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Mark's Gospel: Series Introduction

This week in Grace-for-Life class, we launched a new series on following Jesus from the Gospel of Mark. We often miss the fact that Jesus was fully human and limited Himself with respect to time, place, energy, and all the other ways we are simply finite. So He had to be laser-focused in His mission. The Gospel of Mark conveys this clearly as we will discover by following the Son of Man on Mission through Mark's Gospel.

In introducing this series this past Sunday, we began by pointing to the key text that we will return to again and again: "For even the son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). Jesus Himself summarizes the goal of His mission to His disciples: He will lead and save by becoming a servant and a sacrifice.

We learned several key points this week:

  • We are prone to creating imaginary Jesus's. Many people detest religion, but almost everyone finds a way to like Jesus, and they do so by remaking Him in their image. Jesus is often made the poster-boy for their cause. But those are idols, images we've made up. What we want to do is follow the genuine Jesus of Nazareth, the one revealed in the Scriptures.
  • Jesus can only be known through the Gospels about Him. No one knows Jesus better than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We say many things about Jesus, but often we do not know Him. He can truly only be known by digging in deep to the works He commissioned His followers to write. Out of 66 books of the Bible, 4 of them are portraits of this Jesus of Nazareth. What we should desire is to so know the Jesus of the Gospels that we grow to anticipate and expect how He would respond, act, do, and say. 
  • Jesus was strange, much stranger than we've come to believe. Jesus could not be elected president were He with us today in spite of what either party might say. He was a first-century bearded Jewish, single man who traveled the countryside with a group of 12 selected disciples (mostly fishermen). His entourage was unimpressive, and the only animal we ever hear of him riding is a donkey, and he attracted the sick, the dying, and the poor by the thousands.
  • BUT, the people loved Him. Jesus gave peoplewho had nowhere else to turn, hope, and He changed them forever. That is why we have their stories collected in the Gospels, because they really happened, and these people were really changed by their encounter with the magnetic prophet from Nazareth, Jesus.
  • Furthermore, He could preach, flat-out preach. Jesus had an irresistible quality as a communicator and He spoke with power and authority. Not only did the masses with their needs come out to hear Him, but so did His enemies, and even the demons had to listen to His voice!
  • We applied the message by urging ourselves to look to Jesus It is very easy for us to get distracted and lose sight of our Savior. But whatever you are going through this week, don't look too deep inwardly, don't try too hard to be perfect, and don't pretend to have it all together. If we really believe that Jesus is the answer, then that starts with us. We have to believe that Jesus is the answer for us, in our homes, families, marriages, jobs, relationships, and neighborhoods. So look to Jesus, think on Jesus, meditate on the Son of Man on Mission, reflect upon the Cross, see Jesus lifted high, pick up the Gospel of Mark and read it. This is all good news. He came to call sinners, not the righteous, to repentance.
*NOTE: Grace for Life is the Family Ministry discipleship group for the Family Life Worship Center in Bloomington, IN.

Discipline without Direction is Drudgery

Don Whitney writes:

"Discipline without direction is drudgery. But the Spiritual Disciplines are never drudgery as long as we practice them with the goal of Godliness in mind. If your picture of a disciplined Christian is one of a grim, tight-lipped, joyless half-robot, then you've missed the point. Jesus was the most disciplined Man who ever lived and yet the most joyful and passionately alive. He is our Example of discipline. Let us follow Him to joy through the Spiritual Disciplines." - p. 24

My observations: We often follow godliness as some ambiguous idea, a misty mystery of drippy spirituality speaking puffy but pointless platitudes and cluttered cliches.  Or, on the other side, we fall off into a rule-based regulatory regimen created by men for divine extra-credit.  This is why, I think, we often end up with "grim, tight-lipped, joyless" robots of religion.  But in the Scriptures, godliness and holiness are not vague ideas, rather, in the New Testament, God has put a face on godliness.  The face of godliness and the figure of holiness in the New Testament is Jesus Christ.  He is what holiness and godliness look like. If there are things that Jesus did which trouble you (like dine and drink with sinners or overturn tables), or if even Jesus could not live up to your extra-credit system (he did have a beard you know), then your understanding of godliness and holiness must be re-framed.  Jesus is the direction of our godliness; Christ-likeness the goal of all our religion. If it (whatever it is) does not conform to that picture then it should be cut away as excess, and if it is excess it should not be added back in.

Mile Wide, Inch Deep

Don Whitney on the need for spiritual discipline:

"I've seen Christians who are faithful to the church of God, who frequently demonstrate genuine enthusiasm for the things of God, and who dearly love the Word of God, trivialize their effectiveness for the Kingdom of God through lack of discipline. Spiritually they are a mile wide and an inch deep. There are no deep, time-worn channels of communing discipline between them and God. They have dabbled in everything but disciplined themselves in nothing." - p. 21, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

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