Monthly Archives: March 2012

Emerging Kingdom – Mark 4:21-34

The weather this past week was extraordinary for March.  People I hadn’t seen all winter suddenly emerged from their homes and offices and were out soaking up the sunlight and warm temperatures.  Signs of life were blooming on the church property as well.  The photo, above, was taken in front of the parish house on Tuesday morning, when all of a sudden even the posies decided to emerge.

Jesus’ parables, mentioned this week by Mark, also focus on a season of emergence; the season in which the kingdom of God is emerging.  At this point in Mark’s Gospel, the kingdom of God was hidden to some, but God’s plan for it to emerge in the hearts of men and in the creation was such that it could not be ignored as it continued to grow and be revealed.  To keep this in perspective, we need to go back to one of the main anchors of this book, which is Mark 1:15.  Jesus earthly ministry and preaching can be summed up in His first words of ministry: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.”  Jesus came to announce that the kingdom of God is now at hand and the King (Jesus) is present.  Jesus is not only the King, but He is also the good news (the Gospel).  Rescue from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God/light comes through faith in what Jesus did to accomplish that rescue.  He lived a righteous life, died on the cross to satisfy God’s wrath for our waywardness and rose from the dead that His disciples might overcome death.  Despite their continued waywardness, His righteousness was attributed to His disciples and their transgressions against God were attributed to Christ via their God given faith (talk about good news, huh?!).  That great exchange, which comes by faith in Jesus, continues to announce the growth of the kingdom one disciple at a time.

The emergence of the kingdom happens in what seems like an unusual manner.  Do you notice, in the text, one or more truths about the kingdom of God that some might consider surprising?

C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity) and Tim Keller (King’s Cross) have referred to verses 24 and 25 as the “central organizational principle of the kingdom of Christ.”  Why do you suppose they say that?  Can you think of examples of when this principle was validated through your own walk in the kingdom?

Bonus Question:  These parables allude to a number of Old Testament prophecies.  Can you spot any of them (hint – Isaiah, Daniel and Joel)?  What meaning do they give to the parable with regard to the emerging kingdom of God?

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Springing to New Life?

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?”  (1 Corinthians 15:12)

The Congregational Church of Goffstown will gather on April 8th to celebrate the empty tomb, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.  Other churches in our community will also gather but some will be celebrating a different resurrection, one that is not literal, but metaphorical.  From their perspective, Christ’s resurrection is no longer relevant or not something to be taken literally, serving only as a good example to follow.  In these places, the resurrection becomes an opportunity to remake oneself, turn over a new leaf or rise up against those who do evil.  The message for the day will focus on how the blooming trees and flowers of spring serve as God’s reminder that we all need a fresh start.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally in favor of doing good to others and improving one’s moral character.  These behaviors provide tangible evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in each of our lives.  But this is not a view representing the essential nature of the resurrection.

Lest you think this is something new to our age, I want you to know that the forces behind this kind of false teaching have been misrepresenting the resurrection ever since the first century.  In fact it is one of the reasons the Apostle Paul addressed the matter extensively in1 Corinthians 15.  Christ’s life, death and even His resurrection are historical facts that Paul affirms – “But, in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (15:20).  He reports that there were over 500 (nearly all living) eyewitness accounts to Christ’s resurrection; so it puzzles him (15:12) that some would say there was no resurrection from the dead.  Other, non-Christian, first century sources affirm that eyewitness accounts of Christ’s resurrection were quite prevalent at the time.

Paul was uncompromising on this matter and was willing to risk his life for the truth.  When he stood under arrest before the governor he said “concerning the resurrection of the dead I stand trial before you this day” (Acts 24:21).  The resurrection of Jesus Christ was more than symbolic; it was a matter of critical importance.

Yet, there were some, calling themselves Christian, who did not share his conviction regarding the resurrection. Perhaps holding to this truth was a cost they were not willing to bear.  Addressing them, Paul said, if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, then our faith is useless – He’s saying it’s basically a joke.  In other words, if Jesus is still dead we have a dead faith.  Our faith essentially becomes not much more different than any other faith.  Our church becomes a moralistic religious cooperative and a place for a good chicken dinner.  At that point, why even claim Christ?  He said, if our hope is only in the benefits available to us through Christ in this present life, we are to be pitied.  That’s because the promises of God for the new heaven and earth far exceed those of this present fallen world.  The world we now live in is filled with incurable diseases, catastrophic accidents, heinous criminals and a variety of other horrors.  If it doesn’t get any better than this, why believe?  If the present world is all we have, Paul suggests that we “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (15:32)

Thankfully, Christ has risen and has displayed the power of God to overcome not only Christ’s death but ours as well.  His resurrection is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” – Christ’s resurrection is a guarantee of the future bodily resurrection of all believers.  The proof that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was an effective sacrifice for our sins lies in His resurrection.  Without the resurrection, we will all die in our sin, subject to the wrath of God on the day of judgment.  We can remake ourselves and recommit to doing good as much as we like but we will never see the resurrection of our own bodies, the hope of a heaven or even the fruit of a regenerated Christian life unless we believe Jesus really did rise from the dead.

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  (Romans 10:9)

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Seedbed – Mark 4:1-20

The interest in Jesus continues to grow as we arrive at chapter four of Mark’s gospel.  Synagogues and homes are no longer able to contain the crowds that pursue Him.  He has now moved out into the open, sitting in a boat on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, as the growing crowd occupies the vast shoreline hoping to see and hear Jesus.

Jesus addresses the crowd using a parable, which serves as a mirror of the lives of those He is speaking to.  This parable is no Aesop’s fable.  It is constructed with the intent of reflecting the principles of the kingdom of God, while forcing the hearer to ask “where do I stand in relation to this parable?”  Jesus’ parables don’t do the thinking for us, they make us think for ourselves.

Jesus seems to indicate that one must understand this parable in order to understand His other parables.  As you seek to understand it, who do you find plays the role of the sower?  What is the seed?  Who or what is the soil?

Parables are meant to be “heard,” so trying reading the parable out loud (even at dinner time with your family) and then reflect on your own place within the parable.  Where do you see yourself?

Please pray for fertile soil as we talk about all this and more on this Lord’s Day, March 18th.   Come join for worship at 10:30 A.M.

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A Trilemma – Mark 3:20-35

It is an understatement to say that our families and many of our friends thought we had lost our minds when Caroline and I first put our faith in Jesus Christ.  At that time, one concerned relative asking Caroline if I had brainwashed her.  Most of our family members, I’m sad to say, are not followers of Jesus.

I remember the first Christmas after we both became believers.  We attended, as always, my grandmother’s annual Christmas dinner, where all the extended family gathered once a year.  This seemed like the ideal time to talk about the true meaning of Christmas and the importance of faith in Jesus Christ.  Needless to say, things got awfully quiet when we mentioned our new faith.  But to our surprise, my cousin Jean and her husband Charlie broke the ice and told us they were Christians too.  In that instant, I sensed a more intimate, kindred connection with Jeana and Charlie than all of my other blood relatives.  I was now more than a cousin to Jean.  She was my sister in Christ and her husband my brother.  Since that time, another cousin and his wife have become believers and we all experience a special familial intimacy when reunited at family reunions.  Cousins I once had a distant connection with now seem nearer than family I’ve spent years with.

Many of the first disciples faced an even more pronounced reaction from their families after committing their lives to Jesus.  Some were disowned and thrown out of the household.  Yet, through Jesus they were, as we are, adopted into the family of God.  Jesus is now a brother.  Jesus Himself was no stranger to extreme reactions from family and others as we see in this week’s reading from Mark’s gospel

Take a careful look at the three different groups (family, scribes and disciples) mentioned in this week’s passage.   Each group has its own theory about who Jesus is.  What do they each assume?  What’s your theory about Jesus?  Why does Jesus respond to His mother and half brothers in the manner described in verses 31-35?

We’ll talk about all this and more this coming Lord’s Day.

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With Jesus – Mark 3:1-19

This week’s passage indicates that massive crowds came from far and wide to see and hear Jesus.  People came from the entire western half of Herod’s kingdom, shown on the map above, and many traveled from the other side of the Jordan. Others journeyed from the region southwest of the Dead Sea.  The crowds were so great that Jesus asked the disciples to have a boat ready on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, out of concern that the crowds would physically crush Him. They all wanted to be with Jesus.

Why did they want to be Jesus?  Verse 8 indicates that it is because they “heard all that He was doing.”  Before we come together on Sunday, take a few minutes to re-read chapters 1 and 2 of Mark’s gospel (it will take you 10 minutes) and consider what was so remarkable about the things Jesus had done and why that may have drawn crowds from such a large geographic area.

As you read this week’s passage, consider how each of the different groups of people mentioned interact with Jesus.  Why is it that each of them is with Jesus?   What do you suppose are their motives?  You may begin to notice, as we get further into Mark, that the book begins to examine the reader as much as it does those in the text.  Consider how and why you came to be with Jesus.  Do you see yourself like any of those mentioned in this week’s passage?

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