Thursday, August 30, 2018

Walking through Mark #3

Messiah in training?
For most of my early life I believed that the word “messiah” was synonymous with “savior.” A messiah was someone like Luke Skywalker or Rodimus Prime (see Transformers: The Movie, 1986) who was destined to save the universe, bring balance to the force, and all that jazz through a singular (and possibly momentary) act of heroism.

Matrix of Leadership = Messiah?

While my definition of messiah got a few things right, it largely missed the mark of what scripture means when it says “the messiah.” When we read “messiah” in scripture (“christ” in Greek) we should really just think “king.” It technically meant “anointed one,” which more or less meant God’s chosen ruler (which could be fulfilled by a prophet or priest as well).

By the time of Jesus’ ministry the word “messiah” was a little more loaded with meaning, because Israel had not had a “true” king (descended from King David) in hundreds of years, and had been colonized and oppressed in that time. Those who looked for a messiah in Jesus’ day looked for a king who would restore Israel to glory, usher in a time of peace and prosperity, and deal with “the Gentile problem” (i.e. Israel’s oppression). There were many different takes on how these things would roll out, but the bottom line of all of them was that the Messiah would be the king of Israel.

This is important for us today because in the third section of Mark (6:31-8:30) we discover through the disciples and crowds that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel.

So how does Mark show us that Jesus is the Messiah?

Jesus picks up where Moses and David, Israel’s greatest leaders, left off.

We find Jesus in 6:31 in the wilderness with a large crowd and nothing for them to eat. If you know the Old Testament this should immediately remind you of Israel in the wilderness after they leave Egypt. And just as Moses asked God to provide and received manna, so Jesus prays and bread is provided for the crowd. The implication could not be clearer: Jesus is standing in Moses’ shoes, and is therefore leading an exodus of sorts in Israel.

Often overlooked in this story is a nod to David as well. We’re told Jesus has compassion on the people because they are “like sheep without a shepherd.” In the ancient world kings often spoke of themselves as shepherds, and of course the most famous shepherd (literal and figural) of all-time in Israel was King David, and he too spent many years in the wilderness before taking the throne. If Jesus is the true shepherd, then he stands in line with David.

In our next story (6:45-52), we find Jesus walking on water. Again, this should remind us of the Exodus, when the people miraculously cross the Red Sea. Here Jesus not only evokes Moses, but supersedes him by not even needing the waters to part. And finally, when Jesus is confronted by the scribes and Pharisees (7:1-23) he shows himself to be at the very least an authoritative interpreter of the law, and perhaps a law-giver as well. Again, our most famous law-giver and interpreter was Moses, and Jesus is now in his place.

Jesus shows his rule is meant for Gentiles (non-Jews) as well as for Israel and the Jews.
Many of the most treasured words and prophecies concerning the Messiah (or at least interpreted in that way) in the years leading up to Jesus spoke of the Messiah ending the conflict between Israel and the Gentile nations (Isa. 49:6-7, 2:3-4, Ps. 2:4-9, Dan. 7:14 etc.) In the stories of the Syrophoenician Woman, the Deaf Man, and Feeding the Four Thousand Jesus is most likely (obviously with the first) dealing with Gentiles. In these stories we see:

Gentiles submitting to Jesus (7:28)
Gentiles being healed in the same manner as Israelites (7:31-35)
Gentiles being fed in the same “Exodus” manner as Israelites (8:4-8)

In other words, Jesus is shown to be the king and shepherd of Gentiles too!

Peter tells us!
Of course this was the obvious one. At the closing story of this section, Jesus asks who the disciples who they think he is and Peter answers correctly by saying “the Christ,” (which means the messiah, 8:29). People often ask why Jesus then tells the disciples not to share this, and I think there are two good reasons. One, because if you are called king and there is already a king (Herod and essentially Pilate) you will find yourself in hot water pretty quickly. Two, because they don’t really know what it means for Jesus to be the “messiah.” Which leads us into our final issue…

What’s with the weird story of the half healing?

Why does Jesus only heal a guy half-way on his first attempt in 8:22-26? Or, better question, why does Mark tell us this story right before Peter’s confession? The best answer is that Mark is probably making a point about the disciples level of understanding. They are about to say that Jesus is the “messiah,” but they really don’t know what that means… they are the blind guy who thinks people look like trees (so he can see again, but not clearly) before he’s entirely healed!

So, what does it mean for us?
This section of Mark is a turning point in the story, because now the disciples know the first critical identity of Jesus: he’s the king. This is a substantial shift because teachers can be listened to and appreciated from a distance, and the powers of prophets can be admired at a distance, but a king makes an immediate claim of authority over us. You can be neutral with a teacher and avoid a prophet but if you have a king you either submit or you rebel.

It is crucially important for us to recognize this claim of Jesus’ that he is king. Many people want Jesus as their savior (the hero messiah of my youth), but far fewer really want him as their king. This is because kings demand obedience, and we generally prefer to do things our own way.

The most basic Christian confession was, and is, that Jesus is Lord (i.e. messiah/king). That’s what Peter gets right in 8:29. To be a disciple of Jesus then is NOT simply to trust that Jesus will forgive me if I trust in him or his death for me or believe he is a savior-hero. Rather, to be a disciple is to recognize Jesus’ kingship over us and everyone else, and in light of that, to obey him to the best of our ability. There of course are more key pieces to discipleship (namely, imitating Jesus in character and ministry) but it all begins with recognizing that he is the king and being willing to bend the knee to him. 

Bonus Points: What’s up with the numbers in the mass-feeding stories?

Many biblical scholars believe that the numbers we are given in the “mass-feeding” stories have symbolic significance… here is a little chart to give you some food (bread?) for thought!

Feeding 5000
5 Loaves
5 books in the Torah… “man does not live by bread alone…”; Think also of the ideal OT king who embodies and gives the Law to the people (Deut. 17:18-20)  

12 Baskets left over
12 tribes of Israel… there is enough for all of Israel
Feeding 4000
4000 People
4 is the number for “the whole”; 4 directions, 4 winds, 4 corners of the earth… in other words, the whole world is represented

7 Loaves, 7 baskets left over
7 represents the 70 Gentile nations traditionally taken from the genealogy Genesis 10… there is enough for the whole world

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Walking Through Mark #2

Today we are looking at the second section of Mark (4:35-6:30). The key to understanding this section of Mark's gospel is that it presents Jesus as a prophet. As we said in our previous post, Mark is allowing us to discover the key identities of Jesus through the eyes of his disciples and the crowds, and then using these identities to challenge us (again, through the disciples) to respond accordingly (i.e. repent).

When most people think about a prophet, they think about someone who “sees the future” or announces what God is going to do. And while announcing God’s actions is one thing that prophets did/do, it was not the most important or only role that prophets took. In general, the most important thing that a prophet did was to reveal God’s perspective about an issue (political, personal, worship related, etc.). Generally, these revelations were critical of standard practices, but not always.

That being said, the prophets that were most famous were not famous for what they “predicted” or even wrote, but for the deeds of power and miracles they were associated with. Moses, Elijah and Elisha (the latter two who did not spend much time “making prophecies”) were the most well-known prophets, and they were remembered for their miracles, or we might say, for their power.

 Jesus’ Power
All of the stories in this section of Mark focus on the extraordinary power of Jesus. And if we take a moment and parse out some details, we can see just how extraordinary they are…

Important details
Stilling the storm
The most significant OT miracles are about God’s power over water: creation, the Flood, the Exodus, and crossing the Jordan. Water is a symbol for chaos in the OT…Only God has power over water!
Jesus has been given power over the natural order and the chaos that naturally exists in the world.
Casting Out Legion
A Roman legion (6000 soldiers) was the most effective fighting unit (and the most feared) in the ancient world; Jesus is in Gentile territory, at night, by a man who has proven “invincible” to all prior restraints.
Jesus has complete dominion over the forces of evil in any location and at any time
Healing the Woman and Raising Jairus’s daughter
Jesus not even trying to heal the woman; No doctor could heal the woman; Resuscitation miracles extremely rare… Elijah and Elisha are directly evoked in raising a dead child.
Jesus has healing powers unmatched by any human doctor, and raising the dead is the rarest of miracles.
Granting the Twelve authority over unclean spirits (power to heal included in that)
The granting of power to a disciple reminds of Elijah and Elisha, but they never gave power to twelve at once!
Jesus has the ability to empower his disciples to participate in his work.

Faith and Fear
The proper response to the power of Jesus is “faith” (4:40; 5:34; 5:36; 6:6). This “faith” is not intellectual belief, but trust in Jesus’ power to overcome whatever is arrayed against the follower of Jesus. Whether it is a storm at sea, a disease, death or being sent out in the face of political opposition (the disciples being sent out in Herod’s territory) Jesus’ followers are facing conflict, and are invited to trust in him rather than flee and surrender.

Fear then is presented as the opposite of trust. The disciples are afraid in the storm; the villagers are afraid after Jesus heals the man possessed; the people of Jesus’ hometown are suspicious of his abilities and popularity (6:3). Note that the disciples actually take a step forward in not allowing fear to prevent their mission. Knowing that Herod had killed John, and being sent without provision would have been good reasons to fear, but instead the disciples choose to have faith and trust that Jesus will empower them to complete the task that he gives them.

Our Question

Of course, Mark is not writing his gospel in this manner (with fear and faith juxtaposed) simply to entertain careful readers. Rather, he is challenging his readers to observe their own lives and discipleship in light of this story. If we do understand the call of the Kingdom (part one, remember), are we living into it in trust? Are we looking to Jesus’ power as we face conflicts? Are we accepting the work (local mission!) that he is calling us to in belief that he has empowered us to do it?

To the extent that we can answer yes to any of the above questions we are accepting Jesus’ identity as an extraordinary prophet… but of course we can’t stop there! Stay tuned for part three. . .

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Walking through Mark #1

Today we are kicking off a three week tour through the Gospel of Mark! My goal is to post a couple
Come on, come on, come on, feel it!
of times a week and hit some of the key notes as some of our BBC folks read through this scripture. But whether you will be discussing Mark with us in person or not, I’d love to have you thinking about this gospel with us, and please feel free to send thoughts and questions!

Here is a five minute video I made that covers introductory matters and the first chapters: Mark Video One

Or, if you don’t want to watch the video, here are the highlights:

Roadmap for Mark:
Mark’s gospel unveils the identity of Jesus for us in a systematic fashion, as his book can be divided into six parts that all highlight one identity of Jesus. They are:

Jesus the Teacher: Mark 1:16-4:34
Jesus the Prophet: 4:35-6:30
Jesus the Messiah: 6:31-8:30
Jesus the Son of Man: 8:31-10:45
Jesus the Son of David:10:46-13:37
Jesus the Son of God: 14:1-16:8
(I got this structure from Richard Peace's Conversion in the New Testament, page 123.)

Mark invites his reader to move with the disciples and the crowds as they discover who Jesus is, with an eye of course on getting them to recognize him as the Son of God (which he tells us up front!). Note that as the disciples and crowd discover these identities they find Jesus’ challenges to them grow as well. From following him, to trusting him, to serving his mission, to denying themselves, to risking arrest by being with him and beyond, there is a correspondence between knowledge of who Jesus is and responsibility to act on it.

In the first chapters of Mark Jesus is perceived by the crowd and disciples to be a teacher of great significance. The heart of Jesus’ teaching is the "Kingdom of God." Jesus announces that the Kingdom has arrived with his ministry, and that people who put their faith in Jesus' message can begin living in the kingdom through the process of repentance. In ancient history and biography, a character’s first words are often a summation of their core message, so we can assume that wherever Jesus goes in Mark’s gospel his focus is on sharing the message that the “Kingdom has drawn near” and that people can “repent and believe” to receive it.

Note: When we hear the phrase “Kingdom of God,” we should think “rule/reign of God.” God’s authority and rule is being revealed through the ministry of Jesus, and those who follow Him are given the opportunity to learn to live with God as their King. Of course, this was the hope and desire of faithful Israelites, who were waiting for God’s rule to be established in Israel in a definitive fashion.

From the very beginning the call to be a disciple of Jesus (someone following Jesus to learn to imitate him) was a call to mission. Jesus’ first words to his future disciples let them know they will “fish for men” (1:17) After Jesus draws a crowd at Simon's (Peter) house (1:29-39) he wakes up early the next morning to pray and leave. This is Jesus’ standard operating procedure. He is always going to people who have not received the gospel of the Kingdom, with an intention to reveal the Kingdom and invite them to receive it (reveal and invite are key words for us!)… and his disciples are always doing this with him! The point is, discipleship and mission cannot be separated. Mission is context in which discipleship happens, and discipleship equips disciples for further mission. To be a disciple of Jesus is to participate in the mission of Jesus!

Note: Many people associate the concept of "imitation" with discipleship, and rightly so. However, many people only consider this imitation along the lines of character. That is, we want to be like Jesus in terms of being merciful, generous, truthful, etc. However, imitation should also include actions! I would argue that the most common action that Jesus takes in the gospels is to be with, train, teach and empower his followers. The point is, that if we are trying to imitate Jesus, we also should be working to be with, teach and empower others to do the same!

A final takeaway from this first section is that understanding Jesus’ announcement about the Kingdom is a prerequisite to all that follows. If one does not understand the nature of the call then one cannot “repent and believe the good news.” So while many in the church are absolutely correct in emphasizing that faith is more than simply intellectual understanding, it is certainly a irreplaceable piece of discipleship.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Back to School!

Back to work for Zach and the PJ Masks crew
Summer vacation is over!  

For the first time in my life I am saying those words with contentment, having now survived my first summer with two children in the house 24/7. So, thank you Lord for school, even if it’s just half-days!

But the important thing for you, fearless reader, is that now I have no excuse not to blog… so let’s get back to business!

This summer was a great time for the Halley family to get out town a few times ("vacation" may be a stretch) and refocus and we are excited for what this fall will bring for BBC. Here is a teaser for what’s to come:

We are launching a youth ministry for teens in Pine Manor this September. We spent the summer hanging out and getting to know them, and are excited about getting a group going after Labor Day. Our mission is to partner with the youth in Pine Manor to help them reach their God-given potential, and we will pursue this mission through mentoring, games, speakers, bible studies and special outings.

3594 Broadway
In June we leased a space about two miles from Lee Memorial Hospital, and are excited to be the first tenants at 3594 Broadway, which is a building dedicated to community development, collaboration and sustainable ministry. We are currently in the permitting process for some renovations, and we hope to move in to our space in early October.

Missional Community
This past Sunday we kicked off our first missional community, which is simply a group of followers of Jesus who are committing to growing together as disciples for the purpose of serving Jesus’ mission in our city. Over the next nine months our community will be dedicated to listening to God and each other, to serving our neighbors and to finding the places where we are called to reveal God’s love and purposes.

Finally, the Wednesday Word will be back this week! Our group will be working through Mark for the next three weeks, and I invite to join us in reading through the gospel and thinking about its implications for our lives. And I will, of course, be posting blogs on Wednesdays that wrestle with these scriptures.

Baby Steps into Mission: Presence, Part 2

Faithful readers, I apologize for the long delay in getting this blog up. Between summer vacation, official cross country practices starting...