Category Archives: Mark

Mark 8:31-38

Losses and gains – crosses and chains

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Mark 8:36

Context

This week’s study is on the topic of Christian maturity. It does not fit into a series of other studies and yet it does naturally follow on from our focus on mission and proclaiming the word of God to the world around us. When you come to Christ to be saved, then what? If salvation is by grace alone, is there no change required from us? If there is change required, since repentance demands it, what does that change look like?

In Mark’s gospel, the author wants to outline to us the good news about Jesus the Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1). Right in the middle of the book, after 8 chapters of hearing clues about who Jesus is, Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the promised King of God (Mark 8:27-30). The disciples, who had given up everything to follow Jesus and learn from him, could now see that Jesus is God’s chosen One. Their eyes are opened and Jesus is ready to let them in on the rest of his plans!

Observation

Structure

  • 31-33 The concerns of God
  • 34-38 The concerns of a Disciple

31-33 The concerns of God

“…began to teach them…” This is the primary concern of Jesus to his Disciples – that he teach them. Indeed, Jesus’ ministry is focused, not on healings and miracles but on his teaching.

“Son of Man” To be a ‘son of man’ is simply to be human (Daniel 8:17) but this title echos back to Daniel 7(:13-14) where the Son of Man is described as deity – one who will come to rule over everything. Jesus clearly has in mind someone great prophesied about. He is teaching his disciples about the plans of God.

“…must suffer many things…” Jesus is explaining what will happen as he knows it. Isaiah 53 is one place which predicts the Servant King’s sufferings but Jesus is being more explicit than what the Old Testament foretold in any singular place. Jesus knows that he is going to the cross.

“…looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter.” Although Peter’s rebuke appeared to be in private, Jesus made no attempt to keep Peter’s rebuke quiet. Peter was not proposing what they ought to have for dinner but that Jesus ought to abort the mission God sent him to do.

“…concerns of God…concerns of men…” Although Peter was able to see with clarity that Jesus is the Christ, he doesn’t see what God intends to do. Peter doesn’t know the future like Jesus does but his heart is on show here. Avoiding conflict or preserving one’s life is not the primary directive. Following God wherever he will lead is primary.

“…Satan…human concerns.” Notice how tightly bound these two forces are. If we are not for God, we are against him. Call it man versus God or Satan versus God. If you are not for God you are against him.

This section concerns God’s plans for Jesus to go to the cross. The following passages expound this plan of God to give us life through the cross of Christ – Colossians 2:13-14; 1 Peter 2:24; Hebrews 9:28; Colossians 1:15-23 (esp. v19). God’s plans and concerns are for the Christ is to bring salvation by way of the cross. But what is God’s intention for the disciple?

34-38 The concerns of a Disciple

“…the crowd…along with his disciples…” Jesus moves from a private moment with his 12 to a moment to teach anyone who is willing to listen.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple…” An open invitation is given. Jesus is about to teach anyone who is willing to listen how they may become a disciple if they want to.

“…must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Three parts of the same lesson. To be a disciple is to follow Jesus. It means to be a learner of him. The only way to do that is to put to death our former selves and learn all over again. Our lives are no longer to be the centre of the universe. Our minds must be set on opportunities to love others sacrificially. The New Testament writers talked about this as dying with Christ. If we want to be a disciple of Jesus, we must die with him. So, three things: let go of survival instincts, go where Jesus sends you, and learn from him. Sound attractive? Well, gospel logic is the reverse of the world’s logic and Jesus talks about that next.

“…save their life will lose it…loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Mark Twain apparently once said, “it ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” The context of that quote probably served a different meaning but Jesus says things often that are not difficult to understand – they’re just outrageously challenging. If I want to live and have life, I need to trust Jesus and let it go. If I don’t want to trust Jesus nor have anything that he is offering, then I will instinctively live for me. This doesn’t mean I’ll be totally selfish and a bad person. I may be very kind and considerate of others but ultimately I will seek to survive and thrive and be true to me. The Christian worldview is that God is the creator and I am his creation; that I have sinned and fallen short of his expectations; that Christ has paid my debt to God and expects no repayment; that for me to have life, I must live for Christ.

“…gain the whole world?” If our treasures are here in this world then that is what our hearts will be set on and the best we can get is exactly what we’ve hoped for – treasure here. Even Solomon saw that life was meaningless without God.

“…forfeit their soul?” Those ‘crossroads’ stories of selling your soul to the devil in exchange for fame and fortune come to mind. Jesus is giving us the same message in different ways: seeking heaven now on your own terms discredits you from eternal life. To forfeit something is to make you disqualified. You can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:19-24).

“Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” The irony of what Jesus is saying here must be pointed out. He is telling us that there is nothing more precious than your soul – your inner being. So, take care of it by losing your life. Let God be your salvation. Jesus is telling us to sacrifice our own life to make Jesus King but that by knowing that Jesus is King, we sacrifice our fleeting life for the sake of our own soul.

“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words…” Here is the gospel: our boldness and surety in Jesus today is our forecast for the future. How does being ashamed of Jesus and his words play out in life? Awkwardness to talk about him? A hidden faith?

“…in this adulterous and sinful generation…” This is describing an age rather than a demographic like Gen X. This world, since the beginning, have demonstrated adultery and sinfulness or wickedness. This is the opposite of what Jesus is calling his disciples to be. He says deny yourself while the world says be true to yourself.

“…when he comes…” Jesus is not thinking of his current arrival into the world, but of his second coming. He has eternity in mind. Mark 9:1 may have the resurrection and cross in mind as the coming of the kingdom of God, but in Mark 8:38 he describes coming with the holy angels.

The concern for Jesus’ disciples is to hand their lives over to him. Jesus makes his simple point over and over again in these 5 verses in multiple ways. If you want to be embraced by Jesus then embrace him now and do away with everything else. Being a disciple, follower, learner of Jesus is an all in commitment. If a person is concerned for their soul, then entrust it to Jesus to be taught, shaped, exercised and saved. Read these New Testament verses on this subject: Romans 6:1-14 (esp. v1-4); Colossians 3:1-4 (and the rest of the chapter); Ephesians 2:1-5; Luke 14:25-33.

Meaning

God’s concern is to save people through the death and resurrection of Jesus and he calls on us to share the same concern for ourselves. Following Jesus is a radical and complete commitment. If we want to be a disciple of Christ, we must follow him completely, unashamedly and faithfully. We forfeit our souls when we share the same concerns the world has.

Application

  • Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16). Jesus said that anyone who is ashamed of him and his words are disqualified from the kingdom of heaven. Discuss how these statements affect your life. What are some examples of being ashamed of Jesus and what are some examples of being unashamed?
  • Do you think of yourself as a disciple of Jesus? Discuss what a modern day disciple of Jesus looks like. Is it possible to be a Christian but not a disciple? Matthew 28:18-20 may help this discussion.
  • The concerns of God or the concerns of men. How do we foster lives which are bound up with the concerns of God?

Prayer of the Week

Dear God and Father, thank you for the concerns that you have for the people of this world and the desire for us to see our greatest need which is in Jesus. Help us, we pray, to lose our lives and be concerned for the things that you are concerned about. May we love Jesus dearly, obey him yearly and follow him clearly. Amen.

Mark 2:13-17 Jesus calls us to follow

We are in the middle of mission week. We heard last week how Jesus tells us what our greatest need is – forgiveness of sin. This week, in mark 2:13-17 we see how Jesus demonstrates the need for forgiveness to reach for beyond our comfort zone.
This is a shortened blog and I challenge you to grapple with this short passage and decide where it challenges your own life. Consider, by yourself and with your group, these few questions.

1) At the beginning if this passage, and in last weeks section, what is it that Jesus is busy doing? How does your answer challenge your week?

2) Jesus told Levi to follow him, and he did. How did Jesus call you to follow him? What about the stories of people in your group – have they got a story to share?

3) Jesus ate with Levi and a large number of people – some were known as sinners and tax collectors. It’s not that the whole crowd were – but it’s significant that some, perhaps many were. What type of people do you think that describes? How does this challenge us as a church and yourself in your engagement with people?

4) Jesus said that he came to call… He wasn’t simply dining out – in fact, the Son of God was slumming in his mission to call the sick. We heard last week that our greatest need is forgiveness. How does Jesus’ demonstrate an urgency for uncomfortable mission?

I hope this is enough to get conversation going. Be aware, as I’m sure you are, that we are amongst the sinners and tax collectors who Jesus came to heal. Your group is filled with them and many are slow to respond when Jesus calls. Pray for the people in your growth group.
Your brother in Christ,
Simon

Mission week#1: Mark 2:1-12

For the next 2 Growth Group weeks, we all have the opportunity to reflect on the universal mission of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s not to say we don’t think of that every week but here we are focusing our attention on it.

The sermons for the next two weeks will be on Mark 2:1-12 and Mark 2:13-17. Why not take these texts for your group to discuss together and commit the local mission week to God.

Here are some thoughts on Mark 2:1-12

Context:

It is very early in the book of Mark and therefore very early in Jesus’ public ministry. Chapter one declares that this book will be about the good news of Jesus Christ. John announced his arrival. Jesus began his ministry with the words: The time has come…the kingdom of God has come near – repent and believe the good news! This was his message from the start! By the end of this first chapter, Jesus has moved from being unknown to being greatly followed – the beginning of a popular ministry. His fame has much to do with his ability to heal. His popularity forced him to do business in remote areas away from the population.

Observations:

Only a few days in the remote areas was spent before he returned to Capernaum – a populated area.

Notice how ‘he had come home.’ Jesus was from Nazareth, not Capernaum. It is probable, as many commentators suggest, that this was the home of Peter where they stayed as a ministry team. Either way, it seems that the following account happens in the place where Jesus was staying.

More important than the fact that many people made their way into the house is what they came for – Jesus preached the word to them.

‘The word’ is something like – the message. We often use it as short-hand for ‘the bible’ but this is not as helpful as using it to refer to the message of the bible. When we say that God’s word never fails – we claim that the message of God stands firm – not that every ink on the page is sacred but that the word of God, the revelation of God to mankind conveys the message of truth, hope and salvation – and that stands forever. From Genesis to Revelation, the message of God has been that he is the king who loves us. We run rapidly toward destruction because we are bent on rebelling against God. God himself is the only port for salvation – not sword, or wealth, or good habit – but God.

Jesus’ ministry was a word-based ministry. He was definitely a healer, but he didn’t come to heal – but to preach the word: repent and believe.

What was the faith that Jesus saw? Wasn’t it the actions of the men bringing their friend to Jesus? The faith that God praised Abraham for was the extreme trust that Abraham had toward God in being willing to return his only son back to God (Gen 22). It’s one thing to imagine the four men sitting around their paralysed friend and thinking: ‘I bet Jesus could do something for us – wouldn’t that be great.’ It’s quite another to see the men lift their friend, take him across town, attempt the front door but then remain determined to get him to Jesus no matter how hard it seems. Jesus saw their faith.

Based on what Jesus saw, he forgave their sins. This is not to be misunderstood as works. Often, faith that can be seen can be mislabelled as works but it is just visible trust. The criminal who died by Jesus’ side on the cross put his trust in Jesus and was pardoned of his sins without asking for it. He didn’t say sorry, he simply confessed Jesus as Lord – Jesus welcomed that.

Jesus displays his divinity in a couple of ways in this passage. Firstly, he declares himself qualified to forgive sins. The bad guys in the passage hear exactly what Jesus is inferring. Secondly, he knew what the Pharisees were thinking! It would be silly for him to suggest he knew what they were thinking and then tell them what it was unless he knew that he was right! Thirdly, he heals this paralysed man by simply speaking to him! Far out! And he did all of that without even leaving the living room!

The hardest miracle to see in this passage is the one miracle that we need the most – the forgiveness of sins. Entrance to the kingdom of God requires it. Jesus can easily give it. All that is required on our part is faith.

Meaning

The power of God is not in Jesus’ miracles but in his words. Not, “you are healed,” but “you are forgiven.”

Application

  • What is the word of God that we preach or speak about? Is it the simple message of forgiveness of sins because the kingdom is near?
  • How far will we go to bring people to Jesus? Only as far as it is convenient?
  • Similarly, how important to we see that Jesus is for our friends and family?
  • Pray for your contacts and ask God to help you to bring them to Jesus – to listen to the Word of God.

Prayer for the week:

Almighty God, help us to help our neighbour by bringing the word of Jesus to them. Help us all to pay attention to the powerful message of the gospel and to praise your name for the gift of forgiveness. Amen.