The wrong crowd – Mark 2:13-17

13 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus is still eating with sinners.  The church is full of them.  On any given Sunday, in the midst of any given Christian congregation, you will find them.  Jesus is comfortable there and intends to make these people his friends.

One reason I say this has to do with our perception of hypocrisy.  The true hypocrites in this story were the scribes of the Pharisees who thought eating with certain people was beneath them. Who were they to feel so self-righteous?  In reality they needed Jesus too.

The church that we see is often a lot like the crowd here at Levi’s banquet.  Jesus is surely present and so are his disciples.  The disciples, as we know from the Gospels and Acts, were themselves in a state of continuous spiritual growth.  They were imperfect on their very best days.  And then there are those who are generic followers.  They may not even be believers just yet.  Or maybe they are very new to the faith and each day brings them a major lesson.  Or they may just be friends of Levi who came to the banquet, who just heard of Jesus that day, and have no desire to repent of anything at this time.

Let’s expect a lot of ourselves as far as holiness and spiritual growth.  Let’s also be gracious with others.  You’re going to find yourself sitting next to some sinner, tax collector or present day equivalent next time you attend any church gathering.  This isn’t the wrong crowd, but the right one, if you are looking for Jesus.

The beginning of the gospel – Mark 1:1

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The gospel message, euangelion or “good news,” begins with Jesus Christ.  It is the message about him and his coming and about his work.  Mark’s book gives us the story of his life, death and resurrection.  Unlike the quotation that allegedly comes from St. Francis of Assisi, it is full of words from beginning to end.

You may know the little saying that I am talking about, the one that says,

Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.

With respect to this saying, a little debunking is in order.  First of all, it is not likely that Francis ever said it.  Second, he did gobs of verbal preaching, so he evidently thought using words was necessary pretty much all the time.  

How on earth can news, bad or good, be faithfully and continuously communicated without words anyway?  This is no criticism of good deeds.  It is simply stating the obvious that deeds and words are different things and the gospel is something that takes words.  That is no doubt why Francis preached so much verbally, out loud and in public.  It is also why Mark wrote a book with words rather than a coloring book or a comic book without captions.

Mark Galli wrote a little biography of St. Francis, which is short and readable enough to enjoy by almost anyone.  It is presently available on Amazon for more money than you want to spend on it.  When I bought it, the price was way lower.  If you want, I might cut you a deal on my own copy, and I’d send it to you for much less than that current high price (and still make a handsome profit).  Then again, even the first few paragraphs of his article on Christianity Today will give you enough information to back up my point about the quotation.  The title alone will help.  It is “Speak the Gospel: Use Deeds When Necessary.”  

For the next few months at our church we will be going through Mark’s Gospel and reading every word, chapter by chapter and verse by verse.  Every week we will look at one more portion of Christ’s life and ministry.  We just finished Matthew and the plan is to go through Luke and John after we finish Mark.  This will be lots of gospel, lots of words and lots of Jesus.  It will also give us lots of good news.

Ultimate victory – Matthew 28

The resurrection turns the ultimate defeat into the ultimate victory.  Sin, death and Satan have now been dealt with forever because the Son of God has risen from the grave.  The consequences of humanity’s fall into sin are reversed, never to take control of us again.  

Just before issuing his Great Commission to the disciples, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  That means the sin, death and Satan combined have approximately zero authority.  

Since this deals once and for all with our biggest problem, lesser problems also come into a proper perspective.  All of the hurts, problems and defeats that I have experienced or that I have caused are reduced to times that my team and I have fallen behind in a winning game.  It may look bad for the moment but our final victory is ultimately assured.

There is never a reason big enough to give up hope.  Christ is risen and someday we too will be resurrected into a completely new life in him.

Jesus is mocked – Matthew 27:27-31

I recently read a blog post by a self-professed atheist in which the author mocked Jesus using a fair amount of vulgar language.  Looking back, I should have stopped halfway through, but for some reason kept going all the way to the end.  To save you the experience I will not link to it or invite you to read it yourself.  Sure, no problem.  You’re welcome.  Jesus is used to this sort of thing, I guess.  Consider this passage from Matthew 27.

27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters and they gathered the whole battalion[e] before him.28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

Let’s keep in mind it only got worse after this.  Matthew goes from here to the crucifixion.  The Bible explains Christ’s motivation for his suffering as love.  One of several verses that point us in this direction is 1 John 3:16.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

It’s good to just keep this in mind.  If we ever need evidence of God’s love or Christ’s commitment to show it, we just need to look at the cross.  That was the punishment that we deserved and he took it on our behalf.  Being fully God and fully man, the price he paid was of infinite value, enough to easily pay for the sins of us all. 

Any sacrifice we make for others is nothing more than following his example and responding to his love.  Any criticism or demeaning comments from others we endure for our faith only draws us closer to his example.  Meditating on his love for us will make our potential sacrifice easier to bear.

Thank you Jesus!

Peter’s faith in Matthew 26

Peter sure had a lot of faith in himself in this chapter, all of it unwarranted.  For example, what’s this?

33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

It’s probably always a bad idea to contradict Jesus.  He knows Peter better than Peter knows himself.

Peter is then among those who fall asleep in Gethsemane, after Jesus asked him to watch.  Jesus gets it right again.  He understands what is really going on.

41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Then we have the infamous cutting off the ear of the High priest’s servant.  John is the one who names names in John 18:10.  The servant was Malchus, the ear-cutter was Peter.  Maybe he was trying to make up for falling asleep earlier by showing he was really going to take care of things now.  “I got this Lord.  Your back is safe with me.”

Then comes the actual denial at the end of the chapter.  Matthew explains that Peter denied Christ to not one but two (2) servant girls and then to some bystanders who pointed out that his accent gave him away.  He sounded like he was from Galilee, not Jerusalem.

Let’s all be glad that our faith is in Jesus and not in Peter and not in ourselves.  Left to ourselves, we and Peter have a lot in common.  Our behavior is erratic.  Our self-confidence is normally misplaced. 

When nobody is looking, we can deliver a pretty good boast. “I’ll never fall away.  I’m ready to die at your side.” When push comes to shove, servant girls and random bystanders are more than enough to intimidate us into denial.  “Who me?  You think I know that guy?  Sorry. Never met him.”

Wait, do I hear a rooster?

Fulfilling the Law of Christ – Dr. Harold Netland

This is from April 30, 2019.  The subject matter is related to our previous series on Unity, Diversity and Our Identity in Christ.  Dr. Netland is one of my instructors and one of the readers putting me through my doctoral project.  (Not sure why, but it doesn’t seem to want to start at the beginning.)

 

How to serve Jesus – Matthew 25:34-40

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[f] you did it to me.’

I believe this passage has a special application pertaining to the nations’ treatment of the Jews in the days leading up to Christ’s return.  Still, pretty much all passages of Scripture have some sort of application for us today.  This one may be applicable in all places and at all times, except for some hypothetical place where no one is poor, needy, sick, etc.  I’m not sure where that might be.  

The other day, I was reading in Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries.  Though a professed agnostic, this sociologist of religion quoted the passage above and went on to explain how the early church put it into practice.

[Ancient] Pagan and Christian writers are unanimous not only that Christian Scripture stressed love and charity as the central duties of faith, but that these were sustained in everyday behavior … When the New Testament was new, these were the norms of Christian communities. (Stark, The Rise of Christianity, 86-87)

They should still be the norms today – helping the poor, the needy, the sick and those in prison  They probably are, for the most part, at least among Christians that I know,.  I’m happy to be pastor of a church where all of these behaviors are normal.  But still, let’s keep doing these things until Jesus comes.  When we serve those in need he says we are serving him.