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Feb 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Meditations in Mark – chapter 1 02/26/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning!  Welcome to our RefleXion Community.  The Lord is with you.

We’ve been talking about our spiritual and human journeys, and I want to bring another analogy to you. Let’s suppose you went in to a large, multi-level mall and wanted to go to a particular shop—say Bed, Bath, and Beyond– but didn’t know where it was located.  What’s the first thing you would do after entering the mall?

The Directory– where is the store is located?  Then, what other information would you need?  The Red Dot “You Are Here”

Because every journey, and every step, begins where we are!  Sometimes we forget both pieces.  Lord, I want to be a helpful servant, to be patient and loving, to become a pastor, a great spouse, or whatever. It’s important to note where we are, in addition to where we want to be; because then we might realize that the Lord might need to take us on a route we may not have chosen to prepare us for that which is our heart’s desire.  Some of us are prone to focus on where we want to go, and some of us, on where we are. But it’s two walking sticks:  Here’s where I’m going, and here’s where I am.

Today is the First Sunday of Lent, and the word Confess comes to mind.  Confess is an interesting word.  In this past week’s Lectio passage there was a line, “whoever confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord.”  We use the word “confess” (which means “to agree”) as a PROfession (like the Confession of our Faith) as well as CONfession (the admission of guilt or the state we deem unworthy).

So, we confess/profess what we believe (there IS a Bed, Bath, and Beyond—in spiritual terms, perhaps “There is Rest, Forgiveness, and Engagement with God for me,”) and we confess where we are in this moment (short-tempered, doubtful, shame-filled, lost).  I like to start my day with professing what I believe and confessing where I see myself.  And, during the day, when a tension arises, I can say, “Lord I profess that my hope is in you, and, once again, I confess that I find myself on the lower level of the mall.”  And I think that God might say, “You’re on The Way; you have arrived.”

Join me in prayer, will you:

O, God, our God, we earnestly seek You.  We profess our faith in You.  May we hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for You are with us, and You are a great and loving Father.  We know our transgressions; let us know that we can rest in You, because You know us intimately and have prepared our way.  Forgive us our many sins and restore to us the joy of our salvation.  Thank you for all the ways we encounter Your Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus.  May Your Kingdom come.  May Your will be done.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God Mark 1:1
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Intro: Last week a friend asked me,

“What Bible book to read to get to know Jesus–the person?”
– my immediate answer was Mark’s gospel
• that’s the book where I meet Jesus – and feel that I’m drawn close to him
◦ this is my experience, even though Mark is most condensed of the four Gospels
• in fact, he tends to downplay some of the exciting episodes
◦ for instance, Jesus’ temptation (Mk. 1:12-13) – blink and you’ll miss it
– for forty plus years I have read and re-read this book,
• spending time in meditation on every chapter
◦ that is what I want to share with you
◦ not a Bible study, but a seeing and savoring the stories of Jesus
• perhaps if you see Jesus through my eyes,
◦ you’ll come to see him better through your own
◦ and then seeing him for yourself, you can move beyond what I hope to share with you

Vv. 1 and 14-15, A couple weeks ago, I started reading Mark again

My mind felt sluggish that morning, as if it’s engine wouldn’t start
– but when I read verse 1, and then again when I read verse 15, something changed
• I felt energy in those verses, as if the words were written in light
• a revelation was truth unfolding in me right at that moment
◦ Jesus was becoming to me the Christ, the Son of God
– I wrote in my meditation for that morning:
“Jesus was not another mortal who emerged in history for a few years and then sank back into the river of time. He is the Son of God. His kingdom is here, now.”
• I was not stating a truth, but describing my experience
◦ to feel the Lord’s sonship and the presence of his kingdom was much more than just reading the words
• a few years ago, the introduction, The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ
◦ became an invitation for me every time I opened to Mark
◦ an invitation to join him again in his journey
• it’s like having a trainer, helping me become a better runner
◦ the trainer watches me run four laps, then recommends I get a better pair of shoes
◦ then I go back to starting the line and run another four laps,
and the trainer tells me to increase the length of my stride and explains how to do that
• every reading through Mark is more insight, more training, more work on perfecting my stride

Mark streamlines John the Baptist’s story
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance of sins Mark 1:4-8

John is an interesting character regardless of how much or how little we know of him
– in one of my daily meditations I wrote:
“John’s rugged clothing and severe diet were not gimmicks meant to draw crowds. His asceticism and minimalist lifestyle was not ‘cause,’ but ‘effect.’ His complete devotion to God’s work required a focused attention that kept him isolated from distractions of cities and villages and the necessary effort to acquire normal food and clothing. He was a rare species of humankind.”

Every year, in my first reading of Mark, I am reading through the Book of Leviticus also
– one time, I felt a residue of unpleasantness from Leviticus
– it describes in detail how the priests were to cut up the animals, and handle the parts
• stomach, kidneys, liver, and so on
◦ it felt like the priest was more butcher than worshiper
• but then I realized, that what is on the inside matters to God
◦ our thoughts, emotions, motivations, dreams, and so on,
◦ are internal factors that shape our external behavior
– God want those parts too–besides the physical, all that’s mental and all that’s visceral

Like the priests, John provided a ritual service
– in Old Testament worship, there were lots of “baptisms”– ritual washing
• baptism is symbolic – it is performed on the outside of body
◦ John announced that Jesus would do something different than what he was doing
I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit
– what is the nature of that Spirit baptism?
• it’s a transcendent ritual that reaches everything, all the “parts,” the innards
• what water baptism does symbolically, Jesus does in reality
◦ John came to prepare people for what Jesus would bring

Mark uses one of his key words for the first time
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” Mark 1:9-11

The word “immediately” will appear more times than other in the other three Gospels put together
– in one meditation I described this first instance of immediately as being
“like the gunshot at the beginning of a race. The rapid pace and quick transitions will characterize Mark’s story of Jesus’ life and ministry.”
• Mark not only tells a shorter than the other Gospels, it also moves much faster
◦ Mark is finished in 16 chapters (John has 22 chapters, Luke 24, and Matthew has 28)
– besides using “immediately” to jump from one moment to the next,
• Mark rushes us through events with a multitude of “and’s”
◦ in fact, many sentences in Mark begin with the word “And” (take a quick read of verses 35-39)
• frequently, both “and” and “immediately” occur together–at least 6X in this chapter

Jesus enters the story at his baptism

In Matthew and Luke, Jesus enters the story with the announcement of his birth
– in the forth gospel, Jesus appears in the first verse at the beginning of time (!)
• Mark does not embellish the report of Jesus’ baptism
◦ in fact, he sort of crunches his baptism and temptation together
◦ nevertheless, the baptism is important: it connects the end of Jesus’ ministry with the beginning
• the careful reader notices how elements at this beginning of his ministry return at end of his ministry
◦ both Matthew and Luke tell us “the heavens were opened”
◦ Mark alone tells us, “he saw the heavens being torn open”
– this is a rare word in the New Testament
Matthew once and Luke twice (both times are connected with Jesus’ crucifixion)
• all three Synoptic Gospels use “torn” in reference to the moment Jesus died
◦ for instance,
And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom (Mk. 15:37-38)
◦ the curtain sealed off God’s presence from everyone except the high priest
• the curtain was torn apart when Jesus’ work was complete
◦ in Jesus, at his baptism and through his crucifixion, God made himself accessible,
◦ to all people for all time
– there is also this great mystery, that at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
• with a voice from heaven, God owns his beloved Son
◦ but then at the end of Jesus’ ministry, God goes silent
• this is a tragic hardship, and one that Jesus shares with us
◦ most of us here have been confused or grieved by God’s silence
◦ but that meditation is for another time

There is one more story in this chapter, and it is my favorite (vv. 40-45)

I’ll probably say that other stories are my favorite, but for now this is my favorite
– a desperate man came to Jesus – an outcast because he was a leper
• he knelt before Jesus and said, “If you will, you can make me clean”
◦ he had no doubt Jesus was capable of curing him,
◦ he just didn’t know if Jesus was willing to cleanse him
• and now the worst translation of any verse in the English Standard Version of the Bible:
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean” (v. 41)
◦ Jesus did not pity people, he felt compassion
(the Greek word is based on anatomy; namely, the spleen. It carries the thought of the Hebrew Scriptures that intense emotions are felt in the deepest, most central, and critical regions of the body)
◦ I agree with Henri Nouwen
Nouwen, “Compassion is something other than pity. Pity suggests distance, even a certain condescendence. I often act with pity. I give some money to a beggar on the streets of Toronto or New York City, but I do not look him in his eyes, sit down with him, or talk with him.”
“Compassion — which means, literally ‘to suffer with’ — is the way to the truth that we are most ourselves, not when we differ from others, but when we are the same.”
– Mark preserves these emotional expressions of our Lord
(For instance, when a wealthy young man approached Jesus to ask him what he had to do to inherit eternal life, and affirmed that he had kept the commandments as Jesus suggested, that Jesus, looking at him, loved him (Mk. 10:21). Both Matthew and Luke record this story, but neither of them point out the fact that Jesus loved the young man)
• in places like this, I make the story my own
• I am the broken, desperate person who comes to Jesus
◦ I need his compassion and his willingness to help me

There was no big build-up to the moment of the leper’s healing
– Jesus did ask any questions or give any instructions
• neither Jesus nor Mark exploit the miracles
◦ they never glamorize or sensationalize what Jesus does – there’s no drama!
• in fact, Jesus does just the opposite
◦ for instance, in this passage Jesus has more to say to the leper after healing him than before
◦ and his words afterward were specific and spoken sternly
See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them (v. 44)
– even so, the leper went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places (v. 45)

About desolate places:
– earlier, when the crowds were looking for Jesus, he went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed (v. 35)
• it’s almost always easier to find Jesus in solitude and quiet
◦ “desolate” refers to what is not there, like the distractions we experience in public places
• if you or I find ourselves in a desolate place because of some hardship or rough times
◦ at least we can be sure that Jesus is there too

Conclusion: I am going to share one large meditation with you, and then close with a prayer from another mediation

Because Mark’s story is compact, it brings greater intensity to what is here. It is unusual for Jesus to just show up from Nazareth for his baptism without any background information to explain who he is or what makes him special. We understand something about people if we know their past. Mark deprives us of that kind information about Jesus. In hiding the details of Jesus’ parents, childhood, and hometown, Mark presents him stripped of everything that under normal circumstances explains a person’s credibility and influence. Why would Mark do that?
I believe Mark wants us to discover Jesus. He tells us stories of Jesus so that through them we can discover who he is. Gradually, we learn the extraordinary truth of Jesus. For instance, he did not derive his authority from anything in his upbringing, or accomplishments, or from an institution, but carried it within himself (vv. 22 & 27). In the stories we encounter Jesus as someone who moves and wins the hearts of men and women. This is something Mark wants us to discover for ourselves, and if that happens, then we have come to know Jesus.
We learn this, even when at the start Jesus says nothing about himself. He does not introduce himself with announcements, like, “Here I am, your Messiah, God’s Son. I have come from God with a message for you.” Instead, he delivers the message of God’s kingdom without referring to himself–the Messenger. Yet for those who get to know him, it becomes as natural to see him sit in the presence of Satan, wild animals, and angels as it is with worshipers in the synagogue or crowds in the street.
In Mark’s gospel, we meet Jesus in what he does for people, who he is for people, how he heals, changes, and empowers people.
My rational mind grasps for information that explains the influence Jesus has on people, his obvious connection with God, and how it is that he works unprecedented miracles. But that is exactly what Mark denies me. As far as he is concerned, I meet Jesus as he is or not at all. Mark will not give him to me as an idea to comprehend, but as a person I must learn to love and trust.

“Good morning Jesus. Are the heavens opened? How many times have they opened and we did not see it? O Lord, if You will, you can give sight to these blind eyes. Bless our walks with You through Mark. Hold us in Your love, which is infinitely stronger than ours. Deepen our relationship. Increase our devotion. We want to be better friends to You, Jesus. Amen”

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