Thursday, April 28, 2016

"Follow Me"...the Son of God (1 of 2)

In his opening of his account of the gospel, Mark makes an incredible claim. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1.1) In this post, this claim will be broken down into its four components. In the second post, our need to respond to this claim will be examined.

The first verse of Mark provides plenty of evidence on why this gospel is worth exploring. (If you want to review four reasons on why Mark's account was chosen, read this.) So, this post is the first of many as we seek to learn more about Jesus over the next year.

Now, I don’t know about you, but on some aspects of life, I like to be included from the beginning. But on other matters, if I am able to catch up at some point, then I am fine. The words, “What did I miss?” or “Can you brief me on what has happened so far?” have probably been uttered by most of us at some point in our lives in an attempt to be on the same page as the others involved around us.

I think the same could be said of the Bible. As we turn each page, we realize that most of the events in the Bible have already happened. But we find ourselves having to catch up on a story that is largely from the past. Maybe that realization is because of the hope of the future which stems from the certainty of the past. After all, the Bible speaks often of Jesus return based upon the certainty of what He did when He first came.

So, we begin at the beginning of Mark’s account of the life of Jesus. We begin on the same page knowing Mark calls this the beginning, and yet, by digging a little deeper, we will realize that we have actually missed a great deal. More importantly, if we are not careful, we will miss even more.

And digging a little deeper is important because what is immediately revealed is the solution to our entire problem. And not just our problem, but the problem of all mankind. The problem: sin. One of the reasons for studying Mark is so that we, unlike many of the people of Jesus day, do not miss who Jesus was. And more importantly who He is  the Son of God. They were looking for someone to save them, but when He arrived, He saved them from more than they were expecting. They wanted freedom from an empire. He offered freedom from eternal damnation. But that freedom had its own set of demands – including the call to “Follow Me.”

Series Focal Points

The demands of Jesus and His call to Follow Me bring into focus two clear aspects which will serve as the focus for this series. The first is a look at how Jesus responded to various opportunities.

Some, He sought out; others came to Him. But, if we are to follow Him, then we can learn how to respond to other by examining how Jesus did. Second, is the Jewish nature of Jesus. We cannot overlook that Jesus was a Jew. He was not Christian, He was Christ. But the background of His culture, the religion around Him, and even His faith provided a basis for His response – and His call to us. And we must respond to that call because of Mark’s first verse, to which we now turn our attention.

New Beginnings

Most of the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek. But the Old Testament was translated into Greek beginning in the 3rd Century BC and finally completed in 132 BC. (This translation is called the Septuagint, or LXX). Understanding the availability of the Septuagint is important of Mark's choice of words (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit  2 Timothy 3.16) to begin this gospel. He uses the Greek word arche, which is the same word us in Genesis 1.1.

I will talk a little more about this next week when we look at the baptism of Jesus. But for now, simply realize that in Genesis 1.1 God began the process of creating a world without sin, and in Mark 1.1, we are told He is beginning to restore a world corrupted by sin. It was through God’s spoken word that He created all things, and it is by the living Word that He will restore them. And no, the process is not complete. While God could change everything in a moment, His love for us is why the world is still in the condition it is. That may sound odd, but consider, that millions, even billions, would be bound to hell if the world ended today. But God gives you and me the chance to share His story so that they, or perhaps even you, might respond to Him today. But one day, it will be too late. Revelation 20 speaks of this end, and then in Revelation 21.5, God says that He is “making all things new.”

God’s Good News

Most everyone has seen the picture of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square. The celebration was in response to the war with Japan ending in August of 1945. For most of us, that picture and that day are something we learned in a history class, from a book, or perhaps on television. But for some, that day is etched in their memory, just like the ending of wars or conflicts with Germany, or in Korea and Vietnam. The memories are more than just a history lesson, they represent a part of their lives. Now you might wonder why I use the war analogies here. Well, in part, because the original word from which we get our word gospel (or good news) was used in ancient days to describe victories at war. For instance, when the Philistines defeated King Saul, as recording in 1 Samuel 31, the marched through their homeland sharing the “good news” of their victory.

And isn’t that what the good news, or gospel, is for us? It is the news of Jesus victory over death. As we go through Mark, we will observe many wonderful things that Jesus did. Even in the first chapter, we will see miraculous healings. But these bits of news were just a prelude of what was to come. The ultimate good news, that is still being spread today, is of a man who came to take the wrath of God upon Himself so that you and I would not have to experience that fate and then defeated death so we could live with Him forever.

More than Just a Name

In our culture, first and last names are common. Most also have middle names, and some have several other names as well. But Jesus Christ is not a first and last name combination. Jesus is the name and Christ was His title. But in keeping with our second focal point (the Jewish nature of Jesus), let us look at the Hebrew name and then His title.

The word Jesus, or Yeshua in the Hebrew means, “God is salvation.” And Yeshua is a shortened form of Yehoshua. This is the same name of the Old Testament man we call Joshua. (The Hebrew does not have a J so most of the words that begin with an I (Israel) or J (Jerusalem) in the original language have a Y in front like Yisrael and Yerusalem (among many, many others.) So, Yeshua as His parents Mary and Joseph (Miriam and Yosef or Yoseph) would have called Him was not only God's plan for salvation, but represented the God of salvation.

As for the title, Christ, we can also look to the Hebrew. The Jewish people were crying out for God to send the messiah to free them from the oppression at the hands of the Romans. In this first verse of Mark, the author refers to Jesus as the Christ.  The word Christ is from the Greek word Xristos (Christos). which means “anointed one.” In the Hebrew, the word for “anointed one” is moshiach. The English equivalent is messiah. In reality, any type of leader was often anointed in certain cultures of the ancient world. However, God used this idea to reveal His special calling upon an individual. King Saul was literally anointed with oil, as was King David. But it was Jesus, the true anointed one, who was called by God to His work. The problem is that the Jews expected the coming messiah to deliver them as a warrior like David had with the Philistines.

So, when we use the two words of Jesus and Christ together, we are effectively saying “God’s anointed one brings salvation.” That salvation is far more than from some human empire or political system. Rather Jesus Christ, or again in the Hebrew, Yeshua Moshiach, was worried about the oppression and the reign of sin on the people’s lives. And that is why He came.

The Son of God

From the time Jesus began ministering until the time of His death, most first century Jews could accept that Yeshua may, indeed, be the promised Messiah. But Mark makes an extraordinary statement, “Jesus is not just the Christ, but the very Son of God!” Given who Jesus really was, it is astounding to think that Jesus never abandoned His Jewish faith. Jesus remained true to OT teachings, but brought about such radically different interpretations that people were often unable to understand. He redefined Sabbath (Mark 2.27-28), the temple (John 2.19-21), the atoning sacrifice (John 1.29), the unleavened bread (Mark 14.22), etc. He spent time with women, the sick (lepers), the outcasts (tax collectors), and even the half-breed Samaritans! His actions were both radical and scandalous. A few moments ago, we spoke of the good news and equated many wonderful miracles Jesus did. Besides the many healings recorded, in this study of Mark, we will observe miracles of Him feeding massive amounts of people and walking on the water. But these miracles are not the good news. They were good news to the people who experienced these miracles, and they are encouragement to us today. But these stories merely show that Jesus was qualified to make even better news – overcoming death by rising from the dead. And He couldn’t have done this unless He was God’s own Son.

When you want something done well, you want the most qualified person to do it. But when the risk for danger is high, you might not want to send the best. But in God’s case, the risk for death was certain. Yet, He sent His Son anyway. Why? It was the only way. That is how much God loves you and me. And that is why we must consider whether we will follow Him or not.

In Part 2, we will explore why we must choose to respond to Jesus' call to Follow Me and consider how how this series can help us to do so.

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