Good News. (A sermon on Mark 1.)

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You can watch the sermon here: Euangelion-1/12/16

 

On THIS week. In the year 27 BC. January the 16th the nephew of a great Roman politician took office. After his great-uncle was assassinated a will was read stating him to be the adopted heir and successor. Now the significance of this was grand because this great uncle wasn’t just considered a political leader. He was considered…God. The one true God.
So in the name of this god the Roman Empire conquered everyone in their path. In claiming the name of their lord they made all submit to their power. If you opposed this power there were stories of the Roman Empire crucifying 2,000 people at one time in the city of Emmaus.

 

Now this god in his will adopted a son named Octavious who would earn the title divi filius. His people would call him the “son of God” and like his predecessor began to worship him. Now Octavious or you may know him by Augustus was a great conqueror. He was strategic. Deceptive. Loved by his people.

 

If you joined his empire you would be taxed and this tax would be used to expand the Roman Empire. In the name of this Lord they used their armies to spread “peace” to all in their path. Peace that was made through bloodshed. It was peace because they killed all who resisted. This peace resounded around roman control and worship and payment to their lord….Caesar. So whenever they spread their peace and conquered or won a battle they would issue an euangelion. A “good news” announcement. The good news of how they conquered another group and made them their subjects, their slaves, their people. The good news of how their lord had won. They would defeat opposition but then allow them to keep their culture, even their religions as long as they submitted tax to their Caesar. This was called The Roman Peace.

 

Now one of the lands overtaken by Augustus’ Empire was Judea where just a few years after Augustus’ death a rabbi began to receive notoriety. A rabbi who performed miracles, and had thousands of followers. Yet the religious authority stirred citizens against this man and people in the area began to turn on him and these religious leaders handed him over to a Roman governor who allowed the people to choose the fate of this rabbi. These religious people chose to give him the death of Rome’s enemies. These religious people demanded him to be crucified.

 

Now in the sixties…and I mean THE sixties a great fire overtook the city of Rome. Augustus’ successor Nero blamed the followers of this rabbi. Followers who were called Christians. He began to kill and persecute these followers.

It is around this time that a letter was written. A letter than recounted the life of this rabbi.

And in this letter written to roman Christians the author opens with a glorious line…

 

He writes to the people of Rome:

The beginning of the GOOD NEWS (a euangelion) about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

 

Now this word euangelion which also means “gospel” would have greatly resonated with the crowd who heard it first. A crowd that was being murdered and martyred because of their allegiance to a man they called “The one true God.”

 

The Gospel of Mark then is not just an account of the life of a rabbi named Jesus. It’s a reminder to his followers that are being murdered and persecuted to remember the life of Jesus and his death so that when your time comes you may have strength and courage to stand for a new kind of good news. A new kind of peace that is not won by bloodshed and corruption but is won by LOVE. The one who truly is God. The one who truly has good news is not Caesar…but Jesus.

And so begins the Gospel of Mark.
Now a word about the author before jumping in.

 

Though there is no direct reference within the text that tells us who wrote this Gospel the early church was confident in it’s relationship to a man named John Mark an associate of the apostle Peter. What we find in the text is often the account of the life of Jesus through the eyes of Peter. Much of what we see then is likely the preaching of Peter arranged and shaped by Mark.

We find Biblical mention of John Mark in the book of Acts most notably as the reason for conflict between our beloved Paul and another evangelist named Barnabas. On Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey John Mark deserts them in Pamphylia to return to Jerusalem. Paul was so disappointed in this that when Barnabas asked to take Mark on the second journey, Paul was so against the decision that he and Barnabas went their separate ways. Paul later reconciles this relationship with Mark in written form as he asks the Colossians to welcome him.

 

So we have Paul who has written nearly the entire New Testament and then we have this deserter who later regains trust who writes for us what will be the foundational account of the life of Jesus.

So if you’ve ever taken a New Testament course you’ll discover that most scholars believe that the Gospel of Mark was the first to be written. Matthew Mark and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels which is derived from the Greek word meaning “Seen together” because for the most part their content is similar. (Have Gospel parallels) If you look at the stories from the gospels in many cases the words were literally copied and pasted. Each of them collecting information from witnesses and written accounts of the life of Jesus. Now remember at the start these books were not collected as one. So what authors and churches would do is they would copy verbatim the words from famous letters. So take the Gospel of Matthew that is written to a Jewish audience. Because Mark is believe to have been written first many scholars presume that the additions to Mark’s Gospel are addressing questions that a Jewish audience would have had. Such as “What about the genealogy? What about a birth narrative? We want to know those stories.” In Luke’s Gospel he writes

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account.”
What Luke is telling us is that there were others who did as he did. They interviewed those who witnessed the life of Christ. It’s why often you’ll see things like “Son of___ who lived in____” The authors of these accounts are giving you footnotes to go and ask the people yourself if you think any of this is hogwash. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians “After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” So there already were written and oral accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Some of them we have, some of them we don’t.

In Marks case it is believed that he got these stories directly from the teachings and sermons of Jesus’ first disciple; Peter.

And so from the eyes of the first disciple as told by a man named John Mark to an audience of persecuted Christians we receive these words:

Now because we are doing a chapter a week it won’t be practical to chase every rabbit I want to so we’ll harp on one or two stories from each chapter and then in our Neighborhood groups we’ll process and discuss the rest.

So tonight now that we have all this background we’re going to look at how Mark begins this gospel and then we’re going to talk about what it means to be a disciple. Now the disciple bit I hope to come back to time and time again throughout this series because as Mark tells this story the disciples are just in a constant state of NOT getting it. How often do we feel the same way? So my hope and prayer in studying this gospel is that we can wrestle with the same things Jesus closest friends wrestled with. And to do that because we will quickly run out of time: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. “

The account begins with a citation from the prophet Isaiah. The prophet from 700 years before this guy was even born wrote about the events I’m about to describe.

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare[c] the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.

So John the Baptist had a large following. Now remember under Roman Peace kings and cultures were allowed to stay in place as long as they submitted to Caesar. In essence they’d instate someone they could puppet and rule over. Well King Herod was one of these figures placed into charge over Israel by Augustus and Marc Antony. Now Big Bad Herod and his house would rule over these areas for years. Herod Antipas, Herod the Great’s son and successor, found John the Baptist to be a great threat. In fact the Bible tells us he FEARS John the Baptist. Herod whose family was known for being absolutely ruthless feared John the Baptist. He eventually imprisons and calls for him to be beheaded. (We’ll get to that story. It’s fun and complicated.) So this man who challenged the kingdom of Herod and even called Herod a lawbreaker. Herod feared the power of John the Baptist and his following because he knew that John was a holy man. He feared John’s influence. And what are John’s opening lines about Jesus?

“After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.”

Jesus is MIGHTIER than John the Baptist!

You can start to see why Rome and these politicians and a king might think this man is a threat.

So say you have a kingdom like Herod. And say you’ll do whatever it takes to keep that kingdom in your power. We know that Herod and his successors were ruthless kings. His kingdom was the source of one of history’s greatest prides. Herod: king of Israel. Herod: King of the Jews. Herod wanted his kingdom to fear him. It’s one reason he will arrest John the Baptist. Because John didn’t fear Herod and John wasn’t afraid to confront the sin of the world no matter how powerful. And the one who comes after him is mightier.

Jesus Begins His Ministry

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

These are Jesus’ first words in this good news announcement.

I mean do you see what is going on here?

All of this will eventually bring Jesus to his death on a Roman Cross. It is riddled with confrontation and politics and opposition to the kingdom and the Empire. And that’s exactly how the powers at be would see it and treat it.
But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.

Alright. So that was the world to which Jesus was introduced. Here we are going to shift and we are going to set up the world of Rabbis and disciples and then bring it all back.

 

Jesus calls the first Disciples:

 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon (now remember most of these stories are told with Simon [Peter] present) and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

Jesus is a Jewish Rabbi with disciples in the first century Jewish world of Galilee.

So first century. Rabbis. Disciples.

To be a first century Jew in Galilee was to be deeply rooted in the belief that God had given you the five books of Moses. The Torah. So these scriptures and the understanding and knowing of them was CENTRAL to Jewish life and education.

So by the age of 6 most Jewish children would go to the local synagogue and learn the Torah by a Rabbi. This primary education was called Bet Sefer and it would last until the kid was about ten years old. During these years the child would memorize the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Genesis. Exodus. Leviticus. Numbers. Deuteronomy. They would know it by heart. Now this is still done today even in other religions. In Muslim cultures they have like spelling bee competitions where kids recite in Arabic the ENTIRE Quran. And they will like cry if they get one word wrong. Here watch this:

It blows my mind and makes me feel like dirt.

So ______ can you tell me what Genesis 1 verse 20 says. No peeking! You can’t!?

Okay_____ can you tell me what Deuteronomy 10:verse 11 says? No! Can you tell me what it’s about?

Well then chances are you wouldn’t advance. Shame on you.

We probably know more Taylor Swift lyrics than bible verses and these kids are memorizing the entire Torah.

Was that too personal?

Well if you feel like you aren’t up to that kind of memory challenge don’t worry, that happened in these cultures as well. Only the best of the students would advance. The rest would go back to their families and be educated to learn the family business. So most of the kids were working alongside their families and learning their livelihood.

The students who advanced would enter the next level of education called Bet Talmud. In Bet Talmud (as if the Torah wasn’t enough) students would memorize the REST of the Hebrew Scriptures from Genesis to Malachi.

So they didn’t just know verses like “I know the plans I had for you” they knew verses like (open to random obscure old testament verse.)

By the end of THIS, the children now 14-15 years old. Most of the students had gone to learn the family trade. But the best of the remaining students would go on to the next level of education called Bet Midrash. In Bet Midrash a student would apply to a Rabbi to be their _____? Anyone know the word I’m looking for? …..disciple.

Now a disciple was more than just a student. A disciple wouldn’t just want to know what the Rabbi knows, the disciple wanted to be like the Rabbi. To act like the Rabbi. Do what the Rabbi does.

 

Now Rabbis, they differed in what they believed about the scriptures. This difference in interpretation was called a Rabbi’s yoke. That word should be familiar because Jesus uses it in Matthew 11: 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Right?

Rabbi’s to define their yoke would speak in ways such as this: “You have heard it said (Blank) but truly I say to you it means this.” Go and read that Sermon on the Mount again. That process of defining a yoke is called binding and loosing. If Rabbi’s bound a teaching or interpretation it meant that they forbade it. (That is not the correct teaching) If they loosed a teaching it meant that they permitted it. (You have correctly heard a true teaching of this scripture.) In fact a large number of Christians still believe this happens today with the Catholic Pope. Because Jesus gave Peter (the first pope) the keys to the kingdom of heaven, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” This is why Catholic Christians will state they have the true interpretation of the bible. It’s because if this process.

So this process and the Rabbi’s yoke is what the best of the best would seek out to emulate and study. Everybody following?

These students would go to a Rabbi and tell them that they wanted to be one of their disciples. Then this Rabbi would quiz you and test you and see if you had what it takes to be their disciple. Because when the Rabbi dies this disciple will be responsible for continuing and sharing this rabbi’s yoke. SO he’s not just going to let anyone get the job. So you’d be quizzed on prophets, and poems, and verses. If you didn’t pass their tests they would tell you “I don’t think you have what it takes to be my disciple, you should go back and learn the family trade. Go back and do the family business.”

But if you DID pass. If you were good enough or worthy the Rabbi would tell you. “Come and follow me.” You would leave at the age of 14 or 15 your family, and your friends, village and you would follow your rabbi. Learning to do what your rabbi does. This was the life of a disciple.

So let’s read this again:

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

So this Rabbi approaches men who are doing what? Casting a net into the sea. And mending their nets. They were fishermen. In the case of James and John it says they were present with their Father, so what were they doing?

The family trade. Simon, Andrew, James, and John these first four disciples were doing the family trade, which meant they were the not good enoughs. They were not worthy to follow a Rabbi. The educational system had sent them to do their family trade.

Jesus: A Rabbi whom has already shared his message of confrontation to the kingdom at be invites four men who are societally not qualified to follow him. He invites the not good enoughs to take on his yoke. He invites the not good enoughs the opportunity to imitate and carry on his teaching that we all know he intends to share with the world.

That is fascinating.

Immediately they left their nets and followed him. They left their father in the boat with the servants and followed him. Because Jesus just gave these nobodies one of societies greatest and most hard earned achievements. The right to follow a Rabbi. The right to be his disciple. The opportunity to do as he does. And this my friends is GOOD. NEWS.

Because he’s not just a Rabbi. He’s not just a King. He’s not just a prophet. He’s not just a political threat. He’s not just a man with many followers.

Jesus is LORD.
He’s God with us.

He is inviting you, the not good enoughs, to share in his power and his kingdom. He’s inviting you to have the ability to stand against the empire. To be a part of his overcoming of the world. Into a movement that is not about peace through bloodshed and oppression but a peace that is won through LOVE.
You are invited to take on the yoke of God. And it’s not a heavy burden. It’s the highest honor of our lives.
You are invited to take on the yoke of the King. And in his kingdom there will be no tears. No suffering. No death. Because these things have no place in the kingdom of God.

So to take on the yoke of THIS Rabbi, means promoting this kingdom in THIS life. It means if there is a hell someone is living you shine heaven into it.

If there is injustice you seek peace.

If someone is hungry you feed.

If there is darkness. You shine light.

This is our Rabbi’s yoke.

So to these Christians who are being killed by an Empire here is a message of life abundantly. To those who are being taxed for all they have here is a message of unity and sacrifice for one another. To those suffering the oppression of the government here is a kingdom and a king that is FOR you. Here is a man that will stand up for humanity and the least of these. That will stand for holiness. That will stand against the evil forces of the world. Who is mightier than John the Baptist. Whom a voice from heaven declared “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Here is a Rabbi that invites you into the greatest honor and privilege to be like him. To do as he does. To leave behind our current life and drop everything for a better one.

So what’s stopping you?

What’s getting in the way? Fear?

Jesus is mightier.

Don’t think you’re good enough? Jesus calls the not good enoughs.

Is it politics? Let go of the Empire and join the kingdom.

One last story and then a wrap up:

In 2007 one of America’s most successful rock bands decided they were ready to make a comeback. The only problem was they no longer had a lead singer. So they held auditions after auditions and had portfolios of capable musicians. None of this worked. So the band Journey went on YOUTUBE and found a video of a guy covering one of their songs. Based on that video they invited Arnel Pineda to come and tour with them. That video you walked into was Arnel singing one of the most famous songs of all time with the band that wrote it to thousands and thousands of people. A guy found on youtube was invited to sing and be a member of one of America’s greatest rock bands.

 

That’s a pretty darn cool story.

You’ve been invited into something better.
Journey’s pretty great.

But they’ve got nothing on the God of the universe.

…..I’m worried I just ruined all the progress we just made!
We have been invited to follow this rabbi. It might offend people. It might get you killed. It might mean standing for things that are against this world. The invitation to follow THIS rabbi involves standing for a new kind of kingdom. The kingdom of God. A Kingdom that has. no. end.

And this is beautiful. It’s exciting. It is hope. It’s life.

And this is the beginning of the good news (the euangelion) about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

Come and follow him.

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