AUTHORITY (Naked Runner/ Lesson19)


The Gathering, Pastor Barry: Gospel of Mark (memoirs of a naked runner series) #19

An Unanswered Question Mark 11:27-33, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Hebrews 12:1-2

 Once again Jesus and his disciples arrived in Jerusalem and walked into the temple courts where Jesus had driven out the money changers and animals the day before. There are two things are of interest here that might otherwise escape a readers notice. Firstly, no money changers or animals were in the temple courts this day or Jesus would have certainly driven them out again. Secondly, The chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders were all there to meet him.  Remember…they were not there to “greet” him, but to meet him.  They feared him and were looking for a way to kill him (Mark 11:18). It was just a matter of how and when. That problem would be solved with the aid of the traitor Judas in just a couple of days. The question they asked him about his authority in verse 28 was directly related to the events of his cleansing of the temple the day before: “By what authority are you doing these things?” The religious leaders believed themselves to be superior to Jesus by their religious education and social standing alone.  Their question was accusatory.

People then and now put way too much importance on meeting man’s qualifications for spiritual authority rather than God’s. Many consider a modernist theologian who graduated from Harvard Divinity School as being more worth listening to than a fisherman who has studied and believed the Scriptures (remember Peter, James and John were of the later). Even worse still, our society places more value on an atheist with a doctorate degree or a mere celebrity than on a disciple of Christ who holds to the teachings of Jesus. We must not be so foolish; but rather let the Scriptures be our authority (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Jesus is the founder of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2) and we must follow his lead.

Jesus knew that the religious teachers had already made their minds up to kill him and were simply mocking him with such a question.  Turning things around Jesus ask the religious leaders a question that he knew they wouldn’t answer. In essence he asked “was John’s ministry from heaven or from his head?”  The crowd believed that John was the heaven sent prophet who announced the long awaited Messiah of whom the scriptures prophesied. The religious teachers did not believe this or they would have believed in Jesus who John introduced.  They were actually glad that king Herod had killed him. They believed that John’s ministry was in his head and that John was crazy, but they couldn’t say so or they would be discredited by the people. Like so many celebrity religious leaders and politicians today, it was not politically expedient for them to tell the truth so they refused to answer.  Jesus therefore refused to answer their question…or did he?

The Vineyard Owner and his Son Mark 12:1-12, Psalm 118:20-26, Hebrews 10:26-31, Acts 4:10-12    

Actually Jesus did explicitly answer the question about where his authority came from after what was likely a great pause following his refusal to answer the religious leaders. Jesus, being a masterful storyteller, engaged the whole crowd, but likely glared at the religious leaders when referring to the villainous farmers who represented them in the story. In short, Jesus had given the history of the Jewish nation (the vineyard) and their corrupt religious leaders who had put the prophets of the ages to death (Matthew 23:37) for bringing the message of repentance and judgment from God (the owner of the vineyard) to them. The son, whom the owner of the vineyard loved, was a picture of Jesus himself, who was sent by the Father to be respected.  The glare of Jesus must have intensified and his voice deepen as he revealed the plot of those religious leaders (tenants) to kill him.  “What then will the owner (God) of the vineyard do?  He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard (Israel) to others”, growled Jesus.  Jesus then abruptly asked the religious leaders a poignant question: “Haven’t you read this passage of scripture: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes?”

Jesus quoted King David from Psalm 118:20-26.  A messianic song that was written and sung when the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the city of David (Jerusalem). The Ark was an Old Covenant symbol of God’s mercy to his people.  Just as Jesus is God’s mercy to sinners. It proclaimed the absolute authority (law, provision, and mercy) of God. It’s no wonder that Jesus ascribed this passage to himself.

The religious leaders knew exactly what Jesus had done with his story. He had proclaimed that his authority was from his father, God and that he was the foundation stone for the building up of all things good.  Jesus also proclaimed judgment upon all who would reject him.  In Hebrews 10:26-31 the Apostle Paul also proclaimed that same terrible judgment.

In Acts 3 & 4 Peter and John were arrested for the commotion caused when God healed a lame beggar.  After spending a night in jail they faced accusations from the chief priest and religious leaders who said “By what power or name did you do this?”  “Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified”, Peter answered.  He then also quoted this same passage in reference to Jesus (Acts 4:10-12). “Salvation is found in no one else”, proclaimed Peter.

“Give God What is God’s!” Mark 12:13-17, Psalm 24:1-6

After being totally offended and outwitted by Jesus the religious leaders sent for the “big guns” to trap Jesus into being arrested. The Pharisees were a religious party and the Herodians were a political party who’s allegiance was to king Herod and Rome. The next question they asked was to trap Jesus: “Should the Imperial tax be paid to Caesar or not?”

If Jesus was truly the Messiah he surely couldn’t agree with such an unfair tax put only on subject peoples and not on Roman citizens, however, if he was to tell people not to pay the tax he would be arrested and sentenced to death by Rome for usurping the government.  Jesus looked at a coin’s inscription of Caesar and said: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” Not only did Jesus skillfully avoid the trap set for him, but he also proclaimed his authority once again. In the Psalms King David proclaimed that everything is the Lord’s and only those who seek him will be vindicated (cleared of blame).



FRUITLESS (Naked Runner/Lesson18)


Pastor Barry Bruce/ The Gathering Church: Gospel of Mark/ Naked Runner Series #18

Fruit-less        failing to achieve the desired results; unproductive or useless.

Look at the detail of the painting by Tom Dubois entitled Hosanna.  What words come to your mind as you look at the wonder of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem? Look at the jubilant faces, the colorful palm leaves, flowers and instruments. Can’t you just hear the singing, the praise and dancing?  What words come to your mind as you look– How about “Fruitless?”

The festivities that day proved fruitless in all that were present, for in one week’s time that scene would drastically change into one of Jesus carrying his cross before that same then mocking crowd. The people were well masked at that festive parade but the fruit of faith and allegiance was not produced in their hearts. You’ve heard the expression “all show and no go”.  That is exactly what was happening at that parade among the people except for in the heart of one–that sacrificial lamb riding on the beast of burden. Does Jesus produce any fruit in you?

“Hosanna!” Mark 11:1-11, Matthew 21:4-11, Zechariah 9:9, Isaiah 53:6-8

It was all part of the master’s plan.  Jesus arriving in Jerusalem as a king.  Mark, writing to a gentile audience, did a poor job writing about the event. Only a religious Jew could  appreciate the symbolism. So we will leave Mark’s gospel here and go to Matthew’s     account. Matthew tells us why Jesus came to Jerusalem in the way he did.  It was to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah and to remind the Jews of God’s promise to King David. The Jewish Messiah (savior) was to “sit on David’s throne (Psalm 89:32-37, 132:11, Acts 2:29-36).  In other words, the  promised Jewish Messiah would come through the genealogical line of King David just as Jesus did and he will reign forever and ever (Revelation 11:15). 

Jesus rode into Jerusalem (Zion) on a donkey because that animal was once King David’s royal mount.  It proclaimed that the promised eternal king had come to bring salvation to his people. In the ancient Middle Eastern world, leaders rode horses into war, but a donkey if they came in peace. First Kings 1:32-33 records King David’s order to mount his son Solomon on a donkey on the day he was recognized as the new king of Israel. Jesus was honored as king in a parade that day as they all shouted “hosanna!” which meant “save us”, but what the Jews failed to see was that this forever king would first have to die as a sacrifice for sin to bring them salvation.  That too was prophesied (Isaiah 53:6-8). Like fans at a sporting event they cheered, but their hearts were hardened with sin.  They all needed a savior.  John the Baptist had introduced Jesus to the people three years before as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  Now that promised lamb was coming into Jerusalem to offer himself as a sacrifice for mankind. Many other lambs also came through the gates that day to be inspected by the priests for family sacrifices for the upcoming Passover, but only the Lamb of God can forgive sin (John 1:12, 3:16-17).  

A Cursed Tree Mark 11:11-14, Luke 13:6-9, Luke 19:41-44

Mark gives us a timeline for the next events.  After the “parade” Jesus looked around at everything (the fruitlessness) in the temple courts (Mark 11:11) and because it was late he went back to Bethany with his disciples and called it a day.  The following morning Jesus and his disciples headed back to Jerusalem.  They were hungry on the journey and saw a leafy fig tree in the distance. (Note: when a fig tree has leaves it should also have small knobs, called taqsh, an edible forerunner of figs which come later in season.  If the leaves appear unaccompanied by taqsh, there will be no figs that year.)  Jesus seeing no taqsh saw a fruitless tree and cursed it.  This was not merely an angry act of hunger and frustration by Jesus. It was an illustrated curse on Israel of which the fig tree is a symbol throughout the Bible.

In Luke 13:6-9 Jesus told a parable of a fig tree.  The parable was preceded by his words to those “living in Jerusalem”: “But unless you repent, you too will all perish”. The owner of the vineyard is the God of Israel (Isaiah 5:7). The caretaker is the Messiah, who, three years into his mission of “digging and fertilizing”, sought to bring the nation to bear fruit for God. At the time of the utterance of this parable, the mission of Christ was not complete. Our Lord still had half a year of ministry before him. The cursing of the fig tree recorded in Mark 11:12-14 and Matthew 21:18-20 is the finishing of this unfinished parable. Israel proved fruitless and therefore was cursed.  This judgment also coincides with Jesus’ prophecy about Israel as he overlooked Jerusalem on the way to his triumphal entry (Luke 19:41-44). His prophecy was fulfilled in 70AD when Rome destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple.

A Cleansed Temple Mark 11:15-19, Galatians 5:19-23

As Jesus entered the Temple courts he saw the selfish businessmen.  They had turned a place where people were supposed to pray into a noisy marketplace. Any such business should have been set up outside of the Temple area.  No one was able to focus their attention on God so Jesus got their attention!  This was the second time that Jesus cleared out the Temple in this way (John 2:13-17). You might say that Jesus fertilized the Temple courts by clearing out the weeds and making such a stink there!  After he cleared out the Temple the gospel of Matthew says the blind and lame were healed and children praised his name (Matthew 21:14-16).  Meanwhile, the chief priests and teachers of the law looked for a way to kill him.  Prayer (Communion) with God, brings the fruit of the Spirit into our lives (Galatians 5:22-23).  Are you a house of prayer or den of thieves? (Galatians 5:19-21).  Dear God, let us be a house a fruitful people and a house of prayer for you.

The Fruit of a Disciple Mark 11:20-26, 2 Corinthians 5:17

The next morning the disciples marveled over the withered fig tree that Jesus had cursed the day before.  The dead tree symbolized God’s curse on Israel’s fruitlessness, but Jesus offered hope. Jesus cleansed the temple as he can cleanse the soul. He can make all things new (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Jesus instructed his disciples to bear fruit.  Have faith in God, believe, pray and forgive.  This is the fruit of a disciple and it can only come through Jesus Christ.

MOTIVES (Naked Runner/ Lesson 17)


Ryan Bruce/ The Gathering Church: Gospel of Mark/ Naked Runner Series #17

Check Your Motives

In this lesson my son writes on selfish motives.  The struggle of man’s wicked heart desiring to elevate himself even in his Christian walk.  Selfishness and pride hide in many ways.  Sometimes we put a mask over our arrogance with family, a job, or religion.  Some even mask pride with “humility”!

Selfish Motives Mark 10:32-37, Matthew 20:20-21, 1 Corinthians 15:10, James 4:3   We begin as Jesus speaks about his crucifixion for the third time to the     disciples.  “I will be condemned in a court, mocked, spit on, flogged and put to death…then I will come back to life”, said Jesus.  The disciples were AMAZED and FEARFUL. .

Let’s recall what Jesus just finished talking about to these disciples: He just blew all their minds with a heavy look at the law. He warned them of the dangers of sin and punishment of sin. He covered the value of following him and how to receive eternal life. He tells them that nothing is impossible with God and then confirms that they will suffer for his sake.  He also told them that he would be killed and then raised from the dead three days later.

They were amazed by the promises and wisdom Jesus had for them. However, they were terrified of what was to come: death, suffering, and persecutions. So what is the response of John and James that follows all of this? Well, they wanted Jesus to do for them whatever they asked. They wanted Jesus to allow them to sit at his right and left hand in glory!

“Sons of Thunder” James and John were nick named by Jesus as “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). The brothers were full of zeal! We read of these guys in Luke 9:53-56, when the disciples were dealing with some prejudiced crowds and they called out, “Jesus, do want us to call down thunder from heaven to destroy them?” Jesus promptly rebuked them! These guys were zealous, and at times over zealous. In this particular case, they were zealous with wrong motives. Their zeal was for their own pride and selfishness.

Good Ol’ Mom!  We find the same story in Matthew 20:20-21 and we see that James’ and John’s mother was also with them making this request on their behalf.

Culture of the day We must understand the culture and time to understand the   request that was being made. In ancient Jewish culture the most distinguished person would sit at the right hand and the second most important on the direct left at the head of the table.  The mother of James and John, as well as the two brothers, didn’t want to be ordinary people but distinguished persons in heaven; they desired special attention, authority, and notoriety. They desired to be elevated among all the others.

 Pride hides itself in many ways. We have all been guilty of it at one point or another, but how do we deal with it? Here we see the obvious selfish desire of the two brothers, and the prideful zeal that led them to approach Jesus with an attitude of entitlement.  “We want you to do anything we ask!” This attitude is far from the humility of “Lord if you are willing” that Jesus responds to in the gospels. James and John had forgotten they were chosen by Jesus through grace, they were not deserving of him. None of us are       (1 Corinthians 15:10).  Sometimes, after a long walk with the Lord we lose sight of what he has done and focus on “our” work and success. This attitude will quickly turn into desire for elevation and status as it did for James and John.  Example:  After a job promotion we are above the lowly work we once did before.  We deserve children or parents who are the best and we settle for nothing less. We deserve top-notch things and respect because we are so awesome!  The reality is that same pride, if not kept in check, will make its way into our spiritual life as well.

What are your prayer life motives? Do you consider your request, by asking first “Lord if you are willing?” How often do you ask God to search your heart?  Do you humbly look at your situation with the eyes of eternal purpose? We read in James 4:3 about selfish motives in our prayer life and the results of them.

Christ’s Reaction Mark 10:38-40, 2 Timothy 3:12

“Can you drink the cup I drink?” said Jesus. These guys couldn’t even grasp the “cup” that Jesus spoke of.  Jesus then prophesied about how James would be the first to lose his life for the sake of the gospel at the hand of Herod (Acts 12:1-2), and John would be delivered into the hands of his enemies. They would later understand what that cup meant.

2 Timothy 3:12   Humility should be the trait of a follower of Christ. Humility comes with trials and pride is humbled by persecution. Our desire should be to lift up Christ and others and to decrease self. The disciples, however, became more selfish and proud as Jesus’ time drew near.  It is interesting how they worried more for themselves than for Jesus. We can be like this too. So often when a loved one passes it is we who are angry, thinking of ourselves more than the one who is ill or gone home.

 Pride Mark 10:41-45, Proverbs 13:10, Acts 2:44-47

Pride causes division and bitterness.  Mark 10:41 – It caused division and anger among the disciples.  It was a sin for John and James to make such a proud request, however the     disciples were angered for their own pride. “Who do they think they are!” attitude.  Jesus addressed them all on humility and their desires for glory.  We must realize that we may not be the zealous proud type but we can still be proudly quiet or spiteful just the same.  Mark 10:42-45   We, as Christ illustrates, should be motivated by grace, humility, and service.  We should look for opportunities to serve, not be served. “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” It is humility that brings growth and unity – Acts 2: 44-47   When the church serves one another in humility, the Lord enables growth.

Jesus heals the humble believer  Mark 10: 46-52

In contrast to the disciples the blind man Bartimaeus cried out “Jesus! Have mercy on me!” Let us approach Jesus with humility, realizing that any good thing comes by the grace of God. Let us seek his mercy so that we too can serve, heal, teach, and love the way he did.  Lord, make us a unified church of humble servants called to your purpose. Amen

Impossible Possibilities (Naked Runner/ lesson 16)


Pastor Barry Bruce/ The Gathering Church: The Gospel of Mark/ Naked Runner Series #16

A Cultural Look Back  

Before we get into today’s teaching, it is important for us to look back at what society was like in first century Israel in regards to men, women, children,     religion and money. Simply said, It was a man’s world and property and wealth defined those men. By law and practice women and children were the property of men.  Women had a low social standing unless they were connected to a man– first to their father and then through their husband. Through marriage came wealth, notoriety, children, and worth.  A woman was considered worthless without a man and children.  To bear a male child was most important to a woman because this insured the carrying on of her husband’s name and the work that he did.  Property and wealth was as important to a man as a man was to a woman.  A man was considered worthless without property unless he was associated with the government, the military or a    religious order (and of course these institutions held considerable wealth and property).  In regards to religion: works, tradition and knowledge were paramount.

Divorce   Mark 10:1-12, Genesis 1:27, 2:24, Matthew 5:31-32

With the above in mind, the law for divorce was liberal and commonly practiced by men.  A woman could be divorced by a man for any reason and left with nothing.

 Jesus was asked about divorce by the Pharisees in order to test him and set him in a place of controversy. Jesus returned the Pharisees question with one of his own: “what did Moses command?”  Jesus knew that Moses addressed divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.  That law did not endorse divorce but acknowledged the practice and added protections for the woman. The law stated that a divorced woman could never again be remarried to the husband who divorced her.  There were two reasons for this: 1.) A man should    consider the finality of such a decision 2.) That man should never obtain a second dowry for her (a dowry was property or money given by the father of a bride to a husband on their marriage). Jesus reminded the Pharisees that Moses wrote those laws because Jewish hearts were hardened with the long standing tradition of divorce. God’s command concerning marriage was recorded in Genesis : “the two shall become one flesh”.  What God had joined together, none should separate”, said Jesus.

Later the disciples asked Jesus for clarification on this teaching and Jesus likened divorce and remarriage to adultery. In Matthew’s Gospel that discussion with his disciples is made clearer by their response. They surmised that it would be better to never marry than to be divorced, and this was Jesus’ point exactly.  We should not enter a marriage contract lightly and if a marriage should have trouble then we should take every care to fix it!  The caviler attitude of the Pharisees and society concerning divorce was and is wrong!  Jesus comparing divorce to breaking the seventh commandment of God (Exodus 20:14) really shook people up!  

“For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.”  Malachi  2:16  NLT

Jesus continued his teaching to the disciples by reminding them that few people were mature enough not to get married because they first counted the cost of that decision.  Jesus said that some are born eunuchs (with no sexual interest) and others were made eunuchs (castrated) while others choose to live like eunuchs to be focused on serving God. The one who chooses not to be married in order to be freed up to serve God should do it! The Apostle Paul also gave this advice (1 Corinthians 7:1-7) and lived as a celibate preaching the gospel.

A full bible study on Divorce & Re-marriage by Pastor Barry is available by request.

Little Children Mark 10:13-16

While the people’s ears were still ringing from his sobering lesson on divorce, women brought their children to Jesus for a blessing which was another cultural taboo. Children and women were not to bother a rabbi (religious teacher).  They were to be seen and not heard.  Jesus was annoyed (indignant) when the disciples rebuked the children and he called them to himself and blessed them. Once again, he drove the message home to those self-important   people in the crowd that no one gets into heaven without a humble heart and then entered a rich man!  

First and Last   Mark 10:17-31, James 3:14-16, Philippians 2:1-11

Jesus responded to the rich man’s plea for eternal life with a reminder to all that “the good teacher” was and is “God alone”. We must never forget that Jesus is the exact representation of God (Hebrews 1:3).  God alone is perfect …the rich man and we are not.  There is always something that stands in the way of our following Jesus.  For this man it was his wealth and his pursuit of it.  What stands in the way for you? Jesus let the man go away sad because one will never follow Christ until he comes to the end of himself. “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God”, said Jesus. But it was not wealth alone he spoke of here, but ones selfishness that keeps him from the kingdom of God.   

In regards to men, women, children, religion and money society was sick then and it is now too. Selfishness is, and always has been, in the hearts of men. It is the demonic detour from the kingdom of God. “Who can be saved?” With man left to himself this is as impossible as a “camel going through the eye of a needle”, “but with God; all things are possible”.

Peter ends the passage in his own selfishness expecting that he and the disciples should get what the rich man forfeited because they had left all for the gospel.  Jesus put Peter in check by adding “persecutions” to his list of his promised “blessings”. We must put others first in marriage, in family, in service, and in faith. Like a child…the last shall be first.

STUMBLING (Naked Runner/ Lesson 15)


(detail) Suffer The Children by Carl Bloch: Danish painter from 1800’s  Oil on copper

Pastor Barry Bruce/ The Gathering Church  The Gospel of Mark/ Naked Runner Series #15

Denial   Mark 9:30-32, John 8:31-32, James 1:22-25

Have you ever purposely avoided a conversation because you didn’t want to discuss it or deal with the emotion involved in it?  This is called denial and we have all been guilty of it at one time or another.  The problem with living in denial is that nothing is ever communicated or resolved.   Living in denial eventually causes an eventual pulling away from discomfort which results in the breakdown of a relationship.  Jesus said if we would continue in his word then we would know the truth and the truth would set us free. Apart from truth there is no freedom.  The apostle James continued this teaching by showing us how to “continue” in the words of God.  We must not deceive ourselves or “live in denial”.  If the truth is to set us free then we must do what the words of God tell us to do.  In this passage the disciples demonstrate that they are living in denial regarding Jesus’ mission to die for the sins of man and rise victoriously over death.  In fact, every time Jesus brought the subject up they shied away from it (Mark 8:31-32, 9:9-10). Here Jesus attempted to stay away from people so that he could explain things to his disciples, but instead of asking him for clarity they were afraid and retreated in denial.  Lesson    number one in the avoidance of Spiritual Stumbling is to never live in denial.  Communicate and get clarity.  The Truth may hurt but at least you will have the facts!  Once you have the facts (truth) you will have the freedom to make a decision and thus avoid stumbling further.

Narcissism   Mark 9:33-41, Romans 12:3

excessive interest in oneself —extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration (narcissist).

When a person lives in denial they can stumble into a variety of messes.  The mess that the disciples stepped into was narcissism.  As Jesus was preparing for his selfless mission of sacrifice the disciples were arguing over which one of them was the greatest!  Jesus gave them the hard facts of Heaven: “the greatest must be the least and the servant of all”.  To drive that message home Jesus took a child (who was the least according to their culture) and placed him/ her in their midst and told them to welcome him/her. (Note: children were not allowed in the presence of a religious teacher or conversation of men.  This was strictly a woman’s role.) The apostle Paul warns us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but to have sober    judgment concerning ourselves.  Once again, this sobriety only comes from God’s word (the truth).

The disciples were so lost in their own self importance that they wouldn’t accept   others they didn’t know who were practicing the same faith.  Jesus corrected that false notion.  No one has a market on Jesus…not even his original disciples.  Jesus        reversed things for their clarification: “And if anyone gives you a cup of water because you are associated with me they will also be rewarded.”  Jesus is the “great one” here folks…not us!  Lesson Two in not stumbling is to think soberly.  Stop being drunk on self!

Stumbling  Others  Mark 9:42-48, Hebrews 10:30-31

As we looked at the passages perhaps you didn’t notice how John interrupted Jesus’ lesson of the child with his self-centered question about not accepting people of faith who were not in his group.  Jesus answered his question but in verse 42 he returns to his teaching and addresses the child still among them and ignored by the disciples. This time Jesus is more direct and calls them out in their hypocrisy of denial and narcissism.  In essence Jesus says “it is one thing to stumble yourself but it is another thing entirely to stumble ‘one of these little ones’ —those who believe in me.”  Jesus wanted to cut through their self-righteousness so he used some vivid word pictures.

The average millstone weighed about 3/4 of a ton and was rotated by an ox or mule to grind grain.  It would be impossible to hang such a thing around one’s neck, let alone to be cast into the sea with it as an attachment, but with God all things are possible! (Philippians 4:13) It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.  The point is that God will judge us for the careless way we reflect him to others.  Jesus drives the point in further…whatever keeps you from walking with Christ cut it off!   Lesson Three:  Remember that God is watching you and judgment is in his hands.  

Get Salted!  Mark 9:49-50, Matthew 5:13-16

In closing Jesus makes a strange comment: “everyone will be salted with fire” and salt is good”. Salt was used as both a preservative and taste enhancement. Fire was used for purification or refinement.  To be salted with fire is to undergo trials,    rebuke and tribulation. Jesus had just “salted his disciples” with the fire of his rebuke! Pain and discipline must be experienced by “everyone” who is to grow as God’s child. Just as salt is useless if it loses its saltiness so are we without  correction from God. Our Final lesson in not stumbling is to embrace discipline.

To be “salt of the earth” our lives must shine for Christ.  “Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other” was Jesus’ way of saying except my chastising and stop arguing among yourselves over greatness!  Jesus alone is great. His truth sets us free! Now let us stop stumbling around and make him known!

BELIEF (Naked Runner/ Lesson14)


The Gathering/ Pastor Barry Bruce         The Gospel of Mark/ Naked Runner Series #14

Painting detail: Master, I Have Brought Unto Thee My Son by Walter Rane

Unbelieving  Mark 9:14-19,   2 Corinthians 10:2-6

Jesus, and the three had just hiked down the “high mountain” (Mount Hermon) when they came upon a crowd of people surrounding the other nine disciples engaged in a heated argument with the teachers of the law.  The people were “overwhelmed” to see Jesus walk up because he was no doubt the subject of the argument, then poof!  There he was!

At this point I must say, whenever Jesus takes you to a mountain top experience you are bound to descend into an attack from the Devil.  This is exactly what happened here!  Belief was at an all time high for Peter, James and John as Jesus transfigured before them at the top of that mountain, but even as they descended from that experience doubt began to creep into their minds as they questioned among themselves what Jesus meant when he spoke to them of rising from the dead (Mark 9:10) and about Elijah coming before the Messiah (Mark 9:11).  The building up of the Spirit, just like the exercise of the body seems to    deplete the moment one eats his next meal. We have a nature that gravitates toward sin rather it be by caloric intake into our body or bad thinking into our brain.  We must  consciously fight against our flesh on all levels or be victims of it.  We can take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ or we can be weighted down with sin and unbelief like everyone else by embracing the standards of this world.  This is what the Apostle Paul warned the church of Corinth about and I pass on that warning to you!

Jesus’ rebuke of being an “unbelieving generation” was towards everyone present, including the three that came down that mountain with Jesus.  The teachers of the law were always trying to build themselves up by taking down Jesus and the disciples with their religious rhetoric. 1.) One can never believe who never listens.  The crowd was amped up for entertainment.  They were not invested in boy’s deliverance from the demon that was torturing him. 2.) One can never believe until he is invested in a reason to do so . The nine disciples were stumped in their faith because of the negative attacks from the teachers of the law and the jeers from the crowd.  They said the right things (“Come out in Jesus name”) but they lost confidence in the promises of Jesus as they listened to the noise around them and watched the demon thrash the boy around in the dirt.  Like Peter who briefly walked on the water towards Jesus until he “saw the strength of the wind and began to sink” (Matthew 14:29-31), the nine saw the strength of the Devil and failed too.  Then Jesus said to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  3.) One can not see the results of faith when one is filled with doubt.  Jesus rebuked them all for their unbelief, including Peter, James and John who had just demonstrated their unbelief by their questioning of him on the hike down the mountain.

Do you want to believe?  Then you must 1.) Listen only to Jesus and resist the world view.  2.) You must be invested (have cause , reason, be devoted) to believe. 3.) You must not doubt the promises and power of Christ. “Bring the boy to me” , said Jesus.  Do we believe?

“If?” Mark 9:20-27, Romans 10:17, James 1:22

The words “If” and “But” are insults to Jesus.  We can see that clearly by Jesus’ response to the father of the demon possessed son.  We must strike those words from our vocabulary.  “Everything is possible for one who believes”, said Jesus!  “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief”, he responded.  Notice that Jesus did not sprinkle heavenly magic dust on the man so that he could believe.  He simply healed his boy!  Jesus is always at work around us if we are looking for him and listening to his word.  Do you want to overcome your unbelief?  Then start looking and listening for Jesus at work in this life and stop embracing the standards of the world.  Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ and doing what he says (Romans 10:17, James 1:22).

The demon spirit shrieked, convulsed the boy violently, but then came out.  Satan will not let go of his captive willingly. He makes a show of force so we will back down.  We must never back down in unbelief ever!  The boy appeared dead, but Jesus raised him up.

“Why?” Mark 9:28-29, Matthew 17:19-20

The disciples were perplexed… and later asked Jesus why they couldn’t drive out the demon.  Jesus’ answer is best described in both the gospel of Matthew and Mark and most expressively in the King James Version which includes “prayer and fasting”. Once again we see the three points of today’s lesson: 1.) To listen is to pray, 2.) To be invested is to fast (give up the physical to invest in the spiritual)  3.) To have no doubt is to have faith.  Nothing is impossible with even a small bit (mustard seed) of faith.  Let us take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ and punish every thought that is contrary. This is how our faith will grow.  And this is how we light our candle on the front porch of hell! 

Note: Matthew 17:21 is omitted in the NIV and other versions because the oldest copies of the Bible did not have this verse. It was later added to reflect Mark’s gospel.)

“Dead” John 11:25-26, 40-44, Philippians 3:17-21

“Dead” seems pretty final in the world’s view, but faith in Christ will raise the believer up. Jesus raised that “corpse” of a boy up!  Jesus raised Lazarus up from the dead too. Later, Jesus raised himself from the dead and then that boy and Lazarus died again. We are to pray, fast and have faith to cast out demons and heal the sick. These things testify that Jesus is Lord and yet the ultimate healing and testimony will come when our earthly body dies and we are resurrected into everlasting life with him.  This is foolishness in the world’s view, but we are not of this world.  With Martha Jesus asks us for our response too.  “Do you believe?”

Microscopic Faith

For those feeling that your faith is smaller than a “mustard seed”, even microscopic, be encouraged.  Like those nine disciples that attempted but failed in their faith, the Master backed them up and his will prevailed.  Like Peter who cried out in the waves, the Master grabbed his pleading hand. Nonetheless, you do the task of a disciple and believe. Listen only to Jesus, be invested in following him fully and take every thought captive to believe in him and don’t doubt.  The world may call you foolish, but only such foolish folk will be in heaven one day.

Clarity (naked runner/ lesson13)


The Gathering Church/ Pastor Barry:    Gospel of Mark/ Naked Runner Series #13

Clarity   We must be clear on a thing if we are to do it well. That is why schooling is so important.  A teacher must be a clear communicator of the subject if the student is to learn. Clarity is also vital to sports.  We must be clear on the rules of the game and train to be a team player.  A good coach clearly communicates these things to the team so that they can be victorious.  Clarity is also vital to the arts.  Music without clear notes is noise.  Art without the clarity of color, line and shape communicates nothing. Theater without clarity in the craft of acting isn’t worth seeing, speech without clarity is annoying!  Clarity is important to every aspect of living.  When there is no clarity there is no vision and without vision people are lost!  Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law. Proverbs 29:18 (NAS)

 The Bible (God’s law) is written for clarity in all things including sexuality, gender roles, parenting, ethics, religion and worship.  According to God (who created us) we will be blessed (happy) only by keeping (following) his word.  Without it we are lost!

Today’s lesson gives CLARITY on Jesus and our proper (Romans 12:1) response to Him.

Power & Worship Mark 9:1-8, 2 Peter 1:16-18, John 14:6-11

We begin with a comment by Jesus to his disciples: “some standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come in power” (Mark 9:1, Matthew 16:28, Luke 9:27). Many liberal theologians try to make Jesus out to be a false prophet by teaching that he was referring to his second coming here; however, the “some” that Jesus referred to was Peter, James and John who “about eight days after Jesus said this” saw a glimpse of heaven come down in power before their very eyes.  Peter himself testified about this experience in 2 Peter 1:16-18.

Let us be clear on the person of Jesus:  He is a historical figure documented by both biblical and extra-biblical ancient writings, there is absolutely no proof that he ever made a false statement or prophecy, there is absolutely no credibility to conspiracy theories written about him fornicating with Mary Magdalene, being gay, not resurrecting, or being anyone or anything inconsistent with what the Biblical accounts say about him. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.”             1 Peter 2:22

The “honor and glory” that Peter recalled was that (‘Shekinah’), glory that was the radiant, shining presence of God himself .  It had appeared to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:16), and had later filled the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:11).  When Jesus was born, that same glory appeared to the shepherds in Bethlehem (Luke 2:9-20).  On that “high mountain” it was then upon Jesus.  Moses appeared (a symbol of God’s law) and Elijah (a symbol of God’s prophetic word) but only Jesus was worthy of worship as God clearly illustrated.  The law and the prophets have always pointed to Him.  It is our proper response to worship him alone!  We, like the disciple Phillip, are called to believe on the evidence of his works. He is God.

Side Note:  The mountain where the ‘transfiguration’ occurred was probably Mount Hermon, a short distance to the north of Caesarea Philippi – in the area where Jesus asked the disciples, ‘Who do you say I am? (Mark 8:27)  Mount Hermon (meaning ‘sanctuary’) is the highest mountain in Palestine (at 9233 ft / 2815m above sea level) and has a permanent white snowfield that provides meltwater during the dry spring and summer that feeds the River Jordan where John baptized. It was a sacred place to the early Canaanites and one of the ‘high places’ of pagan worship during Old Testament times. God likely chose this historical place of false worship to show the disciples that only Jesus is truly worthy of worship. Not even the greatest leaders of their religion, Moses and Elijah, deserved such homage.

Some Christians believe that the ‘transfiguration’ took place on Mount Tabor to the east of Nazareth. On that mountain there is the Franciscan Church of the Transfiguration which stands on the site of a 4th century Byzantine basilica. This location is unlikely, however, as Mount Tabor was the site of a Roman military camp at the time of Jesus.

Unbelief Mark 9:9-29, Hebrews 10:38-11:1, Matthew 17:10-13

After it had been made crystal clear to Peter, James and John who alone should be worshiped, Jesus had clearly stated that he would die and resurrect ( Mark 8:31-32) and yet they discussed his resurrection among themselves as though it were a metaphor. Sometimes when we don’t want to accept truth we can come up with our own brand of reasoning which is actually a lie and unbelief.  We must accept God’s clear truth rather we like it or not and ask him for strength.  This is called living by faith, “the assurance of things hoped for”.

Having just seen Elijah they asked Jesus why the teachers of the law said that Elijah must come before the Messiah.  The teachers were right…the prophet Malachi had said this (Malachi 4:5-6) but Jesus had once clearly stated that John the Baptist was that Elijah (Matthew 11:13-14) although not literally the same prophet as John once confirmed (John 1:21-23). Jesus clarified this once again for the disciples (see Matthew 17:11-13) and they understood; however, the teachers of the law and even the Jews today do not because they accept Malachi’s prophecy but reject Jesus’ clarification.  If we refuse the teaching of the one who has clearly shown himself to be truth then we live in unbelief.  Jesus clearly stated that Elijah had already come, but, tragically, he was not recognized and had been killed. Jesus then predicted the same would happen to him. (Matthew 17:10-13). Jesus’ actions have clarified who he is, as he said unto Phillip he says to all “believe on the works themselves!”