Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Gridiron Glory Days and Mark #4

105 pounds of pure power...
Have you ever been excited to take on a challenge or risk, and then as soon as it began in earnest realized that it was a bad idea?

When I was in 8th grade I tried out for the football team. I was a solid backyard football player at that point in my life; I could catch, run and even tackle reasonably well. My one problem was that I only weighed 105 pounds. Being so small, I knew that I had to prove to the coaches I was not afraid to get hit and mix it up with bigger players.

So when our first “hitting day” rolled around I decided to roll the dice. I was put in the “B” group of hitters, meaning that we had done well (we weren’t group C), but we weren’t top level. At the end of practice, our coach allowed anyone from group B to challenge anyone from group A to a one on one hitting drill (the goal was to block the other guy down or out of the lane). In a moment of insanity, I jumped up and challenged the second best blocker/tackler on our team, who played middle linebacker and full-back, and probably out weighed me by at least 50 pounds. 

As we walked over to the drill area and got down in our stances I knew that I didn’t have a prayer of knocking this guy down, and there was a good chance of me getting crushed in front of the team and many onlookers. And the little voice in my head said, “What the ____ were you thinking John!” (fill in blank as you see fit). But it was too late to repent; the coach had the whistle in his mouth… And for the end of the story you’ll have to make it to the end of the blog…

So at this point you might be thinking, “What does that story have to do with the Gospel of Mark?”
Well, today we’re taking on sections four (8:31-10:45) and five (10:46-13:37) in Mark’s gospel, and in these scriptures we learn that Jesus is: One, the Son of Man, who is destined to lay down  his life in loving service to God and God’s people; and two, the Son of David, meaning the true earthly king and authority of Israel who will not avoid conflict or back down from those who don’t recognize his rule. The result of these two identities of servant and messiah being faithfully held by Jesus will be Jesus’ death. And the disciples, who were undoubtedly enthusiastic about Jesus the Messiah in Mark 8:29, are in these sections struggling mightily to follow through with their own professions of faith, and perhaps wondering what on earth they were thinking in following Jesus in the first place!

Section Four: A Few Takeaways

Four times in this section (just two chapters) Jesus predicts his suffering and death… Mark is not being subtle here! Jesus identifies himself repeatedly as the Son of Man in this section, and it is clear that for him this meant he would give his life away for his people. To be the Son of Man was to serve (10:45). And of course this stood in stark contrast to the hopes of his disciples, who believed that by virtue of being Messiah Jesus would cruise to an earthly victory over the enemies of God and Israel… If there are any doubts about the disciples struggling with Jesus’ decision making here note that the section begins with Peter attempting to rebuke Jesus for even speaking about being killed (8:32).

Jesus’ determination to give his life away in obedience to God is held up against those who are looking to secure their own interests… such as approval or recognition by others (9:34), exclusive claims on Jesus (9:38), self-importance (10:13), wealth and possessions (10:17-25), home and family (10:29), and glory (10:37). Jesus reveals that discipleship means a willingness to part with each of these items for the sake of the Kingdom, even if they are good and desirable things in many other contexts.

The competing claims between these “desirables” (just listed) and Jesus’ way sheds light on what Jesus meant in 8:34 when he said that any disciple of His would have to “deny himself.” Many people think Jesus is talking about “self-denial” here in the sense of going on a diet, abstaining from pleasures, and avoiding things we otherwise like. But that’s not what Jesus is after. To deny oneself in this case means to renounce any claims (like ownership) we have over our lives. The Greek word used here for “deny” will be the word that Peter uses to deny he knows Jesus. Further, it was the word used by others in the Roman world to renounce political allegiances. To “deny ourselves” is to renounce our own rule over our lives, and to give that rule to God, via Jesus.

Section Five: One Takeaway

Jesus is the authority: that is the briefest way to sum up section five. This section begins with Jesus recognized as the Son of David by a blind beggar (10:46, don’t miss the irony), and Bartimaeus’s words should be noted. To be the “Son of David” was to be an authority in Israel. Jesus then proceeds to show off that authority in his last week: setting up a mock royal entrance to Jerusalem (11:1-8), stopping sacrifice at the Temple to deliver a prophet condemnation (11:15-17), cursing a fig tree as an illustration of judgment on the Temple (11:21), claiming authority in front of the chief priests (11:33 and 12:9-11), and delivering authoritative teaching on the resurrection (12:24-27), the greatest commandment (12:29-31), and the future destruction of Jerusalem (13:1-30).

A Disciples’ Problem: Then and Now

“What is Jesus thinking?” Surely those words (in a variety of tones) crossed the disciples’ minds as they journeyed towards Jerusalem and watched Jesus throw the gauntlet down once he arrived there. What kind of person makes a huge authority claim (to be king!) and yet presents himself as a servant who is unwilling to fight (physically), even in the face of manifestly unjust and false authorities? Shouldn’t he know that those things will get him killed, and possibly the disciples with him? Surely this is not what the disciples thought they were signing up for when they left their nets! They didn’t sign up to die with Jesus; they signed up to WIN with Jesus!

Win with Jesus… that sounds like a slogan that might (unfortunately) very well exist!

Win with Jesus is a problem because Jesus wasn’t interested in “winning,” or at least how we define winning. Jesus was about doing God’s will. Apparently he didn’t care if that made himself, or anyone else, happy or comfortable or wealthy or popular or wise or whatever. He was about God’s will because he loved God, and he loved his neighbor (that great commandment thing again, Mark 12:29!).

Many people (all of us?) are interested in Jesus because of what we think he can do for us. And there’s something true and good in that. Jesus was and is a healer, and a savior, and laid down his life for us (Gal. 2:20). But at some point we have to face the fact that Jesus is not ultimately interested in our success or happiness or desires apart from God’s Kingdom and God’s will. And therefore, if we are his disciples, we must continually fight to renounce our pursuit of our own good and interests (i.e. success, happiness, etc.) and turn over the keys of our life to Him. 

That might not sound what you or I signed up for. Admittedly, few people are attracted to slogans like “Deny yourself!” or “Come Die with Me!”. So why hang in there? Why keep following Jesus? Why go through with this difficult and painful journey of renouncing ourselves when Jesus doesn’t promise any “winning” in this life?

I have two things to say to those questions today:

First, wait for the next blog post when I will answer those questions at length!

Second, perhaps we have a ray of hope here: a true authority who gives away his life in love for God and others. Think about that… not something you see everyday. Most of us have big-time problems with authority, and many of our reasons for being skeptical of authorities are justified (just pick up a history book to know why). At the heart of these authority problems is our lack of trust. How can we trust anyone with power in a world like ours? It is in this vacuum of trust that Jesus stands out. Though we can’t trust Jesus to give us what we want for ourselves (see above), maybe we can actually trust him because he doesn’t make that promise in the first place. The only things he promises to us are fellowship with him and a share of His life (more on this next time) until God’s Kingdom arrives. And instead of making this a sales pitch, he simply models what it looks like to give oneself to God in love and in trust, and invites us to join him. So why keep going with Jesus? Because he is trustworthy.

So… how did that whole football thing work out for me? Well, as soon as the coach blew the whistle I threw myself with all my might into my opponent… and got destroyed! Honestly, I as soon as the whistle blew I shot off and hit him hard but basically the next thing I knew I was on by back. Silver lining though: my willingness to challenge him and the fact that I initiated the contact (I was quicker than him) got me moved up to the “A” team, and I wound up being the last person to make the cut! (No joke, the coach actually pulled me aside the day the roster was announced and told me I was the last person to make the team because he was scared I could die if some of the really big guys hit me or fell on me… nice motivational speech to start the season!)

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