Missions: go to people, not places (Mark 16)

Mark 16 closes out the book of Mark with a brief account of the resurrection and a somewhat controversial last 11 verses. Controversy aside, what stuck out to me was the great commission like statement found in Mark 16:15. The idea is found in all the gospels, Acts… Well really the whole Bible.

God has made the way to rescue sinners from His wrath through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ who was crucified, buried and risen from the dead. This is indeed good news and the world should hear!

Believers are called to be ambassadors of Christ! We are to take the good news everywhere, including to people who may not count the gospel as good news. We are to go!

It’s the PEOPLE not the PLACE!

But where are we to go? If we are not careful we will become mistaken and think we are to go places (indeed that may be part, but it is not the whole), but the command to go and make disciples is not about geography as much as it is about people. People who at this very moment stand outside the kingdom of God. People who may have never even heard the gospel. The command is to go to the people, not the place. Sometimes we have to go places to get to the people, but please make no mistake we go to share the good news with people.

The implications of this are huge! Tonight as I write this there are people in my city who will lay their head on their pillow to go to sleep and they have never heard the good news. My city has an abundance of churches, and yet there are people who have not heard.  The condition of those who have not heard in Pensacola is the same as those who have not heard in another city or country with less churches. Again the command isn’t to go to places, but to go to people! Darkness is darkness wherever it exists. We can no longer use the fact that there are more people without the gospel in another region of the world as an excuse to just give our money and not search out those who are without Christ on our own neighborhood. (We should give and give generously to reach people across cultural divides, but not in replace of sharing the good news in our own culture).

Mark 15: When God is far away, yet so near

There is so much in Mark 15 to get into, what jumped out at me was when Jesus called out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (mark 15:34)? It appears like God (the father) is forsaking or abandoning God (the son). My question was… Is that possible? Can God forsake God?

To get the answer I did a little searching. I always like to begin with the context. Remember Jesus is being crucified.

Sometime between 9am and noon some of the religious leaders come through and are mocking Jesus. They say that if he comes down (supernaturally removes Himself from the cross) they will believe Him… This taunt is familiar. Satan tempted Jesus to fling Himself from the temple and angels would hold him up. The problem is that if Jesus comes off the cross He is no longer in perfect obedience to God and He is no longer making a perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Plus he will give them a greater sign by rising 3 days later. It is in this context that Jesus utters, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

My next step is to see if these words have been uttered before in scripture. A quick phrase search now available via modern technology reveals Psalm 22. I dare you to read Mark 15 and then Psalm 22. Psalm 22 was written well before the events of Mark 15, before Rome occupied Israel, before crucifixion was the accepted means of execution, yet it describes Mark 15 perfectly… Including the taunting. It also reveals that the end result of bringing people to worship God.

It appears that Jesus is quoting the scripture in this moment of extreme anguish to point those who are there to the real reason He is on the cross. 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that God made him who knew no sin, to become sin so that we might become the righteousness of God. There is no doubt that Jesus pleased the Father. He was walking perfectly in God’s will, yet God’s will required Him to bear the sins of the world and for a time to experience the weight of sin and satisfy the wrath of God on our behalf.

So did God abandon God? Not ultimately. Jesus was fulfilling the plan of God, bringing Glory to God, and would be raised from the dead to be seated at the right hand of God the Father.

Did God abandon God briefly then? Possibly, though it was the plan from before the foundation if the world. Jesus bore our sin debt alone and in this (in my mind) there was a sense of abandonment.

The application for us: Don’t miss the big picture behind the question. God went to great lengths to insure that sinners could be made right and enjoy Him forever. Salvation is free, not because it is cheap, but because it is costly and we could never afford it.

Mark 14: temptation and prayer

Mark 14 details the events leading up to the arrest of Jesus. There is really slot in this passage to unpack, but what jumped out to me was how Jesus prayed in the garden.

He brought a few of the close disciples with Him and then went a little further to pray. He wanted them to watch and pray. However, they let hum down by falling asleep. Jesus comments that they should pray against this temptation because, “the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak.”

This is how temptation often occurs. My desire is to be up early in prayer, but my body says it’s comfortable in bed, my spirit says wake up. I enjoy a reasonable portion for dessert and my body says to try some more, my spirit says you’ve had enough. I see a provocatively dressed woman my body says to stare, my spirit says to look away. I see an opportunity to cheat at a game my mind says no one will know, my spirit says God will know.

We all wage the war of temptation between the flesh and the spirit. Jesus tells his men to watch and pray for their bodies are weak. Jesus was facing his own time of temptation. He asked God if there was another way, but not to do what He wanted, but to execute everything according to the fathers plan.

How do you handle temptation?

Mark 13: it will get worse before it gets better

In Mark 13 Jesus describes the future to a few of His disciples. The picture He paints isn’t a beautiful one. He describes in mild detail the effects of sin on our world. There will be wars, earthquakes, food shortages, family strife, etc. And many will be persecuted for Jesus’ name sake….

But then it will get better! Jesus will return in all his Glory! Sin and all of it’s ill effects will be wiped away!

But we should be ready. We should be diligent. We must not assume we have more time. Jesus said it’s not for men to know the day or hour of His return, but to know that He will return. We should be diligent to watch, pray & look for His return. We should not east the days like lazy servants of a master are tempted to do, but we must make the most of every opportunity.

The message is this… We are not home yet! The curse of sin still plagues this planet. People hurt people. The planet groans under the weight of sin. We can not lay back idle while the world passes by as though the best Christ has to offer is a peaceful life now… No. He offers eternal life and while we breath, while we move, while we live we must labor diligently to see Him high and lifted up. We shouldn’t live as though we are retired… We must live preparing for His return.

Mark 12: The Authority of Rejects, or the Rejection of Authority

Mark 12 starts out with the parable of the wicked tenants. They are wicked because they reject the authority of the owner to collect what is due and kill his son. (more on this parable can be found by clicking on the vodpod video to the right on my blog http://www.followjonathan.wordpress.com)

The parable carries over from the conversation in chapter 11 about authority. Jesus’ authority had been questioned by the religious leaders. This parable illustrates that the religious leaders had already rejected God’s authority and that they were like the tenants in this parable… Judgement was coming.

At the end of the parable Jesus tacks on a fuller statement about a cornerstone. He is quoting from Psalm 118. The meaning is that the leaders had rejected Him as the cornerstone (foundation and guideline) for their lives, but that even though he was rejected by them, He would still be the guideline by which their lives were judged.

Application: Many people reject Jesus. Even seemingly Christian people can conduct life under a set of rules apart from a relationship with Christ. Remember that Jesus is telling this parable within earshot of the Religious leaders of the day. They are simply living under rules and not in a relationship with Christ. The difference is deadly.

Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of a believers life. The Holy Spirit is moving and working in each one of us to conform us to the image of Christ. To be confirmed to the image of Christ, we must accept God’s authority in our lives. What authority do you submit to? Is it a false standard of self imposed rules made by yourself and/ or others? Do you go which ever way the wind blows trysting your emotions to be your guide? Have you entrusted yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ to save you, change you, and transform you into His image through His work on the cross for your sins?

Mark 11: Who said you could do that?

At the end of Mark 11 the religious leaders come to Jesus asking by what authority He does things. Specifically they probably have in mind the fact that He entered the temple kicking over tables and throwing out the people who were selling stuff there. They also probably wondered why a few days earlier he had come into town riding a colt and there was a lot of commotion and praise going on.

After all they were the ones with the authority. The were religious “leaders.” Jesus just appeared to be a radical irreverent teacher. But they really had it all wrong. Jesus wasn’t just a teacher, He was God… God in the flesh! He was the ultimate authority!

Furthermore, while these men were in leadership some serious things were going on that actually hindered the worship of the people. These men had added customs and made them equal to the law. They had put a store out front in the temple to change money or sell animals.

I wonder how often we treat Jesus like that in our own lives. We reduce his words to just good teaching and rib them of their authority. We treat them as ideas to be followed or forgotten, we forget that they are commands and that Jesus is the ultimate authority.

Bow your knees in prayer today and trust God to be the ultimate authority in your life. Are there things you have been refusing to trust Him with? Areas of your life that you have tried to manage apart from Him?

Mark 10: the cost of discipleship

Near the end of Mark 10 we read the story of the rich young ruler. This man was seeking eternal life, but when Jesus told him to sell all that he had, he went away sorrowful. In short Jesus asked for a total commitment of his heart, but the man loved the comfort of his wealth more than he desired to follow Jesus. For this man the cost of discipleship was too much.

Don’t get me wrong we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. No one earns or can work for his or her salvation. I believe we are even made more in the image of Christ by His grace as we walk each day, not by our works. But discipleship does have a small cost to it. To truly be a disciple I need to forsake all things that would compete for my love and obedience to Christ. But to be honest this really doesn’t cost me anything.

I gave up my free agency on the singles market the day I married my wife. I forsook all other potential relationships for her. My marriage cost me my free agency. But I’ll be the first to tell you I got way more than I ever gave up! I’m glad married my beautiful wife and I wouldn’t trade her for anything. But in order to have an exclusive relationship you must give up all rights to whatever would compete for your attention. This is the cost of discipleship.

Though the cost is small, it is one that must be paid non-the-less. We must forsake all in order to follow Christ. What we get by following Christ by grace is more than we could ever afford or deserve, but requires that we let go of lesser treasures that do not satisfy in order to gain the ultimate treasure of trusting Christ (matt. 44-46).

The question is are you following Christ? Are you letting of the things that would become an idol in your heart? Have you given Christ your all, so that you might have the true joy of following Jesus?

Yes, there is a cost to discipleship, but it is not the price of admission, it is the price of exclusivity. Are you willing to pay it today?

Mark 9: who is the greatest?

In the middle of the passage the disciple begin to argue about who will be the greatest in the coming kingdom. Jesus knowing their hearts pulls up a small child and reminds the disciples that his kingdom is made of such. We are not to be fervent self-seekers, but rather ardent givers. We are to put others ahead of ourselves. In this way the first will be last and the last will be first. In essence everyone serves and gives to their ability, for God is not interested in what we have to bring him, but what he has to give us.

Sometimes we can fall into the pit of bitterness by thinking God owes us favor or respect over others. The truth is that we owe God more than we could ever pay for our salvation. To be part of hHis kingdom is reward in itself and to see others come into the kingdom and encourage one another along the way ought to be enough.

Mark 8: Don’t You Know Me By Now?

Mark 8 begins with Jesus feeding the 4000 with a few loaves and fish. He did a similar thing with a crowd of 5000 back in Mark 6. Soon after feeding the crowd he gets in a boat with His disciples and heads across the lake. They land and are immediately met with a group of religious leaders demanding a sign. It’s important that we pause here and reflect. For anyone serious about seeing If Jesus were the messiah or not, there were already plenty of signs. Jesus had fulfilled prophecy, healed people, fed massive crowds on a few loaves and some fish, and even taught in the synagogues. But still these leaders were looking for a sign. A sign not to believe him, not to follow him, but a sign to test him.

Jesus responds that their won’t be a sign and hops back in the boat with the disciples and they head off on the lake again. While in transit Jesus mutters, “beware the leaven of the Pharisees” (religious leaders). The disciples think it’s a backhanded rebuke for forgetting to bring the bread. Jesus reminds the that he fed the 5000 and 4000 with just a few loaves of bread and fish. He doesn’t want bread, he wants them to be aware that the kind of doubt that is constantly looking for a sign (though plenty are evident) is both dangerous and contagious.

The point: When you already know the will of God follow it with obedience, don’t keep testing. If God has called you to ministry, go. If You know Gods will but refuse to follow for the sake of testing, isn’t that disobedience? I’ve heard other pastors tell stories of how they put the fleece out before God wanting Him to confirm something in their life (the fleece story comes from judges 6:36-40 where Gideon, knowing the will of the Lord (v36), puts out a fleece to confirm what he already knows). I can understand this if they are uncertain about an issue and want to know that God is in it or if they doubt their own heart and wonder if their motives might be mixed and need clarity. But to know the will of God, or in the case of Jesus, to know by signs, wonders, and prophecy that Jesus is the Messiah and to still demand a sign is flat out disobedience.

This kind of disobedience is contagious and dangerous. Whole congregations can be lead astray by doubting the will of God and refusing to follow on faith in His promises.

Mark 7: keep the main thing the main thing

At the beginning of this chapter, Jesus’ disciples are taken to task by some of the religious leaders for not washing their hands. To be honest, washing your hands is very wise behavior. I was taught to wash my hands before meals as a child and still do on most occasions, even if I have to use hand sanitizer. I wash though to keep germs somewhat at bay and prevent disease. Again… Washing hands is very wise behavior. However, the issue arrises when the religious leaders raised the wise behavior to the level of the law and imposed it on the disciples.

Jesus immediately corrects the situation and calls the leaders on their hardness of heart. They were more concerned with what went in a person than what came out. Jesus declared that the heart was the issue. The disciples could have a right heart and practice some unwise behavior by not washing their hands. However, the religious leaders were in the habit of washing hands, but were far from God in their hearts as they were actually finding ways to dishonor heir parents while still appearing right with God.

The point is that God is most concerned with our actual obedience, not just the appearance of obedience. It’s easy to elevate wise behavior to the level of law and think that we are okay before God because we wash our hands, rinse our vegetables, and put a thermometer in our meat, but the real issue is are we testing God in obedience?

An Open Letter to all My Legalistic Friends