blaspheme God, but Jesus is saying that the Spirit is already working on these scribes, even when Jesus is present. This negates the idea that the Spirit is simply "Jesus' influence". It also indicates that both Christ and the Spirit are concerned about our salvation. Both are working to bring us to forgiveness and healing. He loves us that's why He warns us.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Mark 3:20-27 The Parable of the Plunderer

The crowds come on back. What draws them all? What was it about Jesus that pulls the crowds so consistently? Obviously He was still casting out demons and this brought on the next confrontation.

Whatever He was doing, He was so busy He can't eat properly. His worried family want to "lay hold of HIm", to teach Him some sense.

And not just His family, the scribes from headquarters said He is possessed by Satan.

How often have I called the work of God "madness" or "of the devil"? A typical reaction to things that are outside my cultural comfort zone.

I love Jesus' response to these cringing, self-serving accusations...He tells stories.

Can Satan cast out Satan? A house divided against itself... Infighting and division make it impossible for any group to stand against external threats. Even Satan's fractious kingdom couldn't stand such a division for long. Especially with so many people leaving his service.

Would a drug dealer run a rehab centre, or a pub run AA meetings?

But the parable explains exactly why Jesus is doing this. This is not madness but a well thought out strategy of conquest and pillage. Jesus tells about a robbery, not a quiet burglary, but a hold-up, a home invasion, an armed robbery.

His story is about a rich and powerful man, the head of the gang, the mastermind, Mr Big, And one night the tables are turned, he now becomes the victim of violent crime. He is subdued, tied up and his house plundered.

I can see him hog-tied in the corner watching helplessly as his most treasured possessions are stripped from his home. I can hear him shouting pathetic insults and impotent threats, but he is being robbed. He knows what it feels like now!

Jesus is plundering Satan's kingdom. He is the divine Viking, the SAS troops of an invading, colinising army, Francisco Pizarro. He is here for a purpose; to release as many of Satan's hostages as He can.

To do this He must overpower the "strong man", Satan. It is obvious now that the great power we live in fear of, has been beaten and bound. Great news! There is a Saviour, someone more powerful than our greatest enemy, someone able to rescue us.

Now it is my choice, I can rejoice in the rescues or I can be the mouthpiece of Satan, carping about the methods used and the sanity of the people carrying on Christ's conquest today.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Mark 3:13-19 He Appointed Twelve

I've been discipled lately. That's why no posts - actually I've been avoiding this post!

It worries me that I may be called to do "something" and frankly that is confronting.

Anyway back to my discipling... I won't bore you with the grimy details except to say that at church and work I've been 'chastened' three times in the last few weeks but I've learned three big lessons:

  1. Consult widely before changing things

  2. Don't speak in the heat of the moment

  3. Always speak kindly

I did the exact opposite to my list and got, deservedly, clobbered each time! I was comforted by that great verse in Revelation 3:19, spoken by Jesus, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten" God still loves me!!

Jesus has been so crowded that he had to have a small boat ready in case they crushed Him. But now He goes up the mountain and He called out the twelve He "wanted".

Mark says they responded to call, they "came to Him". Mark names the twelve and Jesus gives three of them (does He have favourites?) nicknames. Simon becomes Peter (a piece of rock) and James and John, the "Sons of Thunder".

Jesus wants a support crew to do exactly what He was doing; to carry on His preaching, healing and casting out of demons. He appoints them to these tasks. This is the real qualification for working for the Lord, that He has appointed us.

I love that word that Mark uses here for "appointed", in Greek it is poieo. According to my Strongs it means "to make or do (with very wide application)". The old KJV says "ordained", and that has been an emotive word too. But I know it best in haematopoiesis : the making of blood

This incredible process occurs inside our bones where haematopoietic stem cells can produce any of the three main types of blood cells. As each stem cell matures it changes in such a way that eventually it can only be a red cell or T cell or macrophage or any of the other cells that make up our blood. What it becomes is determined by need. If there is an infection, many more granulocytes are produced, if there has been a loss of blood then red cell production rises.

In the same way Jesus appointed these men to share His work, He could no longer do it all Himself. Actually, looking at the next few chapters there is lot more red ink. Jesus is able to preach more and tell parables, maybe the disciples are busy with the healing and casting out spirits.

That was what He needed then, does He still call and appoint those who answer the call? Does He need anything done in the world today? Am I being called? What will He "make" me into?