Tag Archives: Mark

They Came to Bury Hope

God’s greatest redemptive work is often being done right under our noses, just outside of our awareness.  Therefore, there is always a reason to live into hope, especially during days that seem hopeless.

This was the insight that jumped off the page as I prepared to preach on Mark’s account of the resurrection of Jesus (Mark 16:1-8).

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. (Mark 16:1)

On that Sunday morning none of the women got up anticipating or sensing that Jesus had been raised from the dead.  Their subjective lived experience was one rooted in mourning and disillusionment.  They had witnessed Jesus being tortured, crucified, killed, and then buried.  As a final act of devotion they approached his tomb in order to anoint his dead and lifeless body.

The women came to bury hope, not ignite it.  From their vantage point death had won.  Life as they knew it was going to carry on much as it always had, with death getting the final word.

But their intense mourning, acute despair, and profound hopelessness was misplaced.  By the crack of dawn Jesus had already been resurrected and had gotten on with his day! And even though New Creation had erupted within reality, had you asked any of these women a few minutes before arriving at the tomb, they would have resolutely affirmed that they were living in the age of death and hopelessness.

What they felt and experienced was entirely disconnected from the truth of what God was up to.  Everything their feelings and senses communicated to them seemed irrefutable, and yet minutes later they discovered that their perspective was mistaken and misaligned to reality. Their worldview was wrong because the world itself had changed.  Just as they would have to catch up with Jesus who had gone ahead of them, their hearts and minds would have to catch up with the truth of the resurrection that so starkly confronted their current understanding of the nature of things.

There’s a critical lesson here.  It is possible to believe you are walking in hopelessness and be completely mistaken.  It is possible to feel utterly lost and without hope, and be thoroughly wrong about that evaluation.

As the women made their way to Jesus’s tomb, they would have felt utterly lost and without hope.  But their perspective was woefully incomplete.  The tomb had already been emptied and a new and living hope had already been established.

4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. (Mark 16:4–6)

We live much of our lives “in the dark” as it relates to sensing or feeling God’s power at work in our lives.  That is why it’s so important to live by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).  Our perspective is limited and this limitation can tempt us into interpreting God’s silence for absence and/or powerlessness.  When that happens, if we do not feel, sense, or perceive God at work, we can all too easily bury hope.

But the resurrection account challenges us to understand that God does some of His most powerful work outside of our direct knowledge.  This may be a discouraging realization at first.  After all, who doesn’t want to sense God powerfully at work in their lives?  And yet this realization is also profoundly encouraging in its insistence that we can by faith trust that extraordinary things are in play—veiled as they may be to us—and  therefore there is always a reason for hope. A particularly important truth to remember during days when our world threatens to collapse under the weight of calamity.

And trust me when I say, one day calamity will come.  And your world will buckle.  And on that day you may not feel, sense, or perceive God’s redeeming power at work.  And as a result, on that day you may find yourself tempted to bury hope.

But when that day comes remember the women who rose to face the end of their world, only to be invited into a new one through a risen Saviour.

Remember that the tomb is empty.  Remember that Jesus has risen.  Remember that he’s gone ahead of you.  Remember that he’s powerfully at work though you may not perceive it.

And instead of burying your hope, let the Spirit of God ignite it.

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Bible Overview Series: Mark

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Mark by Joseph Novak

Mark: Just as we were killing him, God whispered a secret. No one heard except the soldier who raised his bloodied hands in awe.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Mark

Mark is the story of what Jesus did for us. The author, John Mark, wrote this book based on the apostle Peter’s memories of Jesus’ words and deeds.Mark is the second Gospel (an account of Jesus’ life and ministry) in the New Testament. Like the other Gospels, Mark records Jesus’ life: His miracles, betrayal, death, resurrection, and commission. However, Mark’s Gospel is very brief (nearly half as long as Luke) and focuses more on things Jesus did than things Jesus said. Mark’s stories are not arranged chronologically; instead they’re put together to give us a quick, accurate view of Jesus.This Gospel emphasizes two important characteristics of Jesus Christ:

  • His authority as the Son of God
  • His compassionate service to people (particularly in miracles)

As you read Mark, you’ll see the word “immediately” repeated often: Mark is a quick, urgent, bold message about who Jesus is and what He did.

Theme verse of Mark

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45)

Why Mark was written

Mark opens with a quick overview of what the book is about: “the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk 1:1). Every passage in Mark, every miracle, every conversation, every deed, points back to Jesus’ authority as the Son of God.

Mark is a brief synopsis of Jesus, and could have been meant for reading in one sitting—or aloud to an audience. It’s an exciting account of the Son of God that could speak to the Jews and the non-Jews of Mark’s day.

Quick outline of Mark

  1. Jesus’ authority among the people (Mk 1:1–8:13)
  2. Jesus’ mission and nature revealed to the disciples (Mk 8:14–10:52)
  3. Jesus is tested and crucified (Mk 11–15)
  4. Jesus’ resurrection and commission (Mk 16)

 

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An Inevitable, Unstoppable Kingdom

Mark 4:30–32
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”

This short parable of Jesus is packed with significance for us. In attempting to explain the nature of God’s Kingdom (ie. God’s “rule and reign”), Jesus used the picture of a mustard seed.

mustard seeds
Photo courtesy of Anja Herbert Noordam

The mustard seed indigenous to the land of Israel is extremely small.  To the naked eye a single mustard seed seems trivial.

What possible significance could come from something so small?

Indeed, it’s difficult to image that from just one mustard seed a tree like this could emerge:

 

mustard seed tree
Photo courtesy of Anja Herbert Noordam

Many sermons have emphasized the point of Jesus’ parable to be that God’s kingdom begins small–almost imperceptively so–but grows large.  That is an important (and encouraging!) dimension to this teaching.  But there’s another aspect to this parable that sometimes goes unnoticed.

In the first-century laws were in place that placed strict parameters on where mustard seeds could be planted.  Why?  Because the aggressive, fast-growing nature of the mustard plant caused some to view it as a “malignant weed” with “dangerous takeover properties” (Michael F. Bird, Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission, Continuum, 2006, pp. 73–77).

From the Wikipedia Entry on the parable:

Pliny the Elder (Roman Naturalist and philosopher) , in his Natural History (published around AD 78) writes that “mustard… is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.”

The significance of this fact is incredibly important for us to understand.  Jesus wants his disciples to understand that although the kingdom starts small, it’s growth is inevitable and unstoppable.  Regardless of where it’s planted, God’s kingdom is a offensive, encroaching, non-domesticated force that quickly overwhelms the ecosystem around it with God’s power, joy, love, grace, and truth.

Last Sunday about 60 people gathered at our church to worship, share communion together, pray, and learn more about following Jesus.  By Sunday afternoon I found myself reflecting on the the future of our church within the broader Nelson community. To the naked eye our church seems trivial.  

What possible significance could come from something so small?

And I realized in light of this teaching that I was asking the wrong question.

If we are sincerely following Jesus and allowing God to establish his kingdom within our lives, growth and impact will materialize.  The question I should have been mulling over was, “What possible significance will come from something so small?”

Because the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.  It has takeover properties.  Despite its meager beginnings, life-giving impact to the surrounding ecosystem is inevitable and unstoppable.

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Fire Made Flesh: Responding to Jesus’ Authority

I’ve been reading a lot of commentaries and teachings on Mark 2:23-3:6 over the last two weeks.  Here’s a snippet from a Timothy Keller sermon.  It begins with a powerful quote by NT Wright that Keller uses to offer a piercing reflecting on what it means to respond to Jesus’ authority:

“How can you live with the terrifying thought that the hurricane has become human, that fire has become flesh, that life itself … walked in our midst? Christianity either means that, or it means nothing. It is either the most devastating disclosure of the deepest reality in the world, or it’s a sham, a nonsense … Most of us, unable to cope with saying either of those things, condemn ourselves to live in the shallow world in between.” NT Wright

He’s right, because if you have a shred of personal integrity, you’ll know you can’t like anybody who makes claims like this. Either he’s a wicked or a lunatic person and you should have nothing to do with him, or he is who he says he is and your whole life has to revolve around him, and you ought to throw everything at his feet and say, “Command me.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but do you live in that sort of misty world between that N.T. Wright is talking about, that he says no one with integrity can live in? Do you pray to Jesus sometimes, maybe not a lot, but sometimes? When you’re in trouble you pray to Jesus, and then sometimes you kind of ignore him because you get busy. Is that right for you?

Listen. Either he can’t hear you because he’s not who he says he is, or else how dare you check in occasionally with this person? You can’t just pray to Jesus occasionally. Either he can’t hear you, he’s not who he says he is, or else he has to be the still point in your turning world, he has to be the thing around which your entire life revolves.

Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

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