Bible Study “The End, The Beginning” Week 2

Week 2: READ: Mark 1:14-20

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Mark foreshadows the purpose of Jesus’ ministry even before it begins: Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news, (14b-15).  The main message of Jesus in Mark, Matthew and Luke is the emergence of the kingdom of God (or kingdom of heaven as used in Matthew).  So what is this kingdom that Jesus is referring to in his message?  Because it is central to the preaching and teaching of Jesus, it is important that we get a handle on it.

The challenge of getting a handle on what Jesus means by the kingdom of God is that he used parables and sayings which are open to interpretation.  Many books and internet articles have been and are being written about the kingdom of God from various perspectives.  The teaching of Jesus about the kingdom is more than one thought and includes the NOW or imminent operations of Holy Spirit, God’s kingdom in our present state, the kingdom as present and launched by the person of Jesus; and the NOT YET aspect of God’s reign. There is a both/and aspect to the kingdom Jesus inaugurated.  As the Apostle Paul wrote: For we know only in part…but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end…For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known, (1 Corinthians 13:9-10, 12).  The Spirit of God is at work in our midst, working in and through us as followers of Jesus to advance the practice and work of the God’s kingdom or reign on earth.  Yet we also await the day when God’s reign will come in fullness.

Jesus came teaching the way God intends us to live and calling and entrusting the message of God to others.  It is distinctive of the gospel that Jesus did not go to the religious center, the synagogue, to find and call his followers but went out into the community and surrounding areas to extend his invitation.  Walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus called his first four followers who were fishermen.  These ordinary laborers were to become the foundation of his new movement.  Jesus called them to himself and commissioned them to fish for or reach other people.

My experience suggests that many of us followers of Jesus, even some of us who grew up in a Christian family and in the church, find it hard to see and discern the activity of Christ in and through us.  This is indeed what it means when the Apostle Paul wrote: we walk by faith and not by sight, (2 Corinthians 5:7).  We learn to trust that nudge of the Spirit, that curious impulse to call, drop by or send a text or email to a person who may have dropped out of our thoughts for some time.  Like any experiment, responding to an urge, impulse or thought that just crossed my mind can simply be a random thought and even wrong.  In the same way you learn to walk, you risk falling and getting hurt or hurting others.  It is worth the risk to be open and available to God.

The brilliant British missiologist, Lesslie Newbigin, (1909-1998), wrote: the reign of God, his kingly power, is present in the man Jesus. But at the same time, this presence is veiled.  It is not obvious to the naked eye of the unconverted men and women.  They cannot see because they face the wrong way and look for something which is not in truth the power of God.  They must make a mental U-turn, be converted, in order to believe (not see) that the good news is true: the reign of God is present (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co, 1989, p. 105).  And how do people distant from Christ and his church most commonly experience the Christian faith at work?  Through imperfect people of faith like you and me.

Newbigin goes on to write: It follows from this that this hidden presence creates crisis and conflict. The powers that be, both in their outward form as the established religious and cultural and political structures, and in their inward reality as the principalities and powers (see Ephesians 6:12ff) of this age, are challenged and fight back…This conflict with the powers…comes to its climax on the cross (ibid. p. 105).  The power of God is unleashed in an action of divine love released by Jesus on an instrument of death utilized by the Roman Empire.  The cross is the vehicle used to snuff out Jesus’ life which in turn gives life to all who by faith follow him in this world.

Newbigin adds to his presentation about the reign of God by saying that modern day disciples of Jesus will also face conflict for which we are to pray for Christ to be made manifest.  May Christ be seen in and through our words, actions and our life.

Blessed are the ordinary for with God we can accomplish the extraordinary: changed lives, for good and for God.  Peter, James and John will become Jesus’ inner circle.  They will experience with Jesus special training for future leadership that they will be called upon to provide for the new Christian community. They did not choose or seek out Jesus, rather Jesus called them to himself.  It all begins with God!  This theological truth is repeated often in Scripture as seen in the call of the first disciples.

Secondly, God works through people, which we will see later in the gospel of Mark.  While God worked through Peter, James and John, do not lose sight of the fact that they were ordinary people who had an ordinary job as fishermen.  They had no “qualification” to be effective witnesses to Jesus, nor giants of prayer or skilled in the art of ministry. Jesus chose common people to follow him, practice the spiritual disciplines he taught and to carry forward this faith, ministry and mission upon his departure from earth.

Keep in mind: when we discount ourselves from being useful to God and to others as one who can show the love of Jesus and give witness to him, we remove ourselves as being available to God to this end and we miss out on the amazing opportunities that God provides.  While we may recognize the limitations within ourselves, can we limit what God wants to accomplish through us?  Be open.  Open your eyes and ears to God’s possibilities.  Get ready to be surprised by what God can do through you!

Soul Sower

The things we learned in our childhood we sometimes ignore until later in life.  Then we return to those lessons and experiences and discovered anew an invaluable foundation for life.  Even if our childhood was less than stellar or even very disrupted and painful, upon further reflection, we often can identify a person or people who left a positive mark and a sign of hope on our life.

Pastor Jim came to serve the three-church parish of which my childhood church was a part from the time I entered Kindergarten until eleventh grade.  Pastor Jim and his wife Bev had seven children including twin girls who were in my grade.  Paying attention to the bits he shared in his sermons over the years about his family, more than anything else he talked about, I felt like I grew to know his heart.

Small towns and rural areas are good places to put your nose into your neighbors business by telling what you know as news.  The party line on your telephone, at the local café, sitting in the bleachers at a local high school sports event or even the Sunday sermon were all good options to get updates (some call that gossiping).  By and large, people did not intend to be too mean or nosy.  After all, if we did not practice Minnesota Nice who would?

Pastor Jim did not put on airs that his family was perfect and he did not use his family as sermon illustrations.  He did not have to do that.  The small town system of watching out for you because we care also knew how to sniff out your business.  It was all well intended of course.  The end result was I heard quite a bit about Pastor Jim’s family over the years at the dinner table.

It was painful for the churches to walk alongside Pastor Jim’s family when their baby Leah was diagnosed with Leukemia at like age 2.  The pastor’s family were in our prayers like mad in those days.  Leah was never as I recall a part of Pastor’s sermons but his pain-filled heart was obvious.  The love of the community was poured out during the end of Leah’s life.  This is one of my first memories of crying in church.

Pastor Jim was my confirmation teacher and led the youth trips.  When I entered into seminary, he reminded me that he had said at my confirmation that he would not be surprised if God would call me into ministry.  If I had heard him say that, I must have disregarded it because I had no recall of that comment.

Here is how I saw the kingdom of God at work in and through Pastor Jim: he always pointed everything he did and said to Jesus Christ.  His repetitive message was about the amazing love of Jesus for each one of us.  I grew up confident of Jesus’ love for me.  Pastor Jim errored on the side of being the loving presence of Jesus for the youth of our church and the whole community.  It seemed like he was at every sports event, graduation, concert, and had a special place in his life for kids in trouble.

Church leaders and other adults criticized Pastor Jim for being too youth oriented when they were the ones who paid his salary. Ironically, there were a couple of parents who had to eat crow when they so desperately needed his support when their child was in trouble.  I am indebted to Pastor Jim for planting the love of Jesus so deep in my soul.  It was not simply his words but his committed actions that showed me just how deeply he believed that message.  Pastor Jim left a deep positive mark in my soul for which I am most grateful.

Discussion Questions

  1. Jesus came announcing the kingdom of God. What does mean to you?  What does it look like?
  2. Jesus proclaimed that we are to repent and believe.  How does repentance work in your life?  What is implied by repentance?
  3. What does the process of “faith” look like in your life?  Who has God used to impact your faith and following?  What was it about their witness and life that impacted you?
  4. We are all called to believe, follow and fish.  Who is on your “fish list?”  Who will you tell this week something about Jesus and his love to encourage faith?