Who Was at Fault for the First Recorded Church Split?

Acts 15

36After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s return to each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are getting along.” 37Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. 38But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not shared in their work. 39Their disagreement over this was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. 40Paul chose Silas, and the believers sent them off, entrusting them to the Lord’s grace. 41So they traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia to strengthen the churches there. (Acts 15:36-41, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

If you’ve had many conversations with non-believers about Christianity and the gospel message, you no doubt have encountered questions about “all the different denominations” of Christianity.

To many non-Christians the existence of so many different groups and denominations is a kind of proof of the invalidity of the message. After all, if Christians can’t get along and they disagree enough to split over, how can we believe the message they are promoting is true?

This line of reasoning argues that if Christianity were really true, there wouldn’t be so many “versions” of it.

If you happen to agree with this, you might be surprised to know that Acts 15 records the first known church “split”.

Paul and Barnabas were the first missionary super-team, having been commissioned and sent out in Acts 11 by the church at Antioch. Along for the ride was John Mark, who was the cousin of Barnabas.

In Acts 13, when they arrived at Pamphylia, the text says that John Mark left to return to Jerusalem:

Now Paul and those with him left Paphos by ship for Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga. There John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. 14But Barnabas and Paul traveled inland to Antioch of Pisidia.

The mention of John Mark leaving almost seems like an after-thought. There certainly isn’t any indication that his return to Jerusalem was anything more than an expected part of the plan.

But in chapter 15 we find out that John Mark’s return to Jerusalem was NOT a part of the plan – that he had left the team unexpectedly. In his first experience as a missionary apprentice, he washed out.

Now Paul and Barnabas are planning their return trip and Barnabas wants to take John Mark along. Paul wants nothing to do with John Mark, seeing as how he had deserted them on the previous journey.

Their opinion on this issue is so strong that they split. Barnabas takes John Mark with him while Paul selects Silas as his new sidekick.

When evaluating this situation, it’s natural for us to want to assign blame – to ask, “who was in the wrong?”

Let’s look at Barnabas for a moment. We first see Barnabas at the end of Acts 4 when he sells some property and gives the proceeds to the church. We learn that his name means “Son of encouragement”.

Barnabas was an encourager. He believed the best in people. It was Barnabas who first found Paul after he had converted and brought him to the apostles. Barnabas vouched for Paul when others thought his conversion story was just a ruse to worm his way into the church for the purpose of arresting and persecuting its followers.

And now Barnabas is wanting to give John Mark, his cousin, a second chance. It’s who Barnabas is.

But Paul is different. He’s a hard charger – a leader who is singularly focused. Because of Paul’s vision and determination, not only are numerous churches planted throughout the known world, but he writes half of the New Testament as well.

Being a missionary is serious business and Paul doesn’t have time for those who aren’t going to last.

So who was at fault? Who was wrong?

If you are an encourager like Barnabas, you’re likely to take his side and say that Paul was in the wrong.

However, if you’re a leader with a pioneering spirit like Paul, you’re likely to take his side and think that Barnabas was in the wrong.

In my opinion, neither was at fault or in the wrong. This is simply an example where two people with different personalities and different values could not agree. As a result, they decided to go their separate ways.

While some might bemoan the fact that they split as an example of “disunity” or even selfishness, consider the fact that by going their separate ways, their missionary labor force was essentially doubled.

In addition, God honored both groups. We see how Paul’s ministry continued to expand even without Barnabas by Paul’s side. Also, we know that John Mark did indeed learn from his previous mistakes, thanks to Barnabas believing in him. Even Paul, later in 2 Timothy 4:11, recognizes John Mark’s contribution when he states:

Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me.

So who was at fault for the first recorded church split? Neither party. Instead, both parties stood firm to their principles and personalities and as a result agreed to dissolve their partnerships and form new ones. God uses each new missionary unit to further his kingdom purposes.

So while it’s true that there are many denominations and many different groups within Christianity, it’s an overstatement to assume that the reason so many groups exist is because of some sinful or immoral separation. Though it’s possible and even likely that some splits occurred because of sinful and selfish reasons, it’s also true that the existence of different groups is not because of sin or immorality but simply different preferences and choices that in no way negate the validity or truthfulness of the Christian message.

In other words, just as God honored and blessed the two different groups that emerged from the Paul and Barnabas split, the existence of many different groups within Christianity today should not be seen as evidence against Christianity but as proof that God is able to accomplish His purposes and expand His reach despite the conflicting preferences and personalities of those who claim to be His ambassadors.

Reflection

In this scenario pitting Paul vs Barnabas, are you on team Paul or team Barnabas? Why did you pick the side you picked?

What has been your response to someone who argues that all the different denominations must somehow be a proof against the validity or truthfulness of the Christian message?

What insights have you gained from this passage that might help you to address those who seem overly concerned about the number of churches and denominations within Christianity?

What do you see as the primary values each person (Barnabas & Paul) were holding onto in their disagreement? When do you think a person should hold fast to their principles and when do you think a compromise is warranted?

 

Photo by Matt Moloney on Unsplash

The Time God the Father Denied Jesus His Request

Mark 14

32And they came to an olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, “Sit here while I go and pray.” 33He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he began to be filled with horror and deep distress. 34He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me.”

35He went on a little farther and fell face down on the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. 36“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine.”

37Then he returned and found the disciples asleep. “Simon!” he said to Peter. “Are you asleep? Couldn’t you stay awake and watch with me even one hour? 38Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak.”

39Then Jesus left them again and prayed, repeating his pleadings. 40Again he returned to them and found them sleeping, for they just couldn’t keep their eyes open. And they didn’t know what to say.

41When he returned to them the third time, he said, “Still sleeping? Still resting?* Enough! The time has come. I, the Son of Man, am betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42Up, let’s be going. See, my betrayer is here!” (Mark 14:32-42, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few years ago I was counseling with a student who was having major doubts about God. Not only was this young man from a strong Christian home, but he was a missionary kid, so his family’s commitment to church and to ministry was greater than most. Given his background and family, it was a bit surprising to hear that he was doubting whether God actually existed.

As I probed further, asking questions to determine the source of his doubt, I learned that the seeds were planted way back in high school when he was part of an overseas youth group.

The group was planning to take a missions trip to a neighboring country during a scheduled school break but the trip ended up being canceled due to civil unrest in the other country.

The leaders and the youth were all aware of the dangers and they knew the possibility existed that their trip would not be allowed by the government because of political tensions. So the whole group began praying, EARNESTLY, that God would allow the trip to happen. They prayed that He would work out the circumstances and arrange events so that their small group would be able to take their trip and complete their planned ministry events.

When the event didn’t happen, this student began to question whether God existed. It didn’t make sense to him why God would not allow the trip. After all, wasn’t God concerned about these people who did not know Him? Wouldn’t He WANT them to take the gospel to those who have never heard? We’ve been commanded to GO, and they were planning and preparing to follow God’s command, so it only made sense to them that God would miraculously orchestrate events to make it happen.

But He didn’t. So this student made the conclusion that because God didn’t act in a way that made sense to him, then perhaps God doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately, this line of reasoning is more common than we might think and it underscores a major misunderstanding of the purpose of prayer.

In Mark 14, after the Passover meal but before Jesus is arrested, He goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Jesus is in distress and His soul is in anguish as He thinks about what is about to transpire. Verse 35 says that,

“He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by.”

In the very next verse, Jesus tells the Father that He knows that “everything is possible with you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me.”

Jesus goes back to the disciples, only to find them sleeping. Verse 39 says that He went back and repeated His pleadings with the Father. Jesus repeats the cycle a 3rd time, each time finding the disciples sleeping before returning and praying and pleading with God the Father regarding His impending suffering.

Jesus is clearly troubled. He said, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.” Jesus clearly pleads for a way to avoid this suffering and He appeals to the Father’s ability to do the impossible. Jesus KNOWS that God can do anything, yet Jesus’ request, is not fulfilled. We know how the story ends and Jesus does not escape the suffering that was so distressing to Him.

So why didn’t the Father honor Jesus’ request? Why does Jesus not get saved from His suffering?

The key to this whole passage is in the words that follow Jesus’ request. Jesus does ask for the suffering to pass Him by, but He follows that up with the words “Yet I want your will, not mine.”

Jesus, in His humanity, was looking for a way to escape what He was about to endure. But in His divinity, He humbly submits to the will of the Father.

The point of prayer is not to get what we want. God is not a genie who is bound to grant our wishes and requests. The purpose of prayer then is for us to align ourselves with God’s will, just as Jesus demonstrates. Sometimes this is difficult because we may not be entirely sure what God’s will is in some situations. But this just provides us with a greater opportunity to trust God for the outcome.

My student friend thought he understood God. He determined that God should act in a certain way in a certain situation. He (and others) even prayed diligently that God would respond in the way that made sense to them. When He didn’t, instead of determining that God must have other plans, or God is bigger than we are and we cannot see and understand all the details as He can, this student made the determination that God must not exist.

I want to be clear that I think it’s ok to ask God to respond to our needs and our requests. There was nothing wrong with the students praying earnestly that God would arrange circumstances so that their trip would happen. The error, at least for my student friend, was in assuming that God was obligated to act in the way he desired. He is not. These students, or at least this one student, failed to understand that while God invites me to be honest and to share my needs and preferences with Him, He is not required to give me what I want. Instead, He invites each of us to trust Him and to align ourselves with His purposes and His plans.

Reflection

When have you viewed prayer as an activity in which you try to convince God to give you what you want?

What do you think is the root reason why people approach prayer as if God is a genie who just emerged from a lamp, or as if He’s a gentlemanly Santa Claus, who desires to make us happy by giving us our most desired gift?

How does this passage where Jesus prays to the Father give you insight and instruction on how we should be approaching and thinking about prayer?

What are some other passages and Scriptures that inform your understanding of prayer and your understanding of the nature of God?

 

Photo by Arina Krasnikova from Pexels

Did Jesus Need a Snickers Bar When He Cursed the Fig Tree?

Mark 11

12The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus felt hungry. 13He noticed a fig tree a little way off that was in full leaf, so he went over to see if he could find any figs on it. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. 14Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it.

15When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the merchants and their customers. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the stalls of those selling doves, 16and he stopped everyone from bringing in merchandise. 17He taught them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a place of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”

18When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so enthusiastic about Jesus’ teaching. 19That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city.

20The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it was withered from the roots. 21Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Teacher! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

22Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23I assure you that you can say to this mountain, ‘May God lift you up and throw you into the sea,’ and your command will be obeyed. All that’s required is that you really believe and do not doubt in your heart. 24Listen to me! You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you will have it. 25But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too. ”
(Mark 11:12-25, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Mark 11 gives two different stories in which Jesus seems to go off for no good reason. The chapter begins with Jesus triumphantly entering Jerusalem on a donkey as the crowds praised Him. Everything seems to be going great, which makes the two stories that follow all the more difficult to comprehend.

The next morning, after the triumphal entry, Jesus is hungry. He sees a fig tree and since there’s no fruit on it, He curses it. The author makes a point of telling the reader that the tree only had leaves on it because it was too early in the season for fruit. In other words, the fig tree didn’t have fruit on it because it shouldn’t have had fruit on it. The fruit wouldn’t arrive until several months later.

Jesus had to know this, and yet He curses the fig tree anyway.

What’s going on with Jesus? I imagine one of those Snickers commercials in which the person who’s hungry takes on a completely different persona until a friend gives them a Snickers bar. After taking a bite, the person returns to their normal self. The commercial ends with the tag line, “You aren’t YOU when you’re hungry.”

The text says that Jesus was hungry. Did He just go temporarily crazy because He was hungry?

After cursing the fig tree, they returned to Jerusalem where Jesus went to the temple and began driving out the merchants. He’s knocking over tables and though the text doesn’t say this, I sort of imagine Him with a whip, driving out the money changers from the temple area in Indiana Jones fashion!

Will someone please get this man a Snickers Bar?

After Jesus’ episode at the temple, He and the disciples leave the city and the next morning, they see the fig tree. It’s withered from the roots. The disciples make mention of the tree to Jesus, who responds by telling them to have faith in God and they will be able to move mountains.

If you’re like me, you’re probably scratching your head while squinting your left eye and thinking, “what?”

We can probably dismiss the idea that Jesus was just raging because He was hungry. After all, He spent 40 days without food in the desert being tempted by Satan and He was able to withstand all of Satan’s efforts, so there’s no reason to believe that Jesus went into an uncontrollable rage due to some minor hunger pangs.

Remember that much of what Jesus did was for the sake of His disciples. He was always teaching them, often through object lessons. This is certainly the case here too as the text says, with regard to Jesus cursing the fig tree, that “the disciples heard Him say it.” The author makes a point of letting the reader know that when Jesus cursed the fig tree, the disciples heard Him. That seems like an important detail, otherwise there would be no need for the author to mention it.

Look too at the text and notice that the story of the temple is sandwiched in between the details of the fig tree – the fig tree is cursed, Jesus drives out the merchants at the temple and then the fig tree is withered. Certainly, this is not coincidental story telling by the writer, but intentionally written in order to make a point.

Yes, but what’s the point?

Let’s look at the details of the temple passage to see if we can make sense of it. After Jesus drives out the merchants, He says:

“The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a place of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”

Jesus is angry because the temple is supposed to be “a place of prayer for the nations”, but it has been turned into “a den of thieves”.

The temple was a massive structure that had different sections for different purposes (Click here to read more about the different areas of the temple). Outside the temple was a courtyard that was divided into different areas, one of which was “the Court of the Gentiles”. This was the only place where non-Jews could come and worship the Lord at the temple, and yet it had been converted into a farmer’s market and mobile banking exchange center.

Imagine you are a Jew who wants to come to Jerusalem to make a sacrifice. You can take the long journey and bring your animals with you (doable but inconvenient) OR you can come without your animals and you can purchase your sacrificial animal when you arrive in the city (much more convenient). This is how business works – you figure out what people need, you provide that need for them and you make a profit off the sale.

This is what was happening here. The idea of providing animals for people was not what made Jesus angry. What was objectionable was the fact that their profits were exorbitant, hence, Jesus calls them thieves. Additionally, they were conducting business in the only place that Gentiles could access the temple for worship, thus negating the temple’s purpose as a “place of prayer for the nations.”

Jesus was not reacting to hunger pangs but to a pattern of unrighteousness and greed exhibited by the religious rulers and business leaders.

So what does this have to do with the fig tree?

Most commentators agree that the fig tree is representative of the nation of Israel. Jesus doesn’t curse the tree because He’s hungry and there is no fruit on it. He curses it as an object lesson for His disciples. The tree illustrates the nation of Israel, which was fruitless and had been for some time.

The curse illustrates that because of Israel’s fruitlessness, God’s judgment on Israel would be forthcoming. The temple was the center of religious life and what was happening at the temple was an example of the fruitlessness that existed and the fact that Israel had neglected their role in God’s greater purposes to be a light to the Gentile world.

The temple was destroyed in AD 70 and it has never been rebuilt. Thus, Jesus’ foreshadowing of impending judgment on the nation of Israel was fulfilled.

All this writing is making me hungry. I think I need a Snickers!

Reflection

How have you understood these stories in the past? What was your explanation for why Jesus cursed the fig tree and drove out the temple merchants?

It is clear that Jesus was angry when He drove out the merchants. How do you reconcile Jesus’ anger with the Biblical truth that He was sinless?

In what situations do you think it’s ok to be angry? What factors cause anger to be sinful?

What do you think are some effective and appropriate ways for dealing with anger?

While we are not under a curse like the nation of Israel was, it is clear from Scripture that God desires for His followers to bear fruit? What would bearing fruit look like for you and what steps can you take to ensure that you are not a fruitless Christian?

 

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

 

Two Opposite Pictures of Leadership

Mark 10

35Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do us a favor.”

36“What is it?” he asked.

37“In your glorious Kingdom, we want to sit in places of honor next to you,” they said, “one at your right and the other at your left.”

38But Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of sorrow I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?”

39“Oh yes,” they said, “we are able!”

And Jesus said, “You will indeed drink from my cup and be baptized with my baptism, 40but I have no right to say who will sit on the thrones next to mine. God has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”

41When the ten other disciples discovered what James and John had asked, they were indignant. 42So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them. 43But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. 45For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.”
(Mark 10:35-45, NLT)

2 Samuel 11

1The following spring, the time of year when kings go to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to destroy the Ammonites. In the process they laid siege to the city of Rabbah. But David stayed behind in Jerusalem.

2Late one afternoon David got out of bed after taking a nap and went for a stroll on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath. 3He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4Then David sent for her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. (She had just completed the purification rites after having her menstrual period.) Then she returned home. 5Later, when Bathsheba discovered that she was pregnant, she sent a message to inform David.

6So David sent word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” 7When Uriah arrived, David asked him how Joab and the army were getting along and how the war was progressing. 8Then he told Uriah, “Go on home and relax.” David even sent a gift to Uriah after he had left the palace. 9But Uriah wouldn’t go home. He stayed that night at the palace entrance with some of the king’s other servants.

10When David heard what Uriah had done, he summoned him and asked, “What’s the matter with you? Why didn’t you go home last night after being away for so long?”

11Uriah replied, “The Ark and the armies of Israel and Judah are living in tents, and Joab and his officers are camping in the open fields. How could I go home to wine and dine and sleep with my wife? I swear that I will never be guilty of acting like that.”

12“Well, stay here tonight,” David told him, “and tomorrow you may return to the army.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13Then David invited him to dinner and got him drunk. But even then he couldn’t get Uriah to go home to his wife. Again he slept at the palace entrance.

14So the next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and gave it to Uriah to deliver. 15The letter instructed Joab, “Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest. Then pull back so that he will be killed.” 16So Joab assigned Uriah to a spot close to the city wall where he knew the enemy’s strongest men were fighting. 17And Uriah was killed along with several other Israelite soldiers. (2 Samuel 11:1-17, NLT)

Philippians 2

5Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. 6Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. 7He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. 8And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross. 9Because of this, God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name that is above every other name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Today’s installment of the Daily DAVEotional includes 3 related passages that all appeared in the same daily reading based on the Grant Horner Reading Plan, which I’ve mentioned a number of times, including here, here and here.

Amazingly, these 3 different passages from different parts of the Bible provide an interesting commentary on one another, starting with the passage in Mark.

In this passage, Jesus is teaching His disciples a lesson about leadership. It actually starts in the verses prior to what I’ve listed here, when Jesus is talking again to His disciples about His death.

Immediately after this, James and John approach Jesus and instead of asking follow-up questions regarding what Jesus has just said, that He’ll be betrayed and killed before rising again three days later, these brothers begin jockeying for key positions of power in Jesus’ kingdom.

The other disciples catch wind of what James and John are talking to Jesus about and while they are indignant externally, internally they are probably kicking themselves for being beaten to the punch.

Jesus sees what’s going on and, of course He knows what’s going on in their hearts and minds, so He takes the opportunity to share a lesson on leadership in God’s kingdom.

The headline is this: Leadership in God’s kingdom is completely opposite of what you’d expect based on leadership in the world.

In the world’s system, kings (and officials) act like tyrants, using their power to get whatever they want in whatever way they deem necessary.

The passage in 2 Samuel 11, which happened to be part of the same daily reading, provided the perfect biblical example to illustrate what Jesus is saying. King David is known as a good king and was even said by God to be “a man after my own heart.”  But even though David is a good king overall, he has some major flaws, and in this situation, he uses his power to get something he wants regardless of whether it’s wrong or who it hurts.

David sees a beautiful woman bathing and he desires her, so he has her brought to him and despite knowing that she is the wife of one of his elite fighting men, he sleeps with her anyway.

His indiscretion backfires when Bathsheba reveals that she is pregnant. In an effort to cover up his sin, David has Uriah recalled from the battle field, hoping that he will sleep with his wife and thus think that the child is his.

But Uriah doesn’t comply with David’s scheme so David sends him back to the battle field carrying a message with the very command that gets him killed. What is often overlooked in this passage is that by having the front line attackers pull back so that Uriah would be killed, the text says that others were killed as well. So David, by his tyrannical actions, ends up taking another man’s wife, and murdering several people in order to cover it up.

This is the kind of leadership we see in the world even today. Though we have few monarchies, there can be no doubt that even in our current system, elected officials often take special privileges and enact rules on others that don’t apply to themselves. We shouldn’t be surprised, however, because Jesus tells us that “kings are tyrants and officials lord it over the people beneath them.”

This is how most leaders think and act – the people under them are there to serve them and their needs.

But leadership in God’s kingdom is 180 degrees different than what we see in the world. In God’s kingdom, leaders are servants whose purpose is actually to serve those under them. It’s completely flipped!

The Philippians passage, also appearing on the same day, provides a biblical example of servant leadership that is perfectly illustrated by the life of Jesus.

Jesus’ leadership was characterized first and foremost by humility. As God, one might expect that Jesus would come and demand worship and the kind of allegiance and attention that royals traditionally receive.

But Jesus didn’t come and start exerting His power and authority in order to serve Himself. The text says He gave up His rights in order to serve others. Jesus didn’t demand the worship and the kind of attention and fanfare that He deserves but instead, He fulfilled a mission of service, namely, going to the cross to die for the sins of humanity so that we might escape eternal judgment and be reconciled to God.

This is the kind of leadership Jesus tells us that we, as His followers, should exhibit. It’s a selfless leadership. It’s not self-serving or self-promoting. It seeks the needs of others and puts their needs and welfare above our own. As I look around the current cultural landscape, it seems to me that we could use more of this kind of leadership and a lot less of the worldly kind of leadership.

Reflection

What are some examples you’ve seen of the kind of worldly leadership Jesus describes, where kings (and officials) seek to serve themselves instead of their subjects?

What are some examples you’ve seen of leaders who exhibit the kind of godly, kingdom-oriented leadership that Jesus says His followers should exhibit?

What do you think are some reasons that make this selfless, servant leadership that Jesus promoted so difficult for people, even those within the church?

What are some steps or actions that would make servant leadership more likely for those who are in positions of leadership?

If you are in a position of leadership, are you using your power and authority to serve yourself or others?

What do you personally need to address in your own life in order to become the kind of servant leader who emulates Jesus’ example instead of David’s example?

 

Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

Was Jesus A Racist Who Needed to Repent?

Mark 7

24Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre. He tried to keep it secret that he was there, but he couldn’t. As usual, the news of his arrival spread fast. 25Right away a woman came to him whose little girl was possessed by an evil spirit. She had heard about Jesus, and now she came and fell at his feet. 26She begged him to release her child from the demon’s control.

Since she was a Gentile, born in Syrian Phoenicia, 27Jesus told her, “First I should help my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

28She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even the dogs under the table are given some crumbs from the children’s plates.”

29“Good answer!” he said. “And because you have answered so well, I have healed your daughter.” 30And when she arrived home, her little girl was lying quietly in bed, and the demon was gone. (Mark 7:24-30, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few weeks ago I saw a Tik Tok video that was making the rounds on Twitter. It was posted by a Pastor from the San Diego area in which he said that Jesus was a racist because he used a racial slur when he called the Syrophoenician woman in this passage a DOG!

This pastor went on to say that the woman didn’t back down, but “spoke truth to power” and when she confronted Jesus with his racism, Jesus not only changed his mind, but “Jesus repents of his racism and extends healing to this woman’s daughter.”

That’s not all. This pastor said that he loves this story because it’s a reminder that “Jesus is human. He had prejudices and biases and when confronted with it he was willing to do his work.”

Are the claims being made by this pastor true? Did Jesus demonstrate racism and prejudice by calling the woman a dog? Is the point of this story to show us that Jesus is a human who had human flaws and prejudices like every human being does? Was this story told to be an example to us on how to repent when we are confronted with truth?

The short answer to all of these questions is an emphatic NO!

None of these “observations” and conclusions demonstrate the real point of the story.

Well then, what IS the point of the story?

If you know anything about the book of Mark, you know that most of the stories and accounts demonstrate Jesus’ teaching and miracles that He performed while in the presence of His disciples. Everything Jesus does is for the sake of the men who are following Him and learning from Him. Jesus is demonstrating to them WHO He is and what His ultimate mission is. At the mid-point of Mark, Jesus asks the all-important question of His disciples: Who do you say that I am? I wrote about that passage and their response to that question here.

Based on what you know about the Jewish mindset of that time, including the disciples, what do you think was their view of non-Jews?

The prevailing mindset of Jewish people, from the religious leaders to Jesus’ own disciples was that non-Jews were unclean. They were “dogs”. In fact, merely being in their presence could make one unclean.

We see this Jewish nationalism throughout the New Testament. In fact, Peter needs a vision from the Lord himself in Acts 10 to finally realize that Gentiles are not unclean and that salvation is not reserved only for the Jew.

In addition, a council was convened in Acts 15 to address this very issue: do Gentiles need to become culturally Jewish in order to be saved? I wrote about that Council and the context surrounding it here.

So why does Jesus compare this woman to a dog?

Jesus is using an illustration to explain to the woman that the priority of His ministry and His message regarding the kingdom of God was FIRST to his own family, the Jewish people. He is not saying that Gentiles can never receive the message, He’s merely saying that He’s not prepared to share His message and ministry to Gentiles YET.

In this illustration, Jesus uses the Greek word “kunarion” which means “pet dog”. The Greek word that was usually used to describe an unclean dog was the word “kuon” which meant “wild dog.”

Most Jews viewed Gentiles as “wild dogs”, unclean animals that were not worthy of salvation and were excluded from the promises and blessings of God.

Jesus, however, gives an illustration in which Gentiles are compared not to wild dogs but to the family pet. He does this to show his disciples that their view of Gentiles and their worthiness to experience the blessings of God is wrong. They are not unclean, mangy animals roaming the streets, pilfering through the garbage. They are a part of the family and they are loved.

Regarding the other observations made by this pastor, it’s clear that his conclusions are an example of importing current cultural views and concepts into the biblical narrative while ignoring observations that might contradict his views.

This pastor paints a picture of a bold woman standing up to a misogynistic, bigoted Jesus, but the text paints a much different picture. The text states that she heard about Jesus and came and knelt before Him. The picture the pastor paints could not be more opposite of what the text actually says.

Secondly, the woman says nothing in response to Jesus that would indicate she is confronting Him or rebuking Him. Instead, her response shows that she understands the ministry priority Jesus has shared and yet she requests consideration from Him anyways.

Jesus is impressed with her response and her resolve and in Matthew’s version of this same story, Jesus speaks of her “great faith” (see Matthew 15:28).

This pastor completely overlooks the faith of the woman and Jesus’ praise of her response and opts instead for an explanation based more on his current cultural views than the plain theological meaning of the text.

Phrases like “speak truth to power” and “Jesus did his work” are rather recent phrases that represent a progressive ideology and  agenda. There is nothing in the passage or the context that suggests that the woman “confronted” Jesus regarding racism or that she spoke “truth to power”.

Neither is there any indication that Jesus changed his mind or repented of some egregious sin.

Furthermore, this pastor’s views are an example of false teaching regarding the nature and work of Jesus. I wrote about the importance of one’s view of Jesus here, when evaluating an early church heresy that John wrote about in the letter of 1 John.

Think about the implications of what this pastor is saying.

First, how could the woman speak truth to power when Jesus himself IS the truth (John 14:6)?

Secondly, Jesus is God in human flesh. He lived a sinless life and and His death pays the penalty for the sins of the world.

If Jesus used a racial slur and thus sinned, how could He secure salvation for the sins of mankind? Even if He repented, as this pastor suggests, Jesus would not be qualified to pay for the sins of humanity if He Himself was a sinner. His sin would disqualify Him from being the Savior of the world.

So the point of this story is NOT that Jesus is racist just like we probably are and He gives us an example of how to “do the work” and “repent” when confronted with truth.

The point of this story is to demonstrate that Jesus’ ministry and message was to go to the Jews FIRST but that Gentiles were also a part of God’s plan. Jesus did this in a way that explained His priority to the woman, revealed to His disciples that their prejudicial view of Gentiles did not line up with God’s heart, or His kingdom purposes, and praised the woman’s response as being one of “great faith”!

One final reminder I would make is the importance of “doing the work” of understanding what God’s word says in its context instead of taking the word of someone who calls themself a pastor but is merely importing their own modern day bias and preconception into the biblical narrative.

As John revealed in the 1 John 4 devotional, there are many people promoting false views of Jesus. John labeled those preachers as “false prophets” and those who promote false views of Jesus today should be labeled the same way.

Reflection

If someone were to use this story to make a claim that Jesus was racist, how would you respond? What parts of the text would you use to demonstrate that Jesus was not racist?

What specific parts of the text prove that the woman was NOT rebuking Jesus?

What specific parts of the text demonstrate that Jesus in no way repented of some kind of wrong-doing?

One of the lessons of this text is the “great faith” of the woman. In what ways did she demonstrate faith? In what ways can we emulate that kind of faith? 

What is a current issue you are dealing with in which you need Jesus to intervene? What are some ways you can demonstrate faith toward God in your circumstances?

 

Photo by Julia Volk from Pexels

Which Soil are You?

Mark 4

1Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. There was such a large crowd along the shore that he got into a boat and sat down and spoke from there. 2He began to teach the people by telling many stories such as this one:

3“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. 4As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. 5Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The plant sprang up quickly, 6but it soon wilted beneath the hot sun and died because the roots had no nourishment in the shallow soil. 7Other seed fell among thorns that shot up and choked out the tender blades so that it produced no grain. 8Still other seed fell on fertile soil and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted.” Then he said, 9“Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand!”

. . . . . . .

14The farmer I talked about is the one who brings God’s message to others. 15The seed that fell on the hard path represents those who hear the message, but then Satan comes at once and takes it away from them. 16The rocky soil represents those who hear the message and receive it with joy. 17But like young plants in such soil, their roots don’t go very deep. At first they get along fine, but they wilt as soon as they have problems or are persecuted because they believe the word. 18The thorny ground represents those who hear and accept the Good News, 19but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for nice things, so no crop is produced. 20But the good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s message and produce a huge harvest—thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted.” (Mark 4:1-9, 14-20, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Mark chapter 4 contains one of the more familiar parables in the gospel narratives, but in my opinion, many Bible translations mis-title the parable as “The Parable of the Sower.”

If you’re not too familiar with the Bible, you should know that all of the chapter and verse divisions are not in the original texts but were added later to make it easier on the reader to find and reference. Here’s an interesting article about chapter and verse additions if you’re curious to learn more.

Additionally, any title headings have also been added by the various Bible translators to reflect their own understanding and commentary on the stories and themes that are presented.

So while most Bible translations title this story as “The Parable of the Sower” it seems to me that the story is really about The Four Different Soils.

Jesus himself gives the explanation for the story, explaining that the farmer is a person who brings God’s message to others. The seed represents the message that is being presented and the soils represent the heart conditions of the people who are hearing the message.

The first soil mentioned is the hard soil, or the path. A walking path in those days would have been hard and compact because of all of the foot traffic. Therefore, any seed that fell would not get buried enough to take root. It would just become bird seed. Hence, this soil represents a person whose heart is hard and the message of God does not penetrate enough to make any impact.

The second soil is the rocky soil. Seed that falls here is able to take enough root to germinate and sprout but because the soil is not very deep the roots are not able to go deep enough to become hearty and this plant dies as soon as the weather gets hot. Without an adequate root system, the plant cannot access enough water and nourishment to thrive.

Jesus says that this soil represents a person who experiences a lot of problems, represented by the rocks. They immediately receive the message with joy because it sounds good and they are looking for an immediate fix to the issues they are facing. But when things don’t work out as quickly or as precisely as they expect, they give up on the Christian life and move on to the next self-help option.

The third soil Jesus mentions is the thorny soil. Notice that the seed that falls in this soil takes root, sprouts up and it grows. But because the thorns are crowding it, these plants don’t have the space or ability to produce a crop. They are fruitless.

Jesus says this soil represents a person who hears and accepts the message but Jesus is just one of many things in their life. Jesus is not a priority. This person gets so weighed down with all of the cares and trials of life that their spiritual life never displays the kind of fruitfulness that Jesus would desire for them.

The last soil is the desired soil, the good soil. This soil is rock-free, thorn-free and has been cultivated so that the seed will quickly and easily take root. Because the ground has been properly prepared, the seed that falls in this soil takes root, grows and produces an abundant crop. It is fruitful!

When looking at these four soils, it is clear that the first soil represents a non-Christian. It’s my belief that the second soil also represents a non-believer. This is the person who appears to have a genuine conversion experience but it is fleeting and so the commitment to Jesus is very temporary.

The third person represents a genuine believer whose spiritual life is unfruitful and stagnant. This soil reflects a large percentage of believers in the church today, people who have made genuine decisions for Christ and who continue in their spiritual journey, but whose lives aren’t reflected by fruitfulness and growth. The reason for that, according to Jesus, is a lack of priority. Instead of Jesus being primary in their life, their pursuit is on worldly and material gains and issues.

The fourth soil represents a person who hears the message, accepts it and their lives produce a huge harvest. In short, their hearts have been cultivated in such a way that God’s message has the maximum effect on their life.

Notice that if you are the farmer and you’re scattering seed randomly in a particular area, it is likely the geological composition of the earth in that area is the same. In other words, if you were to take a sampling from each of the areas, and then analyze the composition of each of the soils, you’d get the same results from each sample. The chemical compounds and percentages would be the same in each case.

What makes the soils different is not that they are compositionally different, it’s they are cultivated to different degrees.

The farmer takes great care to cultivate the soil in which he is going to plant. He removes any rocks and extracts any weeds or thorns that might be a hindrance to producing the fullest crop possible. Additionally, he tills the soil, making it loose enough for the seed and for water and other nutrients to penetrate the surface and go deeper to where the roots will be.

What this means is that you can cultivate your heart just as a farmer cultivates the soil of his field. It may not be easy work, but you can do the hard work to remove the rocks and thorns from your life that may keep you from experiencing genuine growth.

You can till the hard dirt in the field of your heart to make it more receptive to the message. Having good soil isn’t luck and it isn’t automatic. Those who are producing a harvest in their life are doing so because they’ve done the hard work of farming their heart and cultivating its soil so that God’s message can have its maximum impact.

No matter where you’re at in your spiritual journey, you can do the same!

Reflection

Which soil best represents your life and why? Which soil do you want to represent your life?

What are the rocks and thorns that are dominating your heart? Name them. 

What steps can you take to remove rocks and thorns from your heart?

How can you till the soil of your heart so that it is more receptive to the message of God’s word?

What are the different ways God’s seed is being sown in your life?

 

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

The Significance of the Torn Veil

33At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

35When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

40Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there. (Mark 15:33-41, NIV)


Mark 15 documents the climactic struggle of Jesus on the cross. Jesus shouts out something in Hebrew and those who are watching assume that He’s appealing to Elijah to save Him.

Jesus breathes His last breath before succumbing to the brutal effects of crucifixion, a torturous method of execution that is designed to slowly suffocate its victims.

And then comes verse 38. It’s so easy to gloss over because before this verse you have people standing around wondering if Jesus is appealing to Elijah and then immediately after this verse the focus shifts back to a centurion who had witnessed Jesus’s ordeal and who concludes that, “surely this man was the Son of God!”

So what’s the deal with verse 38? It seems so out of place to mention that the veil in the temple was torn in two right in the midst of describing Jesus’s death on the cross. It’s almost like the subliminal message that briefly interrupts the flow of the video you’re watching. If you’re not paying attention, you hardly notice it.

Yet this verse is extremely significant. If you’re familiar with the importance of the temple to Jewish religious life, the significance of this verse is probably evident. But if you’re not familiar with the role the temple played in the lives of the Israelites, let me give you some information that may shed new light on this passage.

The temple was THE center of religious life for the Israelites because it represented the very dwelling place of God. The temple was where Jews brought their sacrifices as an act of worship to God.

Inside the temple was a section called the Holy Place, which was separated by another room called the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies contained only one item, the Ark of the Covenant. The Holy of Holies was a room that could only be entered once per year, on Yom Kippur, by the high priest, who would enter the room and sprinkle the blood of a unblemished sacrifice on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant in order to atone for the sins of the people.

The Holy of Holies was separated by a large thick veil, a curtain that created a barrier between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The significance of this veil cannot be underscored. It represented the idea that God is holy and man is not and therefore, God is not accessible to man because of his sin.

Yet immediately upon Jesus’s death on the cross, this tiny, easy to overlook verse says that this veil was torn in two, giving access to the very presence of God. The text specifically says the veil was torn from top to bottom, which is no accident. The symbolism is clear – the veil was torn by God Himself, giving access to His presence that was previously unavailable.

The heart of the gospel message is this: Jesus died on a cross, atoning for the sins of the world and giving sinful humanity access to Holy God. We no longer need to make yearly sacrifices because of the sacrifice Jesus has already made on our behalf.

We have two possible responses. We can respond like the centurion, who recognized Jesus is the Son of God, or we can respond like the religious leaders, who took the torn veil, sewed it up and reattached it, thus ignoring the sacrifice that Jesus had made.

Reflection

What is your response to the death of Jesus and the tearing of the veil? Are you more like the centurion, who recognized Jesus as the Son of God? Or are you more like the Jewish religious leaders who preferred to dismiss Jesus’s sacrifice in favor of their former way of life?

What are the veils (barriers) that you put up in your life that keep you from entering into the presence of God? 

For more details about the layout of the temple click here.

 

Photo by Nikola Bikar on Unsplash

The Most Important Question to Ask Yourself

27Jesus and his disciples left Galilee and went up to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

28“Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other prophets.”

29Then Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?”

Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.” 30But Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. (Mark 8:27-30, NLT)


For the first half of the book of Mark, Jesus is revealing to His disciples WHO he is. He’s exposed his disciples to his teachings and many miracles, in which he demonstrates his power over nature, the physical realm and the spiritual realm. In Mark 8:27, Jesus asks the important question, “Who do people say I am?”

He follows up with an even more crucially important question: “Who do YOU say I am?”

When we’re engaging with others who don’t consider themselves followers of Jesus, it’s critically important that we help them come to a Biblical understanding of WHO Jesus is.

In Mark 8:28, Peter says that the main responses people often have about Jesus are “John the Baptist or Elijah, or one of the other prophets.”

People today have a lot of similar ideas about who Jesus is. Some say he’s a good teacher. Some say he’s a prophet. Still others say he’s a great moral example to follow.

These do not hit the mark. Peter gives the proper response regarding who Jesus is….He is the Messiah (or “the Christ”).

The most important question you can ask yourself (or others)?

Who is Jesus?

As we engage with others regarding the Christian faith, we have to help people come to this understanding of Jesus’s identity. He is not merely a prophet. He is not just a good person or some moral example to follow.

He is God. He is the promised Messiah (the promised deliverer)!

 

For more information on the Biblical evidence for Jesus’ deity, see my short article “Is Jesus God?”

Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash

Jesus Casts out a Legion of Demons

1So they arrived at the other side of the lake, in the land of the Gerasenes.  2Just as Jesus was climbing from the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit ran out from a cemetery to meet him.  3This man lived among the tombs and could not be restrained, even with a chain.  4Whenever he was put into chains and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to control him. 5All day long and throughout the night, he would wander among the tombs and in the hills, screaming and hitting himself with stones.  6When Jesus was still some distance away, the man saw him. He ran to meet Jesus and fell down before him.  7He gave a terrible scream, shrieking, “Why are you bothering me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? For God’s sake, don’t torture me!”  8For Jesus had already said to the spirit, “Come out of the man, you evil spirit.”

9Then Jesus asked, “What is your name?”

And the spirit replied, “Legion, because there are many of us here inside this man.”  10Then the spirits begged him again and again not to send them to some distant place.  11There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding on the hillside nearby.  12“Send us into those pigs,” the evil spirits begged. 13Jesus gave them permission. So the evil spirits came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the entire herd of two thousand pigs plunged down the steep hillside into the lake, where they drowned.  14The herdsmen fled to the nearby city and the surrounding countryside, spreading the news as they ran. Everyone rushed out to see for themselves.  15A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, but they were frightened when they saw the man who had been demon possessed, for he was sitting there fully clothed and perfectly sane.  16Those who had seen what happened to the man and to the pigs told everyone about it,  17and the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone. (Mark 5:1-17, NLT)


Once again, we see Jesus demonstrating His omnipotence to the masses and to his disciples. Jesus’ many miracles were meant to demonstrate His power and authority over the natural world (calming a storm), the physical world (healing sickness), the spiritual world (casting out demons) and even death itself (bringing back someone who had died).

When reading this passage, one might conclude that the point of the passage is simply to once again show Jesus’ authority over the spiritual realm. While this is true, I think there’s another, often overlooked aspect to this passage. It’s found in verse 11, which says,

“there happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding on the hillside nearby.”

Now if you know anything about Jewish laws and regulations, you know that pigs were considered unclean animals. Jews were not allowed to eat pigs; they weren’t even allowed to touch them.

So what are pigs doing in the story?

Though not explicitly stated, it’s obvious that Jesus is ministering in an area that is not Jewish, hence the presence of pigs.

Jesus crossed over into another culture. Jesus went to a place that would have been uncomfortable to Jews and he healed a man who likely was not Jewish. Now this is not explicitly stated but it is inferred from the text. Because of the clear presence of pigs, we know that Jesus and his disciples were in a Gentile area. We can infer that the man Jesus healed also was likely Gentile.

What I find interesting about this is that even though Jesus clearly indicated through ministry encounters like this one (and others) that he was concerned about all peoples, not just Jews, the disciples did not immediately comprehend this aspect of the gospel message, as indicated by Peter’s need for a direct vision from God in Acts 10 to help him understand that Gentiles are not to be thought of as unclean and unworthy of salvation.

If these 12 men, who were actually with Jesus, could be slow to understand basic truths about the Lord and His plans and purposes, I wonder how much of my thinking may actually be wrong or incomplete.

This is not an invitation to question all our beliefs, particularly those that are solidly grounded in Scripture. However, we all have some beliefs that may not be as grounded in Scripture as we think. Perhaps they are rooted more in our own church, cultural or even family traditions. The invitation, I think, is to keep learning, knowing that I have biases and blind spots and that in my finiteness, I struggle to know God completely as He is. Therefore, there is always room to grow in my understanding and comprehension of God and His nature.

I’m also challenged by the notion that Jesus went to places that were uncomfortable and considered off limits by the culture of his time.

I’m not apt to move too far out of my comfort zone and I’m not always motivated to move toward those who are different. But Jesus’ actions in this passage clearly demonstrate his love and commitment for those who don’t fit my cultural norms and preferences.


Reflection

When is a time you were challenged in your understanding about God – his nature and His purposes? What was it that challenged these beliefs?

How can you ensure that the things you believe about God and salvation are rooted in truth and not just some traditional or cultural view that you’re holding on to?

What steps can you take to move out of your comfort zone as Jesus did in this passage?

 

Photo by David Cashbaugh on Unsplash

The Beginning of the Gospel?

1The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  2It is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”—

3“a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

4And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  5The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.  6John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  7And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  8I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:1-8, NLT)

The beginning of Mark is different than most of the other gospel books. The first words are “the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ.”

What I find interesting about this statement is that Mark starts off stating that the gospel is about Jesus Christ but then he immediately shifts to some Old Testament passage in Isaiah, followed by a description of John the Baptist, a fiery preacher who lived out in the desert, wore weird clothes and baptized people in the Jordan river.

If the gospel is about Jesus and Mark’s book is about the beginning of the gospel, why is it that we don’t see or hear anything about Jesus until halfway through the first chapter (verse 9)?

I think what Mark’s account demonstrates is that Jesus is the center of the gospel story but he’s not the whole story. The Isaiah passage along with the verses describing John the Baptist indicates that God is always working behind the scenes and preparing people for the arrival of Jesus.

The gospel is indeed about Jesus. He’s the central figure. Without Jesus, there is no good news. But even before Jesus shows up, God is working, paving the way and preparing people’s hearts for the arrival of the king!

Reflection

In what ways did God prepare you for the arrival of Jesus in your life? Who are the key people and what are the key situations that paved the way for you to recognize the king?

What are some ways you can be involved in being a gospel-paver for others?