Mark 10: He came to serve, not to be served.
Jesus begins his march to the cross. As he and his disciples begin their journey to Jerusalem he tells them what’s coming, the bad and the good. When James and John ask for favored positions in his kingdom, Jesus tells them that they don’t know what they’re asking. Very soon, being on his right and left won’t be very desirable places to be. He again directs them down the servant path as the route to greatness. Being the slave of others is the Christian route to leadership and Jesus is about to demonstrate that in a most unexpected way. He’s going to die, not only that we might be set free from the death penalty, but so that we might learn from him to, ourselves, die. This lesson isn’t only hard to learn, it’s also unwelcome. Most of us live our lives trying to get things our own way. When we somehow achieve position one of the perks is that we can now call the shots to suit ourselves. It is human nature to view everything from the “me” point of view. Jesus turns this self-centered world upside down. He says that in his Kingdom, those in power serve with the needs of others uppermost in their minds. Frankly, after 2000 years you’d think Christians would have a better grasp on this. Frankly, after being a Christian most of my life, I’d think I’d have a better grasp on it.
Take Away: Jesus gave his all to, in part, show us how to give our all.
Mark 9: Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!
The man is desperate to get help for his son who’s possessed by a demon causing the boy to have dangerous convulsions. He brings him to Jesus, pleading for help. However, Jesus is absent at the time. Some of the disciples, though, have had experience with such things. They’ve been commissioned by Jesus to do exactly what needs to be done. However, in spite of their efforts the condition of the child is unchanged. Just as the father is about to leave Jesus arrives and asks what’s going on. The man explains the need. As the boy is again thrown into a seizure, Jesus asks how long this has been going on and the man answers, adding, “If you can do anything, do it…help us!” Jesus calls the man to faith reminding him that there are no “ifs” in faith. I love the answer of the desperate father. For the sake of his son he’ll banish all the “ifs” and replace them with belief. Then, with transparent honestly, he pleads “Help me with my doubts!” Oh how I identify with this good man. With the hard facts so close at hand he struggles to get a grasp on absolute faith. As he says these words, he has a son trashing about on the ground and, right before him he has Jesus, the Miracle Worker. With every fiber of his being he wants to be doubt free. Apparently, that’s good enough for Jesus. An honest struggle for faith is enough faith for the impossible to happen. As I struggle with the hard realities of life in view of the claims of God’s grace and mercy I’m often like that father. Happily, I’m reminded here that the Lord does, indeed, help us with our doubts. Even a struggling faith has power in God’s eyes.
Take Away: An honest struggle for faith is enough faith for the impossible to happen.
Mark 8: Keep a sharp eye out for the contaminating yeast of the Pharisees.
Huge, undeniable miracles are being worked by Jesus every day. He’s just finished feeding 4000 with just seven loaves of bread and he’s about to give sight to a blind man. Meanwhile, his approach is angering the most religious people: the Pharisees. One of their number demands that Jesus do a miracle for him. Jesus refuses and promises that this man will never see one. You’d think that Jesus and the Pharisees would be best friends. These religious leaders are knowledgeable, committed, and faithful. Many of their traits fit perfectly with Jesus’ call that people take up their cross and follow him. However, instead of being some of the most exemplary disciples in the world they become the source of pain and division. They end up killing Jesus and then, after the resurrection, trying to kill the Church. Jesus, after his encounter with this specific Pharisee, warns his disciples about the danger of being contaminated by them. It’s a very short journey from being radically in love with Jesus to being radically in love with one’s beliefs about Jesus. It’s all too easy to take one’s eyes off him and to start looking around at other followers and deciding that they don’t quite measure up. Just down the page from this incident, Peter first confesses that Jesus is the Messiah and is almost immediately told by the Lord that he’s acting as Satan. Listen, it’s easier than we think it is to be contaminated by the yeast of the Pharisees. Long after their branch of Judaism has dried up, their legacy of division lives on.
Take Away: I want to love Jesus and avoid being too much in love with my opinions and beliefs about him.
Maybe instead of Weight Watchers we need to join Word Watchers
Mark 7: Don’t you see that what you swallow can’t contaminate you?
The Old Testament Hebrews had lots of rules and regulations about diet and an admirable trait of cleanliness. The Pharisees of the New Testament take all that to the extreme. When some of the disciples eat without going through their prescribed pre-meal washing ritual the Pharisees complain about it to Jesus. Our Lord responds in force, challenging these men who know better about how they play fast and loose with God’s Laws when it suits them. Later on, he tells his disciples that worrying too much about what we put into our bodies while ignoring the words and actions that “come out” of our bodies is rather stupid. To state it delicately, what enters through the mouth exits elsewhere. However, what comes out of the mouth has its source in the heart. So, I wonder what it is that comes out of my heart. Are my words pure or impure? Do I lift people with my words or do I demolish them? What comes out of my mouth tells more about me than what goes in. Maybe instead of joining Weight Watchers I need to join “Word Watchers.”
Take Away: I’ll learn a lot about myself if I listen to the kinds of things I say.
The best laid plans…
Mark 6: Let’s take a break and get a little rest.
These are busy days for Jesus and his disciples. They’ve just returned from preaching/healing expeditions. The possessed have been set free, the sick have been healed, and the Good News has been proclaimed. Upon their return, Jesus calls a time out for a retreat of sorts. They head for a wilderness spot where he can debrief them and they can be refreshed. In this case it doesn’t work out. People find out where they’re going and there’s a big, needy, crowd waiting for them when they arrive. Jesus’ heart is stirred by their need and he abandons the retreat idea in favor of ministering to these poor, lost sheep. I know, first hand, of the need to unplug and get away from the day to day responsibilities of life. In my case, as a pastor, I guess I get just a very small taste of what it is that has zapped the energy of the disciples in this incident. However, I think the concern is similar for just about everyone who goes out to face the world each day. There’s a time for unplugging from the stuff of everyday and letting body, soul, and spirit be refreshed. Still, in light of the entirety of this passage, I’m also reminded that when I love people and have a chance to minister to their need I’m to respond as best I’m able. In this situation, the opportunity to minister to people trumps the desire of Jesus that the disciples get some rest. Life is a balancing act. Here we see Jesus changing his priorities because he’s presented with a great need and opportunity.
Take Away: If we’re to properly represent Jesus in this world we have to remain flexible and responsive to opportunities that come our way.
Power packed words
Mark 5: Don’t listen to them; just trust me.
Jesus arrives in the seaside village by boat and is greeted by a large, enthusiastic crowd. One of those seeking our Lord’s attention is a respected member of the community, Jairus. His daughter is very sick and he asks Jesus to come and heal her. Jesus agrees, but along the way a woman “steals” a miracle, touching the fringe of Jesus’ clothes. This delays Jesus and, while everyone else is enjoying the miracle the woman experienced, Jairus receives the bad news that it’s too late and his daughter has died. It’s now that Jesus tells Jairus to ignore their words and trust him. The Lord goes to his home and in a private audience raises the twelve year old back to life. The words of the Lord to Jairus speak to my heart today. How often the voices of circumstance or experience sadly report that there’s nothing that will help and I might as well throw in the towel and cope as best I can. In the midst of discouragement Jesus says, “Don’t listen. Don’t give up and don’t doubt. Instead, look at me. Focus; remember who I am and what I can do. Remember that I love you and I wouldn’t let you get into this situation if I didn’t have the authority to see you through it. Trust me.” These brief words to Jairus are packed with power and hope.
Take Away: Remember who Jesus is; look to him even in the impossible moments of life.
I’ve got a secret
Mark 4: We’re not keeping secrets, we’re telling them.
The theme here is parable telling. Mark tells us some of Jesus’ stories and then remarks that Jesus is “never without a story.” The reason for this approach, according to Jesus, is that he’s in the “secret revealing” business. No hidden, mystic religion of riddles here. Jesus’ purpose is to open wide the doors to the Kingdom of God. People who never understood before now get a crystal clear picture of God at work. Now we understand how the gospel takes root in some lives but not in others. We see what happens when the gospel does take root, starting small but becoming a huge, transforming force in life. And, we see God’s purpose in all this. Those who receive the gospel are to let the light of that gospel shine in their lives. We aren’t to be “keepers of the flame.” Instead, we’re “givers of the flame.” We don’t take the gospel into our lives and hide it. Instead, it’s to be the noticeable thing about us. So, how’s it going? Do people see the light of the gospel in my life? If I’m one of those who has received the gospel and if it has taken root and become the number one thing in my life, is it what others see in me? At the very core of my life, I’m to be a “secret teller” letting others in on the best news in the world. If not, maybe it’s because I’m not the kind of “soil” I think I am!
Take Away: Some secrets are best told.
Friends of Jesus
Mark 3: His friends heard what was going on and went to rescue him, by force if necessary.
We don’t know anything about Jesus’ life from his childhood until he appears on the scene to begin his ministry. Apparently, he has some friends who like him and want to protect him. As Jesus explodes in popularity they’re concerned about him. People are constantly crowding in, bringing their needs to him, and demanding his attention. Jesus doesn’t even have time to eat. His friends decide that Jesus has gotten carried away by all that’s happening. If necessary, they’ll act unilaterally to rescue Jesus from the crowds. As far as I can tell nothing ever comes of it. When the mother and brothers of Jesus show up he turns it into a teaching moment: “he went back to teaching.” On one hand, I see here that Jesus knows what he’s doing and doesn’t need me or anyone else to explain things to him. On the other hand, though, I’m taken with these unknown friends of Jesus. In a day when everyone wants a piece of Jesus here’s a group of people who only want to take care of him. On this day, their conclusion is wrong, but I’m impressed with their hearts. I understand that I’m a needy person and that the greatest needs of my life can only be met by my Lord. At the same time, I want to be his friend. It’s not that I think he needs me to protect him, but I do think he appreciates it if I just want to be in his presence; to enjoy just knowing him, no miracle required.
Take Away: Am I a friend of Jesus?
Make yourself at home
Mark 2: I’m here inviting the sin-sick, not the spiritually-fat.
One of the early disciples is Levi, son of Alphaeus, otherwise known as Matthew. After becoming a
follower of Jesus, Levi throws a party in the Lord’s honor. He invites all his friends to come to the feast and to meet Jesus. Apparently, Jesus is right at home with this crowd and that catches the attention of some of the religious leaders. In their opinion and practice, holy people don’t associate with sinners out of fear that some of their sin might rub off on them. It would be one thing for Jesus to shake his finger in their faces, telling them what bad people they are. However, Jesus apparently actually likes these people and is at home with them. He tells them that he’s like a doctor who lovingly cares for his patients and ends up spending more time with sick people than healthy people. I wonder what role I play in this story. On one hand, I’m one of Levi’s friends, unworthy of being loved by God yet loved still. On the other hand, I fear I’m one of the religious leaders who are quite comfortable hanging out with other religious folk, but not really at home with spiritually needy people. The real goal is to be more like Jesus who loves people and is willing to make himself at home with even sinners that he might show them the way to God. Every time I say, “I just don’t know anyone who doesn’t go to church” I identify with the religious leaders rather than with Jesus.
The Water Baptizer and the Spirit Baptizer
Mark 1: His baptism – a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit – will change you from the inside out.
Mark’s gospel is a high speed, breath taking race through the life of Jesus. No “Song of Mary” here and no manger scene. In this story Jesus explodes onto the world scene out in the wilderness at one of John the Baptist’s riverside revival meetings. The “water Baptizer” instantly recognizes Jesus as the Lamb of God, and willingly steps aside for this “Spirit baptizer.” Jesus changes people, John says, “from the inside out.” The Gospel writer believes that the promise of real, heart-based change will draw spiritually hungry people like me into his story. No more playing at religion and hungering for transformation that’s forever beyond my reach. The one I read about here is the real deal. Every person who wants something more than what’s found by following the rules and trying to find God is drawn to the promise of change — real change — from the inside out. This Jesus is worthy of my allegiance.
Take Away: Jesus is the answer to the great hunger in people’s lives.