Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Cost of Doing Nothing - Dan Bender

You know, if we are honest…We all look for excuses to not do things. Sometimes those excuses can be so elaborate that we put more energy into not doing something than actually doing it. I have seen this firsthand when I ask my kids to help with something. Even at their young age they are superiorly cunning when it comes to figuring out ways to not do something that I or Leah ask them to do.

If I am totally honest, they learned that skill set from me. A famous comedian once said that Dads are experts in the art of doing nothing. In order to do nothing, they are magicians in doing something to keep them doing nothing. I have come up with some pretty clever schemes in my life to get out of doing things that I did not want to do. If I were to catalogue these, I am sure that there would be a representative from Guinness World Records giving me a call to talk about my prowess in doing nothing.This week we are going to examine what happens when Jesus confronts us in the space of our doing nothing. While this Scripture for you to study is not where I will be going with the sermon this week, it is a masterclass about what it looks like when we do something vs. doing nothing.

 Read Matthew 25:14-30 and spend some time with the following questions:

1. If you were the master, would you have done things differently with how you might respond to the servants?

2. Have you ever considered calculating the cost of doing nothing more than the cost of doing something?

3. What is a specific thing that you can point to where you paid the cost for inaction?

4. Take time to pray about some areas in your life where you might need to make changes and ask someone you trust to hold you accountable to the change you potentially need to make.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Messianic Secret - Henry Knapp

 I end up hearing a lot of medical jargon. When I’m visiting with someone in the hospital or discussing concerns about a family member or following up on a medical procedure, people will share the details of what they are going through; and often those details include technical terms, phrases and lingo. If you have dealt with a medical issue in the past, you know how this happens—you soak up everything the doctor says, follow up with your own research; and suddenly, you know a whole lot more about something you had never heard of before. In talking and praying with folks, they frequently share those insights with me.

 Unfortunately, I have no medical background whatsoever. So, when people start talking about this or that –itis or carcino-something-or-other or a blockage in the who-dat thingy, I smile, nod along and simply just let it all go past me. I’m aware that I won’t follow everything, and so I willingly let some things just pass me by.

 A misunderstanding of Scripture (and simple laziness) can lead us down that same pathway. Biblical readers know that there will be plenty in the Bible that we cannot grasp fully—after all, God’s Word is infinitely deep in revealing an infinite God who loves us infinitely. Trying to capture all of that when one is reading or studying the Bible is hard to do! But, sometimes that makes us lazy—we assume that we won’t be able to understand everything; therefore, we don’t even notice when something seems odd. But, we should! That should cause us to question, to explore, to pray.

 So, it is possible that you could read the opening chapters of the Gospel of Mark and not be surprised at a very surprising thing. Three times already in chapter one, and many times in the coming chapters, Jesus will command someone NOT to speak of whom He is. The unclean spirit of verse 25, the demons in verse 34, and the cleansed leper in verse 44 are all told to be silent about Jesus. Similar commands will be given to other spirits, individuals, His disciples and the crowd (Mark 3:12, 5:43, 7:33-36, 8:30, 9:9). Now, this is odd stuff! Normally, we would think Jesus wanted others to know who He is. Indeed, He will send out His disciples to share about His Word and work. Yet, often enough, Mark reports Jesus’ commands to be silent. When we run across such counterintuitive statements in the Bible, we should pull up, stop, think and pray.

 This “Messianic Secret” is one of the trickier parts of studying the Gospel of Mark. You can hardly avoid the question, since it appears over and over again. Why would Jesus at times command others not to reveal who He is and at other times show Himself clearly to the crowds? Through the centuries, Christians have pondered this, scholars have attacked the question, disciples have struggled to understand. A number of satisfying ideas have been put forward, some of which do a great job of highlighting Christ’s ministry, mission and salvation.

 But, the call today is not to miss this oddity.  In your reading of Mark’s Gospel, don’t quickly pass over those spots where Jesus does something surprising. Yes, the Bible is full of passages we will not fully understand; but, every time we explore them more, God draws us closer to Himself.

 Join us this Sunday as we are confronted again by the surprising work of Christ. Read Mark 1:40-45.

 1. In verse 40, the leper comes to Jesus on his knees and “imploring him.” What is the emotional tenor of this situation? How does that impact Jesus’ actions and the actions of the leper later in the story?

 2. When the leper says, “if you will, you can make me clean,” what is he saying to Jesus? What are some options? For instance, could the leper be frustrated with Jesus? Confident?

 3. In verse 41, Jesus acts. Mark describes him as doing four different things: What are they, and what do they say about Jesus?

 4. Jesus says, “I will.” In English this can mean, “I am going to in the future” or it could mean, “I desire this and will make it happen.” Which is closer to what Jesus says here?

 5. Why do you think Mark stresses that the leper was “immediately” healed? Why is this important?

 6. Jesus tells the healed leper to show himself to the priest. In the Old Testament, if/when one was healed from an infectious disease, you showed your healing to the priest to gain re-admittance into the community. What is Jesus encouraging the healed man to do here?

 7. What clue in verse 45 is given for why Jesus might not have wanted the leper to share what had happened with everyone? How might that speak to the “Messianic Secret” in the Gospel according to Mark?

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

In a Time of Persecution - Henry Knapp

Emperor Nero was a depraved, wicked individual; yet, amazingly enough, he was not the most morally corrupt emperor to have ever ruled Rome. Over the hundreds of years of world dominance by the Roman Empire, the Empire was led by many able and talented individuals, some of whom displayed character, moral fiber and strength. Unfortunately, Nero was not one of them. The young emperor followed instead in the footsteps of more tyrannical and self-indulgent rulers. Rising to power as a teenager, initially Nero followed the advice of wise counselors, and his reign got off to a good start. Soon, however, he sought to rule without oversight and rid himself of troublesome advisors, including his own mother whom he eventually murdered. Contemporary sources identify Nero as compulsive, cruel, corrupt, debauched and tyrannical.

Significantly, this was the emperor who was ruling in Rome when the Apostle Peter arrived to share the Gospel and strengthen the fledgling church. Accompanied, tradition informs us, by the younger disciple, Mark, who served as his translator, Peter faithfully witnessed to Christ’s salvation, preaching and teaching both in private and in public. The Apostle recounted the message of Jesus, relating his own experiences with the Savior, and echoing his Pentecost sermon—“repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins!” (Acts 2:38). These events and stories Mark heard from Peter, faithfully translated to the Romans, and eventually, wrote them down.

Drastically, a devastating fire broke out in the poorer sections of the city. Given the lack of coordinated urban planning, flammable construction material, the absence of an adequate water supply, and the general neglect of the city’s administration, the fire burned for days wildly throughout the city. The Emperor Nero, who fancied himself a poet, reportedly went to a high vantage point and composed poetry and music while the city was consumed—Nero “fiddled while Rome burned.”

Eventually, the fire burned out, but the public’s anger over the negligence and inadequate response of the government threatened rebellion. The emperor, seeking to divert the public’s wrath, sought out a scapegoat, and settled on an obscure branch of the Jewish people, the “Christian sect.” Seizing low-born and prominent Christians, Nero instituted the first politically-sanctioned persecution of the Church. Soon, both the Apostles Peter and Paul were swept up in Nero’s tyranny—Paul, as a Roman citizen, executed by beheading, and Peter, crucified upside down. Most ordinary believers, however, caught up in Nero’s persecution were burned alive, an ironic reflection of the city’s fiery experience.

It is this persecution that serves as the immediate backdrop of the Gospel According to Mark. In recounting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of our salvation from sin, Mark was witnessing firsthand the rejection, abuse and oppression brought about by the enemies of the Gospel. Mark is no rose-colored optimist.  He knows exactly how Satan will respond to a full-hearted pursuit of the Gospel message. The powers raised in opposition to the message of Christ should never be underestimated— the wickedness of Nero dwells far too close to the surface for anyone to ignore.

Reading Mark’s account of the Gospel is no slight thing—it is a recognition that you are reading something that has turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6), and there will be opposition to God’s healing—even violent opposition at times. Are you ready for this kind of Gospel?

Join us this week as we explore the Gospel According to Mark. Read Mark 1:16-20.

1. This text comes immediately after Jesus’ proclamation of the Gospel in verse 15: “The Kingdom of God is at hand!” How might this influence where Mark sought to include this story?

2. Why do you think Mark tells us what Peter and Andrew were doing when Jesus called them? How might that shape how you think of your every-day tasks?

3. Jesus’ call to the first disciples was in two parts: “follow me” and “I will make you…” (vs. 17). What is distinctive about each? Why are both “necessary” to understand the Gospel?

4. Both groups of disciples—Peter/Andrew and James/John—respond to Jesus “immediately.” Why do you think Mark notes this? What might it look like in your own discipleship?

5. Following Jesus entails also a leaving. Where is this noted by Mark? What does this mean for your life as a believer?

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Everyone's Favorite Apostle - Henry Knapp

 Peter is the apostle we all love—passionate, energetic, enthusiastic, prone to gaffs, faulty, flawed. One observation sums him up for me: “Peter is the apostle who never has an unspoken thought.” If it flashes through his mind, he couldn’t help but say it! As one who frequently gets into trouble by saying things I shouldn’t, I love that about Peter!

 Of course, another reason we love Peter the best is that we know the most about him. The Gospel writers barely mention many of the disciples: while a few—Thomas, James, John—show up a bit, Peter engages with Jesus more often. This allows us to get to know him more than the average disciple.   We get to see his passion, his eagerness, his mistakes and failures. And, of course, this makes us love him all the more. We identify with him, he’s like us—excited about our faith yet insufficient to the task so much of the time.

 Biblically, we know of Peter’s work as a fisherman, his joining Jesus’ band, his presence at the transfiguration, his great profession of faith, his epic failure in denying the Lord, his gracious restoration by the risen Christ. So many of the Gospel stories have Peter as an active participant, or at least in the background. But, as much as we know of him, there is so very much the Bible does not tell us.

 Church history and tradition takes over at this point. We know from early church sources, that following the resurrection of the Lord, Peter’s imprisonment and release (Acts 12), he traveled throughout the Roman Empire, sharing the Gospel of Jesus. His initial focus was with his fellow Jews, but he quickly learned to spread the Word to the Gentiles as well (Acts 10-11). Eventually, Peter’s missionary journeys landed him in Rome, the center of civilization, where in order to communicate the Gospel clearly to the people, Peter needed assistance. Enter the younger disciple, John Mark. For the latter part of Peter’s life, Mark served as Peter’s companion and translator. It is likely that Mark was with Peter when he was swept up in Emperor Nero’s persecution of Christians in the 60s which ultimately led to Peter’s crucifixion (upside down at his own request).

 So, in his Gospel, Mark recounts the stories of Jesus which he learned from the Apostle Peter himself. His goal is to communicate the truth of Christ’s salvation; and Mark does so during a time of suffering, injustice, and pain. His goal in his writing is not to provide a biography of Jesus, or of Peter, but to recount those stories that further Jesus’ purpose on this earth—the salvation of God’s people.

 When we read the Gospel according to Mark, we are, in a sense, reading Peter’s own account of Jesus. While the apostle served as the primary source of Mark’s Gospel, this book is not about Peter, it’s about Jesus!

 Join us in worship this week as we begin our study of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, according to Peter’s missionary companion, Mark.

 Read Mark 1:1-8.

 1. What different ways can you understand the opening line—“the beginning of the gospel…?”

 2. How does the quote from Isaiah fit the beginning of the Gospel well?

 3. In verse 4, John is introduced. What three characteristics of John are mentioned? How might each connect with Isaiah’s quotation?

 4. How do the people respond to John’s message? How is each response similar to how we are to respond to the Gospel today?

 5. Verse 6, the description of John’s clothing and food seems terribly out of place. Why do you think this material is included? What is the author trying to indicate about John and/or his message?

 6. John is clearly referencing Jesus in verses 7 and 8. What does his description of Jesus indicate about John’s views? Why is this important to point out here?

 7. John’s baptism is one of water (vs. 8) while Jesus’ is to be with the Holy Spirit. What do you think John is trying to say about the two baptisms?

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

The Background to the Gospel According to Mark - Henry Knapp

Kelly frequently reminds me that I’m not nearly as funny as I think I am. Often, that’s just because I have a bad sense of humor.  What strikes me as funny rarely has that same effect on others. Sometimes, however, it’s because I say something without thinking or without having the right information.

How often have you regretting doing something or saying something after you found out some necessary background? Some key piece of information shows up; and you realize what an insensitive thing you just did. I can’t begin to tell you how often I have put my foot in my mouth; saying something to someone when, if I knew just a bit more, I would have changed what I said or kept my thoughts to myself. Knowing background information often is the difference between embarrassment or not.

This spring during worship we will be working our way through the opening chapters of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is the crux of our worship, our salvation and our lives; so spending time studying His years of ministry will be well spent. Mark is a great place to get a picture of Jesus’ life and ministry, in part because everything happens at a fast pace there.  The stories move quickly from one to another, there is a lot of drama and a lot of interaction between Jesus and His followers.

 As we begin our study, it will be helpful to have a little background.

·         Most scholars believe that Mark was the first of the four Gospels written and was used by Matthew and Luke when they wrote their own.

·         Mark was probably written within twenty-five years of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

·         The Apostle Peter is generally believed to be the source of a lot of Mark’s information.  Mark functioned as Peter’s interpreter when Peter was traveling outside of Judea.

·         The book nicely divides in half—the first eight chapters asserting who Jesus is, the last eight focusing on what Jesus came to do.

·         While the Gospel records less of Jesus’ actual teachings than the other Gospel writers, there is a remarkable emphasis on Jesus as a teacher, identifying Him as Teacher or Rabbi numerous times.

·         According to church tradition, Mark was written in the regions of Italy, primarily for an audience that was unfamiliar with Jewish tradition.

·         About when Mark was written, the first significant Roman persecutions broke out against the Church. Many believe Mark was written to prepare his readers for suffering and even martyrdom.

 These factors, and many others, will help shape the way we understand the Gospel of Mark. Clearly, Jesus is the star of the story: a story that will clearly identify Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah of His people, the King.

 Beginning this Sunday and through the spring, we invite you to join us as we explore the Gospel of Mark together.

 1. What are the different ways “the beginning of the gospel” (Mark 1:1) might be understood?

 2. Verses 14-15 of chapter 1 will function for us in many ways as a theme verse. What is “thematic” about Jesus’ statement—“The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand”?

 3. Just scanning the section titles in the opening chapters of Mark, what characteristics of Jesus’ ministry are evident? What stands out as important to Him?

 4. Mark 8 ends with Jesus foretelling His death and resurrection. Before this the key is “Who Jesus is.” Just from the headlines, what stories are presented here that might stress that idea?

 5. After Mark 8, the story focuses on Jesus’ upcoming death and resurrection. Scanning the events which follow, which lead the reader to the cross?

 6. At the very end of Mark, chapter 16, there is some question as to the legitimacy of the final verses. Read through the chapter and try to identify what is lost or gained by the inclusion or not of the last section.

 7. The concept of Christ as King will factor significantly into our series.  Can you think of stories in the Gospels which touch upon this identification? What difference does the kingship of Jesus make in your life?