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.

3 John: being hospitable

This letter is addressed to a particular recipient, a man named Gaius. This letter to serves to encourage Gaius in what he is doing and to commend him in his role is supporting the wider church.

Whereas 2 John warns against letting false teachers stay in the believers’ homes, this letter praises Gaius for his hospitality towards genuine teachers. Gaius is contrasted against a man called Diotrephes. Diotrephes seems controlling, overbearing and power-hungry. He is not welcoming to travelling teachers.

I suppose the lesson in this letter, who would you rather be: Gaius or Diotrephes. Gaius is remembered for putting others’ needs before his, for opening his home up and accepting fellow believers. He often, it seems, opens his home to those who he has never met before. I’m sure that wasn’t an easy decision, as it can open yourself to being vulnerable. (I imagine it could have been even riskier in those times.) Diotrephes, as verse nine tells us, “loves to be first”. Therefore, he seems to spread rumours about other authority figures and refuse to welcome them.

Of course, we answer, I want to be Gaius! But do our lives actually reflect that? Are we sometimes eager to cling onto our power or reputation? Are we intimidated of those that might be seen as better than us? Do we belittle others in order to bolster our ego and reputation? Or, are we open handed and hospitable? Do we welcome travellers and strangers into our homes? Do we put the needs, reputations and honour of others before ourselves? I wonder what the church would look like if everybody followed this better example.

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?

1 Thessalonians 3

1 Thessalonians 3 talks about how Paul and Timothy were forced to leave Thessalonica due to persecution. This is timely because many friends and colleagues are leaving Phnom Penh, not because of persecution though, but because of COVID-19. Despite the obstacles and difficulties being difficult, it’s helpful to hear from the thoughts of Paul as he had to leave people he loved in a time of uncertainty.

Paul was worried about the faith of the Thessalonians; he feared the oppression would be too much and the believers there would fall away. So that is something to pray for in the uncertainty of coronavirus; that people do not fall away. Rather, we pray that believers across the world can be “standing firm in the Lord” as the Thessalonians did.

We can also pray this prayer for believers, the same one Paul prayed for the Thessalonians:

“May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”

So, during this time, lets pray for

  • strength
  • joy
  • holiness.

1 Thessalonians 2

Yesterday, I did read my Bible but was so exhausted I went to bed at 8pm. So, here’s yesterday’s reading.

Paul faced opposition for the Gospel. I’m very lucky in that I have not faced major opposition in spreading the gospel at any point in my life (so far). And yet, often I’m anxious when I do it. It seems ridiculous. I know those who have faced opposition but are bold and fearless.

Verses 3-6 are interesting in terms of discussing motives, especially as some pastors have been jailed for fraudulent money making schemes. Paul says his aim was not to trick others, or to gain money or praise. He said he didn’t use flattery or hypocrisy or asserted their authority recklessly. This is also interesting in light of stories about controlling church leaders, even to the point of being called abusive. Paul’s method was like parents tending young children. It was done with delight, love and openness. It was also done with encouragement, comfort and appeals the Thessalonians to live in a righteous way. Paul is also so thankful for those God had put in his care.

Reading about how leadership and discipleship can be done does somewhat condemn how others have chosen to do it as well. However, they are as much under grace as we are.

Paul then writes about the opposition the gospel message has received. The Thessalonians received it as God’s Word and have suffered for it. That still happens across the world today. Even in Cambodia, Christians are sometimes rejected by their families.

But the overwhelming tone of this chapter is joyful and full of love, as summed up by the last two verses:

“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”

Amos 4

Amos 4 continues to list Israel’s crimes. Oppression of the poor was given as a sin again, as well as gloating about offerings. God had already tried to warn them and bring hunger and crop failure and war on them. However, they still refused to return to the Lord.

It’s interesting as it’s easy to think of God as petty and vengeful towards the Israelites. They slighted him and now he’s punishing them to the extreme. But there’s things we should remember:

  • God deserves glory. He made the universe, he is all powerful, he is mighty and full of love. He deserves recognition.
  • The Israelites were treated with special favour, which they have rejected.
  • For God to be just, there needs to be a consequence for sin. Rejecting the one holy God is the biggest sin there is.

So in the light of these things, God is only seeking what is due to him and is only responding in the way a just, powerful God would.

Amos 2

Amos 1 warns various countries surrounding Judah and Israel about their future. Moab gets the next warning in Amos 2. God will destroy Moab’s rulers.

Then God’s anger turns on his own people. Judah rejected the law of God; they worshipped idols. Again, Judah too will experience consuming fire.

Israel’s list of sins is quite extensive. They sell vulnerable people for gain; destroy the poor; fail to help the oppressed; they are involved in sexual scandals and the use of prostitutes; they use their power to make themselves rich. Those that should be honouring God the most – the prophets and the Nazirites – have all fallen into sin.

This list is somewhat terrifying. It’s not just because what they have done is wrong; it’s because the list is all too recognisable. There have never been as many slaves as there are today. People work in sweatshops for the profit of multinational business owners. London has become a hotbed of people-trafficking. Desperate refugees are used to make profits. The poor are being made poorer and the oppressed are still hindered through systematic, institutional and cultural prejudice and injustice. So many leaders and celebrities have been reveal to have been sexually immoral. People, even world leaders, abuse their power to get what they want. Churches are involved in such scandals nowadays it makes one weep.

Even “Christian” nations are full of these sins. They are the Israels of Amos’ times.

What does God tell them? He tells them he will crush them. It will be swift and no one will escape.

It’s a terrifying warning, especially as the picture looks so recognisable. It does make me wonder what might happen to the nations and the leaders of today.

Joel 3

This chapter concludes the book and ends with the judgment of the enemies of Israel and justice for God’s people.

All the nations seem to come together at the Lord’s command at the Valley of Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat means “the Lord judges”, so therefore suggests that this about when everyone is finally judged at end times. God will judge the nations for what they did to Israel and his people.

God almost taunts the nations in this passage to come fight him. He tells them to bring everyone, even the weakest, to attack him in battle. And then he says that he will sit to judge them. He doesn’t even attack back, he just sits. Then he plucks them like a ripe harvest. It’s not the image of an epic battle; it’s a picture of God just harvesting them like crops. There’s no resistance, no power to fight back. He tramples them like grapes in the winepress.

The whole of heaven and earth will tremble at God’s judgment, but the people of Israel will find refuge in him.

At this, Jerusalem will never be threatened again. She will always be holy and blameless; full of wine and milk. The other nations will be desolate and empty, but Jerusalem and Judah will live forever.

I think this chapter just goes to prove the awesome judgment of God. His judgment is right and holy but also mighty and powerful. We often turn God into Santa Claus, who merely gives good things and if you’re really bad, you might get cross off the list. But that’s it. However, this chapter speaks of a God who is so powerful, he does not need to defend himself against all the nations. They’re a joke to him. He just destroys them like grapes underfoot.

Proverbs 9:10 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Joel 3 perhaps goes to show why.

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.

Colossians 1:1-12

I love that many of Paul’s letters start with prayers of thanksgiving for the people it’s addressed to. It’s much nice than our usual, “How was your holiday to Majorca? Colossians is no exception in this.

Colossians talks about the gospel and I really love these verses:

… In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world — just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.

Verse 6

I love that Paul is talking about the gospel having a power to be fruitful and to grow and spread. I pray that this continues today so that every tongue and tribe may know the gospel of Jesus.

And then again comes a really awesome prayer for the Colossians church.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

Verses 9-12

That is one long sentence. However, those verses deserve breaking down a little bit. So these are things I’ve noticed:

  • Paul’s commitment to praying for believers. Not only does he write these prayers in his letters, but I believe him when he says he hasn’t stopped praying for them.
  • That God gives wisdom and understanding, not Wikipedia or CNN or clever books. We need the Holy Spirit in us for this.
  • This wisdom and understanding serves to glorify and please God. Anything that claims to be wisdom and understanding but doesn’t do that is just fake.
  • God causes our good works to bear fruit – not us.
  • God gives us knowledge of himself.
  • God strengthens us. And not just a little, he strengthens us with all power according to his glorious might. His might is indeed glorious – it made the whole world after all.
  • This power results in patience and endurance.
  • We should give thanks joyfully.
  • God qualifies us; we don’t qualify ourselves through our own efforts.
  • We share in the inheritance of holy people.
  • We belong to the kingdom of the light.

Wow, all that in three verses.

I’ll stop there for now, because the next section of Colossians 1 is great and equally packed. So, to avoid this becoming an essay, I’ll leave it there.