Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

Supernatural: Exorcism & Healings

Supernatural: Exorcism & Healings
Series—
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 1:21-34

Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea: The supernatural world is real, and so is the Holy Spirit.

Who is Jesus? This is the question we’re asking in our series on the gospel—or good news—of Mark.

In the first verse of the book we see Jesus introduced as the Messiah and Son of God. Then we examined John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin who prepared the way for His arrival. Next we discussed Jesus’ preparation for public ministry through baptism and temptation. Last week we looked at an invitation from Jesus, an invitation He is still making to us thousands of years later, to follow him.

I want to make a brief addendum to last week’s message.

I’ve become frustrated by those who communicate the gospel is about praying a prayer to avoid hell and go to heaven when you die.

The gospel is Jesus. The gospel is Jesus is LORD. Christ is not his last name. He is the Jesus the Messiah. He is King Jesus.

I mentioned John 3:16.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)

I listened to Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Roots Podcast last week and he did a fascinating interview with Matthew Bates, author of Salvation by Allegiance (KR 51).

The question is,
“Who are you believing in?”

If Jesus is Savior, then faith means trust in his saving work or trust in him who can save
If Jesus is LORD, then faith means submit or to bow down to
If Jesus is King, then faith means a declaration of allegiance and loyalty to serve that king and to serve in that king’s army

What does it mean when you say you believe in Jesus? You believe in the historical figure and that he died and rose again…or he is your LORD and King and you submit to him and declare your allegiance to serve him?

Remember, believing that there is a God is no big deal. Even the demons believe that, we’re told in James 2:19!

We are to submit, serve, and declare our allegiance to King Jesus.

The Supernatural. Does it excite you? Does it scare you? Why? In our passage for today, we get a front-row seat to see the authority and power of Jesus.

He has just asked two pairs of brothers to follow him.

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. (Mark 1:21)

What did he teach? We’re not sure. How did teach? With authority! With power!

The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. (Mark 1:22)

This is Mark’s first hint that Jesus will face opposition—opposition that will claim his life. He would be crucified because of the envy of religious leaders.

Mark continues…

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:23-24)

He was possessed by an impure spirit. What do we make of this? A man cries out in the synagogue, identifies Jesus, speaks in the plural, and is obviously threatened. The “us” is a reference to all the demonic forces. This wouldn’t be the last time Jesus would have conflict with demons.

I’ve preached hundreds of sermons. I’ve been interrupted, but never like this!

Mark clearly shows us the world of the supernatural is real. And it submits to Jesus.

“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. (Mark 1:25-26)

What is this? The people asked the same thing!

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”  News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. (Mark 1:27-28)

Many of you have read this story, but imagine you know nothing about Jesus, you attend synagogue, his teaching amazes you, and then he exorcises an impure spirit before your very eyes.

No wonder news traveled fast about Jesus…and they didn’t even have CNN! This was the first miracle Mark mentions. Jesus had authority and backed it up with power. But there’s more!

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. (Mark 1:29-31)

Jesus heals the Peter’s wife’s mother. Notice we don’t even know her name, but she has a fever—which was actually a very big deal back then, more than a symptom but a serious condition. Notice Mark’s details. Jesus goes to her, takes her hand, helps her out of bed, and it says the fever left her. Did he pray? Exactly when did the fever leave her? When he touched her? When she stood up? We don’t know.

We do know she went straight to the kitchen, made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and served them with glasses of cold milk. Ok, we don’t have those details, but Jesus actually benefits in small way from healing her. I’m sure that wasn’t his motivation, of course.

Jesus teaches with authority.
Jesus casts out impure spirits with authority.
Jesus heals with authority.

What a day! And he wasn’t done.

That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. (Mark 1:32-34)

If you were with Jesus and didn’t believe in the supernatural in the morning, you surely did by the time you went to bed.

The demons knew Jesus. Do they know you?

So What?

I know some of you are looking for simple answers and resolve everything. I’ve got to be honest and say this text actually raises several questions for me.

Why are exorcisms common in the New Testament and we rarely see or hear about them today, unless it’s Halloween? Where did all the demons go? No, mental illness is not a sure sign of demons.

Should we be performing exorcisms? I actually participate in one in college. It was low-key but very cool. I would love for our church to do whatever it takes to help people experience joy, freedom, peace, and life. If that means exorcisms, let’s do it—carefully. The supernatural is not something you mess around with, but it is a reality we must accept an experience. We have been given authority from Jesus. We often forget the beginning of the famous Great Commission text:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)

Why doesn’t God heal today? Oh wait, he does! There is power in the name of Jesus.

Conclusion

Jesus had authority and power. All authority—in heaven and on earth! The exciting news is he said it was good that he ascended so the Holy Spirit to come. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit arrived! Jesus said,

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

The supernatural world is real. We can engage it, but we must do so wisely. Demons are real and powerful. But God is greater. The Holy Spirit is available to each of you, but you must surrender. You must repent and believe, as we noted last Sunday. You must let go and let God…be your Lord and King.

Jesus had power and authority. We have been given authority. Let’s use it…wisely.

Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Invitation: Repent & Believe, 14 May 2017

Invitation: Repent & Believe
Series—
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 1:14-20

Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea: Jesus invites us to repent, believe, and follow Him.

Invitation

What’s the greatest invitation you’ve ever received?


    It’s usually nice to receive an invitation, though some are better than others. My Facebook account is often filled with invitations from people I barely know for events I know next to nothing about. Contrast that with an elegant, “snail-mail” wedding invitation. Yes, some people still use paper!

    Often we don’t know what we’re getting ourselves into when we accept an invitation. Agreeing to stand up in that wedding means I have to shell out a hundred bucks for a tuxedo rental? Joining that board requires ten hours a week of volunteer team outside of the monthly meetings? Taking the job involves several weeks a year of travel? Marrying that person means…?!?!?!

    We’re in the middle of a series from the gospel or “good news” of Mark in our pursuit of knowing “The Real Jesus.” In the first verse of the book we see Jesus introduced as the Messiah and Son of God. Then we examined John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin who prepared the way for His arrival. Last week we discussed Jesus’ preparation for public ministry through baptism and temptation. Today we look at an invitation from Jesus, an invitation He is still making to us thousands of years later.

    After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. (Mark 1:14)

    Mark is our “headline” gospel. He gets right to the point. John’s in prison. Jesus is in Galilee.

    Why was John put in prison? See John 1:19-4:54.

    What is the good news of God? It’s the gospel. What’s the gospel? In a word, Jesus. In three words, Jesus is LORD.

    The gospel is not you’re bad, Jesus is good, He died, pray a prayer, and go to heaven when you die. That might be a part of the gospel, but the gospel is so much more than life after death.

    It’s about life before death.
    It’s about faith, hope and love.
    It’s about loving God and neighbor.
    It’s about knowing and being known by your Creator.
    It’s about being a part of an eternal family.
    It’s about coming home.

    Can I preach for just a moment?

    There are too many people loved by God that don’t know it because they aren’t being loved by us.

    “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

    This verse summarizes the teaching of Jesus. God’s kingdom is near. What is the kingdom of God? This was the focus of Jesus’ proclamation. It wasn’t about dying and going to heaven, it was about heaven coming down to earth, heaven kissing earth, God’s kingdom coming near. First-century Jews would have understood the kingdom of God to mean “the day of the Lord.”

    To enter the kingdom, we must repent and believe. This is easier said than done. It means laying down our lives and picking up the cross.

    Repent is from the Greek metanoia. Like metamorphisis, it means to change…one’s mind. Repent is not about condemnation or shame, just a change of mind and heart that results in a change of behavior and lifestyle. All of our actions begin in our mind. Repent means to change, to do a 180. It’s not optional for followers of Jesus. We are to turn from our selfish, sinful ways and turn to God’s generous, perfect ways.

    Repentance does not mean we change. It simply means to change one’s mind. Then the fun begins!

    Jesus said repent and believe.

    The most famous verse in the Bible is…John 3:16. It says

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)

    The Greek word for believe is “pisteuo.” The English translation, believe, frustrates me because many “believe” if they agree with the historical notion Jesus died and rose again they are, therefore, going to heaven when they die and can continue in their sinful, God-dishonoring ways. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Believe is a verb. The noun form means faith. Believe means to commit or to trust. That’s action. In this context it means to trust in Jesus, to commit to the charge of Jesus. It means to surrender and follow Jesus. Here’s how one writer put it:

    It is the act whereby a person lays hold of God's resources, becomes obedient to what He has prescribed and putting aside all self interest and self-reliance, trusts Him completely. It is an unqualified surrender of the whole of one's being in dependence upon Him. It is wholly trusting and relying upon Him for all things. It is not just mental assent to the facts and realities of truth, it must come from a deep inner conviction.

    Believing that there is a God is no big deal. Even the demons believe that, we’re told in James 2:19!

    This kind of belief is trust. Surrender. Dying to yourself and becoming a new creation, resurrected with Jesus. This is the image of baptism we’ll all witness shortly.

    “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

    Repent and believe.
    Turn and follow.

    This is how we change to become like Jesus.
    This is how we grow in our faith.
    This is discipleship.

    People have wrongly said repentance is about changing your outer behavior and belief is something that is inward and private. Jesus says to transform the inside first and then the outside follows.

    I want to introduce you to the Learning Circle, one of the most valuable tools I’ve encountered in following Jesus.

    LifeShape: circle video, https://vimeo.com/101761387

    “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

    The Learning Circle is based upon this verse. We can’t change alone. We need others to help us observe, reflect, and act as we repent. We need others to help us plan, account, and act in order to truly become like Jesus.

    The Learning Circle shows us:

    •what it means to live a lifestyle of learning as a disciple of Christ;
    •how to recognize important events as opportunities for growth; and
    •how to process these events.

    The Learning Circle—which is just a tool you can use with others—is based on two questions:

    What is God saying to me?
    (This will help change the inner parts of me)
    What am I going to do about it? (The inner change has to produce an action)

    Now we turn to two sets of brothers who chose to repent and believe.

    As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 
    “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. (Mark 1:16-18)

    The gospel of John tells us this is not their first encounter with Jesus. Notice He didn’t say join a cult or help Him start a religion. He offered an invitation of relationship. They responded. He didn’t say, “Follow God.” He said, “Follow me,” which was the same thing.

    These brothers are fishermen. They were not religious scholars, gifted speakers, or special leaders. They were ordinary people like you and me. They may have been to poor to afford a boat, casting their nets from shore. Jesus does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called. His invitation is simple: follow Me.

    When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.  (Mark 1:19-20)

    Simon and Andrew were fishing brothers. James and John were, too.

    They left their nets. They left their boat. They even left their father to follow Jesus.

    What do you need to leave behind to follow Jesus? What will it cost you?

    Following Jesus…

    It’s more than a prayer you pray.
    It’s more than knowledge you believe.
    It’s more than sin you avoid.
    It requires trust and action.

    What is God saying to you?
    What are you going to do about it?

    Credits: some ideas from Mike Breen, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and David Garland.

    • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

    Preparation: Baptism & Temptation, 7 May 2017

    Preparation: Baptism & Temptation
    Series—
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus\
    Mark 1:9-13

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: Baptism and temptation prepared Jesus for the ministry that would follow.

    Preparation

    One of the most rewarding parts of my childhood was Boy Scouts. As a scout, I learned about nature, how to tie knots, rappelling, wilderness survival, and so much more. The Boy Scout motto is short yet powerful: Be prepared.

    Preparation. It’s one key to success in life. Anything worth doing is probably worth preparation which is why doctors devote more than a decade of their lives to education before performing their first surgery. It’s why an athlete will train for four years before entering Olympic competition. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden famously said, “When the opportunity arises, it is too late to prepare.”

    What kind of preparation would be necessary to revolutionize the world? No human has had a greater impact on our planet than Jesus Christ did in the three years of His public ministry. We know almost nothing about the first three decades of His life, but Mark tells us about two significant events in Jesus’ preparation—baptism and temptation. And it leads to one truth that will blow your mind!

    We’re in week three of an extensive series on The Real Jesus based upon the gospel or good news of Mark. This biography of Christ is short and sweet, the headlines, so to speak, of the life of Jesus.

    In week one, we saw Jesus as the Messiah, the fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies, the Son of God, one of three Persons of the Holy Trinity, yet fully human.

    Last Sunday we looked at the messenger, John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin who prepared the way for Christ. Today we see Jesus encountering John—and satan.

    At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. (Mark 1:9)

    John Mark, the writer of Mark, finally brings Jesus to the stage. His message is short and sweet. Jesus comes from an obscure village in Galilee and gets baptized.

    Last week we said baptism had several possible purposes in the first century. It was used for cleansing the body, publicly demonstrating one’s faith, or perhaps symbolically purifying one as they turn away from their sins. It can also represent turning toward God, not just away from evil.

    Baptism doesn’t remove sin. Jesus had no sin to remove. John had been baptizing in the Jordan River in the wilderness drawing crowds from the countryside and the city of Jerusalem, preparing the way for Jesus of Nazareth who finally arrives in Mark’s narrative, baptized by His cousin, John.

    Today, baptism is a ceremony we do for people who want to go public with their faith in Jesus. They enter the water and are dunked in what is symbolically a water grave, dying to their own selfish will and desires before emerging out of the water resurrected as a new creation, seeking to devote their lives to following Jesus.


    Jesus is dunked by John, and the original Greek clearly puts John in the background. The spotlight is on Jesus.

    Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. (Mark 1:10)

    Notice the details here. First, Jesus saw heaven being torn or ripped open as He was coming out of the water. The verb for “torn open” will be used again by Mark when he describes the temple veil being torn in two from the top to the bottom. What is opened can be closed, but what is torn is more permanent. Both episodes give us a glimpse into God’s kingdom. Remember, heaven is where God is. In the Bible, it often means God’s dimension behind ordinary reality. All heaven breaks loose when Jesus is baptized! The hope of Isaiah has come to pass: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you” (Isaiah 64:1).

    The Holy Spirit is then introduced, descending on Jesus “like” a dove. Can you think of any doves in the Bible? One brought an olive branch after the flood (Genesis 8). This doesn’t say a dove landed on Jesus, though. It says the Spirit descended on like a dove. It is as if the Spirit came upon Jesus, perhaps entering Him. We clearly see God the Son and God the Spirit together. The same Spirit that hovered over the waters at the beginning of creation in Genesis 1 now descends on Jesus as a sign that new creation has begun.

    The dove never came back: he was looking for some place to land. He tried to land on Noah, but Noah got drunk. He tried to land on Abraham…Moses…David…Solomon…Isaiah…Jeremiah…landed on Jesus.

    And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

    The voice of God the Father is heard. It will later be heard at the transfiguration when He says, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him! (Mark 9:7). As one might expect, Jesus’ baptism was special. Heaven was torn open, the Holy Spirit came on Him like a dove, and the Father spoke, announcing Jesus as His Son.

    The Trinity

    One of the great mysteries of the Christian faith is the Trinity, one God in three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They exist in community.

    When we say, “God is love,” it’s not abstract. God is the community of love. The Father, Son, and Spirit interact as one. God rooted God’s communal identity in the core of our being as humans. We were made by community, for community. (Ruth Padilla Deborst)

    I can’t emphasize this enough— we struggle in our individualistic culture to understand and appreciate the community of love that is the Trinity.

    Artists have long depicted the Trinity with visual art. Some see a dismembered relationship between the three Persons while others see Them as a family, a community, relating to one another (Rublev).

    (art examples)

    How do we understand one God in three Persons? It is a mystery. No metaphor is adequate to describe God, but I like to think about an egg. The yolk, whites, and shell are all equally egg, yet distinct. We pray to the Father in the Name of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.

    Modalism

    There is a sect of Christianity which denies the Trinity. It’s called modalism. They believe in one God in one Person who changes modes, one moment being the Father and then shifting to become the Son and then suddenly appearing as the Holy Spirit. I can’t begin to tell you how troubling this belief can be, especially when considering this text. How can God be in the water, in heaven, and a dove at the same time? Although the word “trinity” does not appear in the English translations of the Bible, the concept is vivid, especially here. It’s why we sang, “Holy, Holy, Holy” last week instead of “Holy.”

    The doctrine or belief in the Trinity is a beautiful picture of community, cooperation, and complementary collaboration.

    John the Baptist introduces Jesus.
    The Father identifies Him.
    The temptation will initiate Him.

    Temptation

    At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. (Mark 1:12-13)

    There’s no mention of a baptism celebration, but rather the Holy Spirit sends Jesus into the wilderness for forty days. That’s a long time, friends. The wilderness is a harsh, rocky desert region. The wilderness was a place of testing for the people of Israel, and they often failed. Jesus never fails.

    Forty is a special number in the Bible. It rained forty days and forty nights during the great flood (Genesis 7:12). The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Moses spent forty days and nights on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:18; 34:28). Elijah spent forty days and nights journeying to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:8).

    Jesus has been prepared for ministry by baptism and now it’s time for testing, for a face to face encounter with satan. Have you ever encountered satan? I doubt it. He has bigger fish to fry than you and me, I believe. He does, however, have an army of demons—fallen angels—who tempt and wreak havoc on our lives and world. The Greek word peirazo can mean tempt or test. In Hebrew, satan means adversary or enemy.

    And what about the wild animals? Some see them as satan’s allies in contrast to the angels that attend to Jesus. Some see an allusion to Psalm 91:11-13.

    For he will command his angels concerning you 
    to guard you in all your ways;
    they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
    You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent. (Psalm 91:11-13)

    I like animals, but not necessarily “wild” animals. They don’t usually make good pets!

    Matthew and Luke tell us more about the temptation but Mark simply gives us an image of Jesus and satan, angels and wild animals, good and evil. It will be a constant theme in the book…and all of human history.

    Jesus has been baptized and tested. He’s prepared and next week we’ll see Jesus’ ministry begin.

    One More Thing

    Occasionally I come across as reading so profound it’s not worth paraphrasing; it simply needs to be read. Listen to N.T. Wright:

    It happens all the time, in families, businesses, all over. Many children grow up in our world who have never had a father say to them (either in words, in looks, or in hugs), ‘You are my dear child’, let alone, ‘I’m pleased with you.’ In the Western world, even those fathers who think this in their hearts are often too tongue-tied or embarrassed to tell their children how delighted they are with them. Many, alas, go by the completely opposite route: angry voices, bitter rejection, the slamming of doors. 

    The whole Christian gospel could be summed up in this point: that when the living God looks at us, at every baptized and believing Christian
    , he says to us what he said to Jesus on that day. He sees us, not as we are in ourselves, but as we are in Jesus Christ. It sometimes seems impossible, especially to people who have never had this kind of support from their earthly parents, but it’s true: God looks at us, and says, ‘You are my dear, dear child; I’m delighted with you.’ Try reading that sentence slowly, with your own name at the start, and reflect quietly on God saying that to you, both at your baptism and every day since.

    How does this come about? It will take the whole story, particularly Jesus’ death and resurrection, to explain. But this is what the Christian gospel is all about.

    It is true for one simple but very profound reason: Jesus is the Messiah, and 
    the Messiah represents his people. What is true of him is true of them. The word ‘Messiah’ means ‘the anointed one’; and this story tells how Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit, marked out as God’s son. The Messiah is called ‘God’s son’ in a few biblical passages, including the one that the heavenly voice seems to be echoing here (Psalm 2.7). Though the early Christians realized quite quickly that Jesus was God’s son in an even deeper sense, they clung on to his messiahship for dear life. It was because Jesus was and is Messiah that God said to them, as he does to us today, what he said to Jesus at his baptism. And without that word from God all we often hear, in our mind’s ear, is doors being slammed.

    -
    N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) Westminster John Knox Press; bold are my highlights

    Your Team

    How can that be? Let me tell you a story about two men named Chris—Coghlan and Bryant. Last fall, they both played for the Chicago Cubs who finally won the World Series. Kris Bryant is arguably the best player on the team. He hit two home runs during the World Series and was the National League’s Most Valuable Player. Chris Coghlan batted three times in the World Series, struck out twice, and never made it to first base. There’s a tradition in baseball where every player on the championship team gets a diamond-covered ring worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Every player gets the same ring, whether they are superstars or bench-warmers.

    That’s how I like to think about what it means for us to be “in Christ,” a phrase used more than a dozen times in the book of Ephesians to describe followers of Jesus. We are on His team, we wear His uniform. The Chicago Cubs are World Champions which means every player on the team is equally a World Champion. When we are in Christ, everything the Father says about Jesus He says about us.

    Author Bob Goff said,
    "On the day of your worst screw-up, Jesus sees you and still calls you 'Beloved'!"

    That’s good news, friends. That’s great news!


    His baptism and temptation were preparation for a greater test…and a greater victory. Today is a great day to reflect upon your own journey, your own baptism if you’ve followed Jesus’ command to go public with your faith, something you can do next Sunday if you haven’t. It’s a great day to reflect upon your own temptations—those you overcame and those tests you failed. Jesus’ body was pierced and broken on the cross, His blood was poured out to offer forgiveness of your sins; past, present, and future. Hallelujah! Because of Jesus, the Father says, “You are my dear, dear child; I’m delighted with you."

    Credits: some ideas from Matt Carter (Austin Stone Community Church), Warren Wiersbe, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

    • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

    Messenger: John the Baptist, 30 April 2017

    Messenger: John the Baptist
    Series—
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 1:1-8

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: John prepared the way for Jesus’ coming…and so can we.

    Holy Spirit

    Last night I returned from the Missio Alliance conference near Washington DC. It was a great opportunity to connect with new and old friends, hear from world-renown theologians, and be reminded of the most misunderstood member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

    If you are a follower of Jesus, you were given the Holy Spirit. God dwells within you. What an amazing reality, one we often forget. I have much to say at a later date about the Holy Spirit, but for now I simply want to welcome and acknowledge the Spirit’s presence here.

    Would you please take a moment of silence and pray, inviting the Holy Spirit to open your heart to the Word of God and to give me words to speak?

    Introduction

    Many years ago, I heard about this new rock group that allegedly had one or more Christians in it named Bourgeois Tagg. They were the opening act for singer Robert Palmer’s concert at Pine Knob, now DTE Music Theatre in metro Detroit. Some friends of mine asked if I wanted to go to the show, not to see the headliner, but to check out the opening act. We all liked their performance, and before I knew it we were backstage meeting the band! It was surreal for a teenager to be backstage with rock stars! They were excited to have fans thousands of miles from their Sacramento home. It was a memorable night for all of us.

    Over the years I’ve spent enough time talking with touring musicians to know being an opening act can be a tough gig. You usually stand between the fans and the headliner. It can be great exposure for a new artist, but it can also be a struggle.

    Have you ever been an opening act? Maybe you played on the junior varsity team before the varsity team took the court or field. Perhaps you introduced a keynote speaker at a big event, aware that people did not come to see you!

    Today we’re going to look at Jesus’ opening act, his cousin John.

    Messengers

    In Jesus’ day, a messenger would precede the arrival of any important person. Today, the media lets us know if a rock star, celebrity, or politician is coming to town. Imagine a world without the Internet, TV, radio, or even newspapers. Messengers would ensure the roads were in good repair (good luck in Toledo!), make arrangements for food and lodging, and announce the arrival of the dignitary. This is what John did for Jesus.

    Last week we looked at the first verse of the book of Mark in our quest to discover the real Jesus. Charles Carter told me if we take one verse each week we’ll be studying the book for more than ten years! Today we’ll tackle seven more verses, but first, let’s review verse one:

    The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1)

    Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. He is God. Jesus is 100% and 100% human. This book is the gospel—or good news—of Mark. Jesus is the gospel. The gospel is Jesus is LORD.

    The comma at the end of the verse is not a typo. The sentence continues in verse 2:

    as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: 
    “I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way” — 
    “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
    ‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’ ” (Mark 1:2-3)

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, one of the reasons I trust Jesus is the hundreds of prophecies he fulfilled. This is actually a collection of three different Old Testament books—Exodus (23:20), Malachi (3:1), and Isaiah (40:3). These writings said hundreds of years before the birth of Christ a messenger would come before Jesus. John the Baptist is that messenger.

    And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4)

    Were there baptism before Christian baptism? Yes!

    In first-century Judaism, people would cleanse themselves according to the book of Leviticus when they were impure from things such as touching a leper or a corpse. Later, when Gentiles converted to Judaism, the meaning of baptism was extended as a sign of the covenant given to Abraham.

    This does not fully explain John’s “baptism of repentance.” One group at Qumran, the people known for creating the Dead Sea scrolls, believed a person could not become clean if they disobeyed God’s commandments. Their manual stated,

    "For it is through the spirit of God's true counsel concerning the ways of man that all his sins be expiated, and when his flesh is sprinkled with purifying water, it shall be made clean by the humble submission of his soul to all the precepts of God."

    To enter their community, one would need to “go into the wilderness to prepare there the way of Him; as it is written, ‘Prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a path for our God.” The wilderness is key in Jewish history, the place where they were tested, where they rebelled against God, and where they sinned and repented.

    John preached repentance, urging people to turn away from their sins. To repent is to turn away, to do a 180. The Greek word is “metanoia” and means a change of mind or direction. John was preaching of the need for people to change, to get off the throne of their lives and surrender to God. He was obviously very effective.

    The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. (Mark 1:5)

    People traveled to see this preacher. It had been more than 300 years since a prophet was active in Israel. They were convicted of their sins, confessed them, and were immersed in water, in the Jordan River.

    Water is a powerful image throughout the Bible. It begins at creation, as God separates the waters from the earth. It covers the earth during the days of Noah. God miraculously parts the sea through Moses, allowing the people to walk on dry ground with water on either side. Huge crowds of people (the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem; not literally, of course!) were visiting John. He must’ve been quite popular. As opening acts go, he was developing his own fan base, perhaps partly because of his appearance.

    John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. (Mark 1:6)

    Just think about that for a moment! Notice the detail. Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the four, a book of headlines. When you vivid descriptions, don’t miss them. John is quite the fashion statement! There’s more than meets the eye. This description is similar to that of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). His unusual diet was part of the prophetic tradition. Locusts were kosher. But remember, he had a greater mission, to prepare the way of the LORD. He was a messenger.

    It’s interesting to note there were other messengers announcing Jesus’ arrival. Old Testament prophets predicted it. The angel Gabriel told Mary. Now John is the messenger.

    Let’s not forget John had a messenger, too. The angel Gabriel first appeared to John’s father, Zechariah, to announce his birth. This was a big deal since John’s parents were elderly, surprised, and somewhat doubtful about having a son. We have messengers all over the stories of John and his six-month younger cousin, Jesus.

    And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. Mark 1:7

    John knows he’s just the opening act. He’s preparing the way. He’s getting people ready for the coming of the Messiah. Despite his popularity as the first prophet in 300 years, he humbly acknowledges his role as messenger and the arrival of someone much greater.

    I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8)

    Baptize means to immerse, to overwhelm, to submerge. This is what the Holy Spirit wants to do in our lives. As John prepares the way for Jesus, Jesus prepares the way for the Holy Spirit. Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus said

    But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

    Have you ever wished Jesus was here? Me too! Jesus said it was good for Him to leave, though, to allow the Holy Spirit to fill us—all of us. Do you trust Jesus? He prepared the way for the Holy Spirit, a wonderful gift available to all of us who surrender to the Spirit.

    Now catch this! Jesus said

    Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

    I want to give you an assignment for this series. As we go through the book of Mark, think about what it would mean for us to do what Jesus is doing in the text.

    Let’s review:

    Gabriel announces the births of John and Jesus
    John prepares the way for Jesus first coming
    Jesus prepares the way for the Holy Spirit
    The Holy Spirit fills us.
    We are invited to prepare the way for Jesus’ second coming
    We are called to be messengers. We are to prepare the way for the return of the King. We are to announce His arrival.

    I know the idea of being a messenger for Jesus may sound scary or weird. What do we do, go door-to-door and tell everyone to get ready for Jesus? That’s one way to do it! Perhaps another way is to stop, be still, ask the Holy Spirit to give you the name of a person, pray for them, and ask the Spirit for an opportunity to talk with them about Jesus. Here are a few simple starter questions:

    Do you believe in God? Why or why not?
    Who is Jesus?
    Who is Jesus to you?
    Where are you at on your spiritual journey?
    When have you felt the most loved?

    When it comes to proclaiming the truth of Jesus, it should never feel forced. We’re not sales people for Jesus, getting others to sign up for church membership or fire insurance. We’ve been given the Holy Spirit to guide us, to lead us, to allow us to re-present God in word and deed to our world. It’s not about us. We’re just the opening act. We’re only the messengers preparing the way for the coming of the King of kings, Jesus Christ. We are privileged to let the whole world see our risen King!

    Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

    • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

    On Your Mark, 23 April 2017

    On Your Mark—An Intro to the Gospel of Mark
    Series—
    Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
    Mark 1:1

    Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

    Big Idea: Mark wrote a stunning biography of Jesus, our Messiah and God.

    Introduction

    He is still risen! He is still risen indeed!

    Welcome back! My name is Kirk and last Sunday we had a fantastic celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. But listen to these profound words from N.T. Wright:
    But my biggest problem starts on Easter Monday. I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday…and then, after a rather odd Holy Saturday, we have a single day of celebration.

    …Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday. It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?

    …we should be taking steps to celebrate Easter in creative new ways: in art, literature, children’s games, poetry, music, dance, festivals, bells, special concerts, anything that comes to mind. This is our greatest festival. Take Christmas away, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else. Take Easter away, and you don’t have a New Testament; you don’t have a Christianity; as Paul says, you are still in your sins…

    …if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up. Champagne for breakfast again—well, of course. Christian holiness was never meant to be merely negative…. The forty days of the Easter season, until the ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving. You may be able to do it only for six weeks, just as you may be able to go without beer or tobacco only for the six weeks of Lent. But if you really make a start on it, it might give you a sniff of new possibilities, new hopes, new ventures you never dreamed of. It might bring something of Easter into your innermost life. It might help you wake up in a whole new way. And that’s what Easter is all about.”

    As I said, last Sunday we had a fantastic celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. He is alive! But who is Jesus, really?

    If you ask ten people who Jesus is, you may end up with ten different answers. But how can we know for sure? I submit to you two things:

    - The Bible provides us with four biographies of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
    - Jesus is alive and knowable—personally—through prayer and the Bible

    One of my greatest frustrations as a pastor is reading about “biblical scholars” who are atheists. It seems like every Eastertime they get busy promoting another book, another theory, hoping to make a buck off some naïve shopper in line at the grocery store with tabloid headlines about another new discovery, a new theory, a secret revealed. With all due respect to intellectuals who study the Biblical texts, the atheists among them miss the point. Jesus is a living Person. He wants us to know Him. He wants to know us. The first thing I want to know about a Bible scholar is if they know the Author…of the Bible, of life. Our faith is completely dependent upon the cross and the empty tomb. If you know the Bible but don’t know Jesus, it’s as useless as analyzing the penmanship of a love letter, missing its message.

    The Bible is, in fact, a love letter. It is not written to us, exactly, but for us. Today we’re going to look at the background of the Gospel—or good news—of Mark and the most important question in life.

    Why Four Gospels?

    Matthew: Hebrew, religious audience, “Son of David,” advertising and announcements
    Mark: Roman, strong, rulers, power, emphasizes Jesus the suffering Servant, headlines
    Luke: also wrote Acts, Gentile author, historian, “Son of Man,” special features
    John: emphasizes deity of Christ, Savior, “Son of God,” editorials/columns

    This biography of Jesus will inspire, inform, and hopefully transform you and me to become more like Jesus.


    Before we dive into the Gospel of Mark, I want to give you some background.

    It’s the first gospel written, one of the first NT books to be written

    It was written by John Mark. He was not an apostle, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, but he was an important figure in the early Church

    He appears in the book of Acts

    When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. (Acts 12:12)

    He was a cousin of Barnabus.

    My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) (Colossians 4:10)

    He was the spiritual son of Simon Peter.

    She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. (1 Peter 5:13)

    This has long been considered Simon Peter’s gospel. John Mark traveled with Paul and later Barnabus.

    Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. (Acts 15:37-40)

    John Mark made good. Paul later called for him in his letter to Timothy.

    Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11)

    Mark learned about Jesus from Peter and Paul. Mark was also an eyewitness to the events in the life of Christ.

    Mark emphasizes Christ as the suffering Servant, the One who came not to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many. Mark likely wrote this book in Rome. A servant needs references, not a birth certificate (no genealogy as in Matthew).

    Here’s J. Vernon McGee’s outline of the book:

    John introduces the Servant
    God the Father identifies the Servant
    The temptation initiates the Servant
    Works and words illustrate the Servant

    It’s filled with more miracles than the other gospels.

    Healing: Physical
    Nature: Natural
    Casting out of demons: spiritual
    Raised from the dead: supernatural

    Mark 1

    The book begins with what might be the most important verse in the entire book. It answers what might be the most important question in all of life:

    Who is Jesus?

    John Mark’s gospel or “good news” begins…

    The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1 (NIV)
    The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1, NASB)

    The purpose of the book of Mark is not history. It’s not merely a biography of Jesus. In fact, Jesus’ birth and childhood are omitted. The book begins with Jesus around age 30. No manger. No puberty. No teenage years! Mark begins with the gospel or “good news.” His purpose is “good news.”

    The original Greek word for gospel,
    euaggelion, was often used in a military context. The army would send a message back to the city and proclaim, “A victory has been won. We are not going to die! We are going to live!”

    That’s what Mark does. He tells us Jesus is alive and, therefore, a victory has been won for you and me. Life is available for us. Not just survival, but abundant life (John 10:10).

    He also tells us two things about Jesus’ identity. First, Christ is not Jesus’ last name! The word means “an anointed, royal figure” in Greek. In Hebrew, it is translated, “the Messiah.” A victory has been won for us by Jesus, the Messiah, the anointed, royal figure proclaimed for generations. Some English translations of this verse replace “Christ” with “The Messiah.”

    The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1, NIV 2011)

    Second, Jesus is the Son of God. He’s not just the Messiah, He’s God!

    Jesus is Messiah and God. This statement is a dividing line of faith. You can accept or reject the claim. If you believe Jesus is God, the miracles and teachings and resurrection are not difficult to accept. If you don’t believe Jesus is God, the rest of the book of Mark—the rest of the New Testament—will not make much sense.

    If you don’t believe Jesus is God, there’s no shame. You belong here. Keep seeking. Keep asking.

    Some contemporary Jews believe Jesus is not the Messiah because He did not bring the Kingdom to Israel. He was a failed Messiah. There have been hundreds, maybe thousands of people who claimed to be the Messiah. You’ve probably never heard of any of them.

    If Jesus is just another failed Messiah, how would you explain His influence two thousand years later? His Church is still growing, His Name is being worshipped in every part of the world.

    What if Mark was correct? Let’s assume Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, God. Let’s assume He really died and rose again. Why do I believe that and others don’t?

    When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13)

    They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14)

    “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

    Who do you say Jesus is?

    Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

    Look at how Jesus replies.

    Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 16:17)

    If you believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God, it was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by God the Father. It’s not because of your intellect or morality or a great argument. It’s because your Heavenly Father revealed it. The original Greek word for “revealed” here means “to take the cover off of something.”

    Simon Peter is blessed by God.

    Believers in Jesus Christ are blessed by God. The truth has been revealed.

    The greatest longing in any heart may be to receive the blessing of their father and mother.

    If you believe Jesus is the Christ, it’s because God the Father blessed you. Followers of Jesus are blessed sons and daughters of the King of kings.

    Who is Jesus?

    This is the question we will be answering each week in this series as we examine the gospel of Mark.

    Listen to Jesus' answer to the question from the gospel of John:

    Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

    Jesus is the way…to truth, to life, to the Father.
    Jesus is the truth.
    Jesus is life. He is alive. He conquered death. He offers you and me eternal life. He offers us abundant life.

    The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1, NIV 2011)

    Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the LORD of all.

    Credits: some ideas from Matt Carter (Austin Stone Community Church), Warren Wiersbe, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and David Garland.

    • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

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