Tag Archives: Mark

God’s People, part 133: The Gospels

Read Luke 1:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”  (Mark 1:1 NLT)z

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

TheGospelsPart 133: The Gospels.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Bless the bed that I lay on.
Four corners to my bed,
Four angels ‘round my head;
One to watch and one to pray,
And two to bear my soul away.

Many, myself included, grew up reciting this beautiful (and, yet, strangely chilling) bedtime prayer while a child. In this prayer, children and adults alike are praying to the four saints who wrote the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Often when people think of the Gospels, they think of just one account told by those four different people. On top of that, much of our understanding of Jesus is really a conglomeration of those four gospels.

When reading the Gospels, one must take into account that they were written in first century of the common era and not in the 21st century. That means that, in order to fully understand the significance of the Gospels for our lives today, we have to take into account what they were actually conveying to people in the first century. This is not just true of the Gospels, but of any text written in any period of time in history.

What’s more, the Gospels were not written as historical accounts in the sense of 21st Century, objective, impartial history; rather, the Gospels were a marriage between history, theology, and socio-political commentary. The latter may take some by surprise as we in the 21st century like to try to separate religion from politics; however, in the 1st century there was no such divorce between the two.

For instance, when Jesus is given the title Son of God, that is not only a theological truth being conveyed, it is also a statement against Caesar who was known to the world at the time as divi filius, or son of a God. Important still, the Gospels are absolutely setting up Jesus Christ and God’s Kingdom in contrast and opposition to Caesar and the kingdom of the world. In other words, the Gospels very intentionally call the reader to choose between the empire and the world order and Jesus Christ and God’s Kingdom. The two are mutually exclusive; a person can either choose one or the other, but not both.

It is also important to note that the Gospels are NOT the earliest writings in the New Testatment; instead, Pauls’ epistles (aka letters) are the oldest writings in the New Testament. Paul wrote between the 50s and 60s CE (his earliest epistle only being written about 25-30 years after Christ’s death). The earliest Gospel (which is the Gospel of Mark) was written in about 70 CE (about 40-45 years after Christ’s death).

Why is this important to note? Because many people will argue that we ought not to take Paul as seriously as the Jesus’ teachings. The problem with that line of thinking is that Paul’s writings get us the closest to the earliest Christians and to what their theology was. What’s more, the Gospels are very much influenced by and, sometimes, in reaction to Paul’s teachings. Plain and simple, Paul cannot be dismissed.

The challenge for us is this, when we approach the Gospels, let us not look at them as one story told by four different people of the same mind; rather let us see them as four separate accounts, sometimes playing off of one another, teaching us different aspects and angles on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Let us not look at the Gospels as a mere historical account telling us facts and figures, but let us see it for all of the rich depth with which it was written.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
If you would like to read the Gospels in the order they were most likely written, start with Mark (ca. 66-70 CE), then Matthew (ca. 80-90 CE), then Luke (ca. 80-110 CE) and finish with John (ca. 90-110 CE)

PRAYER
Lord, enrich my life and my faith through the account of your Son, Jesus Christ, in the Gospels. I believe and put my faith in Christ and Christ alone. Amen.

A Time to Reflect, part 1

Starting with last Friday, this week (Friday to Friday) is the week of retreats. As such, I decided to change things up for this week of devotions. Rather than publishing two full devotions this week, and rather than publishing two previously written devotions, I have decided to publish two scriptures and a couple of reflective questions. Read the Scripture, more than once even, and ponder the questions that are asked in regard it. If you are reading this on lifegivingwaterdevo.org, feel free to comment with your answers and/or reflective thoughts. If you are reading this in print somewhere, or on some other site that is publishing it, then perhaps write your answers and/or reflective thoughts on paper and save them to look back upon.

Next week, I will write two brand new devotions based off of the two Scripture passages and the reflective questions being asked.

Today’s Scripture:

Mark 8:34-38

bench1He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

  1. What does Jesus mean when he says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves…”?
  2. What did it mean for people in Jesus’ day to pick up their crosses? What does it mean for you to pick up your cross?
  3. What does Jesus mean by “those who are ashamed of me and my words” and why does Jesus call his generation “adulterous and sinful”?
  4. Do you feel uneasy by Jesus’ words in this passage? If so, why does it challenge you? If not, why doesn’t it?

Look for next Wednesday’s devotion in order to see the full devotion on Mark 8:34-38.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

Read Luke 1:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)

TheFourGospels“Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, bless the bed that I lie on. Four corners to my bed, four angels round my head; one to watch and one to pray, and two to bear my soul away.” There is nothing quite like children’s nursery rhymes, is there? Especially religious ones that point to a God that all little children had better fear. I grew up reciting this rhyme as young boy, subconsciously digesting it’s grim and rather creepy message. This rhyme basically says that you had better be in line with the four Gospels if you would like God’s protection when you sleep, and it doesn’t hesitate to remind you that you could die in your sleep. So if you would like angels to guard you and/or carry your soul to heaven, you had better be blessed by the Gospels. That’s rather funny being that the word gospel literally means “good news” and is the “good news” of Jesus Christ, not Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

It is amazing to me that so many people claim to be Christian in this country and, yet, few people are literate to what the Gospels actually say. We recite quaint little rhymes, we remember the Sunday School stories taught to us at young ages, and we even watch movies that are, when you think of it, only loosely based on the Gospels; however, most people do not pick up the Gospels and read them for themselves. And, when people do pick up the Gospels and read it, they read it as if they are a cohesive, singular story that were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John who were sitting side by side and consulting with each other on what they remember the Lord saying and doing. Here’s an example. Tell yourself what you know about Jesus’ birth. You will probably think of Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem, being forced to sleep in a manger because there was no room at the inn, and being visited by 3 wise men who brought gifts, as well as by shepherds who got a full choral performance by the Vienna Boys’ Choir of angels.

Yet, I bet you didn’t realize that Mary and Joseph only get put in a manger in Luke, not Matthew. And the Wise Men are only mentioned in Matthew and not in Luke, not to mention the author of Matthew (we don’t actually know his real name, as he never actually gave it) never numbered the wise men to three. What’s more the shepherds only show up in Luke and not in Matthew. Let me also point this out, the birth narrative is ONLY found in Matthew and Luke. It is absent in Mark and John. Is your head spinning yet? What do we make of this? Should we question the accuracy of the Gospels?

The answer, in short, is absolutely not! If the authors were looking to write a 21st century, scientific, history textbook, then we should definitely question their accuracy; however, that is not what they were writing. They were writing a Gospel which combines loosely recorded historical figures and events that are combined with narratives woven around what were the known sayings, teachings and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth, who they witnessed and experienced as the Christ. To simplify this a bit, what the authors were writing was a THEOLOGY on WHO JESUS IS and WHY THAT IS GOOD NEWS. That is what these authors were concerned with, reporting the GOOD NEWS of JESUS CHRIST to their communities.

My challenge to you is for you to read the Gospels. Read them in the order they were written Mark (ca. 68-70 CE), Matthew (ca. 80-90 CE), Luke (ca. 80-90 CE), and John (ca. 90-100 CE). Read them separately, taking each one on its own terms. Get a feel for what truths each author would like to convey to you about Jesus, the Christ, the son of God. Let them inform you, rather than you trying to inform them, and be amazed at the dynamic, living, and powerful Christ that will meet you in the process. There are no books in the world more influential that the Gospels and there is a reason for that. Read them as they are and be transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“While facts are beholden to truth, truth is not beholden to fact.” – Rev. Todd R. Lattig

PRAYER
Lord, speak the truth of your good news to my heart so that I may see you as you wish to be revealed to me, through the faithful witness of others as well as through my own experience. Amen.

A New Kind of Normal

Read Mark 1:1-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“When we were at Mount Sinai, the LORD our God said to us, ‘You have stayed at this mountain long enough.” (Deuteronomy 1:6)

leaving-normal-signNo matter how many times people talk about change, we never really seem to ever get to a place where we feel comfortable about it.  I have heard so many different sermons on the topic of change, and I have attended seminars on change, and have even preached on and taught the merit of change myself; however, change always seems to get us anxious and uneasy. We just don’t want things to change, do we?

I am certainly know stranger to change. When I first entered into community college, I was determined to get into web development. I focused on all of the things I needed to in order to attain an associates degree. Yet, before I could finish, my wife and I  ran into financial issues, as we were both in school, and I ended up having to leave school and pick up a full-time job, working as an Iron Worker with my father-in-law, in order to support our young family.  Boy was that change! Going from college to being an iron worker was a tough change to deal with, yet over time it all worked out.

When my wife finished nursing school and was able to pick up a full-time job as a nurse in a hospital, I left iron working to go back to school. I went to a technology Institute and earned a degree in business programming, was placed in a job and things all seemed to be going as planned; however, less than a year later, the company I worked for owed me $5,000, went bankrupt and left me home without a job. I tried desperately to get a job, but every company wanted at least five years experience before they even looked at your resume, and most of the IT jobs had been outsourced.

Boy, that was a tough change to go through as well. I had gone from a working man to being at home watching my children. I had to constantly endure questions of whether or not I was looking for a job, and if any progress had been made in that search. I had to come to terms with the fact that I could not get a job and I had to go through a period of soul searching before being able to see that staying home with my children was actually a blessing.  It was during that period that I also came to terms with the calling God had placed on me as a young boy…and then the CHANGE really began!

Jesus was no stranger to change either.  The Gospel of Mark purposefully starts of with Jesus down by the river Jordan. Many people were getting baptized by the prophet John, and Jesus went to be baptized just like the rest of them. Yet, as he was coming out of the water, he had a divine vision of not only his calling, but of his true identity as God’s beloved Son. There is no doubt that the theophany (or appearance of God) at the Jordan River profoundly changed the course of Jesus’ life, as well as the course of human history.

What gets us through change is the realization that things are always changing and there is nothing can do to stop it. In fact, when I look back at those times of change in my life, I wouldn’t “change” a single a moment! I would keep everything exactly as it is because it is each and every one of those moments that has helped to shape me into who I am. I’d imagine that if you take the time to look back on the moments of significant change in your life, you will see the value those moments have had. God has worked through those moments in our lives to promote growth and cultivate faith. So thank God for change, and when change comes embrace it as a new kind of normal!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” – Maya Angelou

PRAYER

Lord, I have changed in order to become who I am today. Help me to embrace the change that is shaping me into who you want me to be. Amen.

 

Washed by the Water

Read Mark 1:1-12; Mark 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Romans 8:14)

Washed by the WaterWhat I love about the Gospels is that each one of them has a unique understanding of who Jesus is.  Each Gospel uses the same key phrases to identify Jesus; however, each Gospel author has a subtly different understanding of what those key phrases mean. What is awesome about this is that by the time we are done reading the four Gospels we have a rich and diverse understanding of what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ, to be the Son of God, to be Son of Man and to be in the line of David.

For this devotional, let us look at the Gospel of Mark.  Jesus shows up at the Jordan river looking to be baptized. Mark doesn’t bother telling us a birth story or anything prior to Jesus’ baptism; rather, he points to Jesus’ baptism as being the ADVENT of the Christ.  Prior to that experience in the Jordan, Jesus was just a peasant Jew from Nazareth. He was the son of Joseph and Mary, he was a laborer by trade and he had certainly known what it meant to work with his hands.

But when Jesus comes out of the water, upon being baptized, he sees a vision of the sky opening up and light descending upon him like a dove.  If we read Mark carefully, we will notice that Jesus is the one seeing this.  In Matthew, everyone sees and witnesses this, but in Mark (if we are not reading anything in between the lines) it is only Jesus who sees this happen.  And then Jesus hear’s the voice of God telling him, “You are my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  It is at that moment that Jesus’ former identity that he had been born and raised to believe about himself falls away. It is at that moment that Jesus understands his TRUE identity, and it is at that moment that the Holy Spirit drives him into the wilderness to be prepared for the work God is calling him to do.

For me, this is significant! We can relate with this Jesus because we too grow up not really knowing who we are. At first we identify ourselves by who are parents are. Then we grow up believing that we are what our society tells us we are.  But at some point, if we open our hearts and allow the Holy Spirit of God to speak to us, we begin to understand that our identity does not rest on what the world thinks we are and it does not rest on who our parents are; rather, our identity rests on who God says we are!

And when we find our identity in God, there is nothing that is going to stop the transformation that will occur.  Some will not like that change. Some will fear that we’ve lost our marbles. In Mark, Jesus’ own family (including Mary) think Jesus has gone completely insane and they try to take him back home.  They don’t like this NEW identity that Jesus has taken on! Yet Jesus persists in his ministry and in serving God and identifies those who do the same as being a part of his TRUE family.

What is encouraging about Mark’s take Jesus is that it mirrors our very own experience as human beings (after all Jesus was not only truly divine, but also truly human). We often find ourselves soul-searching; we often find ourselves seeking our identity and looking for a deeper meaning and purpose in our lives. If we would only wash our self-identification away and emerge from the waters with an open heart, we too would hear God calling out to us, “You are my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This is the identity Jesus called people toward, this is the Good News that Jesus preached throughout Galilee and Jerusalem. This is the Good News that Jesus calls us to bring to those who need to hear it, not only in our words, but by our actions.  Let us bear that Good News in all that we do!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Who are we?  We are children of God. Our potential is unlimited.  Our inheritance is sacred.” – Russell M. Nelson

PRAYER

Lord, thank you for reminding me that I, too, am your child. Let me, in my actions, be a reminder to all with whom I cross paths. Amen.