Mark 2: do you know Jesus?

Mark 2 continues with providing Jesus’ authority, but also that he has the ability to heal both our outward problems in the form of sickness but also our inward sin. This is not to say that a person’s sickness is caused by their sin, rather that sickness and sin are both a type of natural evil that has no place in God’s kingdom.

Now there are some really interesting things in this passage. First, the order in how Jesus responds to the paralysed man. First, he heals his sins. Then, he heals his body. God’s concern for our internal sickness, the sickness of our heart, which is sin, is greater than his concern for our bodily sickness. This is because God knows what is of a more eternal importance. Unless God deals with our sin in this lifetime, we are unable to be eternally healed.

Another thing that people often seem to overlook is the Pharisees’ reaction. They said, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” They are absolutely correct; their theology is spot on. One thing that amazes me is about the gospels is that the Pharisees’ theology was, in fact, often right. You could not fault their Biblical knowledge. Yet, they did not recognise Jesus. You may have memorised the whole of scripture. Your arguments might be water-tight. But if your knowledge of scripture does not help you to know Jesus better, you’ve missed the point somewhere. It is through Christ that the meaning of Scripture is revealed.

The theme of the teachers of the law not really knowing Jesus continues through this chapter. They rebuke Jesus for associating with sinners. They ask him why he doesn’t fast. They argue with him about the purpose of the Sabbath. Each time, they do not recognise who he is and what he has come to do.

So, my question is this: do I know Jesus? I might have a good theoretical knowledge; I might be able to sing all the names of the books in the Bible in the right order; I could probably do a good flannel-graph version of most the parables. I could know the Bible inside and out. But do I actually know the person of Christ, who is the Son of God?

1 John 2: being without sin

This chapter picks up where the previous one picks up: in the tension of being a sinful but also redeemed. Here it reminds us that we should not sin but that we also have Jesus to rely on. It reminds me a bit of when Peter writes about how God provided everything but invites us to have a role. We often try too hard to rely on our own strength to reach purity, but the fact is we can only have it because God redeemed us through his son Jesus Christ. Our human efforts do nothing; it’s only through the cross and the good work Jesus is doing in us that we can achieve anything.

Verses 3 to 6 expand on us further. We are to keep Jesus’ commands out of love for him. Therefore, it’s so important to daily focus on him and what he did for us to motivate us. In times of trouble or temptation we look not to ourselves or our own strength but we look to the cross. Then we can love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

The next part of John looks at another way the love for our Lord is express: our love for others. It’s not coincidence that Jesus responded to the question about the greatest commandment with a twofold answer. We are to love our God, which is expressed here in how we love others. These verses also remind us of how Jesus said in Matthew 5. You can’t offer worship if you know a brother has something against you. Jesus came to redeem us with God and each other. Therefore, if there are relational issues within the church, we aren’t living in the fullness of Christ’s redemption.

Verses 12-14 are interesting, exciting and encouraging. The fact that we are told that we have overcome the evil one is an interesting concept in the fight against sin. As we battle against evil desires, we must remember: the victory is won! That’s another good reason to look toward the cross.

The last sections talk about not loving the world because it is temporary and to love what God has given you. We are also warned not to deny Christ. We are to remain in him and remain confident in his promises. In that way we can be pure when he comes again.

1 John 1: the Word of life; the light and the tension of now and not yet

This first chapter is pretty short and punchy. (Which is good because I left this very late in the day!) It is only ten verses long; however, John still manages to fit in quite a number of theology truths and complexities.

John doesn’t reveal explicitly what or whom he is talking about. He reveals a number of facts about the topic:

  • it existed since the beginning (here, the beginning of time);
  • John (and others) have observed and touched it: it is present in the world and it is tangible;
  • it is connected to the concept of the Word of life;
  • it appeared to us;
  • it is one with the Father;
  • the proclamation results in fellowship between the hearers;
  • this fellowship is with God and Jesus.

Of course, if we know our scripture and the beginning of the Gospel of John we know what, or rather who, the topic is. It is Jesus.

In fact, the parallels between John 1 and 1 John 1 are pretty obvious.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-5, 14

Here we see many of the same ideas listed above reoccurring. Even the theme of light comes later in 1 John 1.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

1 John 1:5

I love John’s descriptions of Jesus. It makes me realise how holy, marvellous and awesome Jesus is. We learn that Jesus existed since the beginning of time; John has observed and tangibly known Jesus; Jesus is the Word of life; Jesus came to us and is one with the Father. Through hearing about him we can be brought into a fellowship with other believers and, more significantly, the Father and Jesus himself.

The next part is somewhat confusing. In verse 7, we are purified of sin but in verses 8-10 we have sin. This, I think exposes the now and not yet tension of the Bible. Jesus’ work is complete; it is finished. He has forgiven our sins. But yet, Jesus also continues to do a good work in us and sanctify us. We commit to an eternal truth that will come to fullness on the day of judgment: we have no sin. But while we live on this planet, in our fallen state, we continue to fail and flounder. We have sin, yet we can constantly seek forgiveness and constantly ask Jesus to change and renew us.

Either way, for this to happen, we need to acknowledge our need for forgiveness and Jesus’ work in us. Through that process, we invite him into our lives and to indwell with us. If we do not do this, we don’t understand the crucifixion and how we are alienated from God. Therefore, we are unable to receive grace because we do not fully repent.

This is why the truth is not in us. It’s also why it concerns me that some leaders have publicly stated they do not ask for forgiveness. They do not bring God into the equation. This suggests that they are deceived and that they do not know the truth.

Colossians 2

This one will have to be short as my internet is being too slow to write a longer post.

Colossians 2 is much along the same vein of the previous chapter, which is discussing the character of Christ. This is what it tells us:

  • He is the mystery of God;
  • All of God’s treasures are hidden in Christ;
  • The fullness of Deity lives in bodily form in him;
  • He is head over every power and authority;
  • God makes us alive through Christ;
  • All reality is found in Christ.

It also tells us, once again, how we’ve been saved through Christ. Because of Christ’s death, the debt of sin was paid and the powers and authorities over us were disarmed. We died in baptism with Christ.

So, what should we do in response to this amazing news of Christ? Well, Colossians 2 tells us this as well.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
‭‭Colossians‬ ‭2:6-7‬

Also, because of Christ we can be free from human religious tradition. We should test what appears to have spiritual wisdom, to see whether or not it is truly of God. If it serves to build our lives in Christ, then it is helpful. If however, like circumcision, it detracts or puts undue power in works of the flesh, then it is not helpful.

Galatians 1:6-9

I’m continuing in my reading of Galatians. I’m taking it pretty slowly as you can see, only 4 or 5 verses at a time. However, it’s quite nice to chew over small sections of scripture, rather than blitz through them. Slow and steady wins the race – at least, I hope so.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—  which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!  As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

Galatians 1:6-9 (NIV)

One of my favourite hymns is “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”.

It’s a really beautiful summary of the gospel.

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
  Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
  Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
  Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
  Interposed His precious blood.

However, in the final stanza, it talks about wandering hearts.

O to grace how great a debtor
  Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
  Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
  Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
  Seal it for Thy courts above.

This is what appears to have happened in Galatia. Their hearts have wandered to another gospel. What I find interesting is that it’s not the Galatians that receive the condemnation, but those who are leading them astray.

It makes me want to ask a series of questions:

  • What false versions of the gospel are being preached in our churches right now?
  • Where have I turned to another gospel or been thrown into confusion?
  • Have I ever preached a false gospel? Do I need to repent of this?

I’m sure there are false gospels being preached. There are quite a few things I feel particularly weary of, but I’m not sure if it’s just my personality and personal prejudices rather than actual prophetic concern. So, I’ll probably leave it for another post after a good, long, hard think. However, this article suggests a few.

Also, I’m sure I’ve been thrown into confusion. I need the Holy Spirit to guide me and help me in this. I need the Holy Spirit to bind my heart to the one true gospel. Indeed, O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!

Finally, I know I have bumbled and blustered my way through an attempt at evangelising. In some cases, I probably butchered the gospel. If my failed attempts moved people away from moving God instead of towards, I truly repent. Fortunately, it’s not actually my job to convict people of their need of Christ, it’s the Holy Spirit’s. His power to do this if far greater than my power to ruin it. It’s not an excuse or a glib dismissal of what I did, but it’s reassuring nonetheless. Again, O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!

Bible in One Year: Day 10

I managed the first day of a 5 am alarm clock (I did hit snooze twice). Let’s see how long I can keep it going!

The end of Psalm 7 ends in reinforcing the idea of God’s righteousness. God’s righteousness is linked to is wrath, which is a troubling idea for snowflake millennial like myself. The psalm tells us God shows his wrath everyday. The psalm goes on to praise God for his righteousness in response to this. However, we must remember that a just God abhors evil. This all seems a bit strange and difficult to swallow. But it should not be a surprise to us. We cannot expect God to be holy and good and to be the god of justice if he is indifferent to suffering and sin. The psalm recognises that sin and evil have consequences. Sometimes, from an earthly perspective, it’s easy to think that those that cause evil get away with it. However, God does not turn a blind eye.

Matthew again repeats the idea of Jesus’ authority. In yesterday’s reading we saw Jesus’ authority in his words and his authority to heal. Today we see Jesus’ authority over the physical world, his authority over the spiritual world and then finally his authority over sin. Jesus calms the storm, showing his power over the physical world. I have to admit, Jesus does seem a bit nonchalant and indifferent to the fears and worries of his disciples here. However, we learn that Jesus doesn’t want us to fear or worry. That’s not his plan for us. Jesus wants us to know his power and have comfort in that.

Jesus is also able to drive out evil spirits. Sometimes Christians seem to fall into two camps when it comes to the spiritual world: we either fail to believe or acknowledge its existence or we become fearfully obsessed with it. Either way, Jesus has authority over it and we should respond accordingly. (Note: not like the townspeople in the passage!)

It seems that this assurance of Jesus’ authority is leading to the pinnacle of his power: his ability to forgive sin. Although people marvelled at Jesus’ teaching, healings and miracles, no one called it out as blasphemy. Those things are, it turns out, not godlike. What is godlike is the power to forgive sin. It perhaps gives an indication of how powerful and serious sin actual is. I think today we often forget that.

Genesis 21-23 are somewhat disturbing once again. Sarah’s joy is quickly diminished and turns to jealousy. This results in Abraham abandoning his son and concubine Hagar. However, God is still in the situation and again picks up the pieces.

I’ve always had trouble with God’s request to Abraham that he sacrifice his son Isaac. Nicky Gumbel in the devotion that accompanies the reading states that God hates child sacrifice, so would never actually allow it. Abraham just needed to have his priorities put to the test. I wonder how God tests or would test my priorities. Am I willing to lay down all my dreams and what I believe God has planned for me like Abraham is?

Lord Jesus,

We praise you for your power and authority. You have power to heal and over spirits, but most of all, you have power over sin. You have power over my sin and you have forgiven it. Jesus, forgive me now, once again and make me clean. Keep me from evil; protect me from the evil powers of this world. Thank you that you were the perfect sacrificial lamb.

Amen