GROWTH (naked runner/lesson 6)

MustardSeedThe Gathering Church/ Pastor Barry: Gospel of Mark: Memoirs of the naked runner

Speaking in parables Mark 4:1-2, 9-12, Matthew 13:14-17, 1 Peter 5:6-7

As we begin chapter 4 we find Jesus teaching out of the boat once again in order to put some distance between him and the ever increasing crowd. The passage says that “he taught them many things by parables”.  A Parable is defined as a concise story with an ulterior motive to teach a moral instructive lesson or principle.

Jesus’ disciples would later ask (Mark 4:10, Matthew 13:10, Luke 8:9, )  why he taught in parables.  On the surface Jesus’ answer seemed cold hearted, but on closer inspection it was really a brilliant way to separate the serious seeker from the cynical skeptic or the lazy leech looking only for a handout.

Jesus only had a window of time to teach before his mission would expire.  His use of       parables wearied the lazy and frustrated the cynical, but the serious seeker really wanted to understand what Jesus was saying and considered carefully what they heard. Jesus often finished his parable with the phrase “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”  Most everyone gathered around Jesus had ears to hear but only those who truly believed in Jesus would actually listen and take his teaching to heart.  These are who Jesus came to forgive and save.

Today we still have the same three classes of hearers: 1.) serious seekers, 2.) cynical    skeptics and 3.) lazy leeches looking only for a hand out.  They are at every outreach, church service and event. The cynics will ask insincere questions, draw attention to themselves and attempt to lead others astray.  Lazy leeches will look only for the free food or gifts, selfishly take all they can and distract others from the deeper spiritual and emotional needs that are addressed in God’s word, but a serious seeker is different.  He or she will want the truth, and be responsive to the light of the gospel.  Through parables Jesus filtered out those who would waste his time. 

Matthew’s gospel refers to a scalding prophecy of Isaiah that identified those who “would not hear” his parables (Matthew 13:14-15).  In contrast Jesus blessed his disciples for their desire to hear and learn.  Jesus has not changed (Hebrews 13:8), he will only bless those who will humble themselves in his sight (1 Peter 5:6-7). It would do us well to remember that humble doesn’t mean poor or infirmed; there are many such people that fall into the “filtered out” category by Jesus too.  A rich man may be more “humble” in the sight of the Lord!  Humbleness is an attitude of the heart that sees God grace and forgiveness as “unmerited favor” not some sort of entitlement.  Ultimately, a humbled person is the only person that Jesus will forgive.

A Lamp on a Stand Mark 4:21-25, John 8:32

 Before we get into what I call the “growth parables” I want to quickly look at the parable of The Lamp on a Stand because it reflects what we just studied. Think of why Jesus spoke in parables and then imagine yourself as a listener in a crowd of the “unfiltered”. The “lamp” or light in the parable is any teaching that Jesus wants people to understand. What is hidden in the parable “is meant to be disclosed”.  “Whatever is concealed is meant to be brought into the open”. Jesus wants us to know the truth and be set free (John 8:32). Jesus is the lamp stand that is lifting up that light through his teaching.  He beckons people to “hear” and “consider carefully” what he teaches and to “measure” wisely what is heard.  Jesus warns that the same measure of their judgment about him will be measured against them in God’s righteous judgment.  Therefore, “whoever has” the wisdom to hear will be “given more” (wisdom, righteousness, forgiveness and blessing) and “whoever does not have” the wisdom to hear will lose everything!

Growth Parables Mark 4:3-9,13-20, Matthew 28:18-20, Matthew 17:20

Now that you understand the definition and principal purpose of Jesus’ parables you will likely understand The Parable of the Sower without his explanation, but his disciples didn’t so he patiently explained the parable step by step. The “farmer” is the Lord who plants (sows) the word of God in the earth.  The people are illustrated as seeds in their varying responses to God’s invitation to grow

Make no doubt about it…the “farmer” has done everything to sow his word into our world. It is our responsibility to receive it into our heart and grow. Luke’s gospel makes this clear in a more detailed account of this parable: “The seed on the good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop (Luke 8:15). Being of noble character begins with humbly receiving Christ and his teaching. The “good heart” is created by the Holy Spirit as we yield to his work in us. It is also he who   produces a crop as we persevere in our faith.

In His Parable of the Growing Seed Jesus illustrates those who are seed growing on good soil.  That “man”(not the Farmer) now scatters God’s word (Matthew 28:18-20).  Although he doesn’t always understand how, God’s Spirit (the soil) produces fruit (grain) Growth in others now happens because of the seeds of the gospel we plant as believers. One day all that “good seed” will grow up and be harvested (e.g. brought home to Heaven: Revelation 14:15-16) and we will be with the Lord forever.

Our last growth parable, The Parable of the Mustard Seed  reminds us that faith so small will grow so big that others will be blessed by it. Nothing will be  impossible! (Matthew 17:20-21) Plant growth only happens with sun and water—no matter what!  We are much the same. Let the SON shine on you and be WATERED in His WORD and you will be like a well watered    garden in a sun scorched land (Isaiah 58:11). So let us continue in him, rooted and built up in him (Colossians 2:6-7). Let’s Grow! “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Family (naked runner/ Lesson 5)

JesusTwelve

The Gathering Church/ Pastor Barry: Gospel of Mark: Memoirs of the naked runner

Following Jesus Mark 3:7-12

The above passage tells us that “many people came” to Jesus from all over! Crowds followed him everywhere he went.  They came to be healed of their maladies, to hear what he had to say, and to simply say that they had seen him. Yes, Jesus had become a first century celebrity!   Jesus would even preach from a small boat in order to keep the crowds from pushing against him. When a demon possessed person would see Jesus the demon would cast them to the ground and proclaim “You are the Son of God!” With a word Jesus would rebuke them into silence.  Demons were not to proclaim his name.  The masses would soon do that and then he would die for their sins and complete his mission (John 3:16).

Jesus Picks Twelve Mark 3:13-19

The scripture says that Jesus “called to him those he wanted”. Why did he choose these from among the many that followed him? We know that Judas would go on to betray Jesus thereby sending him to the cross to accomplish his mission, but why Peter, James, John and the others listed in Mark 3:16-19? They would all fail Jesus in his hour of need (Mark 14:37-42, 50) but they would also return to fulfill his great commission (Mark 16:15-20) even unto death:

Deaths of the Apostles:

Simon (Peter): Crucified upside-down in Rome (John 21:18). James (Son of Zebedee): Put to death with the sword (beheaded) by Herod (Acts 12:2). John: Unsuccessfully boiled in oil in Rome, sentenced to the prison island of Patmos (where he wrote Revelation). John was later freed and returned to what is now modern-day Turkey where he died as an old man. Andrew: Whipped then crucified on an x-shaped cross in Greece where he preached for two days   before dying. Phillip: Scourged, crucified and then stoned to death. Bartholomew (Nathanael): Beaten with staves, crucified, and beheaded in Armenia.  Matthew (Levi): Killed by a sword in Ethiopia. Thomas: Stabbed with a spear in India. James (Son of Alphaeus): Crucified. Thaddaeus (Judas/ Jude): Slain under King Augarus in Mesopotamia. Simon (The Zealot): Crucified. Judas Iscariot (The Betrayer): Hung himself after betraying Christ (Acts 1:15-20). Matthias (Chosen to replace Judas: Acts 1:26): Stoned and then beheaded. Paul (Saul/ “least of the Apostles” 1 Corinthians 15:9-10): Tortured and then beheaded by Nero in AD67 Mark (not an apostle) preached the gospel in Egypt and there was drawn with ropes and burned alive over a fire under Trajanus the emperor. Ancient Church history compiled by John Foxe (1518-1587), The Acts and Monuments of the Christian Church AKA Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, first published in English in 1563.

The fact that Jesus “Called” these men to him proves two things. 1.) Jesus foreknew those He called and predestined them to take His gospel where He wanted it to go. (Romans 8:29-30) 2.) These men truly believed Jesus to be the Messiah for they all died without renouncing their faith in Him.

 Family & Foe Mark 3:20-34, Matthew 13:54-58, Hebrews 10:26-29, 1 John 3:1-3

We all know… sometimes “family” can be the hand that holds you down. Unbelieving “Family”, relatives and town folk was the reason that Jesus did so few miracles in his home town. Even Jesus’ own brothers (Matthew 13:54-58) didn’t believe in him (Mark 6:4-6, John 7:5). It was only after Jesus’ resurrection that the brothers became disciples (Acts 1:14) and we don’t know if his sisters ever believed. Jesus’ brother James went on to lead the church in Jerusalem for 30 years and also wrote the Epistle of James. James was eventually martyred for his faith by being thrown from a tower and beaten to death with clubs, but in Mark 3:21 he was likely one of the brothers who went to “take charge of him” because they thought Jesus was “out of his mind.” We know from the book of Matthew (Matthew 12:46) that Mary was also with the brothers.  We must never forget that Mary was prone to human failings too. She was, after all, a mother worried about her son’s controversial fame.

While Jesus’ family thought he was simply “out of his mind” the teachers of the law were proclaiming that Jesus was “possessed by Beelzebul”(Prince of Demons). Jesus made clear the foolishness of their speculation and then warned them of the unforgivable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. If anyone should have recognized Jesus for who He was, it was the Pharisees. Yet they chose defiance. They purposely attributed the work of the Spirit to the devil, even though they could clearly see the truth.  The unpardonable sin is the state of continued unbelief despite the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit currently convicts the unsaved world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11). To resist that conviction and willfully remain unrepentant is to “blaspheme” the Holy Spirit. There is no forgiveness for a person who dies in unbelief (Hebrews 10:26-29).

Jesus clearly draws a line here between family and foe. In Mark 4:31 Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived with unbelief.  His expressed allegiance was not to the village people he was raised with, nor to his relatives, nor even to his own immediate family or mother.  The family of Jesus is “whoever does God’s will”— which is to believe. Even Judas Iscariot at that moment was more family than Mary and his brothers (although that position would change). His foes were those who bad mouthed his works and insulted the “Spirit of grace”, his mission was (and is) to any who came to sincerely hear and consider the truth he told.

Through the gospel of Christ we have all been called to be in the family of God!  Will you join? Those outside of the family will think we are crazy or even hate us, but we who follow must strip off disbelief and embrace the promise that Jesus will return for his family. Continue to do his will… you who choose to be a child of God (1 John 3:1-3).

TRADITION (Naked Runner/Lesson4)

Wheat4

The Gathering Church/ Pastor Barry: Gospel of Mark: Memoirs of the Naked Runner

Lesson 4     

Traditions

We all have traditions that are beliefs and behaviors from the past that we pass down because of their symbolic meaning or special significance. There are family traditions, cultural traditions and religious traditions that people hold very dear.  When Jesus came into this world He spoke the truth and that truth messed with many traditions.  How about you and your traditions…will you allow Jesus to mess with yours?

Fasting Mark 2:18-22, Matthew 23:5-12, Matthew 6:16-18, John 3:22-30

Our lesson begins with a question for Jesus about the tradition of fasting: “Why are John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fasting but yours are not?”   Matthew’s gospel reveals that it was John’s disciples who asked the question        (Mat. 9:14).

 According to the Bible, fasting was abstaining from food (sometimes drink) for reasons such as: Times of sorrow and grief, repentance, religious events, personal service toward God and times of making important decisions.  Fasting has benefits both physically and spiritually.    •It benefits ones health, by cleansing the body. •It fosters self-discipline and appreciation. •It brings focus to prayer. •It is honored by God when done in sincere dedication to Him. While there are many things we can fast for today, we are not commanded to do so under the new covenant.  Fasting is beneficial but voluntary for the Christian. However, under the old covenant, a “denial of self” (translated as fasting) was commanded once a year on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:27-28).

The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur):  on that day, the high priest performed rituals to atone for the sins of the people. This ceremony used two goats. The blood of the first goat was sprinkled on the ark, ritually appeasing the wrath of God for another year. The second goat (the scapegoat) was chased into the wilderness symbolically removing the sins of the people. Jews today still celebrate the annual Day of Atonement (each year in September-October). The day is traditionally observed with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue services. Under the New Covenant it is Jesus alone who is our atonement:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!   Romans 5:8-9

 As we get back to our primary text, we must realize that we have two different groups of  people fasting for different reasons.  Pharisees were famous for making up new laws from their man-made traditions and trying to bind them on others.  One of these man-made  traditions was fasting. The Pharisees ritually fasted on Mondays and Thursdays (Luke 18:12).  Most of what the Pharisees did was for an outward show, and recognition (Matt. 23:5-12). Their fasts were not sincere. Jesus’ instructed that fasting should be done in secret (Mat. 6:16-18). To be recognized only by God.

The disciples of John were likely fasting out of sincerity. John was in prison and his life was in danger (Matt. 4:12).  The question that they asked Jesus about fasting was sincere but it was likely prompted by the complaining of the Pharisees.  Jesus answered them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.”  His answer was directed to John’s disciples and surely made them recall a time when John referred to Jesus as “the bridegroom” (John 3:22-30). It was time for John to decrease and for Jesus to     increase, but the time would come when Jesus too would be taken away from His disciples and then they would fast.   

 Jesus continued on with illustrations that don’t seem to fit the context of the question, but you will see that they do.  In each illustration Jesus is saying “you cannot mix the new with the old”. Regarding the new cloth on the old garment, we need to keep in mind that most clothing then was made from wool. Before wool can be sewn it must be shrunk first. If a person was to repair an old garment with a new unshrunk patch it would eventually tear away and make the hole bigger. Regarding the wine skins, these usually came from a goat.  Once a wine skin is used, especially for fermenting wine, it becomes stretched out and brittle. The residue left in the wine skin will cause the new wine to ferment to quickly breaking the old wine skin and ruining the wine.

Jesus was saying that we cannot make the old and the new covenants work together. John’s disciples were living by the old covenant which was passing away.  John was the last Old Testament prophet. The Pharisees were also living by their old covenant traditions as well.  Like John the Baptist, those works of the law had to decrease so that the grace of God in Christ would increase. Jesus did not come to carry on the traditions of the old covenant.  Instead, He came to fulfill those laws (Mat. 5:17) and establish a new covenant of grace.

Lord of the Sabbath Mark 2:23-28, 3:1-6, Matthew 12:3-8 , 2 Corinthians 3:17

One of the foremost traditions of the Jews is the observance of the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11): “On it you shall not do any work”, and yet Jesus and His disciples were gathering grain to eat.The Pharisees and teachers of the law were incensed!  The gospel of Matthew gives Jesus’ response to them in better detail (Mat.12:3-8). Jesus was saying that He was greater than the Law because, as God in flesh, He is the Author of those laws. Jesus came to provide us rest from laboring to achieve our own salvation through tradition and works. Jesus is our Sabbath rest (Hebrews 3-4)! Because of His sacrifice on the cross, we can now forever cease  laboring to attain God’s favor and rest in His mercy and grace. To drive this message home Jesus went into the synagogue on the Sabbath and healed a man with a shriveled hand.  Instead of embracing the truth of Christ, the Pharisees plotted Jesus’ death.

How about your family, cultural or religious traditions?  Do they reflect the new covenant in Christ?  If they do not then strip them off and be free!  Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom! 

 

CLEANSED (Naked Runner/Lesson3)

JesusParaleticHealed

Cleansed Mark 1:40-45, 1 John 1:8-10

 The term “leprosy” (including leper, lepers, leprosy, leprous) occurs 68 times in the Bible- 55 times in the Old Testament (Hebrew = tsara’ath) and 13 times in the New Testament (Greek =  lepros, lepra). In the Old Testament, the instances of leprosy most likely meant a variety of infectious skin diseases, and even mold and mildew on clothing and walls. Leprosy in both the Old and New Testaments includes what we now call Hansen’s disease (1873: Gerhard Hansen).

Leprosy has terrified humanity since ancient times and was reported as early as 600 BC in India, China, and Egypt. Hansen’s disease is still a major health problem in many parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. For many centuries, leprosy was considered a curse of God and associated with sin. Its symptoms start in the skin and then spread to other parts, such as the hands, feet, face, and earlobes. Patients with leprosy experience disfigurement of the skin and bones, twisting of the limbs, and curling of the fingers to forming a claw like hand. Facial changes include thickening of the outer ear and collapsing of the nose. The largest numbers of deformities develop from loss of pain sensation due to extensive nerve damage. A leper can pick up a cup of boiling water without flinching. Some have had their fingers eaten by rats in their sleep because their lack of pain receptors. Leprosy is highly contagious and spread by skin contact and bodily fluids.  Traditionally lepers were banned from society and forced to live in colonies. In Bible times, when a leper came into town to purchase supplies or get water, he would have to ring a bell and shout “unclean” so that people could get out of his way. The law of the Jews was specific in dealing with leprosy (Leviticus 13).  Anyone suspected of having this disease had to go to a priest for examination (Leviticus 13:2-3). If found to be infected, “the leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip (so as not to spread the disease through his saliva) and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46). The leper was considered utterly unclean—physically and spiritually and was shunned by all.  Among the sixty-one defilements of the ancient Jewish law, leprosy was second only to a dead body in seriousness.  So with this definition in mind let us now consider the fact that Jesus “reached out His hand and touched” such a man!  Mark tells us that Jesus was “indignant” as he reached out to the leper. In other words, he was annoyed by the unfair treatment of this man. (The crowds were likely backing up in fear and disgust and shouting obscenities). Yet none of them (but Jesus) was without sin.

The similarities of sin and leprosy: Leprosy in the Bible is a graphic illustration of sin’s destructive power. In ancient Israel leprosy was a powerful object lesson of the debilitating influence of sin in a person’s life: 1.) The practice of sin deadens a person’s spiritual senses like Leprosy deadens the nerves.  A person is therefore being destroyed without the reaction to it. 2.) Sin is wickedly contagious and spreads rapidly in a person and can wipe out a family, a community, and a country if not dealt with brutally. 3.) Like Leprosy, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). 4.) In this passage Jesus heals the man’s         Leprosy— only Jesus can heal man’s sin.  We all have sin (spiritual Leprosy) and must confess it by calling out to Christ (as the Leprous man did) to be healed (1 John 1:8-10).  Jesus is willing. Do we want to be clean!

“Tell this to no one!”  Mark 1:44. The reason why Christ did not want the miracle to be made known was so that He might have more opportunities and freedom for teaching. The common people flocked for miracles and Jesus needed to extend His time of teaching. “His hour had not yet come” (John 2:4, 6,30). To much popularity and the people would try and make Him king by force (John 6:15). His time would come for this (Matthew 21:8-11, Luke 23:1-3), but His mission was to die for the sins of the world not to be a reigning king over it (John 17:1). Jesus told the man to go to the priest as was prescribed by the law to confirm the healing and then to make a thanksgiving offering of praise as a public testimony. This would have taken longer and fulfilled his requirement to the law.  Instead the man “spread the news” and Jesus could no longer travel freely.

 Forgiven Mark 2:1-12, Matthew 7:7-8

A few days later Jesus healed a Paralytic. There were so many people that the man could not be carried to Jesus so his friends made an opening in the roof and lowered him down on ropes. This great act of faith impressed Jesus to respond.  He and his friends not only asked Jesus for help but sought Him out as well (Matthew 7:7-8). Even though the man was paralyzed he moved on faith!  Real faith is displayed in action as is real love (1 John 3:18).

Once again sin is illustrated here with a physical ailment. This time it is by paralysis.  Sin likewise brings apathy into our spiritual life. With no interest, enthusiasm, or concern for God one becomes sick with sin—unable to feel or move towards God and healing.  The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and death is mostly caused by some prevailing illness. To demonstrate this truth Jesus forgave the man’s sin and healed his body. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” the teachers of the law muttered.  The answer is no one!  Jesus and God are the same. He is the exact representation of God (Hebrews 1:3).

Doctor Jesus Mark 2:13-17, Matthew 11:27-30

Jesus now comes to another sick man (Levi: a tax collector AKA Matthew).  His sickness is not physical but he is shunned like a leper by the Jews.  He has become rich by over taxing his people and aligning with the Roman government. “Follow Me”, Jesus says and he does.  We too are invited to “come”.  Jesus declares to His skeptics that He has come for the sick. All men are sick with sin and only Christ can be our cure. Sickness reveals itself in various ways but the cure is just the same. To strip off sin one must put on Christ in faith revealed in action.  This is what the “doctor” has ordered!  In Him there is rest for our souls.