Mark 1: Jesus’ authority

So, I’ve finally read all the New Testament books with fewer than 10 chapters! There are quite a few Old Testament books that are below 10 chapters that I’ve still yet to read (in some cases, ever). However, I thought I would tackle one of the gospels. Mark is the shortest, so I thought I’d start there.


Mark is certainly fast-paced, which probably accounts for why it’s the shortest of the gospels. In the first chapter, you start with John the Baptist, then you have Jesus’s baptism, temptation, some healings and casting out of demons, the proclamation of the good news and the calling of the first disciples (but not in that order). Mark does not linger over each event, and moves quickly from one to the next.

One of the interesting things is how Mark gets straight to Jesus’ identity and his ministry. Luke and John have introduction that come before Jesus is explicitly mentioned. Matthew has a similar introduction, but gives us Jesus’ genealogy and nativity story. Mark begins with the idea that this is about Jesus, then gives us a prophecy to show how Jesus is the fulfilment of scripture. We have John the Baptist proclaim Jesus’ importance, and then the heavenly declaration of Jesus as God’s son. So, in a matter of ten verses we’ve had Isaiah the prophet, John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit and God declare who Jesus was. The temptation in the desert is dealt with in one sentence, but we are told Jesus was attended to by angels, again, showing the readers who he is.

Therefore, when we get to his public ministry in verses 14, we have a good idea that what is going to happen is going to be amazing. He is the son of God, of course. He declares that God’s kingdom his near. The way he shows this is by showing how God’s kingdom has power over sickness and spirits. God’s kingdom is wherever God’s perfect nature and will rules over earth. Therefore, evil, in the form of sickness and unclean spirits, is driven out as Jesus proclaims the kingdom. Furthermore, this just proves Jesus’ authority (the demons recognise it in verse 24, then the people realise it in verse 27).

Mark 1, then, sets up Jesus’ power in authority in two ways: through the testimony of others (including in scripture and from God, himself) and through is powerful deeds. It encourages us to know that Jesus is the fulfilment of scripture and that he does have this power. Especially as believers know we have been given this same authority and Jesus is with us until the end of the age.

1 John 5: the Holy Spirit’s testimony

This chapter repeats a lot of the same ideas of the whole book but also introduces some new ones. A few of these I do not fully understand and might have some symbolic significance I’m not that familiar with.

The first statement is that we need to believe that Jesus is the Messiah: the one that was sent to save us and God’s people. This means that we know God. Another aspect of loving God is our obedience to God. I love what verse 2 and 4 tells us about God’s commands. They tell us that they are not burdensome but help us to overcome the world. Through following the Lord’s commands we get to be free as we are released from the burdens of this life in the world. If you are wondering why we need to overcome the world the chapter answers this for us. Verse 19, a little bit further down warns us the whole world is under the rule of the evil one. But through the victory of Jesus, we can have victory too.

This chapter also tells us about how we come to believe. It is never through hearing a person explain the gospel that we come to believe. It is in fact through the testimony of the Holy Spirit. (There’s also the testimony of water and blood, which confuses me. I assume the blood is the death on the cross, as remembered in communion. The water part stumps me and could me baptism or refer to a particular moment after Jesus died. That’s one for research.) The Holy Spirit, being one person in the triune God prepares our hearts and ears to hear and receive the truth. Without the Holy Spirit’s testimony no one can believe. Often people think they are under pressure to convert non-believers, but in reality there is nothing of the sort. Instead, we just have to be obedient to God’s life giving commands.

Once we have accepted the Holy Spirit’s testimony about Jesus, we are one with Christ. This means that we are given eternal life (verses 11-13). We are also able to pray for things, in accordance with God’s will, and know that God hears our prayers. We are also protected by God who prevents us from sinning. There is also the role of the body of the church in helping lead us to repentance when we sin. But once again, only God can transform the heart of humans.

James 2

James 2 starts off with ideas of justice and fairness, looking at the idea of favouritism. In the Roman period, rich people were given a higher legal status and generally treated better. This behaviour was not, however, Biblical, so James was condemning it.

Furthermore, James explores the idea that God gives the poor a rich faith and they also will inherit the kingdom. This reminds us of the famous words of Jesus that it easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to inherit the kingdom of God. It makes me wonder how many church goers activity associate with the poor (I don’t mean soup kitchens)? Why is the church always seen as a place where you dress your best and make sure your face is clean and scrubbed? I feel like we have perhaps lost sight of the idea that churches are meant to be messy, difficult and inclusive. I wonder whether the desire for propriety has robbed us of something far richer.

Verses 12-13 are somewhat reassuring to me. As a teacher I always struggled with the conflict between judgement and mercy. My bent is always to be merciful, but others can be a bit more exact in their application of the rules. The idea that mercy triumphs over judgement is helpful. Also, that is definitely seen in the cross of Jesus Christ: God’s mercy triumphed over judgement; Jesus had to endure an agonising death to ensure it would happen.

James’ statement about needing deeds may seem on a surface level to contradict Paul’s teaching of faith leading to grace rather than our deeds leading to grace. However, they are all a part of the same process. Our faith causes us to receive an underserved grace. This grace is transformative and powerful, resulting in a passionate, fruitful outworking of the Holy Spirit’s activities in us. This is the deeds aspect. Therefore, our faith needs to have deeds too.

Reflection Questions

  1. How does the church integrate and welcome people from all walks of life?
  2. How do we prevent the “Sunday best” culture in our churches?
  3. How do I get the balance between judgement and mercy right?
  4. What deeds are there in my life that show the fruit of grace?

Titus 3

Again, this chapter discusses the behaviour of those in Crete. But it also tells you the reason: because they have put their trust in Jesus. Our faith means there are implications in how we live. We should be obedient to authority and should live peaceably with one another.

It tells us how before we were enslaved by our passions, hatred and pleasures. But now, in our new life, we are free to be obedient to God. This idea is definitely counter cultural (at least in the west). You have curly calligraphy signs or t-shirts that tell us to follow our passions, listen to our hearts. But, when these are not in line with the will of God, they are foolish and they result in slavery.

Verses four to seven explain the mechanism of grace:

  • It is not through our deeds;
  • God our Saviour showed his love and kindness;
  • By the Holy Spirit with are given rebirth and renewal;
  • This power of the Holy Spirit is received generously through Jesus Christ;
  • We are justified by grace;
  • We become God’s heirs;
  • We have hope of eternal life.

The reason Paul reiterates this is so that they know why they seek to do good: because we are recipients of rebirth, renewal, love, kindness, grace and eternal life. When we devote ourselves to good, they profit not only ourselves but everyone. It ensures our lives are productive and that we are able to live according to the gifts we received. This is the witness we have available to us.

Verses nine to eleven talk about divisive, argumentative people. The fact that this is mentioned throughout Paul’s letters suggests it is not an isolated problem. In fact, it pretty much warns us it’s a problem we need to be prepared for. Churches will not be full of perfect harmony, it turns out, so we need to be on our guard against divisiveness.

So, I pray that I can be focused on doing good, promoting unity and having a productive life.

1 Thessalonians 1

This letter to the Thessalonians is full of warmth and encouragement. Again, Paul starts out with a similar greeting to before: he is thankful for the believers in that city and he remembers them in his prayers.

The context of this letter is oppression, persecution and difficulty. But the first chapter seems overwhelmingly positive. Yes, there are mentions of “endurance” and “severe suffering”, but those phrases are surrounded by words such as “joy”, “love” and “hope”. It seems relevant that in complex and difficult times, with the COVID-19 spreading all around, that such words about suffering can be found in the mist of words about joy, faith, love and hope. They are not mutual exclusive and in fact I wonder in the positive was made more evident because of the difficulties.

I really enjoyed verse 5 that the gospel “came to [them] not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.” It reminds me of Colossians 1, where it speaks of the fruit of the gospel. The gospel is a message with its own inherent power. It also shows the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in belief. I think this power, the Holy Spirit and conviction are all intertwined to make believers who endure.

The Thessalonians’ reputation had spread, and their “faith in God has become known everywhere.” It would be amazing to have a faith that is known everywhere. I wish to be a man of that kind of reputation: faith in severe suffering; endurance in troubles; joy-filled and hopeful in difficulties.

Joel 2

Joel 2 discusses the judgment of the Lord coming on his people like an army. Its horror is far greater than the plague of locusts: it destroys crops, cities and even the sun, moon and stars.

So the Lord calls his people to repentance. This is not just an outwardly, superficial repentance, but an inward repentance. Verse 13 tells its readers “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” The Lord doesn’t want displays of repentance that mean nothing. He wants people to genuinely feel loss, as if their heart has been torn in two. Yes, there are outward signs, as verse 12 asks for “fasting and weeping and mourning”. But this, again, is meant to be genuine, as the Lord also asked that they “return to me with all your heart”. These acts were not trite and glib pretences. They were acts of humility: weeping because your heart has broken, mourning because your God has been wronged.

It’s currently the season of Lent, which is a time of introspection and repentance, so these verses are particularly timely. This repentance isn’t easy; in fact, it’s heart-breaking.

Of course, with Christ, we look to him and ask for him to save us. But often, I think we have the tendency to make it too easy. But our hearts should break. The one in whom all things were creator, the Son and Saviour, the most loved of the whole universe, died. He was tortured, humiliated and murdered. But more than this, his heart was rent as he took on the sin of all and was separated from his father. We should mourn his death with weeping and fasting. But then we should rejoice because on Easter day, he rose again.

And how does Joel 2 end? Not with our response but how the Lord responds to our repentance. First, those suffering from the famine will have their crops and lands restored. Then, God promises to pour out his Spirit on all people.

“And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
I will show wonders in the heavens
    and on the earth,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
    there will be deliverance,
    as the Lord has said,
even among the survivors
    whom the Lord calls.”

Joel 2:28-32

What a fantastic promise. That all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Ephesians 5:1-2

Again, Ephesians 5 exhorts us to live carefully and wisely. Here, we follow God’s example because we are dearly loved children. That’s a really beautiful image. We are loved by God, and that love compels us to look to God and obey him and follow him. This very much reminds me of John 14.

In this chapter of John, the idea that obedience and love for Jesus and love for and from the Father are interconnected. Jesus’ words reminds us that we need to love him and that love is shown in keeping his commands.

“If you love me, keep my commands … Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them … Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”

John 14:15-24

This passage in John also talks about how Jesus will send the Spirit to be with us. These ideas are also repeated in 1 John 4:

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:13-19

When we reread the first part of Ephesians in light of these verses, it’s easy to be encouraged.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:1-2

Therefore, it shows the importance of Paul’s prayer in chapter 3 for the Ephesians. So, again I pray that we can “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Yes, I pray that day by day I know more and more the love of Jesus and the love of the Father. And because of this knowledge of this love, I can follow God’s example and live a life of love. I pray that, through the power of the Spirit, I know the Father more deeply and completely. May my life be given up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

For the glory of Jesus’ holy name,

Amen.

Ephesians 4

This chapter is quite challenging. Paul asks us to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” And the bar is set really high. To do that we need to be

  • completely humble (v. 2);
  • gentle (v. 2);
  • patient (v. 2);
  • bearing with one another in love (v. 2);
  • united in the Spirit (v. 3);
  • putting off our old self (v. 22);
  • made with a new attitude (v. 23);
  • created like God in true righteousness (v. 24);
  • holy (v. 24);
  • putting off any falsehood (v. 25);
  • speaking truthfully (v. 25)
  • building one another up with our words (v. 29);
  • rid of all bitterness, range, anger, slander, brawling, malice (v. 31)
  • kind (v. 32);
  • compassionate (v. 32);
  • forgiving (v. 32).

Paul also tells us we must not

  • live as the Gentiles do (v. 17);
  • give ourselves over to sensuality (v. 19);
  • indulge in impurity (v. 19);
  • be full of greed (v. 19);
  • be corrupted by deceitful desires (v. 22);
  • sin in our anger (v. 26);
  • let the sun go down while we are still angry (v. 26);
  • give the devil a foothold (v. 27);
  • steal (v. 28);
  • let any unwholesome talk escape our mouths (v. 29);
  • grieve the Holy Spirit (v. 30).

That’s quite a list!

However, it’s in the context of the previous chapter promising us that Christ is working in us and the rest of the chapter about the body of Christ. We’ve been given prophets, apostles, evangelists, teachers and pastors to teach and encourage us. They help us to grow into mature believers that are equipped for every service.

So with Christ working in us through the Spirit and through unity in the body of Christ, we can live a life worthy of our calling.

Galatians 1:1-5

I’m currently reading through the book of Galatians, so I thought I would share my initial thoughts as I read a bit each day. The aim is to read a chapter a week (not quite as daunting as the failed attempt of the Bible in a Year). As it’s not overly arduous, hopefully I’ll be able to jot down some thoughts. They may just be in note form, but I’ll try my best to post something!

Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers and sisters with me,

To the churches in Galatia:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,  to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Galatians 1:1-5 (NIV)

God-given calling

I like the way Paul introduces himself here. He does it because people have been bad-mouthing him and saying that he has distorted the real message of Christianity. It serves to remind them of his God-given role and that it was indeed God-given.

It reminds me of the verses in Matthew 28:18-20. Jesus had already died by this point in Matthew and was speaking to his disciples. He sent them out to spread the good news. We, too, respond to this Great Commission and we are sent by God. This further affirmed by Ephesians 2:10:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

(NIV)

We are not sent by men, but rather by God. This call should define our attitude towards what we do, working as if for God, not man.

God-given power

Verse 1 also reminds us that Jesus was raised from the dead. Romans 8:11 also links God’s call on our lives and his power to raise from the dead. It’s amazing to think that the same power that resurrected Jesus is the same power that resurrects our lives. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit, who raised Jesus, lives in us. That Holy Spirit guides us, transforms us and empowers us. We have the power of Jesus’ resurrection living in us daily.

God-given salvation

The summary of the gospel message here seems somewhat pertinent in the chaos of modern times. With American, British and European countries seemingly split down political seams, modern culture getting more debauched and secular than ever and the church losing its relevance and purity across the west, we seem to live in an evil age. We definitely need saving from it.

Jesus died so that we may be saved; God raised him so we may be called; the Spirit empowers us so we may do good deeds. This is all a bit challenging, especially in light of Philippians 1:27:

Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.

(NLT)

Bible in a Year: Day 8

(I’m writing these a bit out of order. I’ve been on holiday in Mondulkiri, so I’ve missed a few days on writing them up. However, I’m still ahead of myself by two days now. I’m glad I gave myself a bit of a lead. I want to try and gain it a bit further to give myself some grace. I’m shockingly bad at persevering at these things, so I’m trying to make it as easy as possible on myself.)

I love the idea in proverbs of parents handing down instruction to their children. There is something beautiful about having a Biblical and Godly heritage. I’m glad for mine.

I found the Matthew passage a bit depressing whilst reading it. It tells you not to worry, to seek the Kingdom of God first, and that the road ahead is narrow and only a few find it. I’m now worrying about not worrying and whether I’ve found the right path or not. Often people who get desperately lost do so because they think they’ve been going the right way for a good while, only to realise that they were on the wrong path all along.

Have a borne good fruit? Am I one of the people Jesus will recognise on the day or judgement or not?

I am full aware that I’m not a perfect Christian. I’ve already failed at reading the Bible everyday this year and we’re not even a week in. How am I capable of walking the right path?

However, I’m reminded of the following verses:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.

Philippians 2:12-13

Therefore, I think there is a healthy measure of despair when it comes to this. It helps you learn to lean on God. For it is Jesus who is the author and perfecter of our faith, not us. Sometimes, I give myself a tick-list of how to “get my act together” as a Christian, but I need to realise that I have to give that responsibility to Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

I just need to take each day as it comes and rely on the God who works in me to will and to act.

Dear God,

Help me to rely on you. Work in me to will and to act in order to fulfil Your good purpose.

In Jesus’ holy name,

Amen