Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Following Jesus," 9.23.12

Mark 1:14-20
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Matthew 7:12-29
12“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. 13“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

15“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus you will know them by their fruits.

21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ 23Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’

24“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” 28Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, 29for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

Luke 9:18-27
18Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” 20He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.”

21He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, 22saying, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” 23Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.

Mark 10:35-45
35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

We’ve been following God’s story all summer. We’ve read about creation, sin, and God’s call to Abraham. We’ve heard how God brought Israel out of slavery into the promised land and how the nation of Israel rose and fell as they followed and then turned away from God. We heard about their defeat and exile in Assyria and Babylon. Last week Sally told the story of Judah’s return from exile.

A little more than three hundred years before Christ, Alexander the Great rose to power Greece and conquered all the way to India. He tried to unite his empire by respecting the cultures he governed and allowing the people freedom while promoting Greek culture through education.

In 175 BC a new king rose to power over part of Alexander’s Empire. His name was Antiochus IV Epiphanes and he had delusions of grandeur. Instead of leaving people free to worship, he enforced worship of Zeus. He persecuted religious Jews and desecrated the temple with pagan images. A Jewish revolt succeeded in winning a period of independence, but before long factions within Judaism were fighting with each other. In 64 BC one side of the conflict invited the Romans to assist them, which led to Roman occupation of the area.

When Jesus was born Roman rule was well established, but Jews were again free to worship. Jewish political and religious leadership structures were part of how the land was governed, but those leaders served with Roman approval. So now our story turns to Jesus, who is always the heart of our story as Christians.

There’s something compelling about Jesus. Whether he’s bringing comfort or confrontation (usually some of both) his words touch us deep down and will not let us go. Jesus draws us in and shakes us up. Luke says the crowd felt the same way: they were astounded because Jesus taught as one with authority, not like their scribes.

 Jesus and his teachings have something to them, a power, a force, an authority that catches us off guard, but often the church, the scribes of today, lack that power. I bet if you ask people who don’t go to church regularly why they don’t go, many will say they think church is boring. Maybe you think that too, in your secret heart you keep hidden away.

That’s definitely not what people thought when they heard Jesus. The crowds were amazed, and the religious leaders were curious at first and then afraid and angry, but no one was bored. There was something about Jesus’ teaching, and his presence, that made him hard to ignore then and even across two thousand years keeps our attention still.

Jesus pulls us in with a message that’s simple and approachable. “Do to other people what you would want them to do to you.” Easy enough, right? But then right away he makes it clear that it may not be so easy after all: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. But the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Jesus calls the crowd to a new way of life that is challenging, but that promises true life. It’s the narrow way of following God, a difficult road, but it is also a firm foundation to build our life on. Just as Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John to be disciples 2000 years ago, Jesus is calling you and me today.

In all the words of scripture and the words and fears of our life it is easy to lose track of Jesus’ calling so let’s take a look at the basis. First, Christ’s calling is good news. Gospel means good news. Mark’s Gospel begins by saying that it is the Good News about Jesus Christ. Our first passage from Mark tells us that Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming the good news, and Jesus calls his hearers to believe the Good News.

The good news about Jesus Christ is that God loves us so much that he sent Jesus into the world to live, heal, teach, challenge, suffer, die and rise again for us. The good news is that God’s love is endless and that in Jesus Christ we are reconciled to God. That good news is the heart of the Christian faith. If you only know one thing about the faith, know that God loves us.

The second basic is that Jesus calls us to repent, which means literally to turn around. When we hear about God’s love it makes us think about our lives and all the ways we are shaped by forces other than love. When we look at Jesus’ life and ministry, when we read his teachings, when we think about his death for us, we realize how far short we fall.

We let greed grow inside us. We allow anger and resentment to twist our souls. We let fear turn us against others. We put up walls against our neighbors and forget that we are all people made in God’s image and created for love. The good news of Jesus Christ shines a light on our sin, on our flaws and calls us to repent, to start again.

Third, when we hear the good news and turn to God in repentance, Jesus calls us to follow him. There’s power in that calling: we see the fishermen leave everything behind immediately when Jesus calls them. We don’t necessarily leave everything behind when we decide to follow Jesus, but if we really follow Jesus, our life will be changed. As Christians our first identity is as followers of Jesus.

That means that when we make decisions about our future an important consideration is how our choices fit with following Jesus. When we think about our budget one thing to factor is how disciples of Jesus are called to use the money God has given us.

Following Jesus means living like Jesus in the world. We know that Jesus is the Messiah, the Lord of all creation, but we also know that he approaches power in a very different way than the world does. We are called to follow Jesus’ way. We see that in a big way in our last two passages.

As soon as Peter has told Jesus that he is the Messiah, Jesus redefines what that means for them. The Messiah was expected to be a king and liberator, and Jesus was, but not in the traditional way. Right away he tells the disciples that as Messiah he will be suffer, be rejected by the religious leaders and be killed. He goes on to tell the disciples that their calling is his calling too. To follow Jesus we have to take up our cross. We have to lose our old life, the life of ambition and striving and self-seeking, so we can find the true life of love and service Jesus offers us.

In case this isn’t clear enough, Jesus repeats the point with the disciples. In the new life of following Jesus power isn’t about telling people what to do; it is about serving. We’ll really be focusing on the church next week, but that means that as a church we don’t need to be anxious about losing power in society. We aren’t supposed to be able to tell other people what to do, instead we’re supposed to find ways to serve them.

In our life as individuals and our life together as Christ’s church we are not called to seek our own way, but the way of Christ. Jesus is our Lord, so we take our cues from him, and Jesus our Lord came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

May it be so for you and for me. Thanks be to God.

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