Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

Gospel

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.

Jesus our Sanctifier, The Gospel Truth, 15 March 2015

Series Overview: The purpose of this series is to distinguish between the biblical gospel and the various misunderstandings of the word, specifically the difference between Jesus as Savior and Lord. We will use the Fourfold Gospel as our outline.

Big Idea: Jesus is our Sanctifier, making us increasingly holy like Himself.

Introduction

This week we continue our series
The Gospel Truth. We began last week looking at Jesus as Savior. Today we continue our look at the Fourfold Gospel examining Jesus as Sanctifier.

It’s not uncommon for song lyrics and passages of scripture to contain unusual words. Sanctifier is one of those Christianese words that few outside of the faith understand…and few inside the faith understand! When we say Jesus is our Sanctifier we are expressing that He makes us like Himself. A year ago we said that followers of Jesus are “in Christ.” What can be said of Jesus can be said of us in the eyes of our heavenly Father, not because we are God or perfect like Christ, but because we essentially wear Jesus’ uniform. His blood purifies our sins and we can stand before a holy God who cannot tolerate sin, not because of what we’ve done but because Jesus is our Savior which we studied last week.

Sanctification then is that God wants to make us in reality what we’ve already been declared to be in Christ. In other words, following Jesus is more than praying a prayer to ask Jesus into your heart so you’ll go to heaven when you die. Following Jesus is just that—following Him. Jesus is perfect. We are to be perfect. Jesus is holy. We are to be holy. Jesus has power and authority. We are to have power and authority.

To be sanctified is to be holy, set apart. In one sense it occurs when we surrender our lives to God, yet it is a progressive process in which we become increasingly like Him—separated from sin and evil.

Right about now you may be asking, “Why don’t I look like Jesus?” or “How is it possible for me to be like Christ?” That’s our topic today: sanctification, becoming holy and set apart like Jesus.

Fruit

What is your favorite food? Although my favorite dessert is ice cream, my favorite food is fruit. I love fruit! I’m not sure if it’s because most fruits are sweet or colorful or uniquely shaped or the texture but I love fruit. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a fruit I didn’t enjoy…unless it was bad fruit!

Where does fruit come from? Meijer! Believe it or not, it does not just appear in the produce section!

The Bible is filled with organic metaphors. God created our world, so it should come as no surprise He would use physical things to help us understand spiritual realities.

Gardening is a powerful way to understand life. I’m an expert gardener…in growing weeds! I admire people who understand soil and plants and who can grow things
other than weeds!

Last week I listened to a brilliant podcast interview with Christine Sine in which she described the numerous parallels between the cultivation of her garden and the cultivation of her soul. Producing beautiful fruit requires preparation of the soil, generous fertilizer and water, enough sunlight, protection from hungry creatures, and the eradication of weeds that can choke the plants.

Likewise if we want our lives to bear fruit we must confess our sins, flee temptation, fill our minds with the Word of God, feed upon Jesus, the Bread of Life, receive support from godly brothers and sisters, and pursue a deeper relationship with God and others. Jesus said it plainly in the fifteenth chapter of the gospel of John.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:1-4)

How do we become like Jesus? We know Him.
How do we know Jesus? We spend time with Him.
How do we spend time with Jesus? We pray. We study the Bible. We spend time with people who know Jesus.

They say many old couples look alike after years of marriage. They can finish each other’s sentences. They know what the other is thinking. That’s what happens when two people do life together, spend time with one another, know each other, and grow together. That’s what happens when we do life with Jesus—we begin to resemble Him!

It takes time. It requires intentionality. It involves effort.

When I placed a wedding ring on my bride’s finger nearly 25 years ago that wasn’t the end of our relationship. It was a tremendously significant moment, yet it was just the beginning. More than two decades later we’ve both invested in our relationship, and it has produced fruit (including three amazing children!). I didn’t just say vows and then tell her, “Have a nice life!” Over the years I have grown to be like her, and she has grown to be like me. We are both works in process, becoming like one another, but most of all both seeking to be like Jesus.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

It’s great to ask What Would Jesus Do? It’s far better to know Jesus so intimately and be so filled with the Holy Spirit that you don’t stop and ask—you instinctively do it! It’s natural. That’s sanctification. Jesus is our Sanctifier means He wants us to become like Him. He wants us to become Christians—little Christs. He wants us to love Him and love others, re-presenting Him to our desperate world.

Are you connected to the vine? Do know know what God is saying to you? Are you obediently following Him?

If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:6-8)

If you know anything at all about plants, you know every branch must be connected to the trunk which must be connected to the roots. Any disconnect will result in poor or no fruit.

When I was a kid I remember enjoying a pretty substantial tree in our front yard. One day I had the brilliant idea of taking a hatchet and carving my name into the tree. When my parents realized what I had done, they weren’t very pleased! Fortunately I did no permanent damage to the tree, but I could’ve killed it!

Like many of you, I witnessed first-hand the destruction of trees by a very small bug known as the emerald ash borer. The nasty beetle from Asia was first formally identified in Canton, Michigan in 2002, believed to be introduced by overseas shipping materials. They attack ash trees through larval feeding that disrupts the flow of nutrients and water. This small bug is responsible for the destruction of literally tens of millions of ash trees and threatens to kill most of the 8.7 billion ash trees throughout North America.

What a perfect metaphor for sin! Small, unsuspected sins invade our life, slowly disconnecting us from our source of life, Jesus. Sure, robbing a bank or killing your neighbor will damage your relationship with God—and keep you away from others as you sit in prison—but most often it’s small temptations that cause us to drift from our nourishment. We get too busy to pray, too busy to study the Bible, too busy to attend worship and Life Groups, too busy to share Jesus with others. We get greedy, buying things we don’t need until we can no longer be generous and serve those in desperate need. We compromise in small things like taxes, speed limits, truth-telling, and pride until we are able to rationalize the most blatant of sins.

A Healthy Tree

The first words of the Psalms paint an entirely different picture.

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)

That’s what I want my life to depict!

What kind of fruit are you bearing? It could be no fruit, the result of disconnect from Jesus. It could be bad fruit such as

sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. (Mark 7:21-22)

Or it could be the fruit of the Spirit:

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a)

If we abide in Jesus, if we devote ourselves to Him, we will bear much, good fruit.

The Alliance website says it like this:

Many Christians understand God’s promise of salvation but do not experience the ongoing sanctifying work of Jesus Christ in their lives. For those who neither understand nor allow the Holy Spirit's control in their lives, the results have a profound effect.

Unsuccessful struggle against sin and a lack of power in life and ministry frustrate those who have asked Jesus to be their Savior but not their Sanctifier, resulting in a lack of joy in their walk with Christ. At the point when we are born again, we become members of God’s family. We believe He paid the price for our sin and that his followers are—set apart from those are not born again—and are seen as holy because of what Christ has done.

The Bible is filled with biological metaphors. We are a family—brothers and sisters. We are dead in our sins and resurrected with Christ as beautifully illustrated through baptism. In the book of Romans we read these powerful words:

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:11-14)

Some mistakenly think Christianity is a morality-based religion in which we are supposed to do good and be good. They see Jesus as someone who makes bad people good. Friends, the reality is Jesus came to make dead people come alive! Following Jesus is not merely an exercise in doing the right things. It is a vibrant, joy-filled journey in which possess—and are possessed by—the Holy Spirit. How?

  1. We thirst. We desire God, or at least want to want God.
  2. We ask. Invite the Holy Spirit to fill you. Daily. Maybe hourly!
  3. We surrender. In essence, let go and let God. This means letting go of your time, talents and treasures. It means placing everything on the altar. Open your hands!
  4. Abide. Love is spelled T-I-M-E. There are no shortcuts.

Semi-circle

Most of us live busy lives. God created us to work, but also to rest. Most people work hard during the week and crash on the weekend. We are designed to work from a place of rest, not rest from work.

Semi-circle copy

The semi-circle depicts a pendulum moving from rest to work and back. There are daily, weekly, monthly and annual rhythms of rest and work. When Jesus speaks in John 15 of remaining or abiding, He’s speaking of resting in Him. We need times of rest and recreation with Jesus and our our families. If we ignore Sabbath and rest with God, we will eventually crash. If we allow Him to prune us and renew us as we abide with Him during times of rest, we will bear much fruit when we work.

Are you abiding in Christ? Are you resting with Him? Are you spending quality time with Jesus, letting Him invite you into a deeper life of intimacy and faith while challenging you to greater levels of obedience and trust?

When we talk about Jesus as fully God yet fully man, it’s easy to think since Jesus was God He was never really tempted. Sure, Hebrews 4:15 says He was tempted in every way like us, but didn’t He brush it away like a mosquito and then do all of His magic tricks, healing the sick and opening the eyes of the blind and raising the dead?

Jesus said no to temptation and did supernatural works because He was filled with the Holy Spirit…the same Holy Spirit available to you and me. If we abide with Jesus, if we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will change. We will grow. We will bear fruit. We will look increasingly like Jesus.

Paul wrote these words to the Church in Corinth:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

That’s remarkable!

Conclusion

Dallas Willard famously referred to those seeking salvation apart from sanctification and lordship as “vampire Christians” who only want a little blood but have no interest in following Jesus now. It’s one thing for Jesus to be our Savior and another to be truly LORD.

A few weeks ago we said one of our family rules is the Make Disciples. Disciples are students or imitators of their discipler. We are to be students and followers and imitators of Jesus.

It’s a life-long process, but if we hunger after God, if we ask the Holy Spirit to fill us, if we confess our sins and surrender our will, and if we abide, He will make us new. He will transform us into new creations like Jesus. He is able to take whatever mess we offer Him and make it beautiful. That’s our Sanctifier!

Credits

Some material taken from
The Fourfold Gospel, a C&MA/DNA publication.

Semi-circle LifeShape from Mike Breen and 3DMovements.com.

You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

Jesus Our Savior, The Gospel Truth, 8 March 2015

Series Overview: The purpose of this series is to distinguish between the biblical gospel and the various misunderstandings of the word, specifically the difference between Jesus as Savior and Lord. We will use the Fourfold Gospel as our outline.

Big Idea: Jesus is our Savior, saving us from sin and death.

What is the
gospel? It is good news.

Many have said the gospel is the plan of salvation. It often goes something like this:

  1. God loves you.
  2. You sinned and are separated from God.
  3. Jesus died to reconcile you to God.
  4. If you pray to ask Jesus into your heart you’ll go to heaven when you die.

I literally spent years telling a version of that story to students in both the United States and Bolivia. Pray to receive Christ and you’re guaranteed a “Get Out Of Hell Free” card.

That is certainly good news, but the gospel is more. Much more. Pastor Bruxy Cavey defines the gospel with these thirty words:

“The gospel is the good news that God has come to us through Christ to show us His love, save us from sin, set us in community, and shut down religion.”

Last week we noted scholar N.T. Wright’s description of the grand story of history as a play with multiple acts:

Act 1: creation
Act 2: the Fall
Act 3: Israel
Act 4: Jesus
Act 5: New Testament and the people of God (the Church)

Some have suggested we are in Act 6, with Act 7 being the new heaven and new earth mentioned in Revelation.

If we skip Act 3, we miss a huge part of human history. Jesus was, Himself, a Jew, after all.

One of my professors wrote

“…the word gospel was used in the world of Jews at the time of the apostles to
announce something, to declare something as good news — the word evangelion
always means good news. “To gospel” is to herald, to proclaim, and to declare
something about something. To put this together: the gospel is to announce good
news about key events in the life of Jesus Christ. To gospel for Paul was to tell,
announce, declare, and shout aloud the Story of Jesus Christ as the saving news of
God.” (Scot McKnight,
King Jesus Gospel)

In three words, the gospel is Jesus is Lord. In one word, the gospel is Jesus.

Today we begin a new series, The Gospel Truth, looking at Jesus.

The Fourfold Gospel

Last week I mentioned A.B. Simpson, the founder of The Christian & Missionary Alliance, our denomination. After doing some research on his life a few years ago I was surprised to learn his influence not only in the C&MA but also the founding of the Assemblies of God and Foursquare denominations.

The Fourfold Gospel is the Christological summary on which the core values of The Alliance is based. Simpson saw Jesus as not only Savior—our focus today—but also his Sanctifier and Healer and Coming King. As we saw in the video earlier, it’s all about Jesus.

Who Is Jesus?

Last Sunday CNN began a series called Finding Jesus. I was pleasantly surprised at both its research and results. Part 2 will be shown tonight at 9 PM and you can view episodes at CNN.com.

Our faith is built upon Jesus—not a dream, not an idea…not even a book. It’s built upon a Person. I realize most of you are familiar with Jesus. If you’re like me you might be overly familiar with Him. This is a huge danger in any relationship. We can become so familiar and so comfortable with someone—a parent, spouse, child, friend—that we take them for granted and forget just how unique and special they are to us. That’s why we remember them by celebrating their birthday, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, or some other occasion.

Who is Jesus? So much can be said about Jesus. In fact, John concluded his biography of Jesus by saying

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21:25)

There are, in fact, four biographies of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We refer to them as the four gospels because they are good news. They are about Jesus.

Savior

This week I was talking with our daughter about her favorite names for children. People name their kids after movie stars, athletes, biblical characters, and for a host of other reasons. Ancient Hebrews chose names that would speak prophecy about the mission or character of their children.

When my parents named me Kirk, they liked the sound of the name, but also its meaning: “church dweller.” They were quite prophetic!

In a similar way Jesus was not simply a name Mary and Joseph liked, but one carefully chosen to convey His mission. An angel of the LORD came to Joseph and said of Mary:

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

He is our Savior, saving us from our sins. Luke expressed this, as well, quoting Jesus:

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

Romans 3:21-26

The third chapter of Romans provides us with one of the clearest portraits of Jesus as Savior.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)

God loves us. We all sin and fall short of His standard of perfection. Jesus shed His blood and died on the cross to save us, to forgive us, to enable us to be reconciled to a perfect and holy God.

Because Jesus is our Savior.

  1. Our sins have been forgiven. (Colossians 1:14)
  2. We have peace with God. (Romans 5:1)
  3. We have been declared righteous. (Romans 5:19)
  4. We are new creatures. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  5. We have eternal life. (John 3:16)
  6. We have been adopted by God. (Ephesians 1:5)
  7. His Holy Spirit lives in us. (Galatians 4:6)
  8. Jesus is our advocate. (1 John 2:1)
  9. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. (Romans 8:35)
  10. Death has no more power over us. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)
  11. We have an inheritance that can never perish. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

That’s quite a list! Which is the most meaningful to you?

Universal and Exclusive

Jesus is both a universal Savior and an exclusive Savior. John 3:16 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)

God loves the whole world and died for the whole world, but salvation is for those who believe in Jesus.

By the way, believe is not something simply done in your head, like you might believe in the Easter Bunny or that the Detroit Lions will win the next Super Bowl. Biblical belief requires action. It’s like believing a parachute will work and therefore you jump out of the airplane. You believe the odd-looking food is nourishing so you eat it. Faith is never passive.

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Contrary to what contemporary culture tells us, there are not multiple paths to God. There is only one—Jesus Christ. Only One died for us. Only One conquered sin and death. Only One is alive thousands of years later!

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

This is, admittedly, politically incorrect. It can be downright offensive, except for the fact that Jesus died of all. He offers Himself as a gift to all…who receive the gift.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:9-13)

In his book
Radical, David Platt tells of a conversation outside a Buddhist temple in Indonesia with a Buddhist leader and a Muslim leader. One said, “We may have different views about small issues, but when it comes down to essential issues, each of our religions is the same.” Platt said, “It sounds as though you both picture God (or whatever you call god) at the top of a mountain. It seems as if you believe that we are all at the bottom of the mountain, and I may take one route up the mountain, you may take another, and in the end we will all end up in the same place.” They smiled as I spoke. Happily they replied, “Exactly! You understand!” Then I leaned in and said, “Now let me ask you a question. What would you think if I told you that the God at the top of the mountain actually came down to where we are? What would you think if I told you that God doesn’t wait for people to find their way to him, but instead he comes to us?” They thought for a moment and then responded, “That would be great.” I replied, “Let me introduce you to Jesus.”

This is the gospel. The gospel is Jesus. He is our Savior who lived and died and rose for us. He offers each of us Himself as the greatest gift, a gift we can reject or receive.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

We don’t deserve it; that’s grace, unmerited favor. It’s amazing!

You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

Best Kept Secret, Resurrection Sunday 2014

April 20, 2014

Big Idea: Jesus is alive but does anyone really know? If you’ve encountered Jesus, you cannot keep Him to yourself. Love isn’t love until you give it away.

Introduction

Happy Resurrection Sunday! He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Pray

You know the story. You know why we celebrate. Just to summarize the events of the past few days that we have commemorated, the Apostle’s Creed states that Jesus

Suffered under Pontius Pilate
was crucified
dead and buried
He descended into hell
The third day he rose again from the dead

We serve a living Savior who is in the world today. Jesus is alive!!!

So what? What does the resurrection mean to you?

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. (Matthew 28:1)

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. (Matthew 28:2-4)

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” (Matthew 28:5-7)

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. (Matthew 28:8)

Best Kept Secret

How does it feel when someone tells you a secret? Can you keep a secret?

One phrase I’ve often heard people use to describe a business is “the best kept secret in town.”
Have you ever said or heard that about a business? What business? Why?

One of the primary fields within business is marketing. One of my undergraduate degrees is in marketing. What is marketing? According to Wikipedia it is “the process of communicating the value of a product or service to customers, for the purpose of selling that product or service.” Communicating value. What are some tools used in marketing to communicate value? Billboards, television commercials, spam e-mails, radio spots, newspaper ads, storefront signs, product placement in a movie, direct mail postcards…

What is the most effective form of marketing? Word of mouth!

If a business is the best kept secret in town, there are only a few possible reasons:

  1. The product or service is mediocre, despite the owner’s opinion!
  2. Few people have experienced the product or service so few can communicate.
  3. The people that have experienced the product or service don’t tell others.

In a recent survey, people tell an average of nine people about a good experience and sixteen about a poor one.

(
http://www.retailcustomerexperience.com/article/183007/Survey-Twice-as-many-people-tell-others-about-bad-service-than-good)

With social media, it’s possible to communicate with more people than ever. A simple Facebook or Twitter post praising or trashing a company can impact countless others.

Here’s the point:
nobody wants to be the best kept secret in town—unless they are doing something illegal! If you have a great restaurant, you want the world to know. If you sell Amway or Pampered Chef or Mary Kay you want to make sure your friends know to buy from you. If you have a chiropractic office, you want the community to be aware of the health benefits they can experience under your care.

Marketing Jesus?

Many have balked at the idea of marketing Jesus. He’s not a business or a product to be sold. Remember the definition of marketing? Communicating value.

Do you value Jesus? Do you value His love? Do you value the sacrifice He made dying on the cross for you?

I believe Jesus Christ is the best-kept secret in town. It should not be!

You may think, “Everyone knows about Jesus,” but that’s simply not true. Many think they know about Jesus, but are there understandings correct?

A few years ago a group of churches in our region got together to form
EACH: Everyone A Chance to Hear. The goal was and remains to allow every man, woman and child in southeastern Michigan to hear about Jesus—the real story.

The goal has not been to get everyone in the area to attend church, pray a prayer, or give money. The goal is simply to give everyone a chance to hear about Jesus, to receive an invitation to follow Jesus which they can choose to accept or reject.

Good News

Sharing Jesus is not selling Jesus. It’s not a consumerist exercise. It is sharing good news.

Everyone likes good news. Unfortunately, what is good for one person is not always perceived as good for another.

For example, I love the
Philadelphia Phillies (they play baseball!). When I was a boy our family took a trip out east to visit the 13 Original Colonies. George Washington and Ben Franklin were among my boyhood heroes and my favorite city was Philadelphia, home of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. That same summer I started getting interested in sports and collecting baseball cards and being the strange kid that I was—am!—I adopted Philadelphia’s sports teams as my favorites (I cheer for my Detroit home teams, too).

If I told you the Phillies won their game last night (they did/didn’t), would that be good news to you? Probably not. It would be great news to me…and the more you get to know and love me, the more you may grow interested in the Phillies. Over time, she has gotten to know me, the things and people I love, and is now a raging fan of the Fightin’ Phils! In my dreams!

Several weeks ago I was at the greenroom and I realized two friends of mine, Vince and Brad, had never met. Knowing they both played guitar, loved music, and had a passion for the poor, I was thrilled to introduce them to one another. You might call me a matchmaker, in a sense, and it brought me great joy to see them connect.

Sharing our faith is not about selling a product. It’s about introducing friends. It’s about introducing our best friend, Jesus, to those we know and love. It’s about sharing our story—His story—and encouraging others to journey with us toward knowing, loving, serving and obeying the One who demonstrated what it means to be truly human.

If you can’t get excited about Jesus, you’ve never truly encountered Him. You can’t know Jesus and not be changed. For many of us, it happened so long ago we can’t remember life without Him and we take Him for granted.

Meanwhile, our world is messed up, desperately searching for answers to life’s most challenging questions regarding purpose, meaning, peace, contentment and joy.

If you know Jesus and you keep Him to yourself, you are selfish! There, I said it! Good news is meant to be shared!

Why is sharing the good news of Jesus so much more difficult than talking about our favorite sports team, announcing a new job, or sending out party invitations?

1. Never discuss politics or religion. The problem with such discussions is they usually become debates with a winner and loser rather than a dialogue that seeks to build on common ground and further a relationship.

2. Fear of rejection. It might happen. In many parts of the world, merely talking about Jesus can get you arrested or even killed. We enjoy immense freedoms in this nation…and most of us take them for granted. You might get rejected. Jesus was rejected. There is a price to pay in following Jesus, but it is SO worth it!

Some of you have heard this quote:

“Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”

Do you know who said it? There is a legend that states it was said by St. Francis of Assisi, but it is, in fact, just a legend. St. Francis never said such a thing because it is simply impossible to preach the Gospel without words. The Gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching the Gospel is inherently verbal behavior.

It is true that our credibility is vital. Some have said we are the only Bible many will ever read. One of the greatest objections people have with Christianity is how so-called Christians live and behave.

Let’s face it, Christians don’t have a great reputation in our culture, especially in Ann Arbor. We’re associated with hate, hypocrisy, and politics far more than faith, hope and love. We can change that. We MUST change that. We do it by living out our faith every day. We’re not perfect examples, but we’re living examples. When we screw up, we admit it, say we’re sorry, and seek forgiveness.

In some instances, our lives will be so radical, people will ask what’s different about our lives. Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends, said

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:15-16)

Of course, if we only spend time with Christians, it’s tough. Have you ever told someone some exciting news only to discover they already knew! Ugh!

Friends, we must
Love the lost. The word “lost” sounds negative, but Jesus used it. Perhaps you want to call it not-yet-found! We must know people that don’t know Jesus. Who do you know that is far from God. Love them. This is an area in which I struggle. I say that I love lost people, but I have few friends in my life that do not follow Jesus. I am striving to be more intentional about building friendships with non-Christians. Being a pastor can be an occupational hazard!

Then
Pray for the lost. Last week we looked at these words from Paul in the book of Ephesians:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

Some people are afraid to talk about Jesus because they might not say the right things. There are two reasons not everyone on the planet follows Jesus:

  1. They’ve never been introduced to Him.
  2. They have rejected Him.

When we talk about Jesus, we can address objection one and often deal with objection two as well. Do they really know the Jesus of the Bible or just the aroma of religious people? We’re dealing with spiritual realities. It’s important to know the Bible, but few follow Jesus because someone answered all of their intellectual questions. Most just get to know Jesus and discover His plans, love, and will are far better than our own.

We are not called to be sales people sent to get people to pray a prayer. We have been sent on a mission to seek and save the lost. We offer a compelling
invitation and leave it up to the Holy Spirit of God to guide them to accept it. The greatest miracle is not when the sick are healed or the crippled can walk but when a sinner surrenders their life to Jesus. We can’t make that happen; we can only extend the invitation.

Talk with the lost. I did not say talk to them! We have two ears and one mouth. Listen. Inquire. One of my favorite questions is, “Where are you at on your spiritual journey?” You might ask simply, “Do you believe in God?” and ask why or why not. The goal is not necessarily to get them to repent on the spot and surrender their life to Jesus! The objective is to invite others to meet Jesus and take one step toward Him. It might be the defining moment or it might be an opportunity for one of many barriers between them and God to be removed. Actions may speak louder than words, but we need words, too. What do you say? Tell your story. That’s one of the best parts of baptism—hearing before and after stories. Nobody can argue with your story.

“I was blind but now I see.” (John 9:25b)

“Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and violent man, I was shown mercy. (1 Timothy 1:13a)

“I was depressed and suicidal and Jesus has given me purpose and hope.”

“I was addicted and out of control and now I have peace in my life.”

What has God done in your life? Anything? If so, share it!

Give to the lost. I don’t mean money; I mean ourselves and our community. Following Jesus is not a solo effort but a team activity, a family experience. Throw parties, inviting Christians and not-yet-Christians to connect. Tell people about our weekly gatherings where others like myself can join you in teaching others about the truths of God’s Word, the Bible. Without time and energy, no relationship can survive, much less thrive.

Welcome to the Family

This is all about family. Without babies, families will eventually die. Jesus’ message was simple: love God and love our neighbor. He said as we go about our lives to make disciples, and there’s nothing more loving than living like Jesus and inviting others to join us on the journey. It’s not about morality, rules, or organized religion. It’s about being a family on mission, living lives filled with faith, hope and love.

I believe as our world gets more chaotic, the search for meaning and purpose is only going to increase. We have an incredible opportunity to invite others to join us on the journey, to join us as adopted children of our Creator God in following our big brother Jesus who died and rose again to give us life—radical, abundant life now and forever (John 10:10).

Conclusion

A few weeks ago as I was walking into one of my favorite stores I saw “Store Closing” signs everywhere. I was saddened to learn this great business will soon be gone. Perhaps it was the best kept secret in town and, although I shopped there frequently, I rarely told others about my good experiences.

Good news must be shared.

It’s one thing to remain quiet about a store or restaurant but quite another to be silent about the greatest news ever, the love of God. John 3:16 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)

Jesus did not die just for us. He died for the world.
Jesus was not raised from the dead just for us. He was raised for the world.

But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? (Romans 10:14,
The Message)

We have good news. We’ve got great news! Don’t keep it to yourself. Let’s share it!

You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

Mary Magdalene and the Risen Jesus, John 20:11-18, 3 November 2013

Big Idea: Jesus is alive! Let’s tell the world!

We often approach communion with great reflection, and well we should. However, the story does not end on the cross. Last week we saw Mary Magdalene and others shocked to find the tomb of Jesus empty.

Jewish people spent seven days mourning the loss of a loved one. This meant they could not wash, work, study the law, or even have intercourse for a week. They knew how to express grief! An empty tomb prevented final acts of love to be done to Jesus. Even tomb raiders would usually leave behind the body.

We know “the rest of the story,” but those at the empty tomb

still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. (20:9)

What does this mean? It means they did not understand! Have you ever read the Bible and seen something you never saw previously? Some Scriptures require experience to fully understand.

Jesus had said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? (John 16:19b)

Jesus had said, “You will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” (John 16:20b)

Jesus had said, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (John 16:22)

Sometimes we are just filled with disbelief.

When we ended last Sunday, we read that

Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. (10)

Jesus died. The tomb is empty.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. (20:11-12)

Imagine the week Mary has had. This is a woman that deeply loved Jesus. He had expelled numerous demons from her. He showed her great compassion. She cried at the foot of the cross as her hope literally died.

His body was buried quickly and two days later she comes with friends to bring spices for the body. The tomb is empty. Peter and John leave. Now she is crying outside the tomb…and she encounters two angels, two angels dressed in white, hardly appropriate during a time of mourning!

Where were the angels when the boys were around?

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” (13a)

Why do they ask? They’re angels! They know. Jesus is alive, but Mary remains clueless.

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
(13b)

She thinks someone moved the body.

At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
(14)

Mary didn’t recognize Jesus. Unbelief is blind. He was the last Person Mary expected to see. Did her tears mask His face?

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” (15a)

Jesus echoes the angels, asking the reason for her tears. She hears His voice now and still has no idea who is before her.

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” (15b)

Was it common for gardeners to open tombs and hide bodies? Hardly! They were at the bottom of the social ladder and tended to gardening.

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” (16a)

The most important word in the world is your name. Jesus said that His sheep know His voice. One word changed everything for her.

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). (16b)

This means “my teacher” or “master.”

It’s easy for us to miss images and symbols John’s initial readers would recognize.

John is the only Gospel writer that tells us these events take place in a garden, a garden filled with spices, suggesting the imagery of the Song of Songs. Mary is a woman who finds the one she loves in a spice-filled garden and wants to be with Him.

Dr. Gary Burge notes,

“Miriam was the most famous sister of Moses, who oversaw her little brother’s journey down the Nile. In an ancient Jewish synagogue at Dura Europos on the Euphrates a fresco depicts this scene carefully. The floating bed of Moses becomes a coffin and tomb from which the baby Moses is raised to life (thus avoiding death).42 Old Testament Miriam even becomes a prophet (Ex. 15:20–21; Num. 12:1–2) who bears a message to Israel. While John refers to Mary in the narrative with the Greek word Maria, when Jesus (the new Moses) meets her in 20:16, oddly, he employs the Hebrew form of the name: Miriam (Gk. Mariam, Heb. Miryam). He names her “Miriam Magdalene”— where Magdalene connotes the Hebrew noun migdal, “tower.” This caretaker of the new Moses, this intimate helper, is now transformed from a mere “Mary” into a Miriam, into a migdal that now bears a prophetic message to the apostles.” (The NIV Application Commentary, John)

A woman in “paradise” encounters the Creator and Ruler of the Garden, Jesus.

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” (17)

Why did He say not to touch Him? Scholars have wondered for two thousand years. Some believe Jesus literally meant don’t touch His body, but Thomas would soon. Some have translated it “do not fear,” but that seems unlikely. Others suggest it is preparation for His ascension, His return to the Father. In other words, He may be saying, “Do not cling to Me. Go tell the disciples I will soon return to the Father.” He will leave our planet, but also leave the Holy Spirit, an even more intimate expression of God who will live inside every believer.

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. (18)

John records her as the first one to see the resurrected Messiah.

She has seen the empty tomb.
She has seen the LORD.

So What?

Mary Magdalene told the disciples the good news: Jesus is alive.

It is our privilege to tell our friends, neighbors and co-workers the good news: Jesus is alive!!!

Last week it struck me how the Gospel is good news. Who doesn’t want to share good news? It’s hard to deliver bad news, but it should be a joy to announce good news.

This text perhaps raises more questions than it answers, but one thing is clear…Jesus is alive! The One who died for us, who redeems us from sin and death, lives.

We don’t worship an idea, a concept, or a book. We worship a Person who entered human history and transformed it.

Listen to the words of John Updike in his poem “Seven Stanzas at Easter.”

Make no mistake: if He rose at all it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse,
the molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the church will fall. . . .

Let us not mock God with metaphor, Analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché, Not a stone in a story,

But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of time will eclipse for each of us,
The wide light of day.

You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

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