Monthly Archives: August 2012

Reading Mark Together – Mark 11 The Triumphal Entry

In the previous chapters Jesus has taught and warned his disciples as to what is about to happen, and now we have the start of those events. They start with a step of faith by two disciples going to fetch a donkey, trusting Jesus’ words the find the donkey, respond in the way that Jesus has told them and return to Jesus with it.

We then have what is often called the ‘Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem’ but how triumphal was this. Jesus was not riding a white charger, had no massed armies behind him and no war trophies to present. Instead he rides a donkey and is followed by a motley crew of friends and onlookers and they all chant religions quotes! So what was going on?

The meaning and symbolism of what happened would not be lost on any good Jew, they knew their scriptures and knew what was happening. Jesus had moved out of the shadows and was now courting public recognition. The act of riding a donkey, especially on a donkey who had never before been ridden, was a clear reflection of Old Testament prophecy. See for instance Zechariah 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

This act was a clear claim that he was the Messiah who had come to free Israel from their captivity.

The local choir welcomed Jesus with one of the Hallel or Thanksgiving Psalms (Psalm 118:25-26) and in their words they too knew what Jesus was doing – this is the coming of the Kingdom of David.

So Jesus knew exactly what he was doing, the disciples knew what he was doing, the crowd knew what he was doing – and the religious leaders, where are they? Well I think they were conspicuous by their absence. Jesus’ actions were a direct claim, and a threat to their position. This was not the Messiah they anticipated, or wanted. Jesus was far more radical than they could cope with.

Remember the crowd who were singing Halleluiah – what were the same people shouting less than a week later? Which crowd would I have been in and what would I have been shouting?



Reading Mark Together – Mark 10 Rich People and the Kingdom of God

In Mark 10 we have a rich man man walking away from Jesus – why – because he had many possessions and Jesus had just told him that in order to inherit eternal life he needed to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor and then follow Jesus. We don’t know then end of the story, perhaps this man did sell what he owned, perhaps he didn’t, but whatever the case on that day he walked away grieving because his possessions owned him and he couldn’t let go of the easily.

Jesus says it is impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God! He goes on to use the satire of a camel going through the eye of a needle. I have heard the needle described as a small gate in the wall of Jerusalem through which a man could walk, but a camel needed to shed it’s whole load and go through on bended knee. Although this analogy is rich in meaning the commentaries however say there is little evidence for this being true. We are left with the impossible. Or in the description of Canon J John, even if you were to liquidize the camel you still couldn’t get it through the eye of a needle!

His disciples were astonished at his saying. It was shocking to them because in their times riches were seen as a sign of God’s blessing, and poverty was seen as a sign of God’s curse.

Some of Jesus’ sayings are tough and hard, but we must not try to explain them away. There is however hope – what is impossible with man is possible to God, I am so glad about that because in terms of today’s world I am rich. The question that I struggle with is do I use my riches for the glory and benefit of God and his kingdom, or do my possessions own me and prevent me holding them loosely?



Reading Mark Together – Mark 9 Faith Consumerism and Children

“Everything is possible to the one who believes.” Read that statement again, dwell on it and meditate on it. Allow it to roll around your mind. “Everything is possible to the one who believes.”

Who was the one who needed to believe? Is that a silly question? Was it the father or Jesus? Well the father takes it as referring to himself and responds with the encouraging statement I started with: “I do believe, help my unbelief.” I find it tremendously encouraging that Jesus took that seed of faith and the result was the healing of the child. God can do the same for you, and he can do the same for me.

What do I need to believe him for today? Ask him to take our small seed of faith and to help the areas where we doubt, he is good at that, and even with the smallest seed of faith we can see miracles  in our lives and the lives of others around us.

Two other things struck me from Mark 9. The first is how our attitude as Christians should be quite different to many in our society today. Many of us and many in our society have a desire and a drive to be first in what we do, within our workplace, our sport, our street. Interestingly Jesus does not say this is wrong, but what he does say is totally upside down logic to our minds. The way to be first is not to push to the front of the queue, it is not to boss others around, it is not to get bigger and better possessions than others. Rather it is to go to the back of the queue and be happy to be there, to lead others by serving them, to use our possessions for the benefit of others first and ourselves last.

This attitude and approach to life is one that is in direct contrast to much that we see and experience in our lives. You will see very little of this depicted on our TV screens, often too little of it within many workplaces and sadly sometimes too little of it within the life of the church.

If that last statement strikes you as odd, or you disagree with it let me ask each of us a question – does the church today exist to serve you? What would a church look like that existed to serve you? And in contrast what would a church looked like where each member served the life and mission of the church? I feel that too often today we are consumers of church rather than servants of the life and ministry of Christ in his church.

The second thing that struck me today was the place of children in the life of the Christian faith. Jesus is extremely strong in his encouragement to welcome children and his judgement on those who stand in the way of children. Again a question for each one of us. How well do we welcome, embrace and encourage children as full members of the Kingdom of God alongside adults? Do we need to do more?



Reading Mark Together – Mark 8 A New Direction for Jesus

In Mark 8 the entire direction of Jesus’ life turns in a new direction out of a really innocent question: “Who do people say I am?” The disciples answer and then Jesus asks a far more searching question – “Who do you say I am?” By this stage and time they had probably been with Jesus for 18 months to 2 years, living with him, sleeping with him, eating with him and experiencing almost everything alongside him. So it was a fair enough question, Jesus wanted to know if they had actually got it yet, did they truly recognise Jesus for who he was?

The immediate answer from Peter says yes – at least Peter, if not all of them, recognised Jesus for the Messiah, the Christ, the one who would redeem and save Israel. So Jesus accepts the answer, tells them not to pass that on to others, and then proceeds to teach them what will happen in the coming months. It is here that we learn that either Peter had accepted the falsely optimistic and wrong interpretation of their scriptures of a Messiah who would rid them of Roman rule and would come as the victor to defeat all their earthly enemies, or that Peter had recognised Jesus as the Messiah in his head but not in his heart. Peter would have known the Jewish scriptures far better than we know the Bible we have today. Young Jews learnt the scriptures by heart, and they would have especially focused on the Messianic prophecies in the scriptures.

As Jesus turns to talk about his death and resurrection he was simply bringing into reality the prophetic words in the scriptures about the Messiah, but Peter was not able to hear or accept them.

I wonder how many people today in our churches have been around the teaching of the scriptures for years, even decades, but have never seen the reality and truth that is in them. I feel a personal and high responsibility for that as a preacher, teacher and church leader. If Jesus was to ask you the question today “Who do you say that I am” how would you reply? And as you reply is it with an intellectual answer, or is it that intellectual answer backed up by your heart and the commitment of your life?



Reading Mark Together – Mark 7 Matters of the Heart

In Mark 7 Jesus points out that the Pharisees concentrate on the outward display of religion and holiness, but ignore the inner reality that is the most important part to God himself. The Jewish nation had built up a whole series of practices that were designed to prevent Jews from breaking the Mosaic law. In doing this the regulations they had put in place had become more important than the heart behind the law itself. Jesus points out that the heart, reason and motives behind what we do is more important than what we actually do, if the heart is right the actions will be right, if the heart is wrong no amount of outer religions actions will make it right.

I wonder if we have built up ‘religions practices’ around our expression of the Christian faith, just as the religious leaders of Jesus’ time had done? If we have are they still a true and right reflection of the inner reality of love and relationship with Jesus, or do they mask a different internal reality?



Reading Mark Together – Chapter 6 How did it happen?

There are some amazing miracles in the Gospels, but I wonder how often we stop and ask the question: How did it happen?

That’s the question that comes to mind for me with the Feeding of the 5,000. Just exactly how did it happen? We have Jesus, twelve disciples and probably in excess of 15,000 people. Only the men counted so they were the only ones counted, with 5,000 men you may well have had 5,000 women and more than 5,000 children.

Imagine for a moment you are one of the disciples. Jesus takes one of the loaves, probably more like a roll than a loaf of bread as we would know today. As he takes the loaf he prays for his Father’s blessing on the loaf, tears it in half, gives you half and then says to you, OK now it’s your turn, go and feed the people! You look at Jesus, you look at the half-loaf you have just been given, you look at the people. Your half-loaf needs to feed about 1,500 people. What’s going on in your mind? What questions are you asking silently?

You have to do something so you start to break off a piece of the loaf and give it to someone. What happens then? You look back at your half loaf and see it is still a half loaf? Somehow, in someone’s hands the half loaves need to multiply so that every time they are broken they are restored to half loaves! Do you see what is happening and start to enjoy it? Are you bemused and confused? Do the people start to realise what’s happening and break their bits in half to give to others only to find their bit is still the same size?

Just how did the multiplication of the loaves happen?

If you experienced this miracle it would be something you’d never forget, it must have been amazing and astounding!

But there’s more!

Not only did 15,000 people eat, each getting at least a crumb – but they were all satisfied, that means they all felt that they had had their fill and couldn’t eat any more! Not just a crumb, but a full meal for 15,000 people from 5 leaves and two fish (by the way we never really hear what happened to the fish). If the ‘loaves’ were the small, flat, barley loaves that were common in that culture then one could easily eat several at a single meal. So each disciple started with half a loaf, and each person would have needed to eat say, 8-10 or more half loaves. Or perhaps the blessed bread was so good that only a small amount was needed to fill you up. Whatever way it is awesome!

But there’s more!

They started with five loaves and they ended with twelve baskets of leftovers! How big were the baskets? What did they do with the leftovers? How many of the disciples, or the people took home a sample of this ‘magic’ bread?

If God can feed 15,000 people from five small barley loaves and two small fish surely he can provide what we need today. Jesus had compassion on the hunger and needs of the people who came to receive from him. He is still a man of compassion on those he sees in need.

Jesus used the hands of his disciples to be the means through which he met the hunger of the people. He still uses the hands of those who will be his disciples to meet the hunger in our world today.



Reading Mark Together – Chapter 5 How Desperate Are We?

I’ve been asked to slow down a bit to allow some the opportunity to catch, up so today’s thought from Mark 5 is somewhat shorter!

In the story of the Woman with a Blood Disease and the healing of Jairus’ daughter we have stories of two people who were desperate for what Jesus could offer.

Jairus, as a Synagogue Ruler, put his life on the line for his daughter. Someone in his social position wouldn’t stoop to the level of falling at the feet if a wandering teacher, yet he did. He put his job, his reputation and his place in society on the line for the sake of his daughter.

The woman with the blood disease did the same, in fact she probably risked her life to get near to Jesus. Her disease made her ritually unclean and anyone and anything she touched would also become unclean, including everyone she pushed past in that crowd. It doesn’t soud a lot to us today, but deliberately making other unclean was a BIG deal in her society. She was desperate to receive what only Jesus could offer.

How desperate are we to receive what only Jesus can offer? Are we willing to risk our position, our reputation our livelihood as they were?



Reading Mark Together – Chapter 4 Choose Your Soil

If your reading Mark with me this Summer, well done, we're now 1/4 of the way through this amazing story. We've been introduced to John and Jesus, we've seen how Jesus challenges the way we think about our world and we've looked at the three key perspectives of Up, In and Out.

The two key questions in being a disciple, or apprentice, of Jesus are: What is God saying to you? What are you doing about what God is saying to you?

In Chapter four we've come to one of Jesus' best know parables, or stories, the parable of the Sower. Perhaps this should better be called the parable of the Seed, or perhaps the parable of the Soil. So we're thinking about the Sower, the Seed and the Soil.

Who is the Sower? God I hear you cry! Read the passage again – we're not told who the sower is. Yes God does sow into our lives and the lives of everyone in his world, but he isn't the only sower, he also calls us to sow his seed into the lives of others.

What seed have you sown in the past week, and whose lives has it been sown?

What is the seed? This one's easier as the passage tells us – the seed is the word of God. Each and every day God is sowing his seed into our lives. What does that mean – it means each and every day God is speaking to us. He speaks through this Bible, he speaks through other people, he speaks through nature, he speaks through our circumstances and situations and he speaks through his 'still small voice.' The big question is: are we listening?

What has God been speaking to you about in the past week?

Final question: What kind of soil are you? There are four options.

Option one: totally unreceptive. As soon as the seed is sown it is stolen away. I would suggest if you are reading this blog then your not this kind of soil, so let's move on.

Option two: rocky & rootless. Perhaps we may be in this category. When we hear God speaking we think great, that sounds good. Maybe on a Sunday, or in a small group, you hear God speaking and your response is one of joy. But you walk out of the church building and return home and the realities of a challenging life reassert themselves and God is forgotten, the joy is gone and normal life is resumed. If that's you then there is some work to do in tilling the soil, getting rid of the rocks and creating a lifestyle that allows God's word to take root. Reading the Bible every day, for instance, is part of that lifestyle.

Option three: a thorny world view. The Sunday sermon that you think is great, but by the time you get to the car your thoughts are on whether lunch will be ready in time and the sermon is forgotten. You read the Bible's radical teaching on wealth and generosity but still keep your wealth for yourself. You enjoy playing football, cricket, rugby or whatever your sport is, and your team plays on a Sunday morning so you put your enjoyment of sport before meeting up with your Christian family. There are so many things today that will distract, divert and subtly or blatantly drag us away from God and his word. The only way to avoid this is to pull up the thorns, and you may have noticed, thorns have thorns, so pulling them up will be painful.

Option four: good soil. This is the best, the soil has been turned over and the stones removed. The thorns have been dealt with and they are also gone. This soil is open and receptive to God's word. Not only do these people hear what God is saying, they do something about it. And the result? A good crop that multiples the seed that was planted to produce it. The sign of good soil – a good crop. If the soil is good there WILL be a crop, if there is no crop the the soil isn't good.

Looking back at the last week, month, year: is ther a crop resulting from the seed God has sown in your life? If so celebrate and thank God. If not perhaps we need to look at the condition of the soil.