In Jesus’ Words: A new era of God (Mark 1:1-20)

Jesus went to Galilee, preaching the good news of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news!”  (Mark 1:14-15)

A new era of God’s relationship with mankind had begun, just as it had been promised to Abraham’s generation.  The time had come for mankind to make a decision.  The Old Testament sacrifices and laws were now represented through the long-awaited Messiah.  The Kingdom of God was present on the earth, and this certainly was good news!

The last prophet was John the Baptist.  He was the messenger sent ahead of time to prepare the people for a new era, a new way.  Mankind’s only required response to receive God’s salvation: Repent and Believe.  It sounds simple, and it really was.  Jesus would take the place of the sacrifice.  A new era had begun and it changed the world in a very short time-frame, unlike no other ever has.

But even in today’s more-sophisticated climate, repentance seems hard for people.  It requires admitting our faults, admitting there is a higher power than ourselves, and admitting that we cannot be our own savior.  But Jesus says this is Good News!  Take a look around at our world.  The probability of us doing very well in this life (and death) by our own power are not very high odds.  Every day I pass by car accidents, or hear of friends and family with sudden health problems, and I’ve lived long enough to see people at the top of the world one day only to fall so hard the next.  The good news is that we do have a higher power who is compassionate, merciful and only has our best interest in mind.  It would be very frightening to live in this world without having a stronger help than myself, someone I can call out to anytime.

“Follow Me,” Jesus told them, “and I will make you fish for people!”  (Mark 1:17)  I imagine Jesus saying that with a smile and delight.

Jesus did not ask the people their qualifications, where they came from or what they had done.  He wanted to have a relationship with them, teach them, and show them what life was really meant to be.  Mark’s first recorded words from Jesus says almost everything we need to know about Jesus’ message in this new era of God: “Repent. Believe. Follow Me. It’s good news!”

Life.

Life.  That is the only word that comes to my mind at this moment.  I reflect back on the last month or so of changes in my life, also leading me to think back on my childhood and everything else in between, and I have come to this one conclusion: Life.

Life is living – the happy, sad and challenging times.  It is not perfect.  Don’t beat yourself up trying to make it perfect, or even fair.  We have a perfect Savior in Jesus Christ, and that is all we need to make sense of our sometimes tangled lives.

Life is relationships.  Put down the stuff.  Jesus Christ was all about relationships.  Jesus did not continue to dwell on our past sins and transgressions, but rather what are we going to do right now.  If you want to have an idea of what God is truly like, just look at Jesus’ life and actions.  Love, relationships, restoration, living.  He never sought fame or things.  Jesus knew what was truly important and lasting in this life.  Only the One claiming to be Son of God Himself could have led such a perfect example.

Life is temporal and eternal.  I know that sounds like a contradiction, and maybe it is for a little while.  Life on this earth will end, and probably unexpectedly.  If that is all there was, it would be terribly unfair and cruel.  But the God of life, love and relationships did not create us that way.  We have a choice.  Choose to follow the God of life.  It makes all the difference at a funeral.

My Dad ~ 1930-2017

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life.  I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
– John the Evangelist, 1 John 5:11-13

I know this testimony is true.  I saw it.

My dad laid in the hospital bed of the Intensive Care Unit after having a massive stroke.  IV tubes and oxygen machines were hooked up to him.  He could correctly answer a few questions while laying there, but his mind seemed to be mostly reminiscent of past times in the 1950’s and 60’s.  He was restless and tried to get out of the bed, pulling off his tubes.  My dad never even wanted to be in a wheelchair so I understood.  He was a Navy veteran and strong to the end.  But there was also something else.

I stood beside my Dad’s hospital bed.  He wasn’t able to move his arms very much or focus on people’s faces.  Then suddenly he began reaching his arms up into the air, to the left of where I was standing, and grasping both hands in an open-and-close movement as if he was trying to hold onto something.  He saw something the rest of us did not.  Maybe it was the angels waiting to take him home, or maybe it was Jesus comforting and speaking to him.  It is life’s great mystery that we will not be privileged to know until it is our time.  But I do want to know the God of eternal life and His Son Jesus at that time.

After that, my Dad was more peaceful.  A few days later he spoke his last words, “Goodnight“, and slipped peacefully into the loving arms of Jesus in heaven.

Jesus said to the disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m on My way to wake him up.”  Then the disciples said, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will get well.”  So Jesus then told them plainly, “Lazarus has died.  I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe. But let’s go to him.”
– John 11:11-15

In Jesus’ Words: The woman’s story told around the world (Matthew 26:6-13)

 

We worry and we complain.  We get upset when we are inconvenienced.  I know how easy it is to get caught up in it, and before we know it, the moment in time has passed us by.  But one day, if we are so lucky to live long enough, we will probably see things differently.  The petty arguments, the spilled milk, even the bad grade or that terrible boss, no longer seem to matter.  They are long gone.  It is in the laughter, the beauty, the living in the present, where we begin to cherish what life is really about.  This next story about Jesus is just that.  It is one of the few stories that is mentioned in all four gospels of the Bible, except for the accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection.  One reason for the significance of this story is told in Jesus’ own words: “I assure you: Wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her.”

I believe what captures the essence of this story is the pure joy of the moment, epitomizing the true meaning of life, the ultimate show of repentance, and resting in the peaceful presence and forgiveness of Jesus.  Jesus came to restore humanity and to be a light and a path out of the darkness of this world.  This woman knew that.

~ Matthew 26:6-13  Anointing at Bethany ~

While Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon, a man who had a serious skin disease, a woman approached Him with an alabaster jar of very expensive fragrant oil. She poured it on His head as He was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw it, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This might have been sold for a great deal and given to the poor.”

But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a noble thing for Me. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me. By pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she has prepared Me for burial. I assure you: Wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her.”

In Jesus’ Words: Words for Life (Matthew 16:23-28)

life-is-the-word-typographyThe answer to life and all its riddles can be found in these few statements that Jesus made to his disciples right before he predicted his death.  These are so good, that it is better just to let Jesus’ words stand by themselves.

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matthew 16, verse 23)

God’s concerns for us go beyond just merely human concerns.  God is concerned with our soul.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (verse 24-25)

If you try to save yourself through dependence on yourself instead of God, then you will ultimately lose your life for eternity.

“What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (verse 26)

Nothing.  Everything on this earth is temporary except for our soul, which is neither created by this earth or bound to it.

“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” (verse 27)

Not punishment, but rewards!  For those of us who accept Jesus as our Savior, we have no punishment because Jesus has already taken our punishment.  Don’t beat yourself up over past mistakes and sins.  Think on your possible rewards in heaven instead – your attitudes to others, your kind actions, your sacrifice to others.  These good deeds, however small, will not go unnoticed or unrewarded in heaven.

“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (verse 28)

The completeness of Jesus coming into his kingdom is marked by his crucifixion, resurrection, ascension into heaven, and then coming back to us in the form of the Holy Spirit.

My prayer is that everyone who hears these words will believe them, and that you will ask Jesus to make Himself known to you, and then enjoy knowing that no matter what may happen in this life, you are saved and protected by God, you are loved by God, and that you will one day get to see His Father’s glory with all his angels.

feet with waves cropped

In Jesus’ Words: It’s not about the bread (Matthew 16:1-12)

bread-of-life“Don’t you remember?”, Jesus asks his disciples.
Silence.
“It’s not about the bread.”  (shaking his head)
“Oh, now we get it!”, exclaim the disciples.
Jesus smiles and laughs to himself.

That’s how I like to imagine the conversation went in Matthew 16. It’s kind of an odd passage for Matthew to interject in the middle of his writing, but it shows the human nature of Jesus, with emotions and personality, and an enormous capacity to care about people.  He was also God in human form, for no one else could do what Jesus did without fault.  He came out of heaven to live among the poor and destitute, the pagan and the wicked.  Why?  To let people know it’s not just about the bread!  There is more to life.

~ Matthew 16:1-12  The Yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees ~

The Pharisees and Sadducees approached, and as a test, asked Jesus to show them a sign from heaven.

He answered them: “When evening comes you say, ‘It will be good weather because the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘Today will be stormy because the sky is red and threatening.’  You know how to read the appearance of the sky, but you can’t read the signs of the times.  An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.”  Then He left them and went away.

The disciples reached the other shore, and they had forgotten to take bread.

Then Jesus told them, “Watch out and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

And they discussed among themselves, “We didn’t bring any bread.”

Aware of this, Jesus said, “You of little faith! Why are you discussing among yourselves that you do not have bread?  Don’t you understand yet?  Don’t you remember the five loaves for the 5,000 and how many baskets you collected?  Or the seven loaves for the 4,000 and how many large baskets you collected?  Why is it you don’t understand that when I told you, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees,’ it wasn’t about bread?”  Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the yeast in bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

This new year, as we get to go another round of life, and experience the joys and challenges in all that we call life, I hope we will remember Jesus’ words, “It’s not about the bread.” (or the money or job or setbacks or even wrongdoings).  It’s about life and what is in our hearts, and those things we cherish that cannot be taken away, and about trusting God in good things to come.feet with waves cropped