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Category Archives: Gospel of Mark

Moments from the Gospel of Mark, revealing Jesus to us and the life we share with him.

I’ve noticed how easy it is for me to dismiss passages of Scripture that don’t immediately appear to address me.

In Colossians 3, Paul is addressing the community of faith and offers some general counsel to all followers of Jesus explaining how they can do life together. From there, he turns his attention to husbands and wives, parents and children, and then masters and slaves. Right there I catch myself dismissing the text. Paul writes:

Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 4:1)

I’m not a master, I don’t have slaves. The text doesn’t address me. Right?

If I pause and think about it for a minute I realize that there might just be some application to my life. Although Paul is speaking to those with particular roles, the idea of how those who are “boss” and those who are not has broader application. Here, Paul insists that those with the authority to make decisions for others are to carry out their role with justice and fairness.

How often do we readily and willingly pursue that? When I have the upper hand, when I have the chance to get things to go in my favor, the tendency is to make take advantage of the advantage–the ideas of pursuing what is really just and fully fair tend to fade into the background.

So, if I do have the opportunity to “be in charge,” what should I do with that opportunity?

Jesus offers me some insight that is consist with Paul’s advice here. He explains:

Jesus said to [his disciples], “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-44)

If I want to live consistent with Jesus’ view of life, when I have the opportunity to “be boss” the only thing to do is to serve others with that authority, to become a slave with that power. From a kingdom vantage point, that counteracts the tendency toward being”bossy” (and seeking to have my own way or leveraging the opportunity for my advantage). As a result, I will be much freer to pursue what is just and fair for all.

When I talk with other friends and followers of Jesus (and even when I reflect on my own journey), it can seem as if the Christian life is reducible to a set of ethical principles, based on the model of Jesus’ life, that makes “life work better.” It’s not that we intend to reduce the good news of the Gospel to a moral-based perspective, but their seems to be a tug toward that. But I don’t really think that is what God intends.

When God showed up in the days of Abraham (back in the book of Genesis), he spoke with Abraham, interacted with Abraham; something happened that was tangible and knowable. God was active . . . he wasn’t reduced to an ethical system.

When God wanted to do something about the descendants of Israel enslaved in Egypt, he made himself known to a man named Moses in a burning bush (back in the book of Exodus). God engulfed the bush in flames and spoke to Moses from that bush. God made his power and presence known through Moses in an incredible display of plagues. God was active . . . he wasn’t reduced to an ethical system.

Throughout the Scriptures, God shows up! And he is active.  And those in relationship with him weren’t simply thinking about life differently . . . there really was someone there who made life different.

Clearly that was the case when Jesus walked the streets of Palestine in the days of his incarnation. He taught, and people were amazed. He touched, and people were healed and delivered. He engaged others, and something so profound happened that they concluded that in relationship with Jesus they came to experience life in an entirely fresh way. He was active . . . and life with Jesus couldn’t be reduced to an ethical system.

And I think Jesus intended for it to continue that way.

The last verse of Mark tells us that as Jesus’ followers gave themselves to announcing the amazing news of what Jesus had done–in coming to earth, in dying in the place of rebellious and sinful people, and rising from the dead to live forevermore–something happened. Jesus was active!

And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed. (Mark 16:20)

Apparently, the followers of Jesus stepped into the kind of life he intended for them and he showed up! He was active.

And it seems to me that those early friends and followers of Jesus kind of expected that to continue.

When the gathering of the believing in Jerusalem got in trouble with the religious authorities because they were carrying on the ministry of Jesus (who was put to death through the efforts of the religious and the political authorities of the day), the leaders of that fledgling church were told to not speak or “minister” any more in Jesus’ name or as his representatives. But those friends of Jesus weren’t going to follow that advice. They already knew what Jesus wanted them to do; and they were going to give themselves to that.

And so, they prayed. And after speaking to God about the trouble they were facing, the followers of Jesus simply asked:

“And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that your bond-servants may speak your word with all confidence, while you extend your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29-30)

Apparently, they believed that God would actively show up, make himself known, as they continued to give themselves to the kind of life that Jesus wanted for them. And . . . God answered that prayer. He was active . . . and the proclamation of the good news about Jesus was seen to be so much more than another ethical system to be promoted.

 What is it that the followers of Jesus gave themselves to once Jesus took leave of the planet (physically) when he ascended? What is it that occupied the time and attention of his followers when he was no longer physically present with them?

When they were physically with Jesus, where he went they would go. When they were physically with Jesus, what he did they participated in. Their lives were marked and characterized by Jesus’ presence.

I sometimes hear Christians talk about how good it would have been to “live back then!” We tell ourselves that life would be so much better if only we could be “with” Jesus in that way.

But I still wonder, how did they live once Jesus was no longer physically present with them. And the closing words of the Gospel of Mark give me some insight. He wrote:

And [the followers of Jesus] went out and preached everywhere, while [Jesus] worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed. (Mark 16:20)

It seems to me that a couple of profound thoughts are woven into these words.

First, the followers of Jesus did end up actively engaged in the mission Jesus left with them. They went; they proclaimed; they went “everywhere” they could go. They didn’t sit back and wait for something to happen. But they didn’t just get busy on their own pet projects either. They apparently gave themselves vigorously to what Jesus had asked them to give themselves to.

But then the second thing to notice is that Jesus continued to work with them. They went, but he was there. They proclaimed, but he was speaking. They engaged in the lives of others, but he was working. He was still doing it! Although he was no longer physically present with his followers, he was still present in a profound and real and tangible way. What was going on in and through their lives was nothing other than an extension of Jesus’ own life and ministry . . . through the manifestation of the ongoing presence of Jesus with them.

In other words, during the days of his incarnation, the followers of Jesus had learned to “do life” by involving themselves in his life. And the followers of Jesus “did life” by giving themselves to the kinds of things Jesus himself was doing. And as they did that, Jesus’ presence and power was extended and felt and experienced in and through their lives. And that didn’t change after the ascension!

He was still doing what he had been doing and his followers were still participating in his life and partnering with him in what he was doing.

And that should be no different for us; whether first century or twenty-first century followers of Jesus, we can share in his life in nearly identical ways because Jesus continues to invite us into that kind of experiential real life.

I’ve been in a study of the book of Acts for some time now. I’m enjoying the discussion, with others, about just what it is that Luke records for us in that second of his works (following the Gospel that bears his name). And one of the things that keeps coming up is that the friends and followers of Jesus end up getting involved in the lives of others and having an impact on the world that looks very much like what Jesus himself did before he ascended.

Jesus proclaimed the message of the kingdom. So did Peter and Paul, Philipp and Barnabas, Stephen and Silas. Jesus set free those who were trapped or crippled by the influence of demonic spirits. So did his friends and followers in the book of Acts. Jesus brought physical healing to many in compassion and power. So it happened with many of his friends and followers as we read in the report penned by Luke.

It seems that the followers of Jesus Luke introduces us to in Acts have stepped into the very kind of life and ministry that was seen in the life of Jesus himself. And, once you see this, it becomes provocative! They participated in Jesus’ ongoing life and ministry!

But is it really so surprising? That is, when we really think about what Jesus himself intended, should this really catch us off guard?

Mark tells us something about what Jesus intended and what the fruit of that intention looks like in the closing verses of his Gospel.

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved ; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. These signs will accompany those who have believed: in my name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed. (Mark 16:15-20)

Jesus intended his friends and followers to go into other parts of the world. Jesus intended his friends and followers to spread the announcement that God’s kingdom had broken into the world in a fresh and marvelous way through Jesus’ life and ministry. Jesus intended for the announcement of that message to be accompanied by demonstrations of the power of God breaking into the world. And Jesus intended to back all of that up. He, himself, “worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed.”

So, Jesus’ friends and followers went, just as he intended. And, Jesus went with those friends and followers making his presence known in and through them, just as he intended.

I wonder what he intends for you and me?

“Selective hearing” is a problem. It happens in lots of situations–where I here or respond to that part of what was said or told me that I am interested in or want to respond to.

The child who is asked, “Please, turn off the television, come down for dinner, and bring the laundry down that is at the top of stairs” comes bursting into the kitchen ready to eat a few moments later. And where is the laundry? That part of the “invitation” was filtered out . . . perhaps not purposefully but, nevertheless, effectively.

This selective hearing problem is, more often than not, the underlying issue when someone has to say to another, “Didn’t you hear what I said?” What prompts such a question is some sort of incomplete follow through, some impartial response to what was said. Even hearing what was said, the listener can, at times, filter what is said and listen selectively.

What saddens me is that I do this very kind of thing in my journey with Jesus. He says things like “love others as I have loved you” and I hear the “Jesus loves me!” part and I don’t always attend to his invitation to love others with the same kind of love. I selectively hear what he is saying.

One place that I see this selective hearing playing out is when listening to the commissioning words Jesus offers to his followers as recorded by Mark:

And [Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. These signs will accompany those who have believed: in my name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:15-18)

When I think about the average American evangelical follower of Jesus, it seems to me that we “get” some of this . . . but we are quite selective in our hearing.

We hear that the Gospel is to be preached; and many followers of Jesus realize that this means them and so they do, in big and little ways, seek to “share the Gospel” with friends and family. Whether in telling our story or sharing a tract or talking to someone we have met about Jesus, many of us hear what Jesus says about the preaching of the Gospel and we do think about giving ourselves to that.

But do we listen to the rest of what he said? Are we guilty of selective hearing?

I see two things that suggest that I might be a bit selective . . .

First, he calls his followers to “go.” Now I don’t think that necessarily means that every follower of Jesus, in every setting and situation, is to abandon their daily kind of life and set out on a journey as an itinerant evangelist. But if it doesn’t mean that, it must mean something. And, minimally, it must mean that the followers of Jesus should be intentional about their carrying out of this commission. Jesus anticipated that his followers would not simply wait for opportunities to fall into their laps and then make the most of such opportunities. Jesus asked his followers to go to those who needed to know . . . whether down the street, around the block, in the neighborhood, uptown, or across the country or farther. But I am a bit selective in my hearing . . . and I don’t know that I really intend to “go” (I’d rather “wait” for something to happen).

And then there is the part about “signs following.” Now I don’t think that this means that every follower of Jesus will, in every situation and setting, experience any or all of these signs. It seems to me that what Jesus is saying is that these kinds of things are to be anticipated and expected in the lives of his followers at various times in life. Some of them, some of the time, will see evidence of some of these things. So that, taken as a whole, the collective body of followers are to experience, corporately, these kinds of things. But I am a bit selective in my hearing . . . and I don’t really anticipate that things like what Jesus mentions here should or could happen in the circles in which I typically travel.

So, how well am I really listening to Jesus if I affirm to him that I am OK with sharing the Gospel if the occasion arises but I’m not really interested in intentionally giving myself to the call to “go” and I’m not really expecting or desiring him to show up to confirm the message through signs that might follow?

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