Introduction: Current Religious Climate.
When people hear the word “Christianity” many thoughts come to their minds. In a increasingly pluralistic society the word Christianity begins to loose its meaning. So what is a pluralistic society? In the context of religion or philosophy it means, “a theory that there are more than one or more than two kinds of ultimate reality.” This is primarily illustrated through the parable of blind people and the elephant. The parable goes, everyone is describing their portion of the elephant and conclude what the elephant is like based on they perceive. So one person thinks the elephant is like a snake because they are touching the trunk. Another believes the elephant is like a tree because they are touching the leg. In pluralism every religion is touching portion of the supernatural. Therefore, they conclude no one can fully see the truth. The main problem with this parable is someone clearly sees the truth and is describing the situation.
Most people examine various religions on the surface from a distance. But when we move beyond the surface into what they believe at a deep level we see they do not agree with each other at all. One religion is describing an elephant and another a tiger. Therefore, during this Easter season we will only look at the exclusive claims of Christianity. Christianity is what we believe and are familiar with, so it makes sense for us to talk about that. We will leave the explanation of other religions to those who believe and practice them. Jesus Christ is at the core of the word “Christian,” therefore, one cannot understand Christianity without first understanding who Jesus Christ is. Any thoughtful examination on Christianity will begin with the life and teachings of Christ. In order to do that we will be journeying through the Gospel of Mark for the next 6 weeks.
Any good historian will tell you if you want to really understand a historical figure you must look at the original sources that are closest to the time period of that figure. All of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are all written within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses. Each Gospel is considered what we would call a historical biography. These documents were published publicly so anyone could look into the reliability of their claims. For instance, listen to what Mark 15.21 says:
And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.—Mark 15.21
Why was the detail about Alexander and Rufus put in there? Because the author is saying. “If you want to check out the reliability of my work go talk to Alexander and Rufus.”
One of the major themes of Mark’s Gospel is Jesus is the Son of God—READ Mark 1.1. Like any good author Mark is the telling his audience what he hopes to prove right at the very beginning. Obviously he hopes to prove that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The first thing we will examine from the Gospel of Mark is…
Theme: Jesus has exclusive divine authority and calls us to follow Him.
1. Jesus’ Words Have Authority—Mark 1.21-28.
Let’s look closely at how the people in this section react to Jesus’ teaching. Much like churches today, synagogues were established all across the Roman Empire so the Jewish people would have access to worship, education, and religious community. Jesus enters one of these synagogues, begins teaching, and look at how the people respond—READ Mark 1.22. The people were blown away by Jesus’ teaching.
But it did not stop there. Mark 1.23 tells us a man with an “unclean spirit” walked in during Jesus’ teaching and tried to disrupt what he was doing. An “unclean spirit” would be equivalent to what we would call a clinically insane person. So this would be like a clinically insane homeless person walking in our Gathering, and start screaming during my teaching. I am sure this made everyone there on edge and uncomfortable. But Jesus speaks, the man starts convulsing and screaming, and then he is suddenly no longer mentally ill. I mean, have any of you ever seen this? Someone who has lost touch with reality, who is diagnosed clinically insane, the psychiatrist walks and says, “come out of him,” and then they are suddenly healed. Once again look at the response of the people there—READ Mark 1.27. They recognize something powerful happens when Jesus speaks. I have seen many gifted powerful teachers in my lifetime but I have not ever seen someone who is able to speak someone into being sane.
2. Jesus Has Authority Over Sin & Sickness—Mark 2.1-12.
We know from Mark 1 that Jesus has been traveling throughout Galilee healing many people, but now He is back home preaching and teaching (Mark 2.1-2). But some people catch wind that He is there, so they decide to drop their paralyzed friend through the ceiling in the hope Jesus will heal him (Mark 2.3-4). How does Jesus respond to this situation?—READ Mark 2.5.
It is important we notice the details the author highlights for us. There are some religious leaders witnessing this miracle and what do they narrow in on?—READ Mark 2.6-7. The religious leaders in the Gospels are hard to like, but we cannot let our likes and dislikes prevent us from seeing right and wrong. What these leaders are picking up on is a potential false doctrine. One author I read this week put it this way:
In Jewish thinking even the Messiah could not forgive sins! God and God alone has that authority and right. Those first-century Jews knew exactly what was going on: if He can forgive sins, then Jesus is God.—Akin, p. 41
Jesus claiming to forgive this man’s sin is a claim that He is God. Eventually we will see other people in Mark’s Gospel who hear this will want Jesus dead. These types of claims will cost Jesus His life.
But Jesus knew what these leaders were thinking (which is another subtle claim to His unique divine authority; Mark 2.8). Jesus tells everyone there that He not only has the authority to forgive this man’s sins, but also physically heal him. Notice how Jesus started with this man’s biggest problem—SIN. Jesus knows if heals this man, but does not deal with his sin problem then he will still die. Once again Dr. Akin speaks to this:
Often we think we know what our greatest need is, but really we are only focusing on our circumstances. In reality the problem you are facing today is not your spouse, children, or parents…your job, boss or coworkers…Jesus saw everything clearly—far more clearly than we do. He used this teachable moment to make the point concerning our greatest need in this life or the life to come! Jesus forgives the sins of all who come to Him in faith.—Akin, p. 43
3. Jesus’ Authority Calls Us To Follow Him—Mark 1.16-20.
During the time of Christ ancient teachers would not seek out students, but students would seek them out. If you went to college, I am betting most of your professors did not come to you asking to take their class, no, you chose which professor you wanted to take. But in Mark 1.16-21 Jesus calls four fishermen to be his students—READ Mark 1.17. What was the response of these men?—READ Mark 1.18, 20. All of them were willing to leave everything and immediately follow Jesus Christ.
Jesus is still calling people today to “Follow Him.” Jesus is still seeking out more students. Becoming Jesus’ student is like going to college. There is no entrance exam like the SAT or ACT. There is not a certain moral GPA you have to have. Like these four fishermen Jesus finds us and says, “Come as you are.” And much like these men we should immediately follow Him. But we will need to step out in faith. And what is faith?:
What is authentic faith? The cultivation of an optimistic outlook on life with a kind of spirituality attached to it? A holy hoping for the best? Is this how you think of faith? Authentic faith is the confident assurance in events not yet seen. Faith is not a call to believe in things when common sense tells you not to. Faith is not a mindless stab in the dark…It's a word that speaks of reasoned, careful, deliberate, intentional thought. Thought upon what? God and his promises….This is what faith is, my friends! Positive certainty expressed in action. Authentic faith is not merely believing in God. It is believing God.—Art Azurdia
My hope is the rest of this series you will be able to continue in your faith or follow Jesus Christ in faith for the first time. I hope that as we continue to examine Jesus Christ you will reason carefully, deliberately, and intentionally. I hope with positive certainty expressed in the action you will continue to follow Jesus Christ or follow Him for the first time. I pray we all will not just believe in God, but believe God.